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Re: Theos-World Book Excerpt "The Spiritual Life" by Annie Besant

Mar 06, 2007 05:13 PM
by MarieMAJ41

Hi Cass, see below a link. The 1893 World's Parliament of Religions was the world's FIRST attempt at gathering together and dialoguing with, the leaders of the world's religions. The 100 yr. centennial was held in 1993 in Chicago, IL USA as well.
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Sent: Tue, 6 Mar 2007 5:22 PM
Subject: Re: Theos-World Book Excerpt "The Spiritual Life" by Annie Besant

What is The Parliament of Religions?
Cass wrote:
This is an excerpt of a talk given by Annie Besant, based upon a book written by Annie Besant "The Spiritual Life". This is representative of a great soul, IMO, even though a human being fraught with personal frailties. Wish I were one 1/12th the person that she was. She was recognized by another great woman of the 19th Century, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, as the person to whom she wished to pass the torch of Theosophy. In Annie Besant, Olcott also recognized the same greatness. So, was she [Annie Besant] so out of line to align herself with her sympatico friend Charles Leadbeater? Leadbeater too can inspire us ... or repulse us ... we can choose. My point of course is, who are we to judge another human being, and by what measure or standard? Do we judge them by their own productions, or by what others [especially their enemies] say about them?


The Supreme Duty * 
*An address given at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893.

Only by service is fullness of life made possible; the whole of the universe is yoked to the service of humankind. Every individual should be pledged to the service of humanity, past, present, and future, humanity evolving up to the divine personage, eternal, immortal, indestructible. That should be the object of life, the goal of evolution.

I shall try to put in few words something of the elements of this service, something of its meaning in daily life, as well as something of the heights to which its daily practice may at length conduct the human soul.

Poor indeed is a religion which cannot teach the men and women of the world the duty of daily life, and yield to them inspiration which shall aid them in their upward climb to the light. Great philosophy molds the mind; great science gives the light of knowledge to the world. But religion which teaches us our duty, which inspires us with strength to accomplish it, is greater. Greatest of all is that knowledge of the human soul which makes daily service the path of progress and finds in the lowest work the steps that lead to the highest achievement.

According to the Theosophical philosophy, there are in the universe and in humans various planes of being, seven in all, but briefer classification will serve for now.

Service on the Physical Plane

Let us take the physical plane and see what service may connote there. First, service implies what the Buddha called right livelihood, that is, right fashion of supporting ordinary life, an honest way of gaining the means of ordinary existence. This does not mean a livelihood based on being compelled to serve others, nor a livelihood which takes everything and gives nothing back, nor one which stretches out its hands to grasp and closes its fists when gift is asked instead of gain. Right livelihood implies honesty of living, and honesty implies that you give as much as you take, that you render back more than you receive, that you measure your work by your power of service, not by your power of compulsion. Right livelihood implies that the stronger your brain the greater your duty to help, the higher your position the greater the imperative to bend that position to the service of human need. Right livelihood is based on justice and is made beautiful by love.
But on the material plane more is asked than livelihood that injures none and serves all. You also have a duty of right living that touches on the plane of the body, by which I include the whole of the transitory part of our nature. Right living means recognizing the influence you bring to bear upon the world by the whole of your lower nature as well as by your higher. It implies understanding the duty that your body bears to the bodies of all, for you cannot separate your bodies from the bodies amidst which you live, since constant interchange is going on between them. Tiny lives that build up your body today help to build up another’s tomorrow, and so the constant interaction and interweaving of these physical molecules proceeds.

What use do you make of your body? Do you say, “It is mine. I can do with it as I will”? But, nothing we have is our own, for all belongs to that greater ourselves, the aggregate of humanity. The fragments have no rights that go against the claim of service to the whole. So you are responsible for the use that you make of your body. If, for example, when these tiny lives come into your charge, you poison them with alcohol or render them coarse and gross with overluxurious living, you send them out to other men and women and children where they sow seeds of the vices they have learned from you. They spread the gluttony, the intemperance, the impurity of living that you have stamped on them while they remained as part of your own body. Every human being who helps to spread poison in a community is responsible for alcoholism and addiction that becomes focalized in those miserable creatures who suffer from these. You are guilty of your brother’s or sister’s degradation
if you do not supply pure atoms of physical life to build up others, who in very truth are one with yourself.

Here you see something of what service means on this lower plane. You could set an example for another kind of service, so that others may learn from your voluntary action. You could simplify your physical life, lessen physical wants. You could think less of luxury and more of the higher life, spend less time on the artificial wants of the body and more time on helping others grow less encumbered with the anxieties of life.

You hardly dare to put a spiritual teaching to those on whom the iron yoke of poverty presses and who find in physical suffering one of the miseries of their lives. You should set the ideal of plain living and high thinking instead of the ideal of senseless luxury and gross materialistic living. Can you blame the poor for thinking so much of earthly pleasure and so passionately desiring material ease? Can you blame them if discontent grows when you set the ideal which they copy? You, by the material pleasure of your lives, tell them that the aim and object of human life is but the joy of the senses, the pleasure of the moment.

This, also, is your duty in service on the material plane. Lessening the wants of the body, you may learn to feed the soul; making your outer life more nobly simple, you may give your energies rather to that which is permanent and which endures.

