The Nature of the Change
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.]
As we have already said, there is an unprecedented challenge before the whole of humanity – not just before one particular race or group of people. War, the armaments race, pollution, poverty, the population problem – all these, and perhaps other things too, threaten humanity. Most people do not realize that all these challenges outside reflect what is inside the human mind – your mind, my mind, everybody’s mind. The hatred which manifests itself in war is a reflection of the animosity and suspicion in all our minds. Poverty reflects our inability to feel at one with others – to share. Pollution arises out of greed to have more and more, endlessly. What is inside and what is outside are not different. Even when we accept this mentally, we do not make an effort actually to see the relationship that the root of all problems is in the human psychological condition. Because we do not see this, we try all the time to tinker with the outside. What we imagine are great plans to change the world amount to nothing more than a little superficial, temporary, inadequate patching up.
So the world problem cannot be separated from the condition of the individuals who compose the world, whose mind is unable to look at things as a whole. As we have already said, the problems which exist today in an acute form are the problems of all humanity – not of part of the world, not of one people or nation; the solutions too have to be solutions which deal with the whole, not looked at from the viewpoint of the advantage of one section of humanity. The mind which is accustomed to divide and break up everything always looks from a particular angle, but the fragmented mind cannot find the true or lasting solution to problems, especially in the present day when all the peoples and nations of the world are interconnected. So it is important to free the mind of its tragic tendency to look at everything piecemeal
We also said that if man cannot find out more about himself, and understand himself as he is and also what he will be, his own wonderful, boundless potential he cannot know what is good for him. So he constantly works for what he thinks is good, but he actually creates suffering. Theosophy and the Theosophical Society must and can offer the direction and guidelines in regard to this. We will discuss the objects and the work of the Society later. Today we shall consider the nature of the fundamental change.
Questions have arisen about what is fundamental. Is anything fundamental? Is there a difference between the subsidiary and the basic? We may say that a fundamental change is one which resolves the many different problems with one sweep, so to speak. It is like rooting out a weed. If you cut the branches of the weed, they may sprout again. In Hindu mythology there is the demon or anti-god called Ravana, who has ten heads. He was unconquerable for ages because when a head or two were cut off, they grew again. Finally, the divine incarnation, Rama, struck off all the heads at one stroke and put an end to the evil.
In our personal lives, as well as in the community around us, we find continuing problems. There are countries in which there is little orderliness, people throw rubbish everywhere. This is of course a subsidiary problem, for you may remove the rubbish and the next day they will throw more. Obviously the more basic problem is the mentality. If people realized that what they are doing is unpleasant for themselves as well as for everybody else, if they saw that if everyone behaves exactly as they do, nothing would improve, in other words if their attitude changed, the outside situation would change. So we come to something a little more fundamental than merely removing rubbish. If you go still further, you will find that this attitude is essentially self-centered, and self-centeredness may express itself in many other ways besides throwing rubbish. If you deal with that self-centeredness, not only· this problem, but many other problems would also be solved.
So the fundamental cause, the source of the problems must be identified and resolved. Only this brings about a fundamental change, with a totally different relationship and way of living.
We have already listened to some words pointing to the basic cause of humanity’s problems: ‘It is neither Nature nor an imaginary Deity that has to be blamed, but human nature made vile by selfishness.’ Selfishness is the cause of all mankind’s difficulties. The fundamental change is therefore from selfishness, which is also self-centeredness, self-preoccupation and so forth, to a state of sympathy, harmony and unity, where other people’s well-being is realized to be of as much, if not of more, importance than one’s own. Some may know this theoretically, although millions of people will not even accept it as a valid theoretical proposition. Part of our work as members of the Society is to use all the reasoning, literature, philosophy, devotional methods, discussions, the example of our lives, everything – to show the validity of this fact. When the inner condition changes from self-centeredness to a realization of unity the world will change.
Again I would like to quote a brief sentence from The Mahatma Letters: ‘The term “Universal Brotherhood” is no idle phrase ... It is the only secure foundation of universal morality.’ Let us examine a little what we mean by selfishness. Because we are not aggressively selfish people, we tend to be fairly contented with ourselves. We see that people who are crudely ambitious, cruel, etc. wreak havoc in the world and we look at them as the culprits. We are on the whole nice people – only on the whole – and so we do not regard selfishness as a problem, perhaps even an evil, within us. But let us try to see the selfishness inside without a feeling of guilt. Guilt is unnecessary; all of us are selfish. Not one of us is exempt.
