THEOSOPHY, Vol. 92, Fall 2003
(Pages 4-10; Size: 12K)


[Article number (24) in this Department]

How can virtues compete in a world of aggression and violence?

This question, pursued in the theosophical reflections that follow, often flows from frustration at the injustices we experience despite the best intentions. Many individuals, for example, work for peace in the world and yet war ensues. Well-rewarded but cutthroat business strategies might also be a source, as are the clichés that the squeaky wheel gets oiled or might makes right. This question also may arise from scientific studies that traditionally have been biased toward a competitive paradigm, akin to Darwin's survival of-the-fittest theories, without the slightest consideration of alternatives. Do nice guys finish last? What are we doing, in theosophy not to mention thousands of generations of religiously inclined chelas, disciples and good Samaritans, if virtue is not a sought-after quality? Are the meek to inherit the earth -- really? Do the ends justify the means -- and just what ending is that? Is the universe inherently kind? Or are we by nature brutes? Where does water find its level? Our culture expresses this question in many ways. Several students of theosophy consider the question posed, to explore several facets of this inquiry:


When we consider all the cruelty and hatred in the world, the terrible acts of violence and aggression, we might come to the conclusion, as many have done, that human beings are essentially selfish, mean and vicious. The ruthless survive, and the innocent succumb. The evil prevail, and the good perish.

But we would be wrong.

The Bhagavad-Gita states, "The embodied soul is gifted with faith." We would add, the embodied soul is gifted with love, compassion, altruism, peace, harmony, patience and kindness. This is our true nature. Everyone's true nature. Even the worst criminal's, the worst human predator's. For each of us begins our evolutionary journey as pure spirit. This spiritual nature is permanent, eternal, changeless and divine. It is what we truly are. Rather than original sin, we are born into original goodness.

As we proceed in our journey through matter, we enter into one form after another. These forms are impermanent, mortal, mutable and limited. Within these evanescent forms, we produce thoughts, feelings and actions that are either in harmony with our divine Self or are in disharmony with that Self. Those that are in harmony are of the same nature as the Self; they are real, permanent and eternal. Those that are not in harmony are of a nature contrary to the Self; they are false, impermanent and evanescent. The one lasts forever; the other lives and dies.

Moreover, those thoughts, feelings and actions that are not in harmony with the sacred Source of life engender karmic consequences that must be experienced by the being who created them. Deeds of violence and aggression against others will inevitably rebound upon the perpetrator. As the Light of Asia says:

 By this [the law of karma] the slayer's knife did stab himself;

 The unjust judge hath lost his own defender;

The false tongue dooms its lie; the creeping thief

 And spoiler rob, to render.

Such is the Law which moves to righteousness,

 Which none at last can turn aside or stay;

The heart of it is Love, the end of it

 Is Peace and Consummation sweet. Obey!

The law of Karma, then, by unerringly bringing us the exact results of our actions, teaches us to live in harmony with life: it teaches us virtue.

The entire universe is working towards peace and love and harmony. Acts of violence and aggression are weak and ultimately ineffectual protests that are doomed to fail and die. What chance do a few feeble errors such as these have against the incalculable, immeasurable power and expanse of the universe itself?

Periods of moral light and darkness follow each other as day does night. Now we are in a period of moral darkness. Our task is to see it in its proper context, as a passing phase within a greater cycle, and, more importantly, as a momentary aberration within an eternity of perfect love. Our task is to maintain our vision of the original goodness of life and to think and feel and act on that basis, no matter what those around us may think or feel or do.


If we look upon virtue and violence as two parts of a whole, we have a relationship. In what way are they related? Violence might be thought of as an advanced degree of unrest or perhaps a reaction to fear. Fear of what? Fear of losing anything one holds to be worthwhile. When viewed from the point of view of a separate being, we see differences throughout the world -- differences in dress, customs, food, language and beliefs. Are these differences sufficient to cause violence or aggression? The bigot or cultist might think so. However, from a wider perspective, these differences might represent points of departure from which one might expand one's view. How does one expand one's view? This requires a quantum leap to a realization that an expanded view of life has a purpose other than maintaining the familiar and comfortable.

