T.S. Work and the Fundamental Change in Man and Society
Radha Burnier – India
[Recognizing regeneration as the kernel of all Theosophical work, the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, The Netherlands, jointly with the Federation of Theosophical Societies in Europe, organized two seminars in July 1990, with a number of office-bearers, workers and members of the Society from different countries as participants. The proceedings of the seminar were published as a book under the title Human Regeneration .]
We are meeting in the context of important changes that are taking place at the present moment, particularly in Europe. There were other times in the history of the world when great changes appeared to take place. But the world always reverts to a condition of chaos; and degeneration sets in in all institutions, social or political.
The subject of human regeneration is very important because a truly momentous change in the history of humanity will occur only when there is a revolutionary change in the human being. Probably a sufficient number of human beings must change to bring about a radical change in the course of human history. Therefore it is important for us to explore this question.
Every civilization has to meet challenges of various kinds. If they do not meet the challenge before them adequately, a nation or a people fail; the civilization begins to disappear. Historians like Toynbee have put forward a theory of challenge and response. Slowly the modern world is becoming conscious of the enormity of the challenge before our present civilization, if it can be called a civilization at all. We have had two terrible world wars, besides a number of other tragic struggles and minor wars (minor only in comparison to the world wars). The danger is not over, although there is talk of peace; we cannot eliminate the possibility of other wars breaking out, merely because Europe is changing.
There is also the danger of environmental degradation reaching a point where it threatens the whole world. Some experts believe that in another ten or fifteen years we will reach a crisis point which is beyond all present imagination. Whatever that be, it is a very serious threat. The proliferation of arms does not lead only to war. Disarmament may take place in western and eastern Europe, but arms are being distributed to many parts of the world. Violence is on the increase everywhere, in the form of terrorism, violence on the streets and so on.
There is further the problem of overpopulation which is a serious threat, bringing in its wake poverty. Perhaps those who have not been in the really poverty-stricken areas have no conception of what it means. Extreme poverty leads to moral degradation, crime, and hideousness in many forms. The poor people cannot help it because the only thing that matters to them is to stay alive.
So there are these enormous problems in the world, which is the external challenge. Unfortunately there are a number of people who do not want to face squarely even the external challenge. They prefer to ignore some or all of the aspects of that challenge. There are many more who do not realize that the challenges faced by every civilization are not merely external; the external challenge is the reflection of something inside the human being. Today this internal threat is far from clear to humanity; very, very few people realize that the real source of the problem is in the psyche of man. And we never deal adequately with the external challenges because we do not want to look at and deal with the internal challenge.
I think the work of the Theosophical Society is to point to the challenge within, because it is of much greater importance to see it and deal with it than to go on dealing with what is outside. If we do not look at the source of the problem, but only at the effects, then temporary, partial and superficial solutions are found. That is why, although we have reason to feel happy about the changes that are taking place in Europe, we cannot feel assured because we do not know in what way the stability which has been created will be disturbed once again.
If the human mind does not change, can society remain stable? In one of the Mahatma letters there is the remark: 'the origin of every evil whether small or great is in human action, in man whose intelligence makes him the one free agent in Nature.' The challenges outside are our creation, because we divide ourselves into nations, groups, categories of various kinds and identify ourselves only with one group. We feel that the problems are not of our making - that the rest of the world has created the difficulties. But if we take a closer look we may find that basically our nature is not different from that of the rest of the world. The Mahatma continues: 'it is neither Nature nor an imaginary Deity that has to be blamed, but human nature made vile by selfishness. Think well over these few words.' That was his admonishment: think well over these few words.
Should not the T.S. be deeply concerned with a permanent solution - a solution which will transform human society, not merely a little bit, not only in a particular area and for a time, but one which will give it a new direction? Until now, in spite of various revolutions and political changes - from capitalism to socialism, changes in economic structure, new ideologies and theories - in spite of all these attempts to remodel society and improve it, the condition of the world has been more or less the same. We have of course many comforts - central heating etc.; and people can go to the moon. I am not talking about that; but the basic condition of humanity, that is the struggles, the competition, the stress, war - called the 'ultimate folly' - all this is going on. There is exploitation of people by people - slavery, oppression of women, use of child labour - this is all still going on and may yet go on for ages. Concentration camps in Europe or slavery in Mauritania are the same thing. Basically the world has not changed, obviously because we have not gone to the root of the problem and have not met the human challenge fully. We have only looked outside and not seen that the outside has come from the inside.
It is the condition of the mind which is the source of the problem, and this is true for the individual as well as for all of humanity. Each one of us probably has difficulties of some kind to face in life. In the family and profession, there are tussles, disappointments, desire to have and frustration because of not having. All kinds of disturbances arise in each individual, but he attributes his personal problems more to the environment than to his own mind. Therefore he is always trying to change circumstances, or escape from particular situations, or put responsibility or blame on others. He does not get down to dealing with his own internal condition.
What is true of humanity is true in a small way of the individual and his life. Therefore we have to see that there is no difference between the individual and the society in which he lives, or human society as a whole. What we do with our own small lives is what humanity in the mass is doing. We are a reflection of humanity and humanity is what we are. Mr. Krishnamurti repeatedly pointed out this fact, that the world is not different from ourselves: 'As all human beings are basically the same, one can with reason say that the world is oneself, and one is the world. That is an absolute fact as one can see when one goes into it very deeply.' But perhaps that is just what we do not do, we do not go into it far enough, and therefore we do not see the need for regeneration to take place.
Society cannot be dealt with separately from the individual; the individual can never find himself in happy circumstances if he depends upon society to change. So they have to be dealt with together. The world today faces the challenge of unity or disunity, cooperation or confrontation and conflict. Is it only the world which faces that or does each one of us have to see whether the elements of that situation are not in his own mind? If there is division in the world today, which makes it so very difficult to find solutions to such questions as we described - poverty, war and disarmament - is it not because we refuse to deal with the divisiveness in our own minds?
