Ethics of an Understanding Heart
Joy Mills

Lecture held at London 13th June 1985 - Literal transcription of the talk.

Introduction: The first law of understanding is that entangles the same hopes, sorrows, joys, troubles, fears and counters us all. The same destiny backing us, the same love imposes us, the same justice educates us. Thank you very much!

Good evening friends and fellow members! A little over a year ago a film was shown on television in the United States which may also have been shown in this country, I do not know, but it was a film that angered quite a number of people, gratified others, moved many and awakened, probably, everyone who saw it, to a scenario for the future that seemed, indeed, so very immanent. The film was entitled: The Day After. And it depicted, of course, in a most graphic and horrifying manner possible, what might be the result of a nuclear holocaust.

I begin with reference to this because we are probably all very much aware that this is the most immanent threat hanging over humanity today. And above all it should rise in the minds of those at all familiar with the theosophical philosophy; it seems to me at least, the very serious question: Is there another scenario for the future? What other scenario is possible? Is, indeed, our particular humanity doomed by the instruments of its own creation?

Now, I am not going to enter into a kind of discussion on the possible futures, but rather to suggest that it seems to me the theosophical world view presents us with the only valuable alternative and one which depends completely, fully on each individual. It lies in the human heart, the understanding heart. The choices that we make daily, the manner of our living, our behavior, do determine tomorrow and the day after and all the days to come.

I have been interested in a fact that one of the really serious questions that are being asked today by great numbers of people is a comparatively simple question: How high is up? I wonder if you were aware that that is the question that is engaging statesmen, scientists, politicians, thinkers in many, many fields. How high is up?

Now, what is meant by so basic and simple question is simply: To whom does the sky belong? And therefore, by inference: To whom does the earth belong? We have moved, you see, in our time, really, even for the youngest among us here, among you here, we have moved from a flat plane consciousness, if you will, in which the boundaries between nations as between neighbors were clearly demarcated, to what we now must recognize as a multi-plane consciousness. And it has been said, and I think very rightly so, that for the first time in human history we have seen our small but beautiful planet without any boundaries, because to look at it from space one cannot determine the boundaries.

If you build a fire in your backyard, the smoke travels upward, at least for a certain distance until winds catch it and then blow it, eventually it spreads over your neighbor’s yard. How high is up?

It is no longer, you see, I think a simple truism that we live in a world threatened by the possibility of global disaster. Whatever we may feel about this possibility of course, to deny the range of our feelings about the state of the world, can of course produce psychic coming along with the sense of powerlessness and isolation. That really what is going to happen will happen and therefore whatever we do, whatever I do really makes no difference at all. I believe that it does make a difference. And it seems to me that this is indeed the theosophical world view. That what I do, what I think and what I feel does make a difference.

You see, whatever else has become fact in our time, two major facts have emerged as central and decisive in shaping our image of the present and therefore the future. First of all, the first fact is simply that we know what our total planet looks like and we are the first generation to have seen the totality of our planet. Incredible, that when viewed from space it has no boundaries, no frontiers. It is fragile and delicate as an ecological self-sustaining system. We know that. The second fact of course is that we know how to make the bomb with the capital B, and therefore we know, know really, how to destroy the entire planet and all life thereon. So, the knowledge is there even somehow the superpowers and so on were to abolish all armaments. The knowledge is present in the world. The knowledge is there. We have to live with it from now on out. It makes no difference what weaponry is, in other words. The knowledge is there.

Now, against those two facts I suggest there is a new urgency therefore to learn to live in a certain manner, a manner which is clearly delineated by the theosophical world view which is set forth very clearly in the literature, based on fundamental premises from which, it seems to me, we have no alternative but to act upon those premises. That is to say: we can understand how high is up in our own efforts to free the imprisoned spirit of the human race, the spirit within ourselves. Free it from its confines in our own hearts and every human heart that longs for love, for courage, for compassion, for understanding. And I am not talking about sentimentality but I am talking about an actual fact that we have to begin to live.

