Theosophy is that ocean of knowledge which spreads from shore to shore of the evolution of sentient beings; unfathomable in its deepest parts, it gives the greatest minds their fullest scope, yet, shallow enough at its shores, it will not overwhelm the understanding of a child. — William Q. Judge
The universe is infinitely vast and complex, but has at its heart simplicity. The world's oldest spiritual traditions, flowing from the ocean of theosophy, all say that there is one great law which governs the universe: compassion. What, then, is meant by compassion? Derived from the Latin, the word means "to suffer with." If the law of compassion is universal, with whom and what do we suffer, and why?
It is an inescapable fact that all beings are connected, whether visibly or invisibly. Rather than look at the universe as a whole, it is often simpler to examine one small part to try to see in it the pattern which is repeated in every being — indeed in every atom — throughout the cosmos. To do this we need look no further than ourselves. A human being is comprised of many layers of consciousness. The source of this consciousness lies infinitely deep within, although we refer to its relatively pure state as spirit. Other layers of human consciousness we may recognize as intellect, psychological faculties, emotions and personal desires, physical life force, and the physical body. Each layer of consciousness acts upon the other, the whole generally existing in a state of imbalance due in part to the illogical and inexperienced decisions made by the human brain-mind on a day-to-day basis.
Friends and family, workmates and strangers, all come within our daily sphere of influence. We may talk with some of them, share ideas, argue, work out solutions; we may misread a character and say a word out of turn; we may pass a few minutes with a stranger, barely aware of what is going on between us. Each person we encounter inevitably receives something from us and also gives in return. There are always consequences of our meetings with others, despite our being unaware of precisely what they are.
The ancient doctrine of karma, which teaches the natural ensuing of like effects from like causes, ensures that each of us will learn from our daily meetings with others. This process transcends time, and an awareness of the teaching of living many lifetimes is helpful in understanding how all of one life's events can be justified in what we intuit as a just universe. Karma brings us face to face with our past and ourselves. If we are open-minded enough to recognize our strengths — our innate senses of reason and justice, and the discipline of self-forgetfulness — and use them wisely, and to recognize our failings — self-important desires belonging to the lower levels of our consciousness — we will soon learn that others are no different from ourselves, that we all love truth and are finding our way towards it, and that we all love decency and a brotherly attitude. By recognizing these ancient ways of purification, our thoughts will soon cause us to act in a way that can result in harmony and balance, peace and understanding, not only between us and other human beings, but with the entire universe, not transiently but eternally.
Self-forgetfulness and inner strength are qualities which reside deep within our spiritual self. Though the latter exists beyond the inner depths of what psychologists call the subconscious, our spiritual self can be felt, heard, and drawn upon at any time. We may know it through the voices of intuition and conscience. These are not products of an overactive imagination, as the voice of conscience has led many to right their wrongs at great personal sacrifice. Yet, with sacrifice come inner strength and growth. In this lies a key to understanding the law of compassion and its governing power over the development of every living thing within the universe.
By projecting the qualities of one small atom of the universal life into all beings throughout the kingdoms of nature — from elemental, mineral, vegetable, and animal, to beings which embody the stars and beyond — a human being becomes aware of a vast hierarchy of life in which every being strives and helps the others towards the perfect.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press)