Religion and Reform from a Theosophical View-point
The Twentieth Century, March 12, 1891
Two great shadowy shapes remain fixed in the attention of the mind of the day, threatening to become in the twentieth century more formidable and engrossing than ever. They are religion and reform, and in their sweep they include every question of pressing human need; for the first arises through the introspective experience of the race out of its aspirations toward the unknown and the ever present desire to solve the questions whence and why, while the second has its birth in the conditions surrounding the bodies of the questioners of fate who struggle helplessly in the ocean of material existence.
Many men wielding small or weighty pens have wrestled with these questions, attacking them in ways as various as the minds of those who have taken them up for consideration, but it still remains for the theosophist to bring forward his views and obtain a hearing. This he should always do as a matter of duty, and not from the pride of fame or the self-assertion which would see itself proclaimed before men. For he knows that, even if he should not speak or could not get a hearing, the march of that evolution in which he thoroughly believes will force these views upon humanity, even if that has to be accomplished by suffering endured by every human unit.
The theosophist can see no possibility of reform in existing abuses, in politics or social relations, unless the plan of reform is one which grows out of a true religion, and he does not think that any of the prevailing religions of the Occident are true or adequate. They do not go to the root of the evil which causes the pain and sorrow that call for reform or alleviation. And in his opinion Theosophy—the essence or concentrated virtue of every religion—alone has power to offer and effect the cure.
None of the present attempts at reform will meet success so long as they are devoid of the true doctrine as to man, his nature and destiny, and respecting the universe, its origin and future course. Every one of these essays leaves man where it finds him, neglecting the lessons to be drawn from the cycles in their never-ceasing revolution. While efforts are made to meliorate his mere physical condition, the real mover, the man within, is left without a guide, and is therefore certain to produce from no matter how good a system the same evils which are designed to be destroyed. At every change he once more proceeds to vitiate the effect of any new regimen by the very defects in human nature that cannot be reached by legislation or by dogmatic creeds and impossible hells, because they are beyond the reach of everything except the power of his own thought. Nationalism, Socialism, Liberalism, Conservatism, Communism, and Anarchism are each and all ineffective in the end. The beautiful dream depicted by Nationalism cannot be made a physical fact, since it has no binding inward sanction; Communism could not stand, because in time the Communist would react back into the holder of individual rights and protector of property which his human nature would demand ought not to be dissipated among others less worthy. And the continuance of the present system, in which the amasser of wealth is allowed to retain and dispose of what he has acquired, will, in the end, result in the very riot and bloodshed which legislation is meant to prevent and suppress.
Indeed, the great popular right of universal suffrage, instead of bringing about the true reign of liberty and law, will be the very engine through which the crash will come, unless with it the Theosophic doctrines are inculcated. We have seen the suffrage gradually extended so as to be universal in the United States, but the people are used to demagogues and the suffrage is put to waste. Meanwhile, the struggle between capital and labor grows more intense, and in time will rage with such fury that the poor and unlearned, feeling the gad of poverty strike deeper, will cast their votes for measures respecting property in land or chattels, so revolutionary that capital will combine to right the supposed invasion by sword and bullet. This is the end toward which it is all tending, and none of the reforms so sincerely put forward will avert it for one hour after the causes have been sufficiently fixed and crystallized. This final formation of the efficient causes is not yet complete, but is rapidly approaching the point where no cure will be possible.
The cold acquirements of science give us, it is true, magnificent physical results, but fail like creeds and reforms by legislative acts in the end. Using her own methods and instruments, she fails to find the soul and denies its existence; while the churches assert a soul but cannot explain it, and at the same time shock human reason by postulating the incineration by material fire of that which they admit is immortal. As a means of escape from this dilemma nothing is offered save a vicarious atonement and a retreat behind a blind acceptance of incongruities and injustice in a God who is supposed by all to be infinitely merciful and just.
Thus, on the one hand, science has no terrors and no reformatory force for the wicked and the selfish; on the other, the creeds, losing their hold in consequence of the inroads of knowledge, grow less and less useful and respected every year. The people seem to be approaching an era of wild unbelief. Just such a state of thought prevailed before the French revolution of 1793.
