Embodying the Future

By Sarah Belle Dougherty

The jubilant atmosphere of last winter, as popular forces swept away authoritarian regimes in various parts of the world, has given way to uneasiness inspired by difficult choices facing nations internally and abroad. We are reminded again that despite progress, human nature is not transformed in a year or even over centuries, and that causes laid down by mankind, from past millennia to the present, must bear fruit, whether constructive or destructive.

Nevertheless, life as a whole is formed of countless unnoted selfless acts springing from the innate spirituality of each human being and from an intuitive recognition of our spiritual common ground with others. The priceless inner contribution of those worldwide who maintain human values, many while living under difficult conditions, has built a reservoir of spiritual force which is flooding the world for good. Everywhere institutionalized selfishness and bigotry are coming to a time of reckoning: while the futility of totalitarian solutions to human problems is being widely recognized, systems built on a glorification of selfishness and competition must also face their failures. The close linking of the world community -- not only politically, economically, and technologically, but psychologically as well -- brings us near to lives everywhere, so that events in other countries and continents become as immediate as local ones. The humanity of other people is obvious wherever they may live, and we are beginning to identify in a very real way with their hardships and tragedies, their joys and accomplishments.

Yet forces of destructiveness and selfishness continue their offensive: we are surrounded from childhood with images of violence, self-indulgence, and appeals to our appetites -- and in some cases, of hatred and bigotry. Members of other groups -- religious, racial, national -- are still often perceived as threatening or alien to ourselves and those we care about. The present time of global transition is reminiscent in many ways of the early centuries of the Christian era: the breakdown of an established world order, a mixing of many cultures producing a plethora of worldly and spiritual choices, a time of widespread violence and confusion. From that earlier fermentation emerged a rigid, hierarchical, authoritarian structure demanding universal acceptance. The fanaticism and dogmatism of the age, represented by those rising to prominence, soon suppressed any competing movements or broader viewpoints which lacked extensive enough popular support. Examining these early centuries makes us aware of, and perhaps more able to guard against, their undesirable features. Moreover, it highlights the importance of each of us attempting to be what we wish for the future -- strong, positive, understanding; independent thinkers rooted in the spiritual aspect of our being. Whatever we would wish for the future, striving to make it a living reality in our consciousness and actions is the surest way to bring it about, and the more universal and compassionate our goal, the more strength we will give to, and receive from, the spiritual forces of the earth.

Past causes will continue to have their effects, and how we meet these effects determines the impact of such karma upon us. In the process, we initiate new causes which will impinge on mankind in time to come. Brotherhood, real fellow-feeling for all human beings and for all forms of life, provides the key for positive resolution of problems in the many arenas of experience.

Humanity is one organism, a union or collective being, and what each part thinks and does has an effect, to greater or lesser degree, on every other. The more people who act or think in a particular way, the stronger that trend is made for all; the more forcefully and one-pointedly something is done, the stronger effect it has on the whole. In our own consciousness, in our interaction with others, in national and international relations, seeing ourselves as part of the whole, with responsibilities as well as rights, with a contribution to make as well as benefits to receive, is paramount. For narrow provincialism must fade if we are to have the kind of world we wish, a world not dominated by the few at the expense of the many -- however rationalized or idealized -- and by the conflict of competing groups, but a world community working together to solve the great problems facing mankind, most of them the results of human selfishness and ignorance. Groups do not rise above the level of the individuals composing them: how to strike the right balance between individualism and collectivism, and what form this will take, is being determined by each person's motives and priorities, by what we center our life around. What each of us contributes of himself vitally affects the condition of mankind.

We stand at a crossroad in human experience, with a choice of many ways before us, depending on how we meet the karma humanity has brought upon itself and how we fashion our own lives and consciousness. The importance of each person striving to fulfill his highest responsibilities as he sees them, and of nurturing the spiritual light in himself and others, was never more crucial than now, when the course of the next millennium hangs in the balance. We were called into incarnation at this time and place by our inner self, by our individual and collective karma, and it is in our hands and hearts to decide what is of real value to us, and then to embody it for the sake of mankind.

(From Sunrise magazine, December 1990/January 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press)

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