Human nature is prone to imagine that altruism is something foreign, lugged into life as a most desirable thing but, after all, highly impractical. But while we are all fascinated with the idea of isolated self-interest, is not such an idea utterly unfounded in nature? For whatever we consider or study, we find that the individual working alone for itself is helpless; wherever we look it is union of effort, cooperation in living combines, that nature herself is working to bring about. Therefore anything that runs counter to this fundamental unity in action produces disharmony, strife, and what in our own bodies we call disease — health being that condition of bodily structure where all parts work to a common end in what we may call friendship or union.
Consider the stones: are they not combines, unions of individuals? No single atom of any of the chemical elements of which a stone is composed is the stone itself. How about the lovely flower, or our bodies? And what of a single person? Could he alone produce all the great works of genius? What is civilization but the combined efforts of human beings to produce great effects in human life? When any single element in a human body begins to run on its own, we have disease. When any single part in any structural combine begins to run on what we call self-interest, there we see degeneration and decay.
If we consult nature in all her kingdoms, we find nothing other than unity of workings brought about by multitudes of individuals cooperating to a common end. Two or more atoms uniting make a molecule; two or more molecules a larger production; and it is the countless multitudes of such unions which produce the universe. And what is that but altruism, nature's fundamental law in all her grand structures: the one working for the all, and the all standing as the guard and shield and field of effort of the one. Any single entity essaying to follow the path of isolated self-interest sets its puny will against the force which keeps the stars in their courses, gives health to our bodies, produces civilizations, and brings about all the wonders that are around us.
We are all children of the universe, of its physical as well as its spiritual and divine sides. This being so, there is in every human being an undying fountain not only of inspiration, but likewise of growth, of hope, of wisdom, and of love. So that the world today, although apparently in a desperate state, still contains men and women spiritually courageous enough to carry the evolutionary wave of progress over its present turmoil and strife. We all know the old Greek story about a certain very curious person who opened a box and all the evils in the world fled out, and there remained only Hope. I think this contains a great truth which has a practical bearing on life's problems. As long as a person has hope he does not give up. Weak or strong, it matters not; if he has hope, something to look forward to, he not only will never despair, but he will become a builder, a worker with the universe, because he will move forward.
Within each one of us there is something divine to which we can cling and which will carry us through. Therefore I myself do not see anything hopeless about the world's condition today. I believe that the undying spark of spirituality and the love of altruism living in the human heart will carry humanity not only out of its present series of impasses and difficulties, but into brighter days. It is not the crises when things seem to crash which govern the great functions of life, human and cosmic; but those (to us) slow, always quiet, unending silent processes which build — build when we wake, build when we sleep, build all the time — and even in the human race carry it through folly after folly into the future.
There is the ground of our hope.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2006; copyright © 2006 Theosophical University Press)