The Theosophical Society in Australia
Theosophical Study Paper 10, 2007

Universal Brotherhood — The Core Work of The TS

The first Object of The Theosophical Society is “To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.” In this Study Paper we include excerpts from articles on the theme of Universal Brotherhood, the core work of the TS.

The Future of Brotherhood—C. Jinarajadasa
Our Knowledge of Brotherhood—N. Sri Ram
A Nucleus of Universal Brotherhood—V. Wallace Slater
The Seamless Garment of Brotherhood—Georges Tripet
Depths in Brotherhood—N. Sri Ram
What is a Nucleus of Universal Brotherhood?—John B. S. Coats
Brotherhood and Freedom—Radha Burnier
A Vision of Brotherhood—Johan van Manen

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The Future of Brotherhood—C. Jinarajadasa

The American Theosophist, March 1943

Sad as our present lot is, there is not a journalist, a writer, a lecturer, or worker for social service, who is not dreaming and hoping for a future. And through all their dreams there runs a golden thread; it is Brotherhood – Brotherhood not only within the nation, but throughout the whole world, excluding none, be he black or white or brown or yellow, including all, the criminal as the law-abiding, the poor as the rich, the peasant as the aristocrat…

Our work as Theosophists is above all things to proclaim this message of Brotherhood. But we proclaim it not as an ideal, as some beautiful dream born in the imagination of tender-hearted men, but as reality, as a law of nature. Just as by the law of gravity all of us are held to the surface of the earth, in every place on its surface, so all of us are bound in the chains of one Brotherhood. To know ourselves as divine is the supreme task before us all. All else follows. When we have as our motto: “Divinity, Equality, Fraternity”, Liberty follows as a consequence. For how should I ever dream of coercing my brother who shares my Divinity?

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Our Knowledge of Brotherhood—N. Sri Ram

The American Theosophist, June 1950

We may not know any other truth directly for ourselves, but we can know the truth of Universal Brotherhood and know it in part, presumably, since we have accepted it. But our knowledge of that Brotherhood is as yet but the germ of a dark nucleus, destined to grow into an all-inclusive pattern of light, which will be a perfect vesture of that truth as expressed in our lives.

If we accept Universal Brotherhood, that acceptance presupposes the principle that each is related to all. All persons and things share our life at different levels, but they must share our hearts. When that takes place, we shall know not only that each is linked to all, but also, that the others, in some mysterious way, sustain the very nature of one’s being. To know a person even outwardly is a dim registration of an inner unity, the shadow on the material plane of an unperceived spiritual light.

A Theosophical Convention is an unique opportunity to explore this truth, to which are linked many other truths – all to be comprehended not by the restless, superficial mind, but by an inner perception which has to emerge from self-oblivion to self-realization. The Theosophical Society is dedicated to Universal Brotherhood. To know the nature of the Brotherhood is to experience that harmony in the universe of which all its most divine laws and forms are parts and expressions, in which they are all perfectly synthesized.

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A Nucleus of Universal Brotherhood—V. Wallace Slater

The Theosophical Journal, May-June 1963

It has often been pointed out that the strength of The Theosophical Society lies in the fact that its members are strong individualists, not afraid to express their own opinions because of the over-riding brotherliness among them. Brotherhood does not mean all thinking alike, but rather agreeing to differ. This results in a unity without uniformity.

As a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity the Society is an experiment in being friendly and co-operative without having a set of agreed dogmas in thought and behaviour. The United Nations is a similar experiment in co-operation without loss of national freedom – a most difficult task. Let us show the world that in our smaller body we can achieve this objective among ourselves and embrace within that sense of warm brotherhood all with whom we come into contact: inquirer, visitor, stranger.