Violence and aggressive behavior seem to be related to the acquisitive nature, whether an individual or a group. Virtue, in the context of its highest definition, is a quality that expresses itself for the good of all regardless of any differences. As in music, a dissonance is resolved by becoming part of the harmonious whole. "Our souls are as it were a music, of which our Bodies are the instruments," wrote Eliphas Levi (Theosophist, 1881, noted in Mahatma Letters LBS Appendix 1).

In this context; virtue might be the soul view while violence the material or limited perception that thinks and acts from a separative point of view not realizing its being a part of a whole or the one life. Yet in the Key to Theosophy, HPB notes, "Karma is the law of re-adjustment which ever tends to restore equilibrium in the physical, and broken harmony in the moral world."

Through karma, we see justice play out while "each part, as in the glorious fugues of the immortal Mozart, ceaselessly chases the other in harmonious discord on the paths of Eternal progress to meet and finally blend at the threshold of the pursued goal into one harmonious whole, the keynote in nature. Absolute Justice makes no difference between the many and the few." (ML Letter 120.)


To ask if virtues can compete in a world of aggression and violence is like asking if it is worth breathing in a city with air pollution. The alternative is a rather grim prospect. Virtue is an expression of our humanness at its best.

The virtues are the life affirming principles that energize us to really accomplish worthwhile things in life. The word virtue should be thought of as a verb not a noun, active not passive. The virtuous do not stand in the shadows of the cathedrals of materialism, orthodoxy or self-centeredness. The virtues are the spiritual qualities that empower us to withstand and actually transform the misguided and out of control creations of our time. Like Dr. Jekyl, we have good intentions but our creativity is often misguided and we are sorrowfully ignorant of the Mr. Hyde-like monster we have created who has gotten beyond our control. Our present day world is a truly perverse anomaly. While there is no denying our technological genius which affects so many aspects of life -- communications, medicine, transportation, food production, engineering, etc. -- the verdict is certainly not in as to whether life is of a higher quality now for the majority than it was in the past. So why in heaven's name when we are so capable have we devastated the natural world, are so cruel to our fellow human beings, have no consciousness of how our buying habits affect the present and future, and act as if we don't know where cancer, heart disease, social unrest, ecological disasters and a host of other plagues come from.

Basically they are man made and we waste billions of dollars each year on curing the symptoms rather than eradicating the causes. We live like there is no tomorrow, as if the earth is the enemy, as if there will be no ramifications due to how we treat each other as individuals and as nations. We act as if our salvation depends on the individual and collective accumulation of wealth and power, social, political, religious and economic. Somehow we forget that "You Can't Take It With You." Only the virtues such as honesty, courage, justice, fortitude, prudence, liberality and truthfulness, when emanating through our actions, keep the human sphere in harmony with itself and nature and reflects the essential oneness of all life. Only when we begin to act from our higher qualities, when we dip into those spiritual reservoirs within each of us will we begin to calm and dissipate the aggression and violence in the world (in ourselves) and replace our present blindness with a forward looking vision.

Rarely do we hear from politicians, educators or religious leaders any positive vision of the future. (At best the religious point of view promises something positive in the next world.) We are always looking to the past, "the good old days" when things were better. Our heroes are mostly from a long time ago. Although the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Plato, Moses, Quan Yin and many others are all inspiring and good, they still turn us back. We need a philosophy of the present; we need that living religion that binds us together now (L. religio). We need that true science (L. sciere, to know) that is not warped by political, religious or market ideology and begins to explore the world of moral and intelligent forces as well as matter.

The first of all the virtues is courage, because virtue has to do with living the truth as we now perceive it, and when shortcomings are revealed whether moral, psychological or spiritual, we must have the courage and honesty to make the necessary alterations to continue to grow as individuals, as a society and a world in a positive way. Since the forces of materialism, sensual life and psychic habit are so powerful, courage is a key for bringing forth all the other virtues. If we understood better the laws of spiritual causation and how our moral life effects us in the long run, we would surely realize that aggression and violence are senseless voids and that "virtue is its own reward."

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(Winter 2003-2004)
[Article number (25) in this Department]

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