According to a well-known saying, future events cast their shadows before them. In the present age, overshadowed by dark clouds of war and violence, and by the negative forces in our immediate surroundings, it is difficult to discern the faint signs which are the precursor of better times.
Reviewing the significant developments that have taken place in this century, we realize how difficult it is to obtain an idea of the future. For instance, it was very difficult in the last century to predict the present age of computerization and the social and political developments, the two world wars, the formation of the United Nations, space travel, etc. Who can say whether equally startling changes await us in the next century? Important developments arise from unexpected quarters — no doubt the result of new lines of thought. We do not know what karmic seeds have still to germinate. Some developments and changes encompass too vast a period of time to be perceptible to our limited vision.
I can do no more than express a few of the thoughts that come to mind in attempting to discern something of what awaits us in the next century. No doubt there are great souls on this earth to whom the vast dark field of the future is as clear as daylight.
The remarks made about the coming century in philosophical, religious, or scientific circles today relate to tangible things such as the progress of science and technology, economic and social change, world poverty and hunger, environmental problems, and the removal of international tensions. All these, however, are the effect of deeper processes which do not lend themselves to classification as scientific, philosophical, or religious. If we want to look at the future from a theosophical standpoint, we should address ourselves to causes — the soil in which things grow. The purity and quality of the soil are of paramount importance.
In centuries to come we shall encounter an entirely new world of ideas and the scientific and philosophical superstructure will be of a completely different nature than at present. Since evolutionary impulses tend towards the development of those structures and processes which make people more at one with their real self, science and philosophy in the future will alienate people from themselves less than they often do at present as a result of their mechanistic and coldly remote jargon, and they will acquire a more humane and even religious dimension.
Nevertheless, the development of metaphysical ideas in the sciences is not the most essential, since it remains confined to the mental realm. More fundamental is the change in the atmosphere which distinguishes one era from the next, forming the essence of a particular era as it permeates everything with its subtle but powerful influence on thinking and feeling. It is discovered last, however, because it forms the basis of the process of discovery itself. We can describe this atmosphere as the manner in which humanity as a whole experiences reality; a tacit agreement about what is real and possible, and what counts as proof. This tacit agreement is the result of an interaction between the mayas or illusions of the individuals living in a particular age, which together constitute a group-maya more powerful than the sum of its parts.
We recognize the strength of this force when we observe what happens at the psychological level when we seek to change ourselves. If we want to distance ourselves from fixed patterns of thinking and living, and a new self wishes to be born within us, we are increasingly confronted with our old self by the attitude of the people around us. We tend to become what those around us think we are. Multiplied countless times, we get an impression of the force involved when these processes operate on a large scale and why during initiation this maya, which the neophyte seeks to overcome, assumes the form of a frightening manifestation.
In the present century we not only live in a materialistic world from an objective point of view, but our thoughts are also materialistically oriented. Our senses do not receive spiritual impressions very easily. A civilization as a whole makes itself receptive to spiritual influxes through the collective focus of consciousness. If it is focused on worldly and material things for a long time, there is little sense of there being another world which thrills through our own. Only a change in people's aspirations can restore the mystical in everyday life and add a religious element to their world. The imagination is stimulated and people believe that more is possible than what they are familiar with. What does all this mean if not that love and brotherhood begin to thrill through the air . . . ?
In antiquity the split between the commonplace and the holy, the profane and the mystical, was much less pronounced. In our day a special place has been reserved for what is holy, and usually a particular time, too, and it is therefore no longer a quality which characterizes all our actions and processes of consciousness throughout the day. If our whole life were once again pervaded by supra-personal aspirations and soul-reminiscences, we could speak, in the words of a well-known writer, of the "return of enchantment."
With the major paradigm shifts in the coming century language will undoubtedly also undergo modification. If we start to think differently, language will follow suit; conversely, a change in language will affect the way we think. Although we tend to view consciousness as the origin of everything, and language as nothing more than an effect, we must nevertheless tread the middle path and recognize that the words and concepts we use push our thoughts imperceptibly in a particular direction. Since at the present stage of our evolution our consciousness mainly operates on the manasic or mental plane, language plays a major role in the structuring of thought.
