Universal Brotherhood Today
by Renée Hall
Talk given at Manchester 2nd May 1995.
H. P. Blavatsky, co-Founder of the Theosophical Society 120 years ago, stressed the FUNDAMENTAL UNITY of ALL EXISTENCE. She advised that our minds should hold fast on to this concept if we are to understand anything about the teachings.
Rather like the acorn to the ancient, grand, oak tree – the entire wisdom of theosophical teachings grows from the concept of Oneness and Unity. Like the oak tree, universal brotherhood is of nature not just some man-made Utopian ideal. Oneness is the very basis and fundamental structure of universal nature while altruism and compassion are the sap or life blood without which we are merely cogs in a mechanical clockwork.
This concept of Brotherhood enlivened by love is also to be found in other tradition. We in the West have grown up with the Christian precept “love one another and do unto others as you would be done by.” The Hindus have a similar one: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” The Native American maxim is no different: “Respect for all life is the foundation”. These are just a few examples from round the world and I have recently been introduced to yet another expression of Universal Brotherhood from South Africa. It’s called UBUNTU. In the African tradition this word is used when a group of people – old and young, of every walk of life – do something together towards the upliftment of their neighbourhood and/or their neighbours. It means literally “being personal” (in a positive sense) and implies kindness, mutual caring and compassion.
It is ubuntu to live and care,
to be kind,
to be compassionate,
to be helpful,
to be understanding, and
to be aware.
I like this because it brings the general ideal down to the particular i.e. you and me. Note the operative word or rather the verb “BE”. One can help the whole without doing e.g. physically going to the aid of Rwandan victims, but wonderful if that’s where your karma takes you. Being kind, compassionate, helpful, understanding and aware (not always easy) must improve oneself, one’s own particular family life and circle. And the very motive of compassion streams into and purifies what the old Hebrew testament called the reservoir of kosmic waters and theosophy describes as Akasha.
Another Ubuntu extract explains it like this:
“All things are connected like blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
(Taken from South African Section Newsletter)
The shame is that far too frequently the realisation and recognition of the whole truth, our divine heritage and birthright is trampled over by our human selfishness, greed, and sense of separateness. Appalling wars, persecutions and social deprivations, hedonism, materialism, violence and crime all beg the obvious question of just when “orphan humanity” is going to take the remedy of brotherhood to cure the causes of its terrible suffering?
It might help to bear in mind that this very suffering can be part of the remedy; and to realize that there is “a natural operation of opposing energies – spirit and matter; energies that draw us up towards spirit or downwards to our material, selfish interests,” (Grace F. Knoche). Without this continual stress and strain there would be no movement, no growth, no possibility of advancement.
G de Purucker in Fountain-Source of Occultism points out on p.68 that our age – the Kali Yuga or “Iron Age is a hard, rigid cycle where everything moves intently and where everything is difficult; but precisely the age in which spiritual and intellectual advancement can be made most quickly….It is a strange paradox that the hardest and cruelest of all the yugas is the very one in which the quickest advancement can be gained. It is the opportune time, the time of choice, when most advanced egos will become the seeds of the succeeding great root race.”
HPB herself gives us reason for hope and optimism for today and tomorrow. Answering a question about the future of the Theosophical Society (in the conclusion of The Key To Theosophy, p.305) she says if her successors succeed in keeping unbiased and clear judgement and manage to avoid degenerating into a sect with hard and fast dogmas “then the Society will live on into and through the 20th century. It will gradually leaven and permeate the great mass of thinking and intelligent people with its large-minded and noble ideas of Religion, Duty, and Philanthropy. Slowly but surely it will burst asunder the iron fetters of creeds and dogmas, of social and caste prejudices; it will break down racial and national antipathies and barriers, and will open the way to the practical realisation of the Brotherhood of all men.”
There undoubtedly is outward evidence that in spite of the bleakness and horror, the leaven or yeast of enlightenment is permeating current thinking and that the level of mankind’s consciousness is more sensitive, aware and awake than in previous centuries. However, it’s counter-productive if we allow ourselves to be engulfed by the negative aspects that we hear and see. To repeat: a positive, bright thought inspires encouragement and upliftment, a negative, pessimistic outlook literally drags down the whole. One has to avoid the temptation of being a holy, armchair critic, giving undue time and energy to the moral highgound of disapproval, disgust, shock and what they are doing out there. I’m not for one moment suggesting you condone or even excuse but to try and not make a federal case out of every crime.
Let’s now take a brief look through the window of optimism at some of the positive and hopeful signs of today’s efforts towards a realisation of our interdependent wholeness.
