UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD

by ALEXANDER FULLERTON

Published by the Theosophical Publishing Services,
Duke Street, Adelphi
1889.

(A paper read before the Aryan T.S. of New York, by Alexander Fullerton. )

reprinted from “Theosophical Siftings” Volume - 2 -

THE term “Universal Brotherhood " is obviously an extension to the whole human family of the idea in the word “brother", a child of the same parents as is oneself. It suggests at once the thought of equal rights, common interests, mutual affection, and responsive care. Moreover, it incites an exhilarating conception of what might be the state of things throughout the earth if family tenderness were the law of all life, if race and tribal animosities were ended, and if everyone felt a wrong perpetrated on a foreigner as keenly as if perpetrated on a relation. This is the true view of human solidarity, and a vivid apprehension of it would abolish national wars, social outrages, and personal injustice. Its unlimited influence in securing peace and good-will was seen by the founders of the Theosophical Society, and they proclaimed it as the very first of their and its aims, not as a gracious sentiment, not as a pleasing phrase, but as a principle of action, a means of social regeneration. If we did not believe in it, there would be no Aryan society, there would be no meeting tonight.

And yet the very fact that it is a principle and not a sentiment warrants some examination into its nature. If a principle, it must have a root, must sustain analogy to other principles, must be capable of practical uses, and also must be subject to limitations and just restrictions. As the term “Universal Brotherhood " is derivative, we may properly look for these in the primary, and thus infer facts as to the universal human family from facts in the domestic families which epitomize it.

Now, when we come to search for that which constitutes the cohesive influence in a family, we shall find it, I think, to be none other than that which constitutes cohesive influence anywhere else — affinity. It cannot be the mere fact of relationship. That is altogether casual. We do not select our relations, any more than we select our temperament. Nor can it be the closeness of association. That is quite as likely to arouse hostility as friendship; and, indeed, the peculiar bitterness of family quarrels is proverbial. Nor can it be the consciousness of common parentage, for the parents may be distasteful and anything but a source of harmony. Nor can it be the likeness of disposition, for the dissimilarity of traits in children is notorious. Nor is it any necessary oneness of interest, for [Page 4] interests in a household are very apt to be conflicting and to excite animosity. Nor need it be an instinct of union against aggressors, for that would only operate in barbarous communities or those under feudal laws.

But if it is no one of these things, what is it ? Here, again, we must peer into actual families and so learn. Our own observation will show us that, where the family tie is very strong, it is where the members have the same tastes, ideas, pursuits, aims. Where the family tie is loose, it is where the members have variant convictions, differ in likes and habits, hold to separate standards of faith or duty. Where certain members are in one group and certain others in a second, it is seen that in each case some common sympathy — in opinion, taste, what not — cements the units. And where, as is not infrequently the case, some one member is unlike the rest, and finds his associates wholly without the domestic circle, it is because the family character is not his, and his social wants must be met elsewhere. There is no mystery in any of this; it is all an illustration of the workings of affinity. And affinity, as every Occult student insists, is like every other force, far stronger in the immaterial regions of mind and soul than on the material plane of flesh and blood. In other words, the attraction between two sympathetic souls is incomparably more powerful than that between two bodies which happen to have had the same parents.

But what, still further, is the ground-work for this affinity ? Analyzing affinities, we find that all such as are purely selfish or distinctly bad in quality can be but transient. That rogues will sooner or later fall out is a maxim, but it is no less true that associations for self-interest are fragile just in the degree that each party feels his own interest to be supreme. Conversely, the enduring ties are those between men of finer mould, where principle has recognition and force, where high sentiments of justice and generosity rule, where, in short, egoism is subordinated to altruism. The unity subsisting between the sympathetic members of a household must have its root in such qualities, or it will not last long. The only security for the continuance of affinities is, therefore, in the goodness of each party.