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The Seamless Garment of Brotherhood—Georges Tripet

The American Theosophist, November 1967

Brotherhood is friendship generalized and exalted; it asks for nothing; it does not lend, it gives. It sometimes receives also, and it is not ashamed to receive. It receives with simplicity, without any feeling of inferiority, of regret, as it also gives with simplicity, without any feeling of pride or superiority. It knows that to receive is sometimes more difficult than to give. …

Brotherhood is a fact in nature; it is the seamless garment of the Divine. It is everywhere, like the air, and we can practice it in everything. Whatever may be one’s profession, one’s degree of development, one’s individual characteristics, he can be brotherly at each moment, for brotherhood is not only practiced toward a particular being and in that being’s presence, but also in all the circumstances which may help that being. One even begins to ask whether there is a difference – if so, it is very subtle – between brotherhood, friendship, and love – “love” being of course used here as meaning not violent sensual feeling but perfection, affection, and complete, active understanding.

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Depths in Brotherhood—N. Sri Ram

The American Theosophist, November 1967

It may be said without any exaggeration that if there is one key to the solution of all problems in human relations, it is the simple yet profound truth of human brotherhood, flowing from the fact that all human beings spring from the same roots and are essentially of the same nature, however much this fact may be veiled and eclipsed by the modifications which this nature undergoes, thus presenting differences in mental and physical characteristics. Let all the existing social and political systems remain as they are, however imperfect and unsatisfactory they might be, given a genuine sense and feeling of brotherhood among the people who constitute those systems, the world will witness a miraculous change; instead of being, as it is very largely, a surging chaos, and for innumerable people whose sorrows are hidden from our sight a near hell, it will become almost a paradise.

Every word which has a beautiful meaning tends in course of usage to become a trite and empty thing, a practically valueless coin. Turned into a conventionalism, a mere sign, an indication of an idea, not the reality, it becomes a handy counter that covers our lack of sensibility and ignorance. Every concept that holds a value which is spiritual in a fundamental sense, that is, devoid of any element of self-interest and self-satisfaction, is degraded and materialized; it is translated in practice in terms that deny its original significance. Thus religion becomes an empty form, a label of exclusiveness and respectability, besides being a means of deluding oneself and a cause of antagonisms. Charity turns into a means of self-display and of winning regard and support for oneself, also a slave to conscience.

Similarly, brotherhood, even when it is considered as a practical doctrine, and not merely suffered as an innocuous idea, is translated in terms of co-existence which asks only for the sufferance and toleration of those with whom one disagrees and whom one dislikes. Merely to exist simultaneously on this planet with another, without either attacking the other, may be an improvement on the law of the jungle, but it is the poorest of poor aims for a human being, constituted as he is as a fountain of energies that can flower into manifold forms of beauty, acting upon others and producing manifold blessings and happiness. He has also in him energies, perhaps the same fundamental energy led into self-distorting patterns, that explode in violence and catastrophe. Nature does not permit a vacuum in space without its being hemmed in with pressures. Walls of isolation do not exist for long, without generating and provoking forces outside those walls to marshal themselves and attack them. History affords numerous examples of this law. Where there are legally or customarily protected privileges, based on no just principles, there are also forces of envy and discontent; and when these privileges either deny legitimate opportunities, or cause hardship, to those excluded from them, they create also resentment and violence. Thus are revolutions born and bred, the law of action and reaction working blindly and catastrophically in human relations and psychology as much as in the field of natural phenomena. …

Sympathy for a person is generated by a knowledge of his feelings, his needs and experiences, and normally affection is generated by sympathy. But the hectic pace at which life is lived because of the attractions that exist in the world today, which is so different from previous times, allows no time for such knowledge. When we make some superficial or conventional remark on some phenomenon of significance or some event of importance affecting human lives, or some object of beauty, and quickly pass on to some other things, obviously we have not been touched by it. We are preoccupied with our own ideas, ends, and objectives. The mind is rarely clear of them and therefore only to a slight extent open. Our ideas of ourselves and all things generally are partly shaped by reactions which we do not pause to examine, and partly derived from readings and the various mediums of propaganda; and these keep us at a distance from the actuality of things. It is only rarely that we come into direct touch with another human being without this barrier.