I think what is most hopeful perhaps is that what fosters our own personal peace and harmony and well-being also is best for global peace and harmony and survival. Because, it is said that we live today at one and the same time in a world of existential disorder and a world of conceptual order. And we know that the laws underlying existence in this universe are both simple and elegant, as contemporary physics are certainly revealing to us the natural order and pattern of things.

The esoteric philosophy, of course, has always emphasized just a few simple, fundamental principles basic to our understanding of existence. Very synthetically, one ultimate reality with an absolute universality of the law of periodicity, and within that, a fundamental identity of each with the one.

It has been suggested really that there are five basic assumptions in what has been called the forgotten truth, a term that Arthur Houston Smith has used to describe the esoteric philosophy, the perennial wisdom. When we call it the ageless wisdom or the wisdom religion of the ages, I think is well to remember that until we do live it, until it has become expressed in our lives, in a meaningful manner, it is a forgotten truth. And the more we forget it, if you please, the less likely we are to point the way to valuable alternative for the future.

I think these five basic assumptions which today are very much supported by many of the findings in contemporary thought, particularly science can fashion our perception of the world and correct our faulty vision of the future.

I happen to be convinced, and not because I am perhaps an incurable optimist - which I am of course - but at any event I am happen to be convinced that the theosophical world view points very clearly and decisively to a mode of living that is really such that our whole cycle as humanity will continue. Will continue, not just must but it will. So let us look briefly at these, what I call, simple but elegant principles - and I use that term because the scientist today, particularly physicist, is suggesting that for a theory to have a basis in fact it must possess a certain elegance, that is to say, a beauty in a pure platonic sense. It must be therefore comprehensive and it does not therefore necessarily mean that its opposite is somehow not true in fact, of course - it was Nils Bohr who suggested that the opposite of a great truth is not a falsehood, it is another great truth. And so the elegance lies in a very paradoxical nature of these principles.

First of all, that the invisible and immaterial is real, and independently real. That is to say, it does not need to “piggy back”, if you like - I hope that is a phrase that maybe known to you - on the material, in order to obtain its ontological status. The immaterial and invisible is real and independently real. Now, this is very, very important in our consideration of valuable alternative as we will see, in a moment.

Further more and secondly, the invisible and the immaterial is powerful, far more powerful than the material and visible structure, through which it may manifest. That most of causation or, one might even say all of causation, is from the immaterial to the material. And consequently these two has tremendous implications for this idea of a valuable alternative to the future.

Further, three, this immaterial, the immaterial is ultimately one, one in a way that unifies everything. That is to say, that underlie all transient exhibitions of the immaterial in material form, therefore, underlying that, is one source, one energy, if you like, one force. Dr. Paul Davies in his recent book calls it the super force, for example. We may give it many names. A unifying factor. And therefore this ultimate non-dualistic immaterial one is wonderful and autonom.

And the deepest element is therefore that in that domain, from which each one of us as all else in the manifested universe, manifests, exhibits witnesses, call it spirit if you like, a domain that we carry around with us all the time but are not in touch with it, if you like.

I think that these five principles must find their expression in our lives if they are to be meaningful. In other words, if you like, we must test them. And what is more: we can test them. And ultimately therefore, to put it perhaps in scientific terms, if you like, we are the chief test object of these forgotten truths of being. We exhibit them, just like every scientific thesis, of course, must land itself to experiment, being tested for its validity, so philosophical and metaphysical principles become valid only as they achieve meaningfulness in a lives of those who expose them.

I have been interested in the fact that even the most materialistic of scientists carries within him a vast store of the immaterial in the very wattage, if you’d like to put in this way, of ideas and concepts which take up no room whatsoever. In other words, there is the immaterial which he translates always into the material.

Now, it is precisely this validity that we can give to these fundamental and very simple principles which outwork then in what I call the alternative future which I think is possible for our humanity to build as we undertake to translate those principles into an ethic which is simply to say into a way of life which is simply one of compassion and understanding.

