by Will Johnson, Compass, Winter 1999

The roots of today’s modern Olympic custom of the solar-derived flame passing from runner to runner, lie with the ancient Greeks when they acted out the drama of transmitting the light of spiritual knowledge. This symbolised the mission and journey of the keepers and carriers of spiritual wisdom, who from age to age reappear to help keep alive in the soul of humanity ideas of our divine origins. It was the torchbearer’s duty to ensure the flame stayed alight until the responsibility was handed to the next carrier.

Duty, or Dharma, is the natural unfolding of karma which creates the realities of the present. When we are totally immersed in the present moment we act in full cooperation with the natural rhythms and flow of life. Inside we each have a voice which can either whisper or yell at us what we should do with our lives, and where our Dharma lies.

A mighty spirit does indeed move through all of us; an almost imperceptible whispering breath – yet to the eternal inner consciousness, it is we human beings who are nebulous and volatile like breath. The fulfilling of duty is like the action of spirit – to the onlooker it may appear as inaction. But in the heart of the doer there may be great joy in feeling convinced that his motives are in accord with that voice of intuition. Conversely, a great battle may be raging between the lower and higher selves with the human person in the middle determined to surrender the selfish lower to the purifying influence of the compassionate higher power.

This inner battle may cause symptoms manifesting physically as emotional and mental instability, outbursts of anger, fear or disease. Hence the importance of trying to cultivate an awareness and understanding of this inner conflict. The trying will eventually arouse empathy, tolerance, and forgiveness which are essential for diffusing conflict, both inner and in our relationships with others.

If we can’t relate to or have some kind of formula for understanding the myriad forms of suffering, it may appear as if the battle of life is being lost or needlessly sustained. It sometimes seems as if more and more ordinary people are suffering today rather than enjoying life and being genuinely happy. But as the cycles roll on and aspirations to the higher life persist, the conflict wanes, the symptoms fade, and a new birth occurs: the pain of struggle co-exists with the joy of meeting one’s karma. The quick ways are often not the best ways, while the slowest seem to be the unkindest.

Many of today’s strange happenings and world events may be signs that masses of aspiring human souls, despite the relatively favourable conditions they were born into, are defying complacency and following the Dharma of humanity: taking steps to realise the oneness that we all share.

We are all torchbearers. We all pass on unseen positive and negative impulses to those we know and don’t know, and to those awaiting birth. This goes on from day to day, year to year, lifetime to lifetime. We can trust those next in the line to carry the torch just as we ourselves were entrusted from the moment we were born, and before. Doesn’t the onus then lie with each of us to keep the flame of compassion burning for future generations, when we ourselves will return to resume our epic journey.

“Measures taken by an Ego to repress tendency, eliminate defects, and to counteract by setting up different causes, will alter the sway of karmic tendency and shorten its influence in accordance with the strength or weakness of the efforts expended in carrying out the measures adopted.”

William Quan Judge, Echoes of the Orient, Vol. 3