What about the number and variety of charities and movements that abound today? e.g. Save The Children, RSPCA, RSPB, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Age Concern, Shelter, Oxfam. Admittedly only tending to the effects of problems, nevertheless the motive of concern and care is proof of an intimate compassion for our fellow beings be they humans, birds, animals, flora, soil, water, air.
Technology: the vehicle and handmaiden of science without which the material progress often leading to oneness at various levels of life would be impossible. The communication revolution has done great service to bringing people around the world closer together e.g. the invention of the phone, radio, TV, faxes, computers, etc., provide instant communication and aid cooperation between individuals, companies, researchers, governments, and so on. We now instantly share our good and bad news. What affects one affects all. Fast transport too has decreased the size of the world and travel for all has widened horizons providing opportunities to become acquainted with foreign people and cultures. Space ships and powerful telescopes have increased knowledge of our galaxy and made us realize that we are not, after all, the centre of our universe. Inventions of instruments have increased our knowledge. For example, cameras have given us microscopic and telescopic photography which have enabled us to have marvelous insights into the intricate interdependence and secret life of minerals, plants and animals – again reinforcing an understanding of Oneness.
Science: The Oneness of life is being rediscovered and redefined by scientists, Astrophysics in particular. Dr. Fritjof Capra, noted physicist and author of The Tao Of Physics writes that “the universe appears to be one complex and indivisible web of relationships, in which any part can be defined through its connections with the whole. These components of the cosmos are never static but interact continuously and even we, as observers, are in essence part of the system…” (from an article by Manuel Oderberg, Sunrise Aug/Sept ’85) – what a perfect definition of universal brotherhood!
Dr. David Bohm’s Wholeness And The Implicate Order (1980) indicates that the very phenomena that in the past have implied to scientists the separateness of objects from each other can also indicate that they are parts of one whole organism.
The Ecology movement can be seen as the vanguard of alerting every man to understand the oneness of nature. The Greek word Gaia now commonplace was introduced by scientist James Lovelock in his book which reports his research to prove the earth is a living being. This was heretical only six or seven years ago to the mechanistic scientists. I recommend you too to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which gives terrifying documentary evidence of how poisoning one species effects the whole chain of nature. Her findings apparently spurred the various environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Vegetarianism and organic farming are on the increase – evidence of a desire for a gentler, kindlier, more natural way of life.
Health and Medicine: Bearing in mind that the human being is a microcosm of the macrocosm, holistic treatment of the whole person is a welcome trend. In the 1960s it was “fringe” now it is called complimentary medicine. Homeopathy, herbalism, aromatherapy, Bach remedies, have become respectable and recognized by the medical establishment. There are university faculties and National Health hospitals for alternative treatment. Doctors are not as skeptical as the were even a decade ago.
Religion: surely the most important. There’s now a widespread sharing of traditions from many parts of the world. Theosophical books are in some libraries and bookshops in Great Britain and other parts of the world. In this country Dillons and Waterstones have a section labeled Mind, Body and Spirit or Metaphysics. Plato, Plotinus, Senecca. Blake, Kahlil Gibran, are published in popular paperback, as are the Kabbalah, the Koran, Sufism, Tibetan books, the Gospel of St. Thomas, Zen, Buddhism – to name but a few. Also available is a lot of so-called New Age literature of rather dubious content and very misleading to innocent readers who may be looking for genuine truth. Yet isn’t searching all part and parcel of developing an inner discernment to distinguish between what is true and counterfeit? Comparative Religion is now studied in schools and universities providing a wider perspective and understanding between people of all faiths and hopefully and eventually perhaps some recognition of a common spiritual source. Ecumenical trends: the obvious example of course is the 1993 Parliament of Religions in Chicago. A Catholic friend of mine attends a Bible study together with Anglican and Methodist churchgoers. Literal interpretations of Christian creed and dogma are being tentatively questioned. Credit must be given to the church care and charity to the needy. Thankfully, we can now choose to think for ourselves. It’s all right not to go to church.
I haven’t focused on economical or political unity, education, art, literature, drama, architecture, all of which are respectively also contributing in no small measure to an unveiling of the larger perspective of our spiritual heritage.
I’d like to end on an insight of pragmatic compromise: a piece printed at the back of the August/September Sunrise by E. Graham Howe, who was a British psychiatrist who died about 30 years ago.
Time and the Child
“Both back and forth the tides must flow, and today two opposite tides are running fast. One is in the direction of regression towards individual isolation, material progress, destruction of opposition and authoritarian supremacy. The other is a softer current, that seeks to dissolve the problems of opposites by accepting both; it is finding unity and wholeness through a deeper insight into the meaning of our common brotherhood.”
P.S. “To offer all through, action, and feeling on the alter of humanity’s progress – that is compassion in its highest expression.” – James Long.