A great deal of study and researches going on in the United States right now in connection with levels of moral behavior, moral growth, exhibiting an ethic therefore for various stages of growth. And it is very interesting to observe in centers like Harvard where Dr. Lawrence Colberg, who pioneered this particular study, carries on a work that is now having quite an impact on our total educational system incidentally in the development of the stages and how we encourage the movement from one stage to another. In other words, it is fundamentally our lives that today must give answer to the questions raised by the circumstances that we ourselves have created. And if this means living in a new way than so be it. We had better learn to live in a new way.

We have no other choice if we are to heal the disease which afflicts our world. I think there is no other valuable alternative if we are to cure the psychological disorder of our lives. And I am reminded here of one of the wonderful stories that comes to us from the Hassidic tradition, that movement in eighteen century Judaism in eastern Europe which still survives today in the wonderful stories of the Hassidic and the whole tradition, the Hassidic-judge tradition. The story is simply one of a rabbi in northern side Russia who was put in jail for the principles that he held. And the chief of his captors tried to confound him and proof the absurdity of his believes by touting him with the question: If God, if your God is all-knowing why did he call into the garden of Eden to Adam and say: Where art thou? This really is a rather stupid, there are only two people and how could, you know, an omnipotent God loose track of them, so to speak. I mean there wasn’t a very wide area anyway; the Garden of Eden was relatively small place and how very silly if God is omnipotent, omniscient, he knows everything, all-knowing, certainly the least he could have done was keep track of two people, you know. And so this does seem a very logical question. But the rabbi answered: Because in every era God calls to every man: where are you in your world? So many days and years have been adopted to you and these have passed; how far along are you? It is not, in other words, said the rabbi, that God does not know where you are, but you do not know where you are.

And so the question is to awaken us. Adam where art thou? And I think that question is still a valid one today. Where are we in our world? Where is each one of us in our world? So the story is simply that God in a way seeks Adam who has hidden himself and he calls him to the garden asking therefore: Where art thou?

The interesting thing is that Adam, of course, hid himself, according to the story, to avoid rendering an account of his actions, to escape responsibility for his way of living, hoping to retread into preconscious kind of existence in a hope of finding peace. But the voice of the immortal spirit, the Self that is one, calls out: Where art thou? Now each one of us in that sense is Adam; of course esoterically Adam is symbol of our whole humanity and so the voice still calling to each one of us. And, you know, it is interesting to note the answer which Adam gave. He didn't say: Here I am, oh Lord, you know. He said: I hid myself. The recognition, first of all, that we are trying to escape, that we are failing to recognize where we are in our world, perhaps blaming others, projecting it on to others and so on, all the rest of it. But we can not escape responsibility that the reins of destiny are in our hands, whether we win or loose the struggle for a better future depends on the answer that we give to that question: Where art thou? And I think each one of us must be able to answer: it depends on the choices that we make, choices that are ultimately ethical in nature for they involve clearly, precisely, unequivocally, the nature of our actions. And those actions, whether we like it or not, flow from a philosophical conviction concerning the nature of ourselves and the universe we inhabit. The beginning of the way is in a kind of recognition which Adam faced up to in his simple answer: I hid myself. And how many of us do that precisely - we hide ourselves, we hope the dangers will go away, we hope that somehow we may end this incarnation before any holocaust overtakes our world, we hope somehow that we will be somewhere else when it occurs, if it is going to occur. And so we go on and on and on, hiding ourselves. For each one of us too has hidden the immaterial real within, has covered it over, forgetting the true Self, the divinity that is there waiting to be expressed.

Let me turn again to the Hassidic tradition. It happens to be one that I love and I was like to put stories in anyway because drawing them from different traditions, sometimes from the Buddhist tradition - you know every tradition has its stories and I think they are wonderful. And so I pick them, you know, just as in accordance with my own guise for the moment as it were but because I always feel, if nothing else, my audiences remember the stories, you know, in some way or another, they may distort them but at least you remember the stories.

