Looking at our accomplishments in terms of human values, we find our civilization sadly lacking in the virtues we still approve of, pay lip service to, and wish for. Justifiably proud of modern technology, we often shun the inconvenience of striving for the betterment of character which would make us more congenial in the true sense of the word -- more agreeable toward friends, neighbors, and fellows. Although new parents often deplore that babies are born without a book of instructions, this assumption is not quite true. It isn't as though we don't know what we should accomplish as human beings. Children are taught by their parents, or should be, while adults do possess books of instruction. For example, the Golden Rule has been expressed in every age and place with clarity, and every religion contains its quota of similar injunctions given by wise men and women to aid humanity in its quest for wisdom.
Surely we today have not exhausted the potentials of the human condition or gained the apex of human perfection. Why are we on earth, we may wonder, and how can we justify having lived? Our basic duty must be to make our life experiences worth while by striving toward a superior state, the state already gained by the exemplars we admire. Were we to refine our character by pursuing the course recommended by those teachers and by emulating their conduct, we should soon become a more harmonious family of earthlings living in a veritable paradise on earth. We, the intellectual kingdom, would then become an asset to the world-soul by shedding our benevolence on the natural world, and the painful results of former evils gradually would be brought into equilibrium. Suffering would no longer be the lot of a preponderance of humanity and of the other kingdoms which share our habitat.
Many believe that if a savior were to appear among us our troubles would disappear, humanity would become humane, and everything would improve beyond recognition. But is this expectation reasonable? Human character is imperfect and more inclined to follow and unthinkingly believe than to develop the properties of mind and sensitivity which rightly belong to us. The cycle of experience causes a natural progression from innocence to knowledge, from knowledge (science) to philosophy, from thoughtfulness (philosophy) to reverence (religion), whereupon the cycle turns again when religiosity becomes vitiated with priestcraft and bigotry.
How many "saviors," do you suppose, having gained a superior state of wisdom, have come and gone unsuspected, unappreciated, and ignored in the long course of prehistory and history? Few recognize true greatness in the quiet, unassuming individual possessing wisdom. Some have suggested that if Jesus Christ were to come among us now, he would again be killed -- an exaggeration perhaps, but no doubt he would be regarded as a troublemaker and shunned by respectable citizens who measure worth by possessions and whose lifestyles differ markedly from the humble fisherfolk of old. Jesus today suffers the indignity of being subjected to worship and adulation while his teachings are largely ignored -- teachings that, if pursued, could be of the greatest benefit to the world at large.
Continuing this course is as foolish as enlisting the professional opinion of an attorney or doctor and then ignoring the advice we have purchased. Most people, however, fail to recognize this situation when it applies to religions, which are constantly present and accessible. The same injunctions have been given and lived by each and every Wise One, but most of us prefer to indulge earthly desires. Bettering the human condition would mean not just ameliorating the deplorable poverty and disease so common in nearly all cultures, but turning interest toward the common good, thereby lessening the limiting self-interest that occupies so much of human enterprise.
We all recognize that much remains to be improved in our dispositions, but the panacea that would revolutionize societies and turn the tide toward a universality of empathy is there -- has always been there -- we have simply neglected to look for it. No savior can alter what needs to be changed; it is each member of mankind who must follow the instructions He gave -- whoever He (or She) may be in one's national or religious community.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)