Service on the Mental Plane

Not only on the physical plane, the lowest, is service to be sought. On the mental plane humanity can be served far more efficaciously than on the physical plane. Do you think that you cannot do service on the mental plane, that the mental plane is for great thinkers who publish some works that revolutionize thought? Do you think work on the mental plane is for the speaker who reaches thousands where you can reach but units? It is not so. Great thinkers, whether writers or speakers, do not have such enormous influence as you may imagine judging by outer appearances. True, their work is great, but have you ever been struck by the source of the speakers’ power, the source of the strength with which they move a crowd? It does not lie in themselves, not in their own power, but in the power they are able to evoke from the men and women they address, from the human hearts they awaken. It is the energy of the audience and not the speaker in the tide of the speech. Orators are
but the tongues that put into language the thoughts in the hearts of the people who are not able to articulate them. The thoughts are already there, and when some tongue puts them into speech, when other inarticulate senses take the force of the spoken word, then people think it is oratory. It is their own hearts that move them, and it is their own voice—inarticulate in the people—which makes the power that rings from land to land.

That is not all. Every one of you has thoughts that you pour out into the world by your daily thinking. You are creating the possibilities of the future and making or marring the potencies of today. Even as you think, the thought burning in your brain becomes a living force for good or evil in the mental atmosphere. The vitality and strength in it carry it on to its work of this world of mind.

There is no one, however weak, however obscure, who does not have one of the creature forces of the world in his or her soul. As we think, thoughts go out to mold the thoughts and lives of others. As we think thoughts of love and gentleness, the whole reservoir of love in the world is filled to overflowing. As we contribute to this, so we contribute to forming public opinion that molds humanity’s ideas more than we dream. Everyone has a share in this. Your thought power makes you creative gods in the world, and it is thus that the future is built. It is thus that the race climbs upward to the Divine.
Constant service is to be sought not only in the physical and mental spheres. No words or oratory can fitly describe the nature or sacredness of the service of the spiritual sphere. That is work that is done in silence, without sound of spoken word or clatter of human endeavor. That work lies above us and around us. We must have learned the perfection of service in the lower spheres before we dare aspire to climb to where the spiritual work is done.

The Power of High Ideals

What is the effect of such philosophical thought applied in the world today? Surely it is that we should think nobly, that our ideals should be lofty. In daily life we should ever strike the highest keynote, and then strive to attune our living to that keynote. Our will is lifted by the ideal. We become that which we worship.

Let us see, then, that what we worship shall have in it the power to transform us into the image of the perfect human being, into the perfect gold of which humanity shall finally consist. If you would help in that evolution and bear your share in that great labor, then let your ideal be truth, truth in every thought and act of life. Think truly; otherwise you will act falsely. Let nothing of duplicity, nothing of insincerity, nothing of falsehood soil the inner sanctuary of your life, for if that is pure your actions will be spotless, and the radiance of the eternal truth shall make your lives strong and noble.

Not only be true, but also be pure, for out of purity comes the vision of the Divine, and only the pure in heart, as said the Christ, shall see God. In whatever phrase you put it, whatever words describe it, that is true. Only the pure in heart shall have the beatific vision, for only those who are pure can share in that which is itself absolute purity.

To these ideals of truth and purity we must add one that is lacking in modern life: the ideal of reverence for what is noble, of adoration for what is higher than oneself. Modern life is becoming petty because we are not strong enough for reverence. It is becoming base, sordid and vulgar because people fear that they will sink if they bow to that which is greater than themselves. But worship of that which is higher than yourself raises you; it does not degrade you. The feeling of reverence is a feeling that lifts you up; it does not take you down. We have talked so much about rights that we have forgotten that which is greater than our rights. It is the power of seeing what is nobler than we have dreamed and bowing before it till it permeates our life and makes us like itself. Only those who are weak are afraid to obey; only those who are feeble are afraid of humility.

With the world as it is today, democracy in the external world is the best way of carrying on outer life. But if it were possible that, as in ancient Egypt and India, the very gods themselves wandered the earth as humans and taught people the higher truth, trained them in the higher life, conveyed the higher knowledge, would we claim that we were their equals? Would we be degraded by sitting at their feet to learn?

If you could weave into modern life that feeling of reverence for that which is purest, noblest, grandest—for wisdom, for strength, for purity—till the passion of your reverence brings those qualities into your own life, then your future as a nation would be secure. Your future as a people would be glorious. You men and women of America, creators of the future, will you not rise to the divine possibilities which every one of you has hidden in your own heart? Why go only to the lower when the stars are above you? Why go only to the dust when the sun sends down beams on which you may rise to its very heart?

Yours is the future, for you are making it today. As you build the temple of your nation, as you hope that in the days to come it shall rise nobly among the peoples of the earth and stand as pioneer of true life, of true greatness, lay the foundations strong today. No building can stand whose foundations are rotten, no nation can endure whose foundations are not divine. You have the power; yours is the choice. As you exercise it the America of centuries to come will bless you for the way you live or condemn you for your failure; for you are the creators of the world, and as you will so it shall be.

© 1991 The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois
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