I would like to quote one more passage, and this is from H. P. B.
She says: 'Our duty is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions. To oppose and counteract - after due investigation and proof of its irrational nature - bigotry in every form, religious, scientific or social, and 'cant' above all, whether as religious sectarianism, or as a belief in miracles or anything supernatural. What we have to do is to seek to obtain knowledge of all the laws of nature and to diffuse it.'
Here H. P. B. touches upon the fact that if there is bigotry, fanaticism, sectarianism, the tendency to compartmentalize in the minds of people, humanity cannot manage to be in a state of cooperation and peace. Solutions have always failed, because we have been dealing only with society, not with ourselves. To me it is clear that the main work of the T.S. is to point to the internal challenge and to help the world to deal radically with its problems. We must not become a group of people who are only interested in altering structures, systems and methods. I am not saying that we should not participate in bringing about changes externally. But that cannot be the fundamental work of the Society, the core of its activities, central to its very existence.
Also, the T.S. stands for bringing about a solution which is for the whole of humanity, not for a section of humanity. Everywhere, people have their own angle to problems, whether it is war or poverty. They are unable to get away from their particular point of view, based on their own interests. The solution is therefore never right. If it is an environmental problem, India might want a solution which suits it, and Europe or Holland or whatever the nation is, may want the solution that is to its advantage. We look at all problems sectionally, directed by some form of self-interest. But the theosophical point of view must be universal, because no problem can be resolved piecemeal, especially in the modern world, where all the nations and peoples of the world are interlocked together. You know the 'Spaceship Earth' idea; if the ship sinks, all of us will sink; if it sails well all of us will be safe. There is no separate solution for anything. Although this seems rather obvious, there are millions of people who cannot bring themselves even to look at this question in its true light. The T.S. has to lead the way by pioneering the global outlook and not the nationalistic or the piecemeal outlook.
For members of the Society it should be clear that the fragmented mind cannot deal with the problems of today; in fact it never could. Today we are in a world where technological changes have interrelated everything. No part of the earth can enjoy security and prosperity without sharing with the rest of the earth. No fragmentary effort can succeed, no solution brought by such effort can last, because the fragmented mind is the author of the problems. If we did not have broken-up minds, we would not face these enormous difficulties and challenges. If we look carefully we will find that the short-sighted view and limited perspectives are at the base of difficulties.
Therefore the T.S. has the duty and the responsibility of pointing to the need for self-understanding. We do not know what is our own good, because our view is short-sighted. There are people who know that the destruction of vegetation will do great harm. Yet they destroy, for they want immediate profit. Such action exists in many fields. The immediate advantage is sought, for it is far more attractive than a long-term solution. This happens because we have a wrong idea of ourselves, a lack of perspective in respect of our own lives. Theosophy provides the needed perspective. Unless man knows what he is, what his future must be, in what direction he must move, how can he do the right thing?
So it is vital for the human being to be aware of himself, of his true nature, and discern his inner potential. This is not a theoretical question. Even when we do deal with this matter we often tend to make it seem abstract, having little to do with daily life. Some thinkers have said that society is shaped by the image man has of himself. No doubt that is true. We create our particular society according to the concept we have of ourselves.
What do we know of ourselves? Is the image we have of ourselves completely wrong - the image of a small, struggling creature, insecure, grasping? Is this what the human being is meant to be? The theosophical understanding of man is very important from a practical point of view, because if we truly understand what we are, all our relationships will change. If I think of myself as a petty creature, who must grasp at everything that is possible, then my attitude is greedy, utilitarian, competitive. But if I understand what I really am, all that is automatically shed and my relationships are of a totally different order. This has immense practical value, of which perhaps we are not quite aware.
Our whole idea of what is practical may be wrong, just as our idea of progress is wrong. And as members of the T.S., responsible for carrying out its objects, we need to make clear what progress is. What is truly practical? Surely it is very impractical to know so little of ourselves and yet try to bring about our own happiness and fulfilment, to believe that we are creating something good for ourselves when we do not know what is that good.
To summarize, in the context of the world as it is at present, the T.S. should point out certain things. It must make clear that dealing with external challenges is not enough. The external challenge is a product of the internal one, which arises within the mind, in the psyche. Human society cannot change unless individuals change, and the change must be in the direction of universality of outlook. Solutions have so far failed because they are all fragmentary, arising from a fragmented mind. They are solutions for a time, for a particular people, meant to benefit a certain area. But problems today demand a universal outlook. A limited view of the human being and of human destiny can only lead to further difficulties. A much wider perspective is needed, which theosophy provides. It is important for the human being to know what he is and what he can be. Even if he sees a little bit of this, it alters his relationship with everything, not only with other human beings but with everything in life. If the new outlook changes relationship, it also begins to change society, for what is society but a web of relationships?
So the T.S. has an important responsibility to fulfil, which is to bring about a renewal in one's way of looking at things, which will also be a renewal in relationships and in society. All this must be discussed in detail. Other aspects of the question will come up. Just getting a few ideas about these matters does not amount to understanding. We should try to see the whole question very clearly in the depth of our hearts. We ought to ask ourselves: What is it that humanity needs? What is the fundamental change that has to take place in society? Can that change happen without a radical change in individual human beings? What is the role of the T.S. in bringing about the necessary change? Is it not to end forever such grave problems as inequality, exploitation, cruelty and insecurity?
If the T.S. is to be a beneficent force in the world, we must see where our work lies. We should be very clear about it, not play about with relatively unimportant things, but get to the core. If we are clear about the central work, subsidiary matters will be resolved easily in accordance with it.
To be continued