Radha Burnier – India
Radha Burnier at home and the cat
[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. Proceedings of the seminar were published as a book under the title Human Regeneration: Lectures and Discussion (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij der Theosofische Vereniging in Nederland, 1990). This chapter is here slightly revised.]
Individual and Group Work for Regeneration
Several people have asked: how do we put all this into effect, what is the practical outcome in terms of lodge and group work?
First, it is important to realize what we are working for. There has not been much clarity on this point. There is no quick or easy way to regeneration. If we could say, go through steps such and such and everything will be accomplished, the whole world would be regenerated at once, but it does not work that way.
We can more or less see that the mind has to become new, and learn to look at everything from the point of view of unity. It should not merely have an intellectual concept of unity, but a growing awareness of unity. Probably we are all one in feeling that this is the nature of the work we must do, and that the objects of the Society are related to this. They indicate different aspects of the same main work. Can we communicate this perception through our lodges? It must be a perception, not a concept or a theory, that what humanity needs is this new awareness, a state of mind in which there is no division. If we can communicate this, we have started working for regeneration. Regeneration has not taken place in us, but just seeing that this is what we and humanity need is the beginning, and is important.
Krishnaji said 'the first step is the last step', and the direction taken with the first step is what matters. If we think that the work of the Society is less profound, less far-reaching, we yield to distractions in carrying out the work. So this awareness is the first part of the work. Some people may think that several days or a week are unnecessary to communicate an awareness of the work to be done, but that view is not correct. It takes very much longer, for to say mentally 'regeneration is necessary' is very different from realizing it in one's heart, feeling deeply that this is the most vital thing. But when we begin to think about it carefully, explore it, try to find out the whole content of regeneration, we are setting in motion a current at the mental or psychological level. We are then putting good seeds into the human mind.
If the 35,000 members of the Theosophical Society all over the world felt wholeheartedly that regeneration is the real need of humanity, imagine what it would do at the invisible psycho-logical level. The change would be very real because most things begin at the mental level. 'Ideas rule the world' said one of the Adepts. If this is more than an idea, a force arising out of a deep conviction and awareness, it will be even stronger than mere ideas. It would be the basis for all activities we initiate or try to encourage.
What should be the nature of the main activities of any Theosophical group? People who travel all over the world cannot help noticing how work goes off at a tangent because the purpose is not clear. People are preoccupied with peripheral things, or engaged merely in pleasant occupations like meeting others over a cup of tea in a friendly spirit, which is good so far as it goes. But is it enough to fulfil the aims of the Society? We only too often reduce the aims of the Society to a mundane and superficial level. So with patience and perseverance all of us must try to share our awareness of the need to carry out the real aim of the T.S. This would be the first step.
If we are aware that the nature of the change is in the direction of an undivided consciousness, then we can proceed further. Many of us continue, in spite of long membership of the Society and the devotion we have shown during many years, to think unconsciously in terms of “my” group and “the other” group. At the purely practical level, the “my” and the “your” may have meaning. We do not want to use other people's combs and brushes or lend them ours. But there is the psychological condition, so deeply entrenched, that although we are aware now and again, the rest of the time we function in terms of division. Perhaps this happens because we have not really explored the nature of the change. We merely talk about brotherhood, and our brotherhood often fails miserably. Therefore, within the T.S., in the lodges and other groups there is friction, factions, tussles to gain office.
Some other societies have eliminated such problems by having no membership. A small invisible group of people runs everything: they own the properties, they organize everything. Others merely participate in meetings, use the premises for study, and go their own way. That is so much easier. But then these people are not put to the test. We are. The work in our Society is not merely to talk about universal brotherhood, but to demonstrate to the world that it can be a reality. This is important. It means not being superficial, and examining all the implications of universal brotherhood without distinctions. We must find out what is the nature of a mind without any barrier or prejudice, any sense of the “other”. We cannot become enlightened immediately, but we must be earnest about journeying in that direction.
