Viewpoint: Applying the Principles, Part 2

Printed in the Winter 2016  issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim. "Viewpoint: Applying the Principles, Part 2" Quest 104.1 (Winter 2016): pg. 8-9

Tim Boyd, President

Theosophical Society - Tim Boyd was elected the president of the Theosophical Society Adyar in 2014. He succeeded Radha Burnier.One problem for the person who feels drawn to move beyond the mere accumulation of high ideas to their application has been the desire to find some method. Certainly there are common elements that have been emphasized across spiritual traditions. In its simplest terms, the process is the same. In every spiritual tradition there are great stories describing the broad outlines of this process. The common structure involves a journey. Sometimes the journey is taken voluntarily, sometimes it is forced by circumstance, but in all of these stories the hero is obliged to experience a time of exile filled with adventures, ultimately leading to victory and return.

In the spiritual traditions of India, profound examples of this common story are found in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, where the heroes lose their royal estate and must fight and win numerous epic battles in order to regain their royal stature. In the West we are acquainted with this shared story in the many fairy tales of people, often children, getting lost in the woods, encountering trials with strange and powerful beings, and ultimately finding their way home. In the Western tradition, this theme is expressed in the “Hymn of the Pearl” in the Gnostic Acts of Thomas or in the familiar story of the Prodigal Son of the Bible. The details and characters differ across traditions, but the essential process is the same — there is an outgoing and a return, a sleep or ignorance, an awakening, purification, and ultimately a realization. In the proem to The Secret Doctrine, the Third Fundamental Proposition describes this phase in the process of unfoldment of consciousness as “the obligatory pilgrimage.”

This “obligatory pilgrimage” is a long journey. Minimally it is a journey of lifetimes. In the larger picture it describes an arc that moves “through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha).” In the face of such a broad sweep of time, and such a grand process of unfoldment, the daily life of the individual can seem like a very small thing, and seeking out the relevance of Theosophy in daily life can almost seem like a futile distraction.

In the teachings of Theosophy there are many isolated ideas that have practical merit, but for our purposes I will focus on one grand principle that forms the core of the Ageless Wisdom as reintroduced by HPB.

When the Theosophical Society came into existence, a number of objects were laid out that defined its mission and the scope of its vision. These came to form the Three Objects of the TS. The first and most important of them is “to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood” of humanity without distinctions. Repeatedly during the TS’s history this has been stressed as its fundamental direction. At the time of the TS’s founding the idea of humanity as a unit from which individual human beings draw their life and consciousness was unexplored. In a world in which colonialism was prevalent, some sense of cultural superiority was a requirement. The perception that culturally and racially there were superior and inferior people made the idea of brotherhood a difficult idea to embrace, even at the superficial level of human rights and legal and social equality.

In our time, the idea that was so radical in 1875 has become commonplace — at least at a superficial level. Universal human rights and essential human equality have become encoded in national and international law. A host of organizations worldwide are active not merely in promotion of the idea but in its enforcement. However, the brotherhood and unity of which Theosophy speaks is more than a statement of the rights of individuals. In fact the individual is a secondary consideration. The spiritual unity of humanity as an entity, an integral whole infused by a consciousness that simultaneously pervades all life, is the basis of the Theosophical concept of brotherhood. At its deeper levels, it is an understanding that moves beyond the unity of the human family to a brotherhood that encompasses all things seen and unseen. Perhaps the stress is laid on human brotherhood because until we have gained some deeper sense of the nature of our unity as humans, as “sparks from one eternal flame,” no genuine realization of a greater unity is possible.

So what about this lofty idea can be applied to the conditions of daily life? The Voice of the Silence makes a sweeping statement that “Compassion is no attribute. It is the Law of Laws.” For years I found myself wrestling with this statement. What about compassion makes it the law above and beyond all others — karma, cycles, even gravity? Buddhism places great emphasis on compassion, and the meaning of compassion is clearly defined. From the Buddhist perspective, compassion is the desire to alleviate the suffering of others. From that point of view, any act that one undertakes, or any thought that one sends out to ease the suffering of others, is a compassionate act. As noble as this may be, how does this rise to the level of being the Law of Laws?

If we look for a moment at the dynamics of even the most basic compassionate activity, we can trace a deepening connection. When we find ourselves moved to respond in a compassionate manner, what is happening? It begins with a perception of the needs of others. When we act compassionately towards another, somehow, in consciousness, we connect with that other. First we perceive a need, then we use whatever means are available to attempt to relieve the suffering. In this process we expand. No longer is it just me sitting here, but now it is me encompassing this other. We live and experience in this expanded way. What before was one individual now becomes something greater.

We are moved in response to a sensitivity that extends beyond ourselves. Even if it lasts for only a moment, for that moment we find our center of awareness expanded. We live and think from a broadened perspective. For most of us this is a normal experience within certain limits. Any emotionally healthy person feels this outgoing desire to relieve the suffering of their wife, husband, children, or parents. It is relatively easy to expand this circle to include friends, maybe the community; for some, their sense of connection can even include their nation. In this state of profound connection great acts of self-sacrifice are common. Think of the parent who places herself in harm’s way to protect her child, or the patriot who sacrifices his life to lift up and protect his nation.

The effect of genuine compassion on the individual from whom it flows is always the same. The center which we identify as “me” expands. In the process of inclusion of another, the familiar limits of self dissolve, reconstituting themselves at some broadened point. Those people who are universally recognized as great are necessarily marked by this quality of compassionate expansion. Think about Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King. In every case their greatness lay in the expanse of their inclusion. In their lives there was a demonstrated willingness to live and even to die for the benefit of others. The distinguishing feature of the greatest among us — the world teachers, saviors, messiahs, enlightened ones — is an inclusiveness without limits. No person, no animal, no living thing lies outside of the circle of their all-embracing compassion.

With this understanding we can ask again, “Why is compassion the Law of Laws?” When we take compassion to its logical extreme, it is the law of Oneness, of Unity, when it becomes no longer merely an act, but an experience, a quality of consciousness. A little compassion moves us in the direction of Unity. In its fullness it is nothing less than the Law of Unity. No being, no process lies outside of its scope.

As a theory, this is all well and good, but how do we cultivate these deepening levels of experience? How can we practice compassion? Because our initial experiences come as a result of our actions, the practice that deepens this consciousness within us is the practice of conscious compassionate activity. Any simple act deepens our capacity when it is done consciously. Ultimately all practice of a spiritual nature aims at integrating the various dimensions of our being in service to that Law of Laws. So cooking a meal for another, picking up trash on the street, donating to an animal rescue organization, writing a letter, sitting in meditation with the focused thought “May all beings be free from suffering” — all of it becomes spiritual practice when it is performed consciously. In this process, all of our vehicles become fused by the power of compassionate intent. Mind impresses itself on the emotions and on the physical body, and ultimately the mind itself becomes illumined by something greater.

Day by day, act by act, intention by intention, our horizon grows. To discover where, or if, it ends will be the fruit of our practice.