If these are the facts in a domestic circle, they must be the facts in the universal human family, the "Brotherhood“ of which Theosophy speaks. Affinity determines the coherence of its particles. We do not expect the sage to consort with the fool, the intelligent to delight in the stupid, the broad minded to sympathize with the petty, the refined with the rough, the generous with the mean, the tactful with the blundering, the cheery with the gruntling Mrs. Gummidges, the high principled with the low principled. Like naturally, and very properly, seeks like. The mere fact that two men each possess a human nature is not of itself a very strong bond, for they may not agree as to what constitutes human nature, or as to its really valuable qualities, or as to the aim of existence or how it is to be pursued. The affinity, and therefore the attraction, begins where a similar opinion, taste, desire, faculty manifests itself, when, as we say, they have [Page 5] “something in common". There must be somewhat of interest in a person, or he will not be interesting.

So also, in the human brother as in the family brother, the duration of the attraction depends upon the goodness of it. There is every variety of cohesion, from the slight and ephemeral relations on the lowest planes of life to the lofty intimacies of noble souls, such as are immortalized by history in the case of Damon and Pythias, and by sacred writings in the case of Jesus and St. John — may I not add the case of those two exalted beings whom Theosophists revere as the unseen prompters of their own Society, but whose names they do not lightly voice?

Let it be understood most unflinchingly that Theosophy demands from each man to all men equal rights, constant courtesy, respect for feelings, kindly consideration, unstinting justice, ready help, unselfish effort. One unerring test of the Theosophic spirit is its persistency in according all these things. It is always the case, however, that the sentiment has to be bridled by reason, and the history of all philanthropic efforts shows that they are futile, if not injurious, where they defy considerations of equal reality, or ignore laws which are just as demonstrable as sympathies. Theosophy would be unique in human experience if it ran no such risks, or if it were always presented with the cool and balanced judgment of well-trained thinkers. Those of you who are au courant with Theosophical writings know how constantly the faculty of discrimination must be kept in use, and with what care one has to guard against faulty argument, or extreme positions, or one-sided statements. The doctrine of Universal Brotherhood is particularly an illustration, for it is a noble thought in itself, it inspires rich pictures of future possibilities, and it holds just the sentiment which to a half-thinker appears unlimited in its scope. Hence, we encounter representations of it sometimes effusive, sometimes dogmatic, sometimes extravagant, very rarely such as are judicious and impartial.

Now, in a general way, it may be said that no theory can be correct which of necessity contravenes any laws or facts clearly demonstrated. While the doctrine of Universal Brotherhood may be true, any particular exposition of its use is but a theory, and, as such, is subject to this criterion. We know for instance that justice, truth, the welfare of society, the operation of certain habits in social life, the superiority of principle to impulse, are facts, and that it is a law that they cannot be disregarded without harm. Any plan purporting to disregard them and yet avoid the harm traverses this law, and so, whatever plausibility it may wear is really fallacious.

A true theory of Universal Brotherhood, one which takes in these and cognates facts and laws, has nothing to fear when confronted with them. But it is in that confronting, that the error of a mistaken theory is brought to view, and, as “there is no religion higher than truth," we Theosophists should rejoice in any process which discloses illusion or confirms reality. [Page 6]

Let us take an illustration. We not infrequently meet the assertion that, because all men are brothers, tenderness is the only fitting treatment for them. This assumes seven things; ( 1) that all kinds of conduct are entitled to one kind of return; (2) that the same result is produced on unlike characters by a like treatment; (3) that the cultivation of a sense of justice is to be reserved for public officials, and has no place in private development; (4) that no collateral evils result from unmerited sympathy; (5) that we are wiser than Nature as she shows herself in her constant operations; ( 6) that a one-sided culture is better than such as is symmetrical; ( 7) that a common nature in the lower human principles is more important than a common interest in the higher.

Not one of these things is true. It is not the fact that the moral sense views all acts as of equal moral quality, and hence it cannot be the fact that it accords to them a like reward. It is not the fact that diverse natures respond in the same way to the same treatment, as every schoolhouse and every family can testify. It is not the fact that only judges are to cultivate and exhibit a sense of justice, for that sense — which is, indeed, the most abstract of all, the most difficult to attain, and the one indicative of the finest training — is precisely the one most effective in restraining aggression, and especially to be evolved in the interior development of every intelligent disciple. It is not the fact that indiscriminate tenderness draws no evils in its train, as may be shown by the statistics of either pauperism or criminality. It is not the fact that the sentimentalist effects more good than natural law, the whole doctrine of Karma being indirectly to the contrary. It is not the fact that we become more god-like if we educate our sympathies at the expense of our reason, and grow more rounded as we grow more flabby. It is not a fact that we are more truly at one with others because of having a fleshly body than because of a united spirit of life and truth.