Can we bring greater clarity through what we discuss in groups, and relate theosophical studies to this question? Perhaps we need to keep regeneration in the background of our minds in order to make our study fruitful for, as the Upanishads state, this is the truth of truths, the unity of life.
I am only offering suggestions. This is the most difficult of subjects and everyone must give thought to it. How can we communicate the need for regeneration as the most urgent necessity of humanity, of ourselves as individuals - not as a far-away, abstract, metaphysical question, reserved for a few people who adopt what is called a religious life, but for all humanity?
Second, what is the nature of that change? Just as trees shed their leaves in winter and renew themselves, the mind can shed its opinions, prejudices, barriers and renew itself. Can we go into the implications of that? Can we try wholeheartedly to create inspiring examples of cooperation, affection, a meeting of hearts, in all the little groups of the Society? There is nothing more convincing than example. There are many people who think that it is impossible to be unselfish and to love everybody. If they were to come into contact with a loving, spiritual person, most of them would begin to realize that it is possible, for they see that it has happened.
The T.S. can demonstrate to the world that a deep sense of brotherhood, a realization of spiritual kinship with each other, is a reality, in a group of ten or a group of two hundred - it does not matter what the size is. The whole of the T.S. could also become an example. Whenever a group is in discord, it does great damage to the work of the Society because its credibility is lost. The opposite can also take place. When the group puts into practice the objects and brings about the necessary change, it can draw people to it and inspire confidence. There are a number of groups and lodges where the members do not really know each other, because there is competition to become president or secretary. This can also be avoided by forming study groups where there are no officers. Yet an escape of this kind does not seem to be the way out. If instead of having lodges, you have only unattached members it would be even easier. A computer will keep track of them and print out reminders about dues. They can all remain where they are, unrelated to each other, and receive literature. They may study seriously, but this does not fulfil our object. The T.S. is meant to bring people together people who earnestly try to realize on this physical plane the supreme truth of unity, which is forever a reality at the spiritual level.
Third, since regeneration is the purpose of the Society, the nature of the work must encourage awareness of what we are doing and thinking, of our prejudices, our hidden dislikes and desires. The mind must become more sensitive, perceptive and intelligent, and sense the inner nature of life, its meaning and beauty. Regeneration involves this qualitative change of consciousness, so we should make a serious effort not to turn Theosophy into a subject like any other taught in a college. If a student has a good memory, he makes good in physiology or similar subjects. Another student who has memorized the contents of books may say “In chapter so and so of such and such a book you will find this information”; if he readily quotes from this or that source he may be considered a better theosophist. In many of our lodges the programmes consist of lectures by a few able speakers. Everybody cannot lecture, of course. But if the program is exclusively one of lectures by a few competent persons, the others do not work. The lecture is generally at the mental level. Often the speaker is merely picking up what other people have said, and stringing the information together in a more or less impressive manner.
How can we make Theosophy a living wisdom? How can the knowledge which is theosophy be the means to living wisdom? It cannot be that if people only come to hear a “nice lecture”, or an “exciting” or “inspiring” lecture. Can it be a more real experience for others, offering a basis for them to investigate, ponder and know for themselves?
Discussion also should not be a matter of venting opinions. Opinions are not truth. Can we succeed in discussing vital questions without being anxious to present our opinions, but seriously trying to learn more about the subject discussed, its depth of meaning and all the implications? What does it tell us about how to live, how to be related? What application does it have in life? Many questions have to be examined whenever we talk about anything worthwhile. We need to encourage exploration, the spirit of looking for truth and never saying “I know.” Can theosophical groups attract people who really feel there is no religion higher than truth — not even the religion of their own opinions and concepts?
Perhaps the ”new age” which people talk about will not be an age of mental concepts that are, like the present ones, misleading and divisive, but an age of more sensitive awareness. Jinarajadasa spoke about the new humanity of intuition. “Intuition” is a word which means many things to many people, and we must be careful about the meaning. But the point is: can discussion lead to looking at underlying meanings, not only at obvious concepts? It must make the participants more sensitive, enhance their intuitive perception. If the subject of unity is discussed, many points will come up. But there is something more important than new points. In the course of the discussion, can the participants begin to have some kind of glimpse or realization of that unity? “Realization” means that it becomes real. Unity must eventually become real in a deep way, but even if it becomes only a little more real each time there is discussion, it has value.