Theosophy here suggests the reconciliation of science and religion by showing that there is a common foundation for all religions and that the soul exists with all the psychic forces proceeding therefrom. As to the universe, Theosophy teaches a never-ending evolution and involution. Evolution begins when the Great Breath—Herbert Spencer’s “Unknowable” which manifests as universal energy—goes forth, and involution, or the disappearance of the universe, obtains when the same breath returns to itself. This coming forth lasts millions upon millions of years, and involution prevails for an equal length of time. As soon as the breath goes forth, universal mind together with universal basic matter appears. In the ancient system this mind is called Mahat, and matter Prakriti. Mahat has the plan of evolution which it impresses upon Prakriti, causing it to ceaselessly proceed with the evolution of forms and the perfecting of the units composing the cosmos. The crown of this perfection is man, and he contains in himself the whole plan of the universe copied in miniature but universally potential.
This brings us to ourselves, surrounded as we are by an environment that appears to us to cause pain and sorrow, no matter where we turn. But as the immutable laws of cause and effect brought about our own evolution, the same laws become our saviors from the miseries of existence. The two great laws postulated by Theosophy for the world’s reform are those of Karma and Reincarnation. Karma is the law of action which decrees that man must suffer and enjoy solely through his own thoughts and acts. His thoughts, being the smaller copy of the universal mind, lie at the root of every act and constitute the force that brings about the particular body he may inhabit. So Reincarnation in an earthly body is as necessary for him as the ceaseless reincarnation of the universal mind in evolution after evolution is needful for it. And as no man is a unit separate from the others in the Cosmos, he must think and act in such a way that no discord is produced by him in the great universal stream of evolution. It is the disturbance of this harmony which alone brings on the miseries of life, whether that be of a single man or of the whole nation. As he has acted in his last life or lives, so will he be acted upon in succeeding ones. This is why the rich are often unworthy, and the worthy so frequently poor and afflicted. All appeals to force are useless, as they only create new causes sure to react upon us in future lives as well as in the present. But if all men believed in this just and comprehensive law of Karma, knowing well that whatever they do will be punished or rewarded in this or other new lives, the evils of existence would begin to disappear. The rich would know that they are only trustees for the wealth they have and are bound to use it for the good of their fellows, and the poor, satisfied that their lot is the just desert for prior acts and aided by the more fortunate, would work out old bad Karma and sow the seeds of only that which is good and harmonious.
National misery, such as that of Whitechapel in London (to be imitated ere long in New York), is the result of national Karma, which in its turn is composed of the aggregation of not only the Karma of the individuals concerned, but also of that belonging to the rest of the nation. Ordinary reforms, whether by law or otherwise, will not compass the end in view. This is demonstrated by experience. But given that the ruling and richer classes believe in Karma and Reincarnation, a universal widespread effort would at once be made by those favorites of fortune toward not only present alleviation of miserable conditions, but also in the line of educating the vulgar who now consider themselves oppressed as well by their superiors as by fate. The opposite is now the case, for we cannot call individual sporadic or sectarian efforts of beneficence a national or universal attempt. Just now we have the General of the Salvation Army proposing a huge scheme of colonization which is denounced by a master of science, Prof. Huxley, as utopian, inefficient, and full of menace for the future. And he, in the course of his comment, candidly admits the great danger to be feared from the criminal and dissatisfied classes. But if the poorer and less discriminating see the richer and the learned offering physical assistance and intelligent explanations of the apparent injustice of life—which can be found only in Theosophy—there would soon arise a possibility of making effective the fine laws and regulations which many are ready to add to those already proposed. Without such Theosophic philosophy and religion, the constantly increasing concessions made to the clamor of the uneducated, democracy’s demands will only end in inflating the actual majority with an undue sense of their real power, and thus precipitate the convulsion which might be averted by the other course.
This is a general statement of the only panacea, for if once believed in—even from a selfish motive—it will compel, by a force that works from within all men, the endeavor to escape from future unhappiness which is inevitable if they violate the laws inhering in the universal mind.