COMPASSION: The Basis of Peace & Understanding

An Article by Colin Price

A study paper from The Theosophical Journal.

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Olcott Memorial School Adyar
Olcott Memorial School

The Olcott Memorial School in Adyar,
which caters for the socially
and economically disadvantaged

Compassion and brotherhood are closely linked. Brotherhood is the essence of the first object of our Theosophical Society. A brotherhood, sisterhood and fellowship without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour. The selfless giving without thought of any reward describes the altruism which H. P. Blavatsky says should be the hallmark of every true theosophist.

Compassion should be the emotion which invokes this altruism and brings it into action. The compassion intended in our first object is totally non-discriminatory. It is not reserved for those who are members of our family or friends or acquaintances or those who belong to the same social group or religion or have the same ethnic origin. It includes those people whom we have never met or are likely to meet who live in some far-off country where they do not have access to all those things which we take for granted in our modern civilised society. Such things as expert health care, universal education, adequate food and housing. The under-privileged for whatever reason are deserving of the compassion and physical support whoever and wherever they are.

Compassion should be the hallmark, the central theme for all true religion. Sadly the history of the modern world shows us that differences of political agenda and nationality or tribe have completely extinguished any sign of compassion even between groups of people who had many other things in common which could have provided a basis for peace and understanding.

In the middle ages the hatred and cruelty shown to people who did not conform to certain religious doctrines is almost unbelievable. This was followed by terrific fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Europe after the Reformation. Two world wars in the last century started between Christian nations demonstrate again how fragile human brotherhood is and how rare is compassion. Even worse was the slave trade over several centuries which inflicted barbaric cruelty on black Africans because it made the slave traders wealthy.

Compassion for the theosophist is no more a choice than for any other member of the human race. It is a duty and it arises from the same basis as our concept of brotherhood - recognition that we derive our very existence from the same originating first cause. We are sparks of the same Divine flame. In fact we share this with all life and so theosophists extend the same principles of compassion to the animal kingdom. We are concerned with the whole life of planet Earth with its finely tuned ecology and our recognition of the interdependence of all life, including the vegetable kingdom.

Compassion is indeed a characteristic of the awakened soul. Jesus said -

"Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Truly I say to you by men's fruits you shall know them."

H. P. Blavatsky (H.P.B.) in her article Is Theosophy a Religion? explains how often religion fails to bring people to a realisation of the nature of an awakened soul and how much Theosophy is needed to facilitate this process of developing awareness.

It is perhaps necessary, first of all, to say, that the assertion that ''Theosophy is not a Religion", by no means excludes the fact that ''Theosophy is Religion" itself. A religion in the true and only correct sense is a bond uniting men together - not a particular set of dogmas and beliefs. Now Religion, per se, in its widest meaning in that which binds not only all men, but also all BEINGS and all THINGS in the entire Universe into one grand whole. This is our theosophical definition of religion; but the same definition changes again with every creed and country, and no two Christians even regard it alike.

We find this in more than one eminent author. Thus Carlyle defined the Protestant Religion in his day, with a remarkable prophetic eye to this ever-growing feeling in our present day as:

For the most part a wise, prudential feeling, grounded on mere calculation; a matter, as all others are now, of expedience and utility; whereby some smaller quantum of earthly enjoyment may be exchanged for a far larger quantum of celestial enjoyment. Thus religion, too, is profit, a working for wages; not reverence, but vulgar hope or fear.

In her turn Mrs Stowe, whether consciously or otherwise, seemed to have had Roman Catholicism rather than Protestantism in her mind, when saying of her heroine that:

Religion she looked upon in the light of a ticket (with the correct number of indulgences bought and paid for) which, being once purchased and snugly laid away in a pocketbook, is to be produced at the celestial gate and thus secure admission to heaven ...

But to theosophists (the genuine Theosophists are here meant) who accept no mediation by proxy, no salvation through innocent bloodshed, nor would they think of ''working for wages" in the One Universal Religion, the only definition they could subscribe to and accept in full is one given by Miller. How truly and theosophically he describes it, by showing that -

... true Religion
Is always, mild propitious and humble;
Plays not the tyrant, plants no faith in blood,
Nor bears destruction on her chariot wheels;
But stoops to polish, succour and redress,
And builds her grandeur on the public good

The above is a correct definition of what true Theosophy is, or ought to be (Among the creeds Buddhism alone is such a true heart-binding and mind-binding philosophy, because it is not a dogmatic religion). In this respect, as it is the duty and task of every genuine theosophist to accept and carry out these principles, Theosophy is Religion, and the Society its one Universal Church; the temple of Solomon's wisdom, in building which ''there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was building" (1 Kings 6); for this ''temple'' is made by no human hand, nor built in any locality on earth - but, verily, is raised only in the inner sanctuary of man's heart wherein reigns alone the awakened soul. Thus Theosophy is not a Religion, we say, but Religion itself, the one bond of unity, which is so universal and all-embracing that no man, as no speck - from gods and mortals down to animals, the blade of grass and atom ­ can be outside of its light. Therefore, any organisation or body of that name must necessarily be a Universal Brotherhood. (Is Theosophy a Religion? H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.X 163 link)

H.P.B. continues to explain that the principles contained in the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus are the same as those of Theosophy because they are the universal ethics which were preached by Buddha and Confucius, Krishna and all the great Sages for thousands of years before the present age. If we can live up to such Theosophy, she says, "it becomes a universal panacea indeed, for it heals the wounds inflicted by the gross asperities of Church "isms" on the sensitive soul of every naturally religious man." One of the karmic effects of compassion is indeed to provide a basis for peace and understanding in the hearts and minds of everyone whenever human beings have to work together. It ensures that harmony prevails on every occasion whether in personal relationships between two individuals or within a family group or the workplace or the political arena. It is the failure to achieve this harmony derived from compassion which is the cause of all the strife and hatred in the modern world.

In his 2001 Blavatsky lecture, Theosophy: Its Beneficent Potentialities, Geoffrey Farthing link to article also makes the link with the spiritual progress of human society:

The beneficent potentiality of a well-ordered social society ensures the spiritual development of the members of that society. Every member of it would have enough free time to do 'his own thing.' This proper ordering of daily life would reflect not only into the opportunity of individuals having time consciously to undertake some personal development but into the betterment of group health, with an attendant increased happiness.

... and from H.P.B. herself:

Under the beneficent potentiality of Theosophy the whole complexion of human society could and would change if it were but generally known.
... from the depths of the dark, muddy waters of materialism ... a mystic force is rising ... At most it is but the first gentle rustling, but it is a superhuman rustling - "supernatural" only for the superstitious and the ignorant. The spirit of truth is passing now over the face of the dark waters, and in parting them, is compelling them to disgorge their spiritual treasures. This spirit is a force that can neither be hindered nor stopped. Those who recognize it and feel that this is the supreme moment of their salvation will be uplifted by it and carried beyond the illusions of the great astral serpent. The joy they will experience will be so poignant and intense, that if they were not mentally isolated from their bodies of flesh, the beatitude would pierce them like sharp steel. It is not pleasure that they will experience, but a bliss which is a foretaste of the knowledge of the gods, the knowledge of good and evil, and of the fruits of the tree of life

[H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.XI, pp131/2].


Colin Price Colin Price worked as a research scientist and chartered electrical engineer for over 30 years. He served for a number of years as National President of the Theosophical Society in England, and took an active part in the work of the national and international Theosophical Society including twice leading the 'School of the Wisdom' at Adyar, India. Colin is a trustee of The Blavatsky Trust.
The article is taken from a talk given at the European Congress, Helsinki, July 2007.

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