Self-centeredness can be very subtle. We must become aware that even in relationships with people who are close to us – the family, children, parents, a friend for whom we have affection there is still a barrier. That person is always the ‘other’ and I am ‘myself’. This is also selfishness. The other person’s body is of course different, but why need the mind regard everything as ‘other’ - human beings, animals, trees and even the earth. Human relationships are the most complicated. Plants do not cross us. Even the poor animals cannot really set themselves against us. They have no chance. But other human beings do. We cannot wipe them out as we do the animals and plants, unless we go to war.
What is our internal attitude, with regard to comforts? Often life is like a game of musical chairs, with few positions available and many seeking them. Do I feel the comfortable position should be mine? Do I walk a little faster in order to get it first before somebody else? In a lot of little things the self-centre shows itself if one watches. When we are indifferent, and do not feel moved by the pity of the world's condition, it is also selfishness. The Buddha advised that we should realize sorrow as the first truth; it referred to the movement of compassion from within, a release from one's self-centeredness.
Let us not be too easily satisfied. Let us not think that there are nice people in this world. Of course there are a lot of nice people, even in this unpleasant world. But being nice is different from being free of self-centeredness, self-preoccupation, the self in its varied manifestations. The fundamental change has to do with rooting out the self completely - not necessarily in one day. It means really working for nirvana, for nirvana is ‘putting an end’ to the egotistic self.
We make words like ‘unity’, ‘brotherhood’, ‘harmony’, ‘compassion’ into weak terms. These words have a profound, revolutionary significance, if we understand them rightly. It means seeing the inner nature of everything that exists; to see that everything in Nature has a purpose, value and meaning in itself, not what we attribute to it. Most of us unconsciously tend to think that values are according to our prejudices, wants and ideas. The person one considers to be of value is somebody who pleases us in some way – physically, psychologically, or whatever. As for other people, one may not dislike them, or be against them, but a deep sense of respect, a sense of their ineradicable value may not be felt. Brotherhood means something different from what we generally think it does. It implies learning to see that the one unitary life everywhere is wonderful beyond our imagination, subtle, profound, sacred. Wherever it is – and there is no place where it is not – there is something to be respected, studied, something with which we have to feel in harmony, because that harmony is the only way of really knowing.
So the fundamental change we are talking about is from selfishness to unity. Selfishness, whether positive or negative, even if it seems to be no more than indifference or laziness, must end utterly. This change to realization of unity is revolutionary, fundamental. If selfishness were eradicated, one would never feel anger or bitterness, or get into frictions; our life would be one of deep respect for others. One would not try to thrust on them what one thinks is right. We would respect their own unique path of unfoldment. We would not respond unkindly when something does not suit us or is not pleasant. These are all expressions of self-centeredness. All forms of immorality, greed, anger, corruption, deception in all the small forms in which we practice it - would end. What a great change!
It would also be a change from turmoil and restlessness to profound peace and harmony, because the source of agitation, destructiveness and conflict – one part of the mind wanting something, another part something else – is in the personal desires of the self.
If we say the fundamental change is from wanting to not wanting, there may be some who react ‘how is it possible not to want?’ If we start thinking that way, we may never change. We must realize that all ‘wanting’ is bound to end in frustration, because everything that is needed, and more, is within ourselves. Peace is in our consciousness, because it is the very nature of life and consciousness. Life is beauty, life is goodness and the purity of unity. But because we struggle and do not allow that life to flow from within, we suffer from want and seek elsewhere.
Fundamental change is thus many things.-It is change from selfishness to altruism; from strife, inside and outside, to peace; from ugliness – there is a lot of ugliness inside us – to beauty and harmony. It is a change from a state of ignorance to wisdom.
