THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 2, December, 1952
(Pages 78-81; Size: 11K)


[Article number (13) in this Q&A Department]

ARE the principles and basic assumptions upon which modern day democracy is founded compatible with the teachings of Theosophy?

Obviously, to even begin a discussion involving such a wide, often controversial subject as democracy, it is necessary to determine, first, what the basic implications of present-day democracy are, for only from such analysis can we determine if there is a common denominator between Theosophy and democracy.

The conception of political democracy which is easiest to formulate, it seems, can be expressed as "government by the people, through majority rule." All existing political structures, however, are based on certain conceptions of man which are not political, economic, nor even biological, but religious, psychological, and philosophical in origin.

A government "by the people" implies some sort of basic equality among the people. And almost inextricably linked with the idea of equality are the ideals of fraternity, liberty, and justice; in short, the loudly shouted but little heard "rights of man," each citizen's rights. In the final analysis, this quaternary of ideals is derived from a conception of the meaning of individuality -- the Founding Fathers of this country held a humanistic, god-like conception of man. The Founding Fathers, in a sense, premised psychological conditions which could lead to a true social ideal. Work to build, on those premises, a political system which would best serve this ideal, would naturally be long and difficult.

There is, then, common ideological ground existing between Theosophy and American democracy, for, unlike the economic-determinist theory of Marxist communism, its ideals are philosophical. It seems safe to venture that the teachings of Theosophy are compatible with the general humanistic conceptions of man which the democratic principles of equality and fraternity -- "with liberty and justice for all" -- connote. But adequate social application of equality and justice has never, all will agree, been satisfactorily achieved.

The slogan, "all men are created equal," -- if the "created" aspect is overlooked -- is both logical and noble in the promulgation of fraternity. Yet to conclude that all men are equally competent, whether as citizens or as thinkers, is absurd. "Majority rule," however, is to some extent grounded on this conclusion. According to Theosophy "all (men) are the same in kind but differ only in degree" (degree of acquired experience and intelligence). The significance of "the same in kind," as the basis of equality, can hardly be over-emphasized. "Kind" obviously means that all men are human beings, each possessing the same potentialities of perfectibility. Both the democratic and the Theosophical philosophy agree on the inalienable rights of the individual, but the latter proposes that because of differing abilities each man is both teacher and pupil. Applying this relationship on a mass scale, one's conception of purely political democracy is discarded for a great natural brotherhood of human beings. In such a brotherhood, however, it would be recognized that great teachers proceed far in advance of slowly evolving mankind and are "different" in that sense.

Discrepancies arising between the two systems of thought have developed from lack of thorough and continual philosophical support of the democratic premises asserted over a century and three quarters ago.

In regard to U.S. judiciary policy, in terms of law and punishment, the Theosophical tenet of a natural law of moral compensation is in wide disagreement. For with the doctrine of Karma and its companion, Reincarnation, any reasonable and just practice of man-made punishment is nearly inconceivable. Punishment is preceded by judgment, while true judgment is only possible with a knowledge of the mysterious inner motivations behind a man's actions, hardly ascertainable by another. Reward and punishment from the theosophical view are simply inevitable results of a natural Law in operation on all planes. The only common ground between Theosophy and court justice, it seems, is at the plateau of constructive, sympathetic rehabilitation of "criminals," such as has been pioneered by Warden Duffy of San Quentin, and others.

Let us now survey the cornerstone of Fraternity, known in Theosophic terms as the Third Fundamental. To the great fact of individuality proclaimed by the revolutionaries of 1776, Theosophic teaching adds that all human beings are essentially (i.e., spiritually) linked to a common source. In democratic terms, as Walter Bagehot remarked: "The first principle ... is that man can only make progress in cooperative groups." T. V. Smith offers as one explanation of Fraternity man's familial relationships through the stages of infancy to maturity. But these explanations, we may feel, are only interpretations of certain social phenomena, and not really basic in explaining the brotherhood motif.

A serious consideration of the meaning of brotherhood forces us to seek a more radical explanation, and to establish the postulate of a common identity of all human beings.

A paradox involving the poles of individuality and homogeneity should be mentioned. Prolonged expressions of true, universal fraternity occur mostly among men who are strong individuals, perhaps radicals or revolutionaries, and who are altruistically united in the defense of the rights of other individuals. Thus the paradox: true individuality ofttimes establishes the conditions necessary in the realization of brotherhood.

The cardinal points of the highest democratic ideal, then, are abstractions, but in their fullest scope represent a philosophic rather than political "Utopia."

The oldest question in the world seems to be "What is the purpose of life?", and often people ask it somewhat unhappily.

Civilizations rise, reach plateaus, decay, and finally fall in the endless eons of history. People who view history and see nothing but this, become frustrated and pessimistic. Philosophers, Oriental or Western, down through the ages have often repeated mournful lines. The cause of such pessimistic attitudes, it could probably be said, is not because long thought has been given to the problem of life's purpose, with nothing hopeful found, even though this may be the superficial rationale of a man's attitude. Usually the pessimist is afflicted with some kind of psychological or physiological problem that does not seem to be connected with such a philosophical question. Every man, at one time or another, ponders over the seeming lack of balance or order in life, but not every man makes it a cause of pessimism. Can we picture the man who has just created or accomplished something as "questioning purpose"? Even nature offers a pattern of meaning to all who will look for it, and, in moments filled with sublime wonder at nature's mysteries, one can not doubt purpose. Such moments are sometimes spoken of as giving a feeling of a "oneness with life," which might indicate that, in a sense, life -- creativity -- is its own purpose.

Faith in a religious dogma will sometimes solve this problem of futility, temporarily, until reason or science intervenes. But both civilizations and religions are always in cyclic rise and fall, according to H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. An interesting paradox is that while civilizations flourish in material prosperity, religions retrogress, and, when civilization is in retrogression, religion flourishes and is looked upon as a last hope. Obviously, a synthesis of physics and metaphysics is needed, but this is similar to asking man to be always large-minded -- a difficult request.

Immortality is a basic principle in Theosophy, but immortality to what purpose? The purpose of life, states The Bhagavad-Gita, is wisdom. This can be interpreted, in view of the book's background, as gaining wisdom to know one's inner nature. This is individual evolution, and while civilizations may rise and flourish and finally fall, the individual can continually evolve through all these by the power of will. On what criterion can we measure wisdom? Wisdom cannot be measured at all save by the individual himself. "Purpose," therefore, cannot only be thought of in terms of a universal answer. "Purpose" must be gained by a subjective realization. Because of this, an absolute question such as "What is the purpose of life?", can only be answered in partially accurate absolute terms. We could not say that the purpose of life is to own a good car or a big house, for these may be objects of acquirement in life, but not the purpose of life. A pat formula cannot be found to solve the problem for the entire human race. If any answer can be given to this question, it would be that, in the gaining of wisdom, individual man may find what he himself is, and then his purposes will be more expansive and intelligent.

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(January 1953)
[Article number (14) in this Q&A Department]

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