What does the major influence of language on our thoughts consist of? The questions we ask generally contain an assumption, without our being aware of it. For a long time this assumption can hinder us from answering our questions. We look for an answer everywhere except in the question itself. For instance, the question, "How do I get rid of this mood, feeling, habit, or thought?" is based on a deeply rooted assumption which emanates from a certain fundamental attitude of our consciousness. By posing these questions, we assume that something has got hold of us. On the basis of this supposedly indisputable certainty we endeavor to wrestle free. However, we have genuinely solved the problem only if, in a moment of truly spiritual humor, we realize in a flash that the problem is not something that has got hold of us, but that we are holding on to something. By looking for the answer in the wrong direction, we increasingly identify ourselves with what we want to get rid of. We think that we have to make some sort of effort, whereas we must actually abandon the effort we are already making.
Another example is the use of a term such as the "higher self." The word higher implies something that is remote and toward which we must travel in order to reach it. Our true self is, however, closest to us, and the reason we do not discover it is that we overlook it, just as we do the pupils of our eyes. Once again, we must seek to tread the middle path and recognize that the language of the esoteric tradition has been compiled in a masterly fashion, and on the basis of a knowledge of human psychology of which we can barely conceive. The words and terms that have been chosen are probably those which, in view of the psychological structure of humans today, are least likely to be misinterpreted and which, as a result of their paradoxical character, set something in motion in our minds which will eventually lead to a deeper understanding.
Another important aspect of our society which seems to embody little of spiritual value, but with which we have a great deal to do, is the economy and industry. One of the tacit assumptions we hold, hardly suspecting that things might be different, is that the main task of the companies on this planet is to make a profit and preserve themselves. The welfare of the human beings who work for them is seen as a side issue.
I recently read an interview with the chairman of a well-known multinational corporation. The interview concerned the philosophy of companies in general and his own company in particular, and the vision he had of the future. He distinguished three stages which companies will have to pass through in the present and next century. In the first stage, companies are exclusively geared to making profit. In the second stage, they focus on general welfare in addition to profit: steps are taken to avoid polluting the environment, but with the underlying attitude that the company must not be caused too much trouble and that such measures are good for the company's image and are therefore to its advantage. The last stage, which we have not yet reached, is one where serving the welfare of the whole becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to another end.
A situation where the welfare of the whole of humanity is the norm necessitates a huge paradigm shift which, if generally applied, would bring about fundamental changes throughout society. In education the aim will be to enable children to develop into genuine human beings instead of merely turning them into productive forces with a high utility value: character formation will take precedence over training. In architecture, buildings will be designed to cater primarily to human needs rather than for efficiency and financial considerations alone. If non-material values become the norm in our society, animals will also be treated more humanely and not merely as things. Exploitation in general will gradually disappear.
A significant trend in the previous century was the development of psychic powers. H. P. Blavatsky warns in her letter to the Fifth Annual Convention in Boston (1891) that
Psychism, with all its allurements and all its dangers, is necessarily developing among you, and you must beware lest the Psychic outruns the Manasic [mental] and Spiritual development. Psychic capacities held perfectly under control, checked and directed by the Manasic principle, are valuable aids in development. But these capacities running riot, controlling instead of controlled, using instead of being used, lead the Student into the most dangerous delusions and the certainty of moral destruction. Watch therefore carefully this development, inevitable in your race and evolution-period, so that it may finally work for good and not for evil; . . .
HPB does not clearly say what sort of developments she has in mind, and it is generally assumed that she is referring to the sort of psychic powers about which so much has been written this century. Psychism, however, can mean many different things and, since conditions in the coming century will be completely different than in the last century, the psychism to which HPB refers probably means more than we now understand it to mean.
Psychology has not yet developed a comprehensive theory explaining the laws governing events on the mental plane, equivalent to that which has been formulated in the natural sciences to explain the material phenomena around us. A science of psychic laws entails a great danger because it provides opportunities for the manipulation of others. People who are fond of esoteric matters may therefore present a hazard. Since a half-truth is often worse than a complete untruth, people with only partial knowledge may sow a great deal of confusion.
One of the forms of psychism to which HPB refers might be advertising, which has assumed an important place in society. The aim of advertising and marketing is to influence people through psychological processes. If they were to confine themselves to providing information, there would be no problem, but since they go much further and misuse subtler forces in human nature for their own benefit, these practices have much in common with what has been called black magic. Allusions to sex in advertising are an example of the misuse of an essentially sacred and creative power in human nature. We have little idea of the dangers attached to the misuse of forces which are thousands of times more subtle. Similar tendencies can be found in management and marketing training courses. A range of techniques is taught aimed at influencing others in such a way that one's own interest is served to the greatest possible extent.
