Transforming the World

Barbara Hebert – USA

Theosophy 420 BH b

Barbara Hebert, National President of the Theosophical Society in America

We, as a group, want to transform the world. We want it to be a place of peace, acceptance, and compassion. We want to live in a world where there is no judgment based upon skin color, religious or spiritual tradition, belief system, way of self-identifying, and so on. In other words, we want to live in a world where everyone realizes the essential unity of all life and has a reverence and respect for that life.

We may talk about inclusion as a way to come together, but we are actually talking about moving beyond inclusion. Inclusion implies that someone or something must be excluded, and no one should be excluded. We are talking about a unity that is so profound that it extends far beyond the concept of inclusion. We are talking about a unity and a respect for all life that goes beyond inclusion or even love in the way that most of us think about it; rather, we are talking about LOVE for all beings because nothing else is conceivable.

If we are all one—a unity of all life—then, what happens to one of us happens to all of us. This is the world in which many of us wish to live. The difficult question is…how do we get there? How do we transform the world?

One thing that many of us know is that we can’t change other people. We try…try to change our children, try to change our partners, try to change our families…but we quickly find that we can’t change another person. What, then, can we change? Ourselves.

In order to radically transform the world, we must radically transform ourselves. Former International President of the Theosophical Society, Radha Burnier said, “The subject of human [transformation] 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.” So, what did she mean when she talked about a revolutionary or radical change in each of us? Maybe this quote from Krishnamurti will be helpful: “To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves or to bring about a modified change through revolution, either of the left or of the right. It is important to understand that this is our responsibility, yours and mine...”

Our responsibility, then, according to Krishnamurti is our intention to understand ourselves, and we can do this through objective self-observation. What are we thinking, feeling, saying, doing? What is the intention behind our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions?

Are we congruent? That is, do our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions match our belief system, match our desire for change in ourselves and thus in the world?

This sounds very simple, yet it is perhaps one of the most difficult undertakings any of us will ever experience. Self-transformation is a process that requires honesty and courage. How do we begin this process? Let’s begin on a very practical level.

In psychological circles, there are discussions about which comes first...thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. There is no need to get into that debate in this article, but one thing is certain, our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are connected almost instantaneously.

Let’s talk first about our thoughts. Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2,500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour. Other experts estimate a smaller number of 50,000 thoughts per day, which means about 2,100 thoughts per hour, or about 35 thoughts a minute or about 6 thoughts a second.  So, in the time that it’s taken you to read this, you have probably had about 35-50 thoughts! What were they?

Where did they come from?           

We are conditioned from the moment of our birth to have certain thoughts. We are conditioned by our family, our teachers, our culture, etc. Everything around us tells us what we should say, be, or do. Many of these messages are unconscious. We are not even aware that we have inculcated them.

Furthermore, we are conditioned by the illusion of the world in which we live. We see separation and division rather than unity and community, so we may believe this is the natural way of the world. From this perception of separation and division, we may feel lonely, isolated, and abandoned. At times, we may even feel angry or vulnerable due to this perception. It also impacts our language so that we fall into using words like “you” and “me,” “us” and “them.” Thus, the illusion of the world conditions our thoughts and thus impacts our feelings and even our choice of words.

Continuing along these same lines, our thoughts impact our behaviors. Many years ago as a high school teacher, one of my students stated that another teacher was prejudiced against black people. I was very surprised by the statement and indicated that this teacher had never shown any evidence of bias. She told me that when this teacher distributed papers, he would never touch her hand like he did with the white students. She said that he always put her paper on her desk. After more conversation, the student said that she had seen this behavior consistently throughout the school year. After much thought, it occurred to me that this teacher had an unconscious conditioned thought (possibly something like, not touching people of another skin color) and it was impacting him without his awareness. However, the students were aware of it.

Taking all of these things together, when we come into contact with others who have different belief systems (religiously, politically, socially, etc.), we are likely to have conditioned thoughts about those other systems that can impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We may perceive the person who holds those beliefs as frightening or dangerous. We react to them based on our unconscious conditioned thoughts.

These conditioned thoughts can be so deeply rooted that we have difficulty identifying them.  Sometimes, we have even more difficulty “owning” those thoughts, especially assuming that we can separate from ourselves enough to identify what is happening.

How to identify those thoughts about which we may not be aware, or the thoughts that flit through so quickly that we are not aware of them?

  • Constant self-observation and awareness every minute of every day.
  • Be aware of others’ reactions to you and about what others say or don’t say to you.
  • Have open and honest communication with others, asking for feedback.
  • Listen to your intuition, to that still silent voice within.

Identification is the first step in transforming ourselves. Krishnamurti says that “Analysis does not transform consciousness.” We transform our consciousness by first identifying and then working to make changes: changes to our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors—changing those aspects that are not congruent with our belief system. We must change our thoughts into ones that are congruent with our belief system.

As we all know, change does not happen overnight. That is why the transformation of our consciousness is a process. We have to practice. We will fail at times, and we will need to pick ourselves up and start over. Eventually, the new way of thinking, acting, talking, and doing will become a part of who we are.

For how long do we do this?  Forever. Krishnamurti says, “The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end - you don't come to an achievement, you don't come to a conclusion. It is an endless river.” Transformation is a process that will take us, as Radha Burnier says, “...from selfishness to unity….This change to realization of unity is revolutionary, fundamental.”  “Fundamental change is ...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.”

Therefore, if we want to change the world, and I believe we all do, then we must begin by changing ourselves.

You have probably heard the story of the 100th monkey, a story about social change shared by Ken Keyes, but it is probably worth reminding ourselves of it.

The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years. In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant. An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes -- the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let's further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.


By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

But notice: A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped to another island and all of the monkeys there began washing their sweet potatoes.

Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind. Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people. But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!

When enough of us transform—begin washing our sweet potatoes--maybe we will reach that critical mass, and all of humanity will be moved to transform.  As individuals change, so humanity changes. We are one and the same and can never be separated. Similar to the yin yang symbol, we carry humanity within each of us. Each of us is carried within humanity. Together, we are whole.

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