Humanity at this moment seems to be in the same position as a boy faced with an examination paper. What he can answer will be in terms of what he has learnt. If he has assimilated his study he can see his way through the questions; if not, he will be in despair and will not know what to do. Can any one of us honestly say that we know exactly what to think or what to do in the present world conditions? Can we truly sense what is happening in terms of cycles, and feel confident of the right course which humanity must take?
One of the problems facing us is youth discontent, which has assumed more ominous proportions than ever before. What should be our basis for considering this problem?
Each generation is the outcome of preceding generations. The world has been brought to the state in which it is today by the present adult generation and the generations which preceded it. But we must also take into consideration the law of reincarnation, which brings to birth at a particular time and in a particular civilization those souls who are drawn to it under Karma. The evolutionary background of the young men and women of today, and the reasons for their incarnating at the present time, must therefore be looked into.
Those who are in middle-aged or old bodies today will have to admit that they, too, when young, thought that the world was being ruled wrongly by the adults of their time, and "reforms," new ideas, etc., came to birth. Adults have always believed the youth to have less knowledge and experience than themselves, and the youth of any century have felt that they have been let down by the adults.
The evolution of ideas, ideas of religion, of science, of philosophy, of social conditions and morality, is a fascinating study, if only we would not think that the ideas we hold are superior to those of others!
Few of us, today, look for ideas. We are mainly concerned with trying to keep the peace, with planting memorials on the vast graveyards created by wars, and hiding or turning our faces away from the bad spots in our civilization. We just keep hoping for a better time. However bountiful the flowers that may grow in a graveyard, the miasma of the putrefying flesh and blood poisons the living.
The idea of war as wrong, as something to be avoided, is prominent in our minds because of its appalling consequences, the misery it brings to combatants and non-combatants alike, and peace movements are active. But who pauses to see the various causes which bring about wars—wars of conquest, or of personal ambition, or for freedom? To go to the help of the afflicted is the only righteous war; any other kind of war is fraught with disaster, morally as well as physically. The one is the willing sacrifice for the sake of others, or the conflict between right and might; the other involves the use of force and selfishness, cruelty and separateness. Wars bring out the worst qualities of the human being and destroy much of real value in life. On the other hand, we should not forget that according to the character of the soldier will be the strengthening of the good in him.
Let us remember that though, from one point of view, nothing can be gained by war, from another point of view it is the working of cyclic law, which we cannot avoid. All we can do is to gain what we can from cyclic events. All of us know of the marvellous courage displayed during the wars within our memory, not the least by the medical corps, etc., and by the non-combatants when the bombs rained down. "Patriots may break their hearts in vain," it is said, if the cycle is against them!
One aspect of the question is not sufficiently brought out. At present there is conscription during a war. There is no longer the voluntary giving up of comfort and of life. Of course any conscripted soldier can have his ideals, but the fact remains that the inner, unseen value of the sacrifice is not noted today. There was no conscription in England at the beginning of World War I. Those first slaughtered thousands had voluntarily gone to what seemed to be the rescue of a nation.
It is a tragic fact that when danger does not threaten we tend to become apathetic; when danger threatens it brings out the best as well as the worst in us. Students of Theosophy have a better chance of getting to the core of this problem if they wish to help the world.
There are, of course, many kinds of war, but fundamentally there is no difference, except in degree, between the riots of students, the strikes of workers, the "fights" in Parliament. War is violence: the burning of cars, buses, flags, the dislocation of traffic and loss of revenue thereby—all these things are in a sense "war." There is little difference between the policeman's truncheon and the bullet except in degree of damage caused. "Might is right" is the slogan in all cases. And yet what other method of reform is possible? Is reform needed? Who can doubt but that the world is sick, both the "haves" and "have-nots"?
We know what H.P.B. had to say about our modern civilization. Just as, in Isis Unveiled, she was iconoclastic with reference to science and religion, so that the field was somewhat cleared for her Secret Doctrine, so we find that her many articles are iconoclastic with reference to the standard views of life in her day. She summed up her attitude in The Key to Theosophy, where she deals with social reforms, education, etc.
But what have we made our own from this knowledge she gave? Do we, students, want a new social order for the sake of the depressed and poor in many lands, or for the sake of the selfish (at both ends of the social scale) in the so-called "developed" nations?
Not only what we can give by way of help in this new world order, but how we can give it, needs to be considered. What do we really think of the youth of today? They, too, are iconoclastic, but with this difference, that they do not know what they really want, or how to obtain it, being mainly preoccupied with getting rid of restraints.
As long as the problem is viewed as a collective one, we shall never see it clearly, for each man is a unit and must be seen as such within the wider unity. The world is a unity, but not a unity of units. It must be seen as an inseparable whole.
It is here that our philosophy is truly of help. We should emphasize, as H.P.B. said, the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, as both give a wider view of life than is held today. Reincarnation, with Karma, makes us realize that we are what we make ourselves. Karma with Reincarnation shows us that we cannot escape the consequences of our actions. But today we need one more idea—that of the immortality of the soul, the real man, itself divine. Each man is a budding Christ or Buddha—or devil. No man can escape his destiny; the only thing in his power is the time element—how soon he shall blossom forth as one or the other, how long it will be before he loses his apparent individuality and separateness and becomes the perfect God-man.
Peace can only come when all men and women desire it and create peaceful conditions in their present environment by a life of willing and joyous self-sacrifice, based on knowledge, not on emotion or on individual opinion.
The question is a vital one: What contribution can students of Theosophy make to the world of thought, for the improvement of world conditions? How shall we find and join hands with those whose ideas of a practical Brotherhood are the same as our own? How shall we realize, except on the basis of ethical law, what attitude we should have towards all others?
"Come ye out from among them and be ye separate" has as its corollary—"Seek for those with a similar aim, purpose and teaching, and become part of the nucleus of Universal Brotherhood."