In view of this general tendency nowadays to misuse, and in a sense desecrate, everything which is sacred and delicate for one's own advantage, we should ask ourselves how will theosophical teachings be further developed in the future? Theosophy is a treasure house of golden keys which we can use to unlock doors and gain access to uncharted territory of knowledge and understanding, and where we may be able to find new keys. No one knows the influence of a life of theosophical study and of trying to live theosophically. Nor do we know the karma we are creating when we work together as a group in this manner: perhaps the preparations are made for what will not happen until several incarnations in the future.
Being a theosophist primarily means learning discipline. We find ourselves in an unusual situation where, on the one hand, a greater number of esoteric facts and keys have been revealed than ever before in known history, and we live in a world of spiritual beings and realities; while on the other, we find ourselves in a world which is anything but spiritual and in which the law of brute force and of the jungle prevail. The confrontation of these two force fields makes it possible and necessary to understand and apply esoteric teachings in their full significance. This is the challenge and the opportunity of the 21st century.
In this coming century the intermingling of different cultures will be even greater than in the present century. This is one aspect of the idea of brotherhood and the view that there is no such thing as separateness. A certain heterogeneity is required in order to create something; whether it be man and woman, different swabhavas [essential nature] within a single movement, or different cultures within a single world, the convergence of opposite polarities and their transcendence into a higher unity always gives rise to something new. The mixing of different magnetisms will engender a new thought-life.
A vital question is whether we will have solved a number of problems which are widespread today. Perhaps we must devote greater attention to seeking the causes of these problems which have remained with mankind for so long. The inability to solve many major world problems may be the result of not having the right attitude toward one another. Maybe the people who are jointly looking for answers lack the necessary impersonal attitude. If in a future century a sufficient number of people were to come together with a supra-personal attitude of mind and, forgetting themselves, attempt to solve an important problem, could not such togetherness generate a force which would give rise to understanding and reveal solutions which would not otherwise be possible? If we analyze only the content of problems, we do not usually arrive at a fundamental solution. For that, we need to make a leap in consciousness, after which everything becomes clear. And would not the teaching of this basic attitude of mind to children be much more effective in solving problems than teaching them facts and debating techniques?
What will theosophy look like in the future? Theosophy is not only a tradition. Its vital power and dynamism are the result of the degree of genuine spiritual originality we are able to express. By definition, its activities are unpredictable — not because of a lack of policy, but because the determining factor is the unique situation at the moment in question. If a theosophical organization is alive, this will be shown by the fact that theosophical work will be a direct response to the questions facing the world at that time. If as individuals we live consciously, our individual obstacles will be basically the same as those which the world as a whole must overcome.
How can we best transmit theosophy in the centuries to come? Such a question presupposes that we have something which others receive. In actual fact, we should forget theosophy when exchanging ideas with someone, and perhaps the inspiration of the exchange will then enable both people to discover something new. At such a moment we express theosophy in a unique way and contribute to the development of new forms of theosophical expression both now and in the future. The insights we gain through such an exchange are no one's property. They are pearls which lie concealed in the very structure of being, and which are exposed by the power of the exchange.
Genuine spiritual originality is, in my view, the foundation of the evolution of consciousness. Our present human consciousness was in the distant past a higher form of human consciousness. What we are now, we are because certain individuals dared to be more than what was considered ordinary. Certain people were then what we all are now. Perhaps what we now consider ordinary was a sort of theosophy in those days, just as theosophy in our time will some day be the general outlook of future humanity.
As perspective or depth results from the intersection of the two fields of vision of the eyes, and this gives rise to a new dimension, so does communication give rise to a reality which is greater than the sum of its parts. If we are able to communicate with one another in a visionary and impersonal manner, the result will be a reality of a higher order, which is also something new for those who create it and which reacts upon them. This is the origin of genuine inspiration.
The words of G. de Purucker indicate the essence of the purpose of The Theosophical Society:
[It] was intended to be the spiritual-intellectual nursery from which will be born the great philosophical and religious and scientific systems of future ages — indeed, the heart of the civilizations of the coming cycles. -- Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 5
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Theosophical University Press)