Meditation on Universal Brotherhood

By Bas Rijken van Olst

What is meant by meditation? A general definition would be: one-pointed concentration on a subject, continued attention to it. For every form of meditation, theosophy recommends that we keep altruism in the back of our minds. If we focus our attention with the intense motivation to help our fellow human beings, we will automatically tune in to a level which reaches much further than the personal ego. The motive, the goal, and the means are then one.

One aspect of universal brotherhood is that it is a fact of nature. We are all interconnected; yet we do not always act in a brotherly way. In The Key to Theosophy H. P. Blavatsky says:

If the action of one reacts on the lives of all, and this is the true scientific idea, then it is only by all men becoming brothers and all women sisters, and by all practising in their daily lives true brotherhood and true sisterhood, that the real human solidarity, which lies at the root of the elevation of the race, can ever be attained. -- p. 234

If we realized that we are One, we would act more according to universal brotherhood. Every act is either for our limited, personal self, or for the larger whole. By expanding the horizons of the personal self we can internally grow and conquer the limits of this small self. In this way we enter a wider consciousness. Working for the larger whole automatically means practicing the first paramita, "giving" (dana). The paramitas form an essential part of the training of Mahayana Buddhists, and are recommended by Blavatsky in The Voice of the Silence to enable us to become better equipped to help our fellow human beings.

By practicing dana, we "give" our energy to that larger whole which we envision. This whole we can gradually extend. Our family members may belong to it; the people living on our street; everyone we meet at work or while shopping. We come to recognize that other beings -- human, animal, etc. -- are facets of that larger whole of which we are a part and which we care about.

This may sound very simple, but in our everyday life we have so many habits that run counter to this way of acting that sometimes we do not know where to begin. We want to change, and yet we frequently fall into the same error. Sometimes, for instance, we are unjustly accused of something, which is all the more unpleasant if it is by a friend or relative. Remaining calm can be difficult. Sometimes we do succeed in remaining calm in our consciousness, in our spirit or soul, and yet our body reacts according to an outdated pattern. The false accusation may then lead to stomach or intestinal complaints or -- if the differences of opinion are more lasting -- to serious physical ailments. In such cases, one should certainly see a doctor; however, the real causes of problems often lie in the way we think.

We can always try to live as much as we can in our higher selves and look at the other person with love, at the same time making ourselves stronger so that he or she cannot touch us. This process works from above. If we are more harmonious in our higher aspects, the body will eventually follow that harmony. Sometimes this may not happen until a future life. Right thinking and right action lead to a healthy body.

This is closely linked with the second paramita, sila, which is paraphrased as "the key of Harmony in word and act." In her commentary Blavatsky writes:

Fear, O disciple, kills the will and stays all action. If lacking in the Shila virtue -- the pilgrim trips, and Karmic pebbles bruise his feet along the rocky path. -- The Voice of the Silence, p. 53

Karma and justice are closely related. Nils Amneus in Life's Riddle speaks about karma in a penetrating way:

Anyone who acts selfishly, hoping to gain thereby, proves by his action that he does not believe in the Law of Cause and Effect. He may pay lip-service to it, but by his act he says in effect: "I am sure I won't have to suffer from the evil effect of my deed. There may not be any effect at all, and if there is I can side-step it." -- p. 247

If we are unjustly accused by another person, there are of course reasons for this. Often fear and ignorance play a part. The other person perhaps thinks that we do not appreciate him or her enough or that we undervalue his efforts. In the long run the connecting power of love will remove every tension. In almost every case this takes time; sometimes it is not until a subsequent life that harmony can be restored. But the challenge is to restore harmony as much as we can in this life, preferably today. Here we see that another paramita, patience (kshanti), can be of great help. Sometimes the consequences of our acts do not become manifest until a future life; therefore it is important that when we act we take a long-term view even now.

In 1884 Damodar Mavalankar wrote three articles in The Theosophist on "Contemplation," which focus on many misunderstandings about meditation and contemplation. In the following quotation he elaborates on the thought that every human being renews all his life-atoms every seven years. For the atoms of our physical body this fact has been confirmed by science; the ancient wisdom, however, refers to the life-atoms of human beings in all realms, from the physical to the spiritual. This means that man has the ability to gradually renew himself by giving a powerful positive impulse to his life-atoms, thus creating in fact a new man. Damodar writes:

What is it the aspirant of Yoga Vidya [knowledge of yoga] strives after if not to gain Mukti [liberation] by transferring himself gradually from the grosser to the next more ethereal body, until all the veils of Maya being successively removed his Atma [essential self] becomes one with Paramatma [universal self]? Does he suppose that this grand result can be achieved by a two or four hours' contemplation? For the remaining twenty or twenty-two hours that the devotee does not shut himself up in his room for meditation -- is the process of the emission of atoms and their replacement by others stopped? If not, then how does he mean to attract all this time -- only those suited to his end? From the above remarks it is evident that just as the physical body requires incessant attention to prevent the entrance of a disease, so also the inner man requires an unremitting watch, so that no conscious or unconscious thought may attract atoms unsuited to its progress. This is the real meaning of contemplation. The prime factor in the guidance of the thought is WILL.
. . . Without that, all else is useless. And, to be efficient for the purpose, it must be, not only a passing resolution of the moment, a single fierce desire of short duration, but a settled and continued strain, as nearly as can be continued and concentrated without one single moment's relaxation. -- Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement, p. 391

This shows how much the training to be better equipped to help our fellow human beings can be intensified. If we want to help others, it is of no use if our personal ego loses its balance at the slightest disturbance. If we easily become sad, frightened, or insulted, this is always due to our small ego. Remembering our higher self, or the needs and interests of others, can immediately lift us out of this narrow view. The paramita "equanimity" (viraga) thus plays an important role in raising our small, personal, oversensitive ego to a level of "indifference to pleasure and to pain" with "illusion conquered," as it is described in The Voice of the Silence.