Brotherhood has a meaning in the reality of things which we miss when it becomes an academic doctrine. It means, on the psychological plane, a positive interest in and feeling for others, also an understanding of them. From that base, rising to deeper and subtler realizations, it can become an expression of all the beauty which St. Paul conveys in his letters to the Romans and Corinthians. St. Paul speaks of charity of heart or, as translated by some, of love, which is always beautiful. Love as well as affection is real when it exists, because it is definite and pointed. It is as real as a ray that penetrates or as a current of electricity which rearranges a magnetic field and sparks various physical reactions. But the word brotherhood, because it applies to plurality of beings, becomes a sentiment that is ineffective because of its diffuseness, an amorphous vagueness lacking sharpness of focus and outline. This is because it is a concept placed on some shelf in our thinking and not a force that changes our thinking and behaviour in definite and positive ways. If there is the same essence with the same energies, metaphorically the same blood, in different individuals, in some layer of their being, it can develop a capacity in them to know each other as kin and respond to each other with affection and beauty. It is in this knowledge and in such response that the true meaning of Brotherhood is to be discovered.

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What is a Nucleus of Universal Brotherhood?—John B. S. Coats

The Theosophist, April 1974

There is an equality of a basic nature in that all men come from the same source and are wending their way to the same goal; but in a practical sense, each man is an individual and has to have individual attention. We may never push aside a person that karma has put in our way, but rather be prepared to help, or to listen to everyone, including those who do not appear to be important. For this is the real practice of brotherhood. …

The practice of brotherhood implies that we have the highest principles active in our lives, principles of compassion, justice, chivalry, consideration for the feelings of others, and a constant attention to what we are doing to the people around us. The strength and usefulness of our organisation depends on this understanding of differentiated brotherhood. It depends on our ability to cooperate, on our understanding of the law. Without all this, the nucleus cannot work; it can neither attract nor can it transmit.

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Brotherhood and Freedom—Radha Burnier

The Theosophist, June 1968

Brotherhood means something profound and lasting. It is a truth which each has to understand and realize for himself. The great teachers of the world did not speak about the numerous problems with which men concern themselves in the world. They went to the fundamental questions, the knowledge by which “all else is known”. The realization of the basic, essential things in life brings about that state of mind which is able to solve all problems. To go to the depth of understanding of what brotherhood is, is the task of a lifetime or more. It is a vast field, as vast as life itself. If the world is full of maladies, of illnesses from the spiritual point of view, surely we do not want merely to alleviate the suffering. Every disease has to be treated at its source; the cause has to be known. It is the real cause of man’s ailments that we should primarily deal with. …

Brotherhood has a much greater meaning than, let us say, being affectionate to one’s immediate family and friends. We all love our children, husbands, wives, particular individuals, but not other people. We love our country, our fellow nationals. But to realize universal brotherhood may be different from the worldly affections so commonly experienced. Universal brotherhood has a quality into which the feeling of “my” does not enter at all. To have a brotherly feeling towards all people irrespective of the external relationship which they have to us is a way of exploring brotherhood. …

The Theosophical Society has a place for everyone, whatever may be his approach, or the methods he wants to apply for himself. Although the Society states its Objects, it does not say how the Objects shall be carried out, or delineate the way to engage in the search for truth. Nobody in the Theosophical Society is given the authority to say: This is the way, and you shall follow (or not follow) this particular path; not even H. P. Blavatsky is to be considered as someone whose words have to be followed implicitly. There is room for every type of thought and every approach. No one person or group of people can set themselves up as teachers or instructors and tell the others: This is what you should do in the Theosophical Society; you should confine yourself to such and such activities in order to promote the three Objects, or otherwise you are not really suitable to be in the Theosophical Society. …

In the Society it is very important, I feel, to have openness, not only of mind but of heart. It is easy sometimes to have an open mind but it is not so easy to have an open heart. There are people who are clever and who will accept theoretically that freedom must exist, but they do not open themselves inwardly to respond to another’s ways, to appreciate him from a heart which is free of reaction. What we need is an understanding heart and if we have that, which means having the right attitude, we can do a great deal.