It’s told that the rabbi of Ghur was called on to interpret the saying of Jacob to his servant when Esau, his brother, meets thee and ask thee, saying: Who are thou and whether goes thou and who are these before you? He interpreted this as meaning that each one of us must consider three things: We must know whence we came - the one Source, immaterial, from which all derived. We must know whether we are going - the one goal toward all creation moves. And we must know, further, to whom we render accounts.

A very interesting suggestion. To whom do we render accounts? According to the one law, we render accounts to ourselves. But that one law is a code of moral conduct, an ethical behavior that is in accordance with the fundamental reality of one life. It is expressed, I think, in a way of acting from that immovable and non­material center of our being. That from which we have come and to ward which we are ever moving, and yet, where there is no movement at all. Found in a way of acting that is grounded then in the essence of that one law which is love or compassion, a way that arises from an understanding heart. Such a way has been called, of course, by many names in many different traditions. In Buddhism it is often known, of course, as the bodhisattva path, and may be simply called the spiritual life, the way of living in the world in terms of a Christ consciousness, whatever you may like to call it.

As one writer has noted in speaking of it as the bodhisattva path, the Bodhisattva is not trying to be good or kind. He is spontaneously compassioned. Spontaneously compassioned. And this, I suggest, is perhaps something we need to learn. The ethics of an understanding heart, in other words, in that tradition have been defined as modes of acting in the world in accordance with the transcendental nature of our being. And so this ethical mode of life, if you like, has been defined as expressing the virtues of perfection. The term used, of course, in Buddhism as in the Voice of the Silence, which is a Buddhists text - the paramitas and the paramita path. The virtues by which we cross to the other shore, if you like, the shore of wisdom.

But it is rather interesting because it has been suggested that there may be two ways to interpret paramita. Not only crossing to the other shore, that is the way one is gone, but the way one has come, the way one has come to oneself. And I think this is what is well recalled on to awaken to ourselves.

And I suggest it is by means of these modes of action that we begin to build the one alternative future that backend us forward with the promise, the true promise of peace, brotherhood, understanding for all.

Whatever these modes of action, then, that characterize the ethics of an understanding heart - that sort of beautiful little word which I will be discussing later this month at our seminar on the Voice of the Silence - there are outlined very simply. And the first of them is “dannam”, of course. But it is not simply charity and love in the ordinary sense. I think it is really what is meant by it, is a total caring for life. That everything because of its roothedness in the non-material bears within it preciousness and we care deeply for that preciousness in each other and everything. It is so something that we nourish and love and try to bring into flower. That it is, in other words, one uses all that one is for welfare of others. There is, as it were, where everyone is a continual radiation of one’s very being. This, I think, is what is meant by this mode of acting that is known as “dannam”, an openness, a willingness to give of oneself, doing whatever is required at any moment, in any situation, because it reflects itself in an inner attitude of generosity without judgment of whether others are worthy or not. An attitude therefore of non-possessiveness, compassion without irritation, therefore without rejection.

I admit this is not easy, not always easy. But, you know, so often we begrudge being nice to others, I mean - lets be honest about it - we, sort of hold ourselves a bit in reserve, we really stand back a little, we feel that, well, we are not going to quite share our kindness about everybody alike but just on those that with whom we feel really compatible. But is there, whoever we are, a kind of continual radiation of our being - Krishnamurti may have defined it best when he said: Only be aware of what you are thinking and doing and nothing else. The seeing, the hearing is the doing. The skill in doing lies in the skill of seeing, hearing.

I think sometimes we are so eager to do that we forget to look, we forget to listen, perhaps, it is simply seeing and hearing through which we give ourselves. And there is, of course, then that essence of harmony that arises in speech, action and relationship, that in every moment we are inwardly harmonized and therefore there is a state of outer radiation of peace. The antipathies, the jalousies, the ... between individual and individual, nation and nation, grow out of a confused and chaotic mind, a mind caught in a grip of passion and of likes and dislikes. But that grounded in that particular paramita which is known as “shila” - we then move in into an internal contemplation which never ceases, in which we act from an interior center. And acting we act spontaneously. We are wakeful, wakeful in the sense that we give attention, really give attention, to each other and to life. Every action is then a meditation and every meditation is an action. To be awake is to see things as they are, to contemplate everything as it is, to see the world clear, without veils, to perceive it without distortion and therefore to eat in harmony with that one interior vision of reality.