How logical the sequence of paramitas is becomes evident when we look at the next one on the list: "virya, the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal TRUTH, out of the mire of lies terrestrial." Abstractly, but also in fact, the supernal truth is that we are all connected. This paramita stresses that we have to do everything in our power to dispel illusions: the illusion that we humans are separate from one another; the illusion that we are our body; the illusion that some part of us is immortal in the sense that it never changes.

One could also say that this paramita suggests an inner revolution in which our mind no longer focuses on personal desires (our human animal soul) but on practicing those things which we intuitively and instinctively know belong to our better part. This revolution takes place in our mind, in our consciousness. The world has witnessed a successful example of such a revolution in South Africa. In a television interview Nelson Mandela said that in order to bring about the necessary change everyone had to overcome their emotions and listen to common sense. That was the only way to make a fresh start and break the spiral of violence.

In the introduction to his translation of The Lankavatara Sutra D. T. Suzuki likewise mentions an inner revolution. He speaks of

the important psychological event known as Paravritti in the Lanka and other Mahayana literature. Paravritti literally means "turning up" or "turning back" or "change"; technically, it is a spiritual change or transformation which takes place in the mind, especially suddenly, and I have called it "revulsion."
. . . This paravritti, according to the Lanka<FS>, takes place in the Alaya-vijnana or All-conserving Mind, which is assumed to exist behind our individual empirical consciousness. The Alaya is a metaphysical entity, and no psychological analysis can reach it. What we ordinarily know as the Alaya is its working through a relative mind. The Mahayana calls this phase of the Alaya tainted or defiled (klishta) and tells us to be cleansed of it in order to experience a Paravritti for the attainment of ultimate reality. -- p. xvii

In other words, he speaks of a reversal in the center of our consciousness from the small and limited "relative mind" to an "All-conserving Mind" which has no limitations caused by our senses or thought.

It may be of interest to mention that traces of an inner reversal to the deepest core of our consciousness can also be found in Greek antiquity. The Greek philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles refer to a state of mind which they call metis,

an intense alertness and skillful subtlety, an awareness of the moment (kairos) that allows one to avoid being trapped in illusions and deceptions. The method that Empedocles enjoins is to consciously perceive with all the senses simultaneously in each moment, rather than wandering off into the mental dream-state that lies outside the Now. -- From a review of Reality by Peter Kingsley, Sunrise, Dec/Jan 2004-5, pp. 39-44

The next paramita is called dhyana, which means meditation per se. In the Buddhist tradition much attention is focused on meditation. Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism (Leah Zahler, ed., Wisdom Publications, London, 1983) stresses that meditation has two aspects: developing an inner calm, and the analysis of a subject or idea. The book states that "six powers are needed" for meditation: "hearing, thinking, mindfulness, introspection, effort, and familiarity." The path that consciousness follows leads up, first through the desire realm, then through four concentrations in the form realm, and subsequently through four levels in the formless realm, the latter having names such as "limitless space" and "limitless consciousness." This path describes a return to the source or essence out of which each of us has come forth. It refers also to those abstract realms out of which a universe in its deepest heart has come. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine describes that path in reverse order, and follows the coming into existence of a universe from the deepest, most abstract germ down to the final and grossest layers of our physical universe and the beings that live in it.

By digging ever deeper into ourselves, ever more veils will be removed, limits will fall away, boundaries between us and our fellow human beings will seem ever more unreal as we reach in our consciousness to the Boundless. Universal connectedness and brotherhood become more real. Universal brotherhood means knowing that we are One with all other humans, with the whole of humanity, with all beings in the solar system.

In his commentary on the final paramita, "intuitive wisdom" (prajna), G. de Purucker also speaks about an inner "reversal":

In order to understand and spiritually to feel the true nature of prajna, it is necessary to abandon the 'this side' view, and in spiritual comprehension to go over to the 'other shore' (para), or other manner of looking at things. On 'this side' we are involved in a sphere of consciousness of brain-mind analyses and particulars, which becomes a world of attachments and lower-plane distinctions. When we achieve this inner 'reversal,' this shifting of our consciousness upwards to the mystic 'other shore' of being, we then enter more or less successfully into a world of transcendent realities, from which we can view things in their original and spiritual oneness, beyond the maya of the deceptive veils of multiplicity; penetrate into the essential nature of these realities and cognize them as they truly are. -- Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 47

So we see that the paramitas are much more than a dry list of virtues which we merely have to follow. They are self-evident and necessary virtues with the aid of which we can contribute to universal brotherhood. Thoughts of universal brotherhood can bring about an inner revolution. A quote from Annemarie Schimmel's Mystical Dimensions of Islam says it succinctly:

Thus it is said in Turkey:
Tariqa [the mystic path]: yours is yours, mine is yours too.
Shari`a [religious law]: yours is yours, mine is mine.
Tariqa [the mystic path]: yours is yours, mine is yours too.
Ma`rifa [gnosis]: there is neither mine nor thine. -- p. 99

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)

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