Essays from "The Theosophical Path" by Talbot Mundy

Universal Brotherhood

by Talbot Mundy

September 1923

The theme of Universal Brotherhood is one that seems to grow as we consider it; since, being universal, there is nowhere, no circumstance, in which its essence is not evident. As a teaspoonful of earth may be shown to contain forty millions of demonstrably living and intelligent organisms, every one of which suggests from the mere fact of its existence undiscoverable hordes of even smaller ones, so every human action is alive with countless and immeasureable causes and results. A finger's gesture throbs with undying, if forgotten, history; its movement is a consequence, again productive of results, however insignificant to us; and we may safely depend on it that nothing -- not one thought or thing or action -- can be without an absolutely infinite relation to the universe.

But generalities, however accurate, are too vast for human comprehension. The imagination reels, or else the mind's inert unwillingness to think, fogs, as it were, the picture. As precept must be taught by parable, the measureless and omnipresent fact of Brotherhood can only be brought home to us by concrete illustration, and then only provided we remember that, in the words of Job, "these are [but] parts of His ways."

The smallest instances suffice. The rarest are least useful. It is from the point at which we are that we begin to grasp realities, and only as the theme grows real to us can we hope to understand it. Experientia docet is a proverb that was old incalculable centuries before the Romans gave it currency and, being absolutely true, is just as true today as then. In day-by-day experience, and nohow else, we learn. Unless in day-by-day experience we practise that which we have learned, we have no part as yet in self-directed evolution, which, as Katherine Tingley has told us, is "the way."

I remember a dying Chinaman, in the swamps of the Umbuluzi River near Lourenco Marquez -- an unlicensed dealer in illegal drink -- who crawled from his sick-bed to help me because he had heard I had fever. We had never met until he staggered into my tent, and he died that evening without having accomplished anything -- except to change one individual's whole concept of the Chinese race. Since that day it is impossible for me to think of Chinamen without remembering that one man's kindness; I remember it in spite of all the accusations of a hostile press, in spite of all-too-authentic fact, and in the face of frenzied prejudice. It is not in me to believe that the act of that unmoral, unrepentant 'Chink' (for he died quite proud of his disgraceful traffic) was, as Shakespeare hints, interred with his bones. I know the kindness multiplied and has more than once borne fruit.

Another man comes to memory -- a coal-black, fuzzy-headed Sudanese, who had been a slave under the Mahdi and whose back was a mass of scars where his owners had flogged him. He understood Brotherhood better than most of us, although he was not a Christian and used to grow offended at the mention of the word. He found his way down to Uganda, where he was enlisted in the local troops. I remember his grin when he was patted on the back and told to be a credit to the company. He straightened himself, and went on straightening himself until he could hardly get his heels down on the floor; but it was weeks before he realized he was not dreaming. When it dawned on him at last that his white-skinned officer actually did regard him as a fellow human being he wakened to a new sense of responsibility. It happened quite suddenly; he fell lame on a long march, and his officer, dismounting from the only mule, ordered him gruffly and without a trace of sentiment to mount and ride. It was funny to watch the awakening consciousness of something he had never understood before.

Within twelve months of that he was a sergeant. Very shortly after his promotion, during a crisis, he was left with twenty-five men, all as black as himself and with almost equally humble origins, in a dangerous post about six days' march from the nearest possible support. It was at a time of almost general uprising, when premonitory symptoms of the great war were beginning to be felt from end to end of Africa. He was without ammunition, and his orders were to "keep the peace."

There was naturally some anxiety among the handful of white officers, whose task it was to scatter themselves at strategic points over an enormous breadth of country, but it was three weeks before the chance came to visit his outpost, and in view of the fact that it was almost the first time he had been trusted out of sight, not too much was expected of him. Rumors spread in Africa like smoke in the wind, and there was a story that he and all his men had been massacred.

But the flag was flying over the tree-tops when the relieving patrol arrived close on sunset. As the sun went down the flag descended with it to the music of a bugle, and the first the relief saw of the detachment they were standing at the salute with arms presented to the tree that did for flag-pole, "all present and correct." He had done what few white men could have accomplished; not one man of all the twenty-five had any charge against him; without bloodshed, and with no more force than that prodigious one of strict example, he had 'held down' a district notorious for its savagery, and unquestionably saved the lives of hundreds.

It was not thought wise to compliment him in the presence of his men; that might have led to the inference that they had done more than their duty. But he was led aside and complimented by an officer whom he had never seen before, and who expressed surprise that he should have behaved so splendidly. The man's answer told the whole story in ten words: "Am I a dog? Nay, I am one of you!"

It is easy to say that he was no Theosophist, and I am quite sure he had never heard the word; but as a man who proved his claim to be part and parcel of a universal brotherhood he stands out as a landmark in my memory.

Life is crowded with similar instances, and there is no need to wander far for them. We can even read of them in books. It is the thrill that counts -- that warning from within that we have touched the sacred, splendid chord that unifies all being. If the heart is touched, the intellect responds not too long afterwards; and no one who has thrilled to an ideal, however vague, can ever quite relapse into unrecognition of it, nor can fail to pass the regenerating thrill along, in some way, even if he does not know it.

How much unselfishness and willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others has been poured into the world through the pages of what is called profane history? The very color of my school-days -- the whole flavor of my later life -- was brightened by the story of the Plataeans at Marathon. There must be thousands who have felt the same thrill, generation after generation. When the hosts of the King, the great King Xerxes, lay between Athens and the sea, the Plataeans repaid a debt. The Athenians had helped them once, and now that the Athenians faced what seemed inevitable ruin the Plataeans marched to their aid with all they had. They left their old men and the women to guard Plataea's walls and came eight hundred strong -- a handful -- hardly a battalion. But no quarrels of historians, nor all the sins of Athens, nor the mists of time, can drown the echo of the roar that went up on the heights of Marathon when dawn rose on the spears of those eight hundred marching down to die beside their friends. No matter whether Persians or Athenians had the right of it; the Higher Law takes care of that. The Plataeans let some light into the world by proving what they understood of brotherhood. If they had known more and done less, there are nations today that would be poorer for it -- poorer, that is, in the elements that count. For in the long run nothing counts but Brotherhood. Its highest unselfish expression from day to day, by each individual in his degree, is the only Path by which we may ascend the ever-rising rounds of evolution. There are more degrees of brotherhood, more phases of it, than there are living organisms in that spoonful of earth under the magnifying-glass.