The Theosophical Society in America

What is Our Priority?

Originally printed in the November - December 2004 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Burnier, Radha. "What is Our Priority?." Quest  92.6 (NOVEMBER - DECEMBER 2004):228-229

By Radha Burnier

Radha BurnierHis Holiness the Dalai Lama has clearly stated that it is essential for everyone to learn to live the right kind of life rather than attempt to reach nirvana. Without learning to have relationships of compassion, integrity, unselfishness, friendliness, and care for others, mentally projected "spiritual" aims lead nowhere. The Dalai Lama points out:

There are many different philosophies, but what is of basic importance is compassion, love for others, concern for others' suffering, and reduction of selfishness. I feel that compassionate thought is the most precious thing there is. It is something that only we human beings can develop. And if we have a good heart, a warm heart, warm feelings, we will be happy and satisfied ourselves, and our friends will experience a friendly and peaceful atmosphere as well. This can be experienced nation to nation, country to country, continent to continent . . .

The important thing is that in your daily life you practice the essential things, and on that level there is hardly any difference between Buddhism, Christianity, or any other religion. All religions emphasize betterment, improving human beings, a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, love—these things are common. Thus, if you consider the essence of religion, there is not much difference.

I myself feel and also tell other Buddhists that the question of nirvana will come later. There is not much hurry. But, if in day-to-day life you lead a good life, honestly, with love, with compassion, with less selfishness, then automatically it will lead to nirvana.

The world will change only when virtue is a recognized part of people's lives, but people in general refuse to see this. They are concentrated on their own personal and selfish objectives, or they seek solace from their problems through spiritual achievement, whether it is named moksha, nirvana, or salvation. Few are ready to believe that how we live and behave is important, and that if the right kind of life is lived, in due time, true understanding will dawn about proceeding on the spiritual Path; moksha or nirvana will come nearer by itself.

We must see that the mind which is used to enjoying material benefits in this world continues to think only in terms of benefits that it can obtain in a spiritual world—benefits such as a sense of security, peace of mind, and true happiness. These are not valued because they are good in themselves, but as means to personal satisfaction. There are also skeptics who do not believe that a righteous life will bring peace or joy. They want proof that this will happen, and only if it is available they may make an effort to be righteous; nothing of the sort can of course be proved. To such people, the fruits of selfish action are obvious and near at hand, whilst those of unselfishness are rarely visible.

Krishnamurti declared categorically that without righteousness there can be no meditation. In order to erect a fine structure, a proper foundation must be laid. The foundation by itself will not be sufficient to make the temple, but without it the temple cannot be built. Therefore, righteousness has been stressed in many traditions as the true basis for living. Although it is not easy to know what is right in the complex situations of daily living, we need not despair. If we are deeply grounded in the aspiration to live rightly and determined to discover the nature of virtue, we may make mistakes, but we will progressively develop understanding. An absolutely sincere desire to find the right way to be related to everything in the world is like a touch of magic that takes one towards wisdom.

In the early years of the Theosophical Society, the Mahatmas who guided its formation emphasized that what they wanted was to see people practicing universal brotherhood, without prejudices and mental barriers of any kind. Universality of spirit which seeks nothing other than the good—physical, moral, and spiritual—of all beings has the power to solve many knotty situations in life. This demands that we should examine unequivocally all our motivations and attitudes.

Annie Besant mentions in an autobiographical passage that she made a great blunder in publishing and selling the Knowlton Pamphlet on birth control. "It was about as wrong headed a thing as anybody could have done, looked at from the standpoint of the world." It meant social disgrace and ruin for a woman. But her motive was an ardent desire to lessen the great sufferings of the poor which she had studied at close quarters. Madame Blavatsky told her that this compassion, which made her throw aside all other considerations, had brought her to the Portal of Initiation.

According to Greek philosophers, our higher nature, the immortal soul nature, expresses itself as virtue. Virtue cannot be equated with an idea. If an act of kindness is only an idea in the mind, it does not amount to virtue. But if kindness wells up from within and is spontaneous and wholehearted, it results in right action, being a manifestation of our deeper, spiritual nature. Therefore it has been said "Love—and do what you will." The compassion that the Dalai Lama speaks about may be thought of as the light of the soul which finds its way through the veils of matter and drives away the dark clouds of self interest, at least for the time being. Then the brain mind, which has been conditioned through many incarnations to promote its own interest, yields place to the omnipresent Self deep within, which is never separate from anything else in the cosmos.

C. W. Leadbeater, while speaking to the European Congress in 1930, also pointed out that although the members of the TS agree upon the values of its declared Objects, it is possible for them to argue about their interpretation and practice.

No one is likely to dispute that the idea of trying in every way to promote the Brotherhood of Humanity is a good thing, and that to form a nucleus of that Brotherhood is a step towards greatly increasing its influence. But how the thing is best to be done is of course a question on which there may be quite legitimately many opinions, and there is not the faintest objection to there being many opinions. It is that which keeps the Society alive and which we hope may prevent crystallization . . .

But being good has very little to do with the form of our belief. It has to do a good deal with putting it fully into practice . . . Let brotherly love guide you. You may differ as much as you like in opinions, but you must not let it lead to any sort of ill feeling or any sort of conceit in your superior discernment in being able to see what to you is the right path . . . Let us stand together in Brotherhood and carry on our work, whatever work that may be. There is plenty of time later on to argue what this means and what that means.

Everything that pides is contrary to the law of compassion and universal brotherhood. Left to their own understanding, people will come to the truth about everything in due time; nobody can be truly converted or changed by force. Only the light within each person can illumine the path.

Thus, compassion cannot be reserved for those we think are good people. It must be universal, not a matter of choice. When priority is given to universal brotherhood and understanding others, we may witness real progress on this earth. Towards this end, we study, listen to discourses and meditate. Otherwise, what is the purpose of such activities?


Radha Burnier is President of the international Theosophical Society, the international head of the Theosophical Order of Service, and author of several books, including, Human Regeneration. This article is adapted from The Theosophist 124 (July 2003):363