The Lord Buddha said that a little love is worth very much more than a great deal of good works which are done without love. It is worth a great deal more than talking, which we all do. To have love which is the same as realizing the deepest meaning of Brotherhood is not easy. Theosophists have often been described as pioneers. Can we be pioneers in the sincerity we show in practicing Brotherhood, which implies helping others and yet allowing them to grow in their own way? If we can be pioneers in the quality of our living, in the depth of our thinking, in the sincerity of our being, then we shall surely make progress.

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Our Objects—Hugh Shearman

The Theosophist, November 1996

The first Object is “To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, cast or colour’. This is clearly the most important. It is the only one that demands from members a definite belief, for it asserts that there is a universal brotherhood of humanity. Of this, when we join, we undertake to participate in forming a nucleus. It is on the fullness and adequacy with which we implement that undertaking that our success as a Society or as a Lodge or branch of the Society depends.

There are many organizations which profess various forms of brotherhood. Some of these are relatively limited and shallow, often restricted to handshakes and affabilities and perhaps cups of tea. The brotherhood referred to in the first Object of the Theosophical Society is not defined beyond the fact that we do not opt out of it on grounds of race, creed, sex, caste or colour. Because the word ‘brotherhood’ is widely used to indicate something that is often commonplace and conventional, it can easily be given little care or attention beyond the cups of tea or some equivalent emblem.

But brotherhood implies membership of a united and caring family. When a member of the Society enters a meeting of other members, can he feel that he is entering a family to which he belongs, interested in all the others and enjoying that ease and freedom which can be had only among those whom we love? Can he feel that he is at home?

The writer remembers a small incident that seemed to illustrate this aspect of our work. An old member, under stress, arrived at a Lodge meeting, sat down and burst into tears. To the honour of the Lodge, all the other members at once understood that this was the most natural thing, for the Lodge was home and offered sympathy and understanding.

It could be well to ask ourselves if the theosophical meeting to which we usually go is a place where we or any other could easily and naturally burst into tears and where we could be confident of help and sympathy. If it is not, perhaps some opening up of our sympathies and attitudes would be appropriate. Brotherhood requires an ample degree of mutual acceptance regardless of personal pieties or beliefs. As inner life is deepened, we come to know that inwardly we are all made of the same stuff and have ultimately the same purpose and have to help one another along the same path within that purpose. …

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A Vision of Brotherhood—Johan van Manen

The Theosophist, April 1909

Some years ago in meditation I tried several experiments with myself, and some of these led to results which I found rather interesting. When meditating on a single idea, such as purity, love, or unity, there would often come to me a sudden and vivid internal vision symbolising that idea, accompanied by a spontaneously-arising sonnet, the contents of which were always a poetic commentary on the vision.

For example, one day when meditating on brotherhood there suddenly leaped into existence before my internal vision a magnificent temple, apparently Egyptian or Grecian in style. It had no outer walls, but consisted of an immense number of pillars, supporting a graceful roof, and surrounding a small walled shrine, into which I did not see. I cannot express the vividness with which I felt that the building was instinct with meaning – impregnated, as it were, with a magnetism of intelligence which made it no mere vision, but an object-lesson containing the very highest teaching. Simultaneously the explanatory sonnet unfolded itself, and described in its few terse compact lines how this was a symbol of true brotherhood – how all these pillars, all in different places, some bathed in the glorious sunlight, some for ever in the half shade of the inner lines, some thick, some thin, some exquisitely decorated, some equally strong yet unadorned, some always frequented by devotees who used to sit near them, others always deserted – how all of them silently, ungrudgingly, perseveringly and equally bore together the one roof, protecting the inner hall and its shrine – all different and yet so truly all the same. And the sonnet ended: “In this see brotherhood.”

I could not reproduce it now, but the richness and fullness of its meaning, the deep wisdom so neatly wrapped up in those few words, made me see as if in the gleam of a search-light what true brotherhood really means – the sharing of service, the bearing one’s part, regardless of all else but the work to be done. …