The following articles are reproduced from the June 2004 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
Theosophy in Business
An extract from Practical Theosophy by C. Jinarājadāsa
THERE is an idea largely prevalent in the world among religious people that business activities are incompatible with a truly religious life. This has been due to the peculiar conception of life which certain exponents of religion have given to their followers. We know how today people think of “religious” interest and “secular” interests, and there is a tacit recognition that they must be opposed, or, if not actually in opposition, at least mutually exclusive. This conception arises from an exaggeration in religions of the thought of the Transcendence of God; the Creator, having once created His world, is thought of as living in some sphere removed in space from that world, and as merely supervising it. In this religious conception, man, as the creature of God, has only the duty of pleasing his Maker so as to make secure his own salvation. I well remember a sermon which I heard once in a Christian Church on the duty of man to God; this duty was described as composed of the three virtues of humility, gratitude and obedience. The preacher insisted upon the subservience of the soul of man to God as a pre-requisite to a religious life. It was evident that according to him the ordinary activities of life in the home, in business, and in amusements, counted for very little with God, and that man was judged according to certain theological virtues which he had or had not acquired. This extreme Christian conception of the old problems of man’s everyday life is very vividly summed up, in the verse of a hymn which was sung by the congregation on this particular day of the sermon; the verse is this :
I am going home in the good old way,
I have served the world with its worthless pay,
For its hopes are vain and its gains are loss,
And I glory now in the blood-stained Cross.
Here we have very clearly the thought that the multifarious activities of the world have no special use in the spiritual growth of man, and that what we gain of capacity and growth outside the strictly religious sphere is but “worthless pay”. Wherever in a religion we have the idea of renunciation and asceticism, there usually develops this idea of the uselessness of life in the world.
The natural consequence of the division of life into secular and religious is the creation of two moralities which have often little relation to each other; the religious man will consider that it is perfectly legitimate to be selfish, savage and unspiritual in his business dealings with a fellow man, whom he will try to love as a “neighbour” in his religious relation towards him; a deeply religious man, both tender-hearted and kind in one part of his nature, yet will possess another part of savagery and resentment, and will see no reason why this latter phase of himself should be modified at the cost of business gain. A fraudulent but pious milkman, who will water his milk on weekdays with perfect nonchalance, will do it on Sunday too, with his pious Sunday face, and then go to church and revel in his religion!
Now Theosophy abolishes these two moralities in the world of business, by showing that the business world is as much a part of God’s world as temples and churches. It is One Life which is manifesting through all the activities of men, and all the activities which have been developed in civilisation are necessary in the Divine Plan. God’s plan for the salvation of humanity works not only through individual men, but also through men as groups. Men’s natures must be grown emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and one cause of this growth is their collective activity in various organisations. In the collective life of humanity, various types of divine agents are required to carry out His purpose; the ruler and the lawgiver, the fighter, the teacher, the priest, the healer, the artist, are all required to play their roles as actors in the Divine Drama of life; but not less of a divine actor is the business man.
Now the man to whom business is one of his principal obligations comes as a soul into life with as much a spiritual purpose as the man who is the priest; that purpose is to equip himself as a soul for activities everywhere and in all time. He does not come to gain wealth or ease, but capacity; his Soul is put into a business life, rather than into one of religion or art, because he can learn such soul qualities as he next requires for his growth more swiftly in the business world than any other sphere. The sterling virtues which are learned in business are fundamentally spiritual; no man can be a successful business man unless he is one-pointed, unless he is quick to respond to opportunities, unless he grows in imagination. These are not “secular” virtues because they are developed in what we hold to be secular activities; they are capacities which are built into the life of the soul. Certainly we find that a large number of business men, highly endowed with these qualities, are selfish, cruel and hard, but this does not mean that the virtues are useless, because the possessors of them lack other virtues. When we remember that a man lives many lives, and that once he acquires a capacity he never loses it, we shall then understand how, after a business man has developed these virtues in one life (even though it has meant the development at the same time of selfishness), in a future life, when his vision is cleared and he begins to be altruistic, he will still have this marked ability when he turns to his work in altruism.
In the evolution of humanity, the faculties of all men, good and bad, are used; “blindly the wicked work the righteous will of heaven”. The world’s lands are habitable today only because a few pioneers originally went out into the deserts and forests and made them habitable; they may have gone out purely for selfish purposes, but nevertheless they were used as the agents of a Divine Plan. Men may go out as pioneers into new lands to gain wealth for themselves; but we know that such a life requires heroism, sacrifice, doggedness, strength, and these virtues become permanent acquisitions of the soul. In the same way, today, in the “trust magnates” and “beef barons” of America and elsewhere, we have manifestly great capacity together with much selfishness and lust for power; but they are building up more efficient ideas of business, and so are helping in the Divine Plan. As for their selfishness, that will be purified out of them through suffering in future lives; and when after that purification they gain a true perspective of life, they will have with them the strong virtues which they developed through their greed and selfishness, and they will then be far more efficient on the side of good than many another who may have been good and pious but had acquired little capacity.