Strife, the feeling of separateness, is a burden the consciousness carries, yet it wants affection, it craves for relationship. Self-centeredness is the epitome of ignorance. We think that ignorance is removed when we have attained what is normally called knowledge. But it is not. What is called knowledge is not knowledge at all. It is merely loading the brain with ideas and much information. The Upanishads, Lao Tzu and other sages declared that he who knows does not know. He who really knows is the one who realizes Unity, which is also supreme beauty, harmony, peace, love, and the wisdom which enables one to act rightly. Knowledge which has no element of love in it, is not knowledge. Wisdom is both intelligence and love, and different from what we ordinarily call knowledge. So we can say the fundamental change is from ignorance to wisdom. It means becoming aware of the true nature of life – its meaning and inherent purpose.
Then should we regard ordinary knowledge as useless? It depends on what that knowledge is. There is knowledge which is really useless, except for practical purposes. You have to know certain things, like your way home. Apart from that, a lot of knowledge we accumulate is useless. But there can also be useful knowledge. In the Indian tradition they say, as the diamond is used to cut the diamond, knowledge may be used to transcend knowledge, and to obtain insight and intuitive awareness of the true nature of life, its unity. Thus there is a breaking out of the prison of the self. It is such knowledge that the T.S. must be concerned with, and provide.
In a Theosophical lodge, if a group wants to organize courses in physiology, botany and so on, which is useful, should they be encouraged? We must ask: Useful from what point of view? It is not the work of the T.S. to offer knowledge which is useful for practical things like how to assemble a car or radio. The knowledge we are concerned with is that other kind of knowledge which can point the way to a truth beyond its own range. Humanity now needs to go beyond the analytical, fragmented mind, always dissecting, comparing, evaluating, to another kind of perception, for which we can use the word intuition, although it is too often used in a wrong sense. The word buddhi is better, because it means waking up – from the false reality in which the mind is caught.
Most of the things with which we are occupied, fights, hopes, what somebody said yesterday, what we want to do tomorrow, all seem important at the time. Yet only a small part of our concerns has importance, and even that only of a relative order. Is there a waking up out of this to see what life is really like, its meaning, deep significance, and beauty? Is there a way of thinking, of looking at things which can help all human beings, not just ourselves, to break out of the prison-house of the self into a realization of the shared nature of life, our common destiny? If we think in these terms we see how very vital is the first object of the T.S.: universal brotherhood without distinctions. If the mind can realize brotherhood without any distinctions, be free of duality, the ‘other' and myself, my well-being versus somebody else’s, is that not a dimensional change, a religious journey? Transformation has a truly religious meaning.
We have created divisions by our thinking, we have been conditioned into it. If we could free ourselves from that conditioning, we would be radiating peace and harmony. So universal brotherhood without distinctions is not an idle phrase, a commonplace thing. It is the main work of the Theosophical Society. When we convert it into something ordinary, we feel that we must go around finding other things to do. But there is no difference between such brotherhood and regeneration, for it calls for a totally new mind, a mind without divisions, distinctions, comparisons, and evaluations.
What a wonderful pioneering activity it is to try and create a nucleus of universal brotherhood! Some people ask why only a nucleus? It is obvious that we can only start with a small group which realizes the importance of universal brotherhood and takes it seriously enough to try and make that brotherhood without distinctions a reality. But a nucleus is a living thing, so it will grow; other people will come into the brotherhood, because they see what a glorious change it is. How else can we begin? What a marvelous object we have; and what inspiration we would get, if we understood the fundamental change this involves. We get accustomed to words, that is the trouble. We do not go sufficiently into the richness of the meaning of brotherhood, take the trouble to realize that when universal brotherhood without distinctions becomes a reality, there would be a mind in which there is delight, love, strength, wisdom, everything. So this is no ordinary task.
Sri Sankaracharya says in a work called ‘Self-knowledge’: ‘Who is there more foolish than he who madly strives for his own benefit?’ Whether it is in a small way in a little circle, or in an aggressive form in a large arena, who is there more foolish than he who strives for his own benefit? It is utter ignorance which makes one live and work for himself. On the contrary, as indicated by the Buddha: ‘Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so let us cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.’
So, let us not take as an already known thing such a truth as brotherhood. What we know about being selfish or unselfish is very superficial. We have to examine these matters many times in great depth to realize all that it implies. If we do that, then we might be strong in carrying out the work of the T.S. which is to bring about a change in human society.
To be continued