By Dorothy Bell
Originally printed in the NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2008 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Bell, Dorothy. "True Theosophical Service." Quest 96.6 (NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2008):227-229.
BY DEFINITION, THEOSOPHICAL SERVICE IS ACTION THEOSOPHY—the application of fundamental Theosophical principles to inner and outer action. Both HPB and Annie Besant identified it as altruism. Thus Theosophy's central principle is altruism.
As a principle, altruism expresses the true root meaning of the words theos and Brahma—the motion of expansion from within outwardly, which is also associated with the outbreathing of the Great Breath. It means giving unconditionally to the whole from within outwardly. It realizes the wholeness and unity of all. And every movement of that realization of wholeness is open and generous and all-embracing. It is compassion, love, gentleness, kindness, and the full expression of who we truly are.
In a letter to the American convention in 1888, HPB wrote: "The essence of Theosophy is the perfect harmonizing of the divine with the human in man, the adjustment of his godlike qualities and aspirations and their sway over the terrestrial or animal passions in him. Kindness, absence of every ill-feeling or selfishness, charity, goodwill to all beings, and perfect justice to others as to one's self, are its chief features." Theosophical service, then, is made up of inner and outer action. It is on the inner action only that I wish to focus here, as well as on the inner harmonizing and adjustment that is needed to remove impediments that prevent the fullest expression of our true godlike nature in altruism. Such impediments include selfishness and ill-feeling to self and others.
To start with, we need to ask ourselves where these impediments come from that make life so difficult. One source is our social programming. Much of this programming since childhood and the building of an "artificial personality," as HPB called it, takes us away from being who we truly are. When we identify with this personality, we identify with our vehicles—our body, emotions, and thoughts—and not with our true Self. When we see through the eyes of this ego rather than through the eyes of the divine within, we live in a state of separation, fragmentation, and fear. As children, we are often compared to others—for example, through our grades in the educational system. We accumulate beliefs about our worthiness—of not being good enough or smart enough—or we feel superior to others because of our gender, race, job, education, success. We judge both others and ourselves as we try to live up to certain expectations and be successful. And we wear masks, because the most difficult thing to be is who we are within.
In doing any of these things, we have forgotten that we share with others the awesome brilliance, magnificence, and power of our divine essence and source. We have also forgotten that the prize for living in this world is not success on its terms but success in being who we truly are.
While each physical incarnation provides opportunity for spiritual growth, self-realization, and compassionate action in the world, our challenge in daily living is to be mindful of our programming. Even the slightest negative reaction that disempowers us as spiritual beings, and reinforces our separateness from others. Negative thought energy, as we experience it, lowers our own vibration, makes us at odds with ourselves, and also affects our environment.
Speaking in Chicago in 1893, Annie Besant said, "Even as you think, the thought burning in your brain becomes a living force for good or for evil in the mental atmosphere. As a man thinks, thoughts from him go out to mould the thoughts and lives of other men. Your thought power makes you creative gods in the world."
How true this is! Think of the power of a mind that can produce low moods, with thoughts of fear, dislike, anxiety, anger, guilt, self-loathing, loneliness, and envy. Think of the power that can also restore us to the higher vibrations of joy, love, and compassion, which reside in the heart.
We are inspired by our founders and other great teachers to understand desire and to work on methods of self-healing as a key to healing the world. Emotional intelligence, as it has recently been styled, is not new, but it is essential if we are to transmute selfishness and ill-feeling towards self and others into harmony and oneness and if we are to fully embody compassion—the only power that will change the world.
While spiritual literature abounds with suggestions of how to go about this process of transformation, I would like to look at two real-life examples from members of a small healing group who share with each other the challenges of transformation and service to the world. They work on the premise that every action comes either from love or from nonlove, and they work in their own unique ways to break through the bondage of their "nonloving" reactions. Although the incidents appear trivial, they represent insights into "moments of liberation." (The idea that liberation can be won in moments and that each moment has the essential quality of full liberation is emphasized by Jiddu Krishnamurti in his conversation with E. A. Wodehouse in The Mind of J. Krishnamurti by Luis S. R. Vas.)