In our work it is also important not to encourage mere belief. The greatest respect we can pay to any wise person is to consider seriously and carefully what he says, until the truth he speaks becomes a truth for us. As we have said, we should not set up infallible authorities in the T.S., nor abandon common sense and reasoning. Our reasoning may lead us astray for the time being, and we may be unable to see the truth. Still it is important to try to use our own faculties, viveka, reasoning, and common sense.
We should neither reject nor accept everything a person says, because we dislike someone and make an authority of another. At a certain council meeting, a member held the view that the books of C.W. Leadbeater should be banned in the Theosophical Society. The T.S. is not the Roman Catholic Church to ban books. The point made was about CWL saying that in some places the magnetism or atmosphere is not conducive to treading the spiritual path. So he advises against going to such places. This was held to be very “unbrotherly”; CWL should not be allowed to say such things, the member declared. If someone's idea of brotherhood is to associate with all types of people and go even to unsavory places, he is of course free to do so. But CWL's advice may also have a point, and there is no reason why others should not have the opportunity to consider that point. The refusal to consider all matters on their merit, and the basing of one's repudiation or acceptance on prejudice or authority, is not the right way if we care about regeneration. There should be, on the other hand, an attitude of open-minded, serious enquiry, particularly into important questions. But if we are not open-minded with regard to small questions, we may not be open-minded in respect of bigger questions.
It is also necessary to see if we are theoretical. Is the way we speak about things, perhaps even look at them, abstract, or does it have relevance to what we are actually doing, how we are living? One of the Adepts stated that if religion is true, it should provide the answer to all problems. Theosophy is the Wisdom – Religion. As H. P. B. said, Theosophy must be a living power in one's life, and applied in all relationships, whether business, social or personal. That is the case for the individual; but group studies that are effective should also bring understanding of the various fields of human activity, whether education, social reconstruction, or any other field. Perhaps we do not pay sufficient attention to the relevance of our study to human activities. Is it not important that, while we discuss and study, we should bear in mind that it is all a means to a different relationship, society being a structure of relationship? It must effect change in our lives, professionally, socially, in the home and so on. Theosophy must have a practical bearing. The Mahatmas said that their teaching is at the same time profound and practical. What is that practical element? How do the truths we try to understand relate to the problems of present-day humanity, individual, national and global?
There is another point: the language we use. Truth is ageless, but the idiom in which it is presented must be suitable for the time. We must try to find what idiom is meaningful to the present generation and will be so to the coming generation. What are the problems with which this and the immediate future generation are confronted? Most people are not interested in improvement of the condition of humanity. They are concerned with the problems that affect them personally. They want some kind of help and understanding. How do our discussions and research enable us to find an answer to these problems? We may not find final answers, but it Is important to give our attention to this. If we merely talk about some abstraction, then they wonder what use it is for them to come to the T.S. The Buddha, tradition reports, was asked metaphysical questions which he refused to answer. When he was questioned further as to his silence, he said: Suppose an arrow has pierced your flesh, what would you do? Discuss from what wood it is made, with what velocity it flew? Or would you be interested in how to remove it and heal the wound? This healing is our concern.
Perhaps all this seems impractical, but I do not think it is. If we know what we are doing in the lodge, what is our concern as a group, what is important to touch upon from time to time even in an informal meeting over a cup of tea, much will change, for our orientation will be different. One view of the work of the T.S; is to start from the outside: let us try to increase the membership engage in high-level publicity. It is worth recalling what Sri Rami said: Suppose publicity brings a million members who are self-interested, it will do more harm than good. A million people organized together will be much worse than if they were on their own. It is better to start from within. If we are clear about the work and follow the right methods, then the other things will take their proper place. We will find right means, in proper proportion, of letting people know about this work. Krishnamurti remarked: “If the honey is there, the bees will come.” The question is, do we have the honey?
To be continued