Many have regarded Theosophy as an abstract philosophy, valuable only to those who wish to indulge in mental gymnastics or lose themselves in a labyrinth of speculative thought. Those who thus judge Theosophy show a very superficial knowledge of it; and those who make such a use of it have failed to understand its deeper teachings. Far from being only theoretical, it is eminently practical, and only as the students of Theosophy find expressions for its teachings in their lives has their study been of any value.
One who earnestly desires to do right, to fulfill his obligations to his fellow-men, is very much handicapped if he is ignorant of the laws that govern the life of the individual and the race and their reciprocal relations. In its teaching of the divinity of man, the unity of all souls with the Oversoul, man's evolution under the laws of reincarnation and karma, Theosophy sets forth the highest law of conduct. To know that the soul reincarnates, or that brotherhood is a fact in nature, is of little value, unless one bases his conduct upon that knowledge. But equipped with such knowledge, one who really desires to fulfill his highest possibilities finds his field of usefulness broadened and is able to work effectively for the benefit of humanity.
His field of usefulness is broadened, for he finds that his work lies on the planes of thought and feeling as well as that of action. Right thought is too frequently ignored or valued merely as a prompter to right action. Thoughts have a value of their own. Not all of them find expression in action and that expression is of necessity limited. The acts of by far the large majority of people fall outside the criminal and civil law. One may keep all the ten commandments, but if his thoughts are not pure, if he is selfish or revengeful, he is certainly not doing his whole duty. There are many who conform to the accepted standard of conduct, but very few fulfill their highest possibilities. If we are seeking to lead a higher life than the world around us, we cannot accept its standards as our guides. We sin not only when we transgress some civil or religious law, but every time we do not live up to our highest ideals in thought as well as action.
"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." No one will deny that a man's thoughts build his character, but more than this they help to build the character of others, as they find expression in word and act, and by the influence of example, and in a more direct and real way. There is no rigid wall that divides your thought from my thought. The world of thought exists as an ocean. We harbor such thoughts as find congenial lodging place in our minds, and then send them forth charged with our consciousness and vitalized by the force with which we have intensified them. I think the law of physics that applies to bodies of water may also be applied to the ocean of thought; that pressure exerted anywhere on the mass is transmitted undiminished in all directions. This may sound somewhat fanciful, but there is ample proof that it is true. It has frequently happened that men of science working along the same line, but in different parts of the world and unknown to each other have made the same discoveries almost simultaneously. Great poets of all nations and ages have reached up to the same truth. Often when one of two speaks after a short silence, the other says, "that is just what I was thinking."
The effect of a mass of thought is seen in what we call atmosphere. It is pleasant to be with one whose thoughts are pure and ingenuous. His presence is restful and ennobling, while the presence of one in whose character there is an excess of jealousy, revenge or deceit is often disagreeable. Who has not felt the depressing effects of the slum portions of a great city! The criminal districts are where evil thought is congested, but their inhabitants are not alone responsible for them. The evil thought of the entire city finds expression there, where the restraining influence of a respectable home and friends is not felt. It is the respectable element of society that makes the criminal classes possible, and these always will exist in spite of all preventive measures as long as the mass of humanity remains lustful and selfish. Thought is the motor power of the world. Thoughts, set in action, are sure to have their effects. You may as well try to stop a steam-engine by pressing on the piston rod as to abolish crime by punishing the actor. Reforms to be effective must deal with the cause of crime. You may say "here we are perfectly helpless, for these people have been raised in an atmosphere of crime." But we are not helpless. There is one portion of humanity over which each one has influence. If he really desires to help the world he has the power to do so. A firm determination to choose the right and to follow it in spite of all circumstances, consciously pursued for the benefit of mankind, is a powerful potency for good. Although he cannot point to any special instance and say, "I have done this or that," he will have raised the level of humanity.
Humanity must be saved, not from some future place of torment, but from its present torturing conditions. He who would work for its salvation has a very real battle to fight. This battle is on the plane of thought and feeling. The result of his successes or failures will strengthen or weaken the force along the entire line. How do we overcome darkness? By idle exhortation or by bringing light? In this battle for humanity we are fighting doubt, ignorance and selfishness. The only way these can be successfully opposed is by meeting them with a strong force of trust, based on knowledge, and a steady flow of compassion.
This is the task we have before us. It must be accomplished first within ourselves. For one pure soul consciously fighting for the right, bringing truth to this plane by living it, then sending it forth, vitalized by his own life force is a more powerful factor for good than a library of disembodied precepts. We believe in the divinity of man; we must live as divine souls; we must have confidence in ourselves and in humanity to overcome the present state of blinding ignorance and claim our birthright of divinity. We believe that Brotherhood is a fact in nature; we must live in that belief until the thought of humanity outweighs the thought of self, and brotherhood becomes a fact in our lives. This can be done only by diligently striving to change our old habits. This is difficult, but there is a great incentive. When we reflect that every evil, selfish or desponding thought is a blighting breath that makes the wretched more wretched; that every genuine unselfish, loving thought lightens the world's woe, there is no choice. One cannot sit, as did Hecate, and glory in the thought that he is the most wretched person in the world; but must take a mental inventory, recognize the parts of his nature that are to be overcome, and those that are to be developed. There is no need of being discouraged if we find the very thoughts we are trying to kill, recurring again and again. This is because the mind has formed a habit of bringing up the things we used to call for. In meeting this we can make use of the very law which gives it force.
Everything that is evil, useless or ignoble has its counterpart in something that works for good. If, when we recognize a thought whose tendency is downward, we consciously build up its opposite, and force the mind to dwell on it we set up a habit in the other direction. Soon the good thought will always come up to counteract the bad one, and after awhile it will have crowded the other out altogether.
Thought may be divided into two kinds; verbal thought and real thought. Verbal thought is the kind that is gleaned from books, conversation, etc. It is held by an act of the memory and easily finds expression in words or on paper. Real thought springs from one's consciousness. It is the result of having lived. It abides, for it is part of one's self. It seeks expression in action oftener than in words, although thoughts are more far-reaching than actions and have to do with the world of causes instead of effects, actions are by no means to be overlooked. It is a very good test of the genuineness of a thought to pursue it until we have realized it in the plane of action. Thoughts which do not prompt to action we may be sure are only verbal. Often when one earnestly tries to make his actions conform to his ideals he is horrified at the discrepancy between them. But if his motive is pure and he still persists in spite of repeated and unaccountable failures, he is winning a victory on the thought plane that will find expression in glorious action when the Karma that binds him is exhausted.
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