The first story is about Katie, who is a Reiki healing practitioner. Katie was waiting in a queue at K-Mart. Two young employees at the checkout were distracted and ignoring the queue, and as it grew longer, customers became angry. Katie, too, became impatient, even glaring at the so-called offenders and then becoming angry with herself for being so angry. So she tried, unsuccessfully, to change her mood. Then she remembered a group discussion on using Light energy or healing energy to deal with negative reactions. So Katie focused her attention on the words, "I open my mind to the Light" and repeated them very slowly to herself, "I open my mind to the Light." After a little while, she began to sense something at the top of her head and recognized the gentle "healing energy" that gradually filled her, slowly bringing a feeling of release and upliftment. The anger that had been directed at two others and at herself, turned into a "spacy" feeling of warm benevolence to all. Overriding her emotions, Katie took positive action and shifted her consciousness from a negative state to a feeling of benevolence that embraced all—a liberating and healing moment.
The second story is about another member of the group, who was more interested in the intellectual side of things. Maria felt a great affinity with the Theosophical worldview, but seeing the One Life living in all and the all living in the One Life seemed a vague and abstract proposition to her. Nonetheless, the idea was so compelling that she decided to try to work it in her daily life. She would look at a tree or a person, a dog or cat, and she would say to herself, "That is the One Life or God expressed in a tree. That is God, the One Life, expressed in a dog. That is the One Life expressed in a person." Her approach evokes Sri Ram's words in Consciousness: Its Nature and Action: "Life is nothing but consciousness completely conditioned by the organism it uses." She even called her cat "God-cat" to remind her of the inner Reality that the outer physical form obscured. She spent many months retraining her mind in this way. Despite these efforts, Maria was still unable to really feel the truth of what she was thinking.
Finally, one day as she was walking along a busy city street, a strange thing happened. Out of a shadowy side alley there suddenly appeared a homeless man who stepped right into her path, still adjusting his clothes after obviously attending to his personal needs. He was bearded, long-haired, wild-eyed, smelly, and very dirty. Her initial reaction was repulsion—disgust and fear, perhaps a little anger. But as she began to turn away, a strong thought stopped her in her tracks: "This is God expressing itself in a dirty, homeless man."
Maria was stunned, but as she saw the man in this new light, including the sacredness of his journey on this planet, the disgust and fear disappeared. She felt nothing specific towards him as a person, only a general sense of good will and freedom. Later, when Maria shared her story, someone remarked, "But you didn't give him anything!" After thinking for a while, she said, "I did. Eventually I gave him respect."
Both women became centers of positive energy after being generators of negative energy, and both experienced an energy of liberation and benevolence in return. In Maria's case, the ground had been well prepared by training her mind to "see" in a totally unexpected way, to see through all the outer casings to the truth of the inner Reality of all forms, whether they were trees, crystals, cats, dogs, or humans.
Compared with Katie's conscious action to override her emotions, Maria's shift in consciousness was involuntary. Nevertheless, it was, perhaps, a moment of unveiled spiritual perception. An interesting difference, but it illustrates the principle that the more you contemplate something, the more you become it. Such self-devised efforts in the group continue to be shared in the spirit of sangha, and these experiences become part of each one's growing self-awareness and self-knowledge, with a stronger commitment to becoming better instruments of service.
We may not understand the spiritual laws that operate in such incidents, but we can acknowledge the preparation of the ground that is necessary for "little moments of magic" to happen and for harmony to be restored within. And we can acknowledge that such inner work is service to the whole by uplifting the collective vibration of humanity even a little.
As Theosophists, we accept the responsibility of aligning ourselves with our divine essence, from which altruism as service flows. This involves beginning to see, not with the eyes of ego, but with the eyes of spirit. It also involves intentionally retraining our minds to see through to the inner Reality. As Annie Besant suggested, "Love is a form of seeing." This way of seeing makes it possible to achieve our First Object even in a moment.
As action Theosophists, we seek to build our houses, not on the shifting sands of emotions, but on a solid foundation of wholeness, oneness, and the unity of all life. This foundation, built by our inner work, will strengthen the quality of outer service to the needy and suffering and to all we meet. "For only by service is fullness of life made possible," as Annie Besant said in her 1893 talk in Chicago.
The quality of our service is also important. In the way of the Buddha, one pot of food given with love is more valuable than one hundred pots given without love. In the giving is the receiving, and while Annie Besant defines service as "supreme duty," it is also a gift, one that only we can unwrap for ourselves.
Dorothy Bell completed degrees in arts and education at the University of Melbourne, and received a master's degree in Education at the University of New England in Australia. As a Fulbright scholar in Education, she first visited America in 1990, and has attended programs at Krotona and School of the Wisdom in Adyar. Since joining the Theosophical Society in 1999, Bell has lectured nationally as well as internationally at TS conventions in America, New Zealand, India, and Australia. Her special interest is making Theosophy practical—with a focus on the process of transformation and liberation from the veils of social conditioning.