Nor, indeed, is this theory borne out by the state of things in family brotherhoods. There are good brothers and bad brothers. No one claims that they are to be regarded and treated alike. Much forbearance may naturally be exercised from good-will, but there of ten comes an occasion when the claims of justice, the rights of others, and the well-being of a whole household require that a member shall be exiled and tabooed. Could anything be more monstrous than the claim that a brother, because a brother, was at liberty to ill-treat with impunity the rest of the family ? If your brother steals your property, can he ask you to save him from jail because your brother? You would probably reply that, that was a reason why he should refrain from robbing you, not a reason why he should be allowed to rob you and escape punishment. One can not claim the privileges of a relationship while repudiating its obligations, and it would be strange indeed if, the closer the connection, the more one was at liberty to poison and outrage it.

Similarly as to the Universal Brotherhood. There are times when severity is [Page 7] a necessity. The great eternal law of Right is more cogent than any sentimental sympathy; the stern arm of Justice cannot be paralyzed by whimperings or regrets; the far-reaching needs of the whole family are more worthy of regard than the momentary compact of a scamp. We have no right to sacrifice the well- behaved to the ill-behaved, to juggle with the moral sense, to reverse the moral standard and treat evil as if good. If Theosophy so taught us, it would be anything but a boon. I do not believe that it does. I do not believe that it teaches any doctrines enfeebling to the moral nerves or disastrous to the social life, and if it did, it would be contradicted by its own grand and fundamental principle — Karma, the vindication of justice.

And so it is that tenderness is not always a duty. There are occasions when in speech, in act, in co-operative function, we are to resist and rebuke our brothers who are unbrotherly. A man does not lose his claim to proper treatment by becoming a Theosophist, and if he does not lose the claim, he does not lose the right to enforce the claim. Nor, in becoming a Theosophist, does he engage to close his eyes to truth of any kind or in any quarter, or to stupefy any department of his moral system, or to encourage one-sidedness and disproportion. Theosophy, I take it, honours Aristides quite as truly as St. John.

“But", you will say, “what scope does this leave for the operation of the fraternal sentiment ? " I reply, much every way, more than any of us will be likely to fulfil. Truth is many-sided. There is room for kindly allowance, for generous interpretation, for patience, and interest, and good-will. There is ample range for the philanthropic sentiment, for the fostering of all rich and noble charities, for the sunny beneficence which loves to shed happiness around. It by no means follows that because evil-doers have to be checked, nobody is to be cheered. If the bad forfeit your consideration, there are plenty remaining who do not. There is not the slightest danger that a benevolent spirit, however coupled with a discriminating mind, will find itself at loss for objects. If every other outlet failed, there would still be the work of the Theosophical Society, which certainly in its animus and its zeal to disseminate the most ennobling of motives cannot be surpassed in fraternal feeling. Each of us can participate in that, and so exemplify and expand the Brother principle.

Yet, as in families, so in the broad human fraternity, the instinct of affinity will work. The Theosophist does not pretend that his greatest interest is in things upon the surrounding plane. It is rather his doctrine that higher planes are equally open to aspiration and vastly richer in satisfaction. His fuller sympathies most naturally go out to those who are like-minded. As a man of letters does not find much congeniality in the ignorant or the addle-brained, so neither does an etherialized nature in such as are dull to the immaterial. In the upper regions of thought and intuition there must be livelier motions of concurrent feeling, larger ranges for common effort, more inspiring topics for mind and heart. As the developing spirit ascends to higher plateaux, it meets fewer [Page 8] comrades, but it finds them more congenial. If the swarming mass of humanity remains below, it is not his fault, but theirs. He does not discard the relationship, but he detects the finer qualities of it on his own level. And should any man complain that he does not secure from the Theosophist that unlimited sympathy which the term “Universal Brotherhood" might seem to imply, the Theosophist might say to him, as the Adept says to the Theosophist, “Don't ask us to descend; come up here yourself".



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