The practical message of Theosophy to the business man is that he should identify himself with the higher possibilities and motives in business, and not with the lower. What the former are, we can see if we look at the various stages of development in business capacity which men show. In the earliest stage of commercial life, we have mere greed, and the man is all the time thinking of his private interests and gloating over them as his particular possessions. In the second stage, the element of greed is mastered by the mental element of business routine, and the individual becomes practically the slave of business, busying himself continually with all kinds of activities in business, not always because of the profits involved, but largely because these activities give him the sense of vitality and reality. In the third stage of growth, the business man is conscious of himself as the great master of capacity, and is far more conscious of this power as he exercises it than of the gain it brings; he is often most unselfish about individuals and most ascetic in his private life, though of course he will manifest the acme of selfishness in his utter one-pointedness in the exercise of this power. But then will inevitably come the last stage, when, in the exercise of his master-capacity, he sees what are the honourable lines of activity for him as a guardian of divine energies.
The Theosophical business man should always aim at idealism in his profession; and this is quite compatible, even today, in spite of all the obstacles in his way. The first characteristic of this idealism should be the holding of a high conception of his business as a noble contribution to human welfare, and with this a keen desire to bring it to a high state of perfection. He will, therefore, be thoroughly efficient not only in his own line, but he will try to join with others in associations, so as to uphold the ideal. Much has yet to be done in bringing business men together into organizations, not merely for private interests, as in Trusts, but to discuss the fundamentally efficient principles involved in business. Into the hands of business men the Divine Plan entrusts the development of one aspect of the world’s work, and it is their duty to see that their work is done with as little waste of time and energy as possible. Something has been done so far in standardising tools and machinery; much more needs to be done along this line, so that there may be throughout the world facilities for the mutual development of inventions and processes. It is from the business men of the world today that we expect the practical carrying out of the great ideals of Internationalism; while religious teachers may expound Universal Brotherhood, the practical foundations for it must be laid by the business men of the world.
The Theosophical business man must always remember that the world’s development is part of a great Plan, and “big men” in all departments of life are employed to carry out the Divine work. For instance, just now there are great changes taking place in the business world in bringing about great combinations; we know how ruthless such Trusts are and how they push to the wall the small merchant. Yet we see at the same time the slow transformation of material development from the work of a few for their own gain to the work of a great national department for the welfare of all. It is because of the plans of business development laid down by such combinations that one day, where spirituality and not greed controls such Trusts, we shall be able utterly to abolish poverty. Every invention that has made life easier for men is a realization of the thought of God, and an inventor is not less a God’s priest than is a priest of religion.
All men are channels of one great Divine Force, and as it runs through them they retain it for themselves, some more and some less; and most do not understand the duty they have of transmuting that Force into the least little activity of life. If the business man were to recognize this principle, he would then realize how much of a builder he is in the divine edifice of human life. Did not Christ say: “I must be about my Father’s business?” The great Father lives mysteriously in our world — as ruler and lawgiver, healer and priest; but He lives, too, strange as it may seen, as the “business man”. This is the high aspect of business which Theosophy shows, and the man or woman, whose Dharma or Duty is business, can bring a high spirituality to all work in shop and in office, in factory and in counting-house, doing all as a part of “my Father’s business”.
The esoteric Wesak Festival and the Wesak Day public holiday normally coincide, but not this year (see the article on The Great Wesak Blessing in last month’s newsletter). Although the esoteric Wesak Festival took place in the early morning of 5 May our time, we believe there will also be a tremendous outpouring of beneficent forces on 2 June 2004 as millions of people--a great portion of the world’s population--will be celebrating Wesak on that day. This, we understand, is in line with the law of nature that divine forces will take advantage of great congregations of devotional people as useful channels for the outpouring of blessing.
We shall celebrate Wesak Day as we normally do, with a talk giving a detailed account of the esoteric Wesak Festival including a video recording made by an Australian TV station of pilgrims gathering at the legendary Wesak Valley. We will then have a group meditation for 30 mins. A vegetarian buffet lunch has been kindly sponsored by Bro. Kam Chai Heng for the benefit of participants.
Termination of Monthly Weekday Meeting
We started the monthly weekday meeting in March 2004 with good intentions. We thought that those members who could not come for the Saturday meetings would be happy to meet at least once a month on a weekday. Indeed, the weekday meeting was partly in response to their request. Nevertheless, since we started in March, very few of the targeted members showed up for the past three months. Due to the poor response, the executive committee has decided to stop the monthly weekday meeting until such a time when such meetings can be more meaningful.
Reincarnation—fact or fallacy? This is a question asked by many. Members of the Theosophical Society may or may not realize that the doctrine of reincarnation was effectively introduced by the Theosophical Society to the West. Indeed, it is a fundamental tenet of theosophy. Some religions have rejected reincarnation as a possibility, rather regarding it as a heresy. Nevertheless, more and more people are beginning to see the rationale and reasonableness of the doctrine and how it fits in with the overall scheme of things. Further, reincarnation is no longer confined to religious and philosophical domains. Science, in particular medical science, has made significant inroads into the study of reincarnation and its possibility through extensive investigations of cases of individuals with the memory of previous lives. The work of Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia is notable in this area.
Lily Chong has prepared a compelling presentation on this important subject. She will cover both the theosophical teachings as well as scientific evidence supportive of the doctrine of reincarnation. Don’t miss this talk on Saturday, 19 June at 5 p.m.