You may say: these are ideals. Well, what else should we put before ourselves? Hut a new way of life - the world calls for it urgently, I think - that there will be people in it who are willing to make an effort which is really effortless because it is permitting that one essential Self within to radiate for. And so it is effortless, one simply is, as it were. And so one begins to transmute any conflict, unhappiness, desire and one is very patient therefore - another of the great paramitas. We, of course, I suppose, you are not different than the people of my country, very inpatient. We want things immediately, you know, we have become accustomed to a world in which everything is instant - instant meals, instant coffee and, you know, instant this and that. And I often comment and I often think of the cannibal, who had a little pocket of some kind of ash that he was carrying around and as the missionary was speaking to him, he periodically opened it and put a bit on his tongue and so on, and finally the missionary asked him what this was that he carried and tasted from time to time and he said: instant people. Well, you know, perhaps, we would like to be instantly here, there and wherever, we are impatient, you know. Not a very nice story, I admit, but simply you, yeah - you don’t ensure something about impatience?

Now, patience, I think, really means that we have a flowing relationship with the world. We really don’t have to fight anything, nor do we need to be full of anxiety, fear and wrong expectations. Because when we are that anxiety gives rise to conflict, that conflict gives rise to hatreds, to violence, to rage, and we have added to the pool of separatism, of war, like actions and we are right back into a judge mental condition. I think with patience we are not driven by some premature impulse or by an instinct to force people and the events into some rigid pattern that we deem to be right.

We may say, of course, if only the whole world would join the Theosophical Society. Well, it would be useful, I could settled down just stay, of course, at Krotona, had not to move out, you know, all of the work of the society, we could say: well, we can now just enjoy ourselves, because everybody else is neatly joined. But, of course, it wouldn’t end there, not only must everybody join the Society, they must, of course, interpret theosophy as I interpret it, naturally, they must see it as I see it, they must subscribe, of course, and not being dogmatic, but this is, of course, the correct way, you know, I realize this is not doctrinaire but there is a doctrine and you must adhere to it in precisely the way that I perceive it, and so on.

So, than, we still go on fighting that marvelous battle which I suppose will always continue. But this, being willing to let people to be as they are, to recognize that there are different ways of perceiving the one eternal truth and at the same time, that we are one pointed and purposive, that we then have an inner strength to face all dangers and all opposition with the purity of heart and the confidence in the ultimate triumph of truth.

I think what we need really is a bravery of the soul. A doubtless courage of the spirit. And I think we lack this because it is all too easy to give way to the fears and anxieties which are expressed all about us. But I am all in favour of that bravery of the soul by which we can, indeed, face anything that occurs and face it fully and happily with the sublime equal-mindedness, providing balance and equanimity that we can, indeed, know how high is up, because we live in that freer air where there are no divisions and where we see them, all things, beautifully, equally harmonious.

This, I think, are some of the modes of functioning, really, of the truly enlightened individual that this entangled one, if you like, who is fully awake, who perceives what one poet has called the burning oneness binding everything.

These are the modes of acting in our world. And if can’t achieve them fully, at least we can begin to achieve them. If the ideal seems high the action called for too great, too far beyond our means of achieving then simply consider the only other alternative. The choice is ours, you know, and it is for us to decide which side in this balance between world destroying and life affirming possibilities will fill our wait.

It is not so much, I think, a question as to whether we may fail because we may fail, again and again and again. But the real question is whether we are even willing to try. And certainly that is all that is asked of us.

Not too long ago nearly 500 people, representing 20 countries, met in Toronto, Canada, for a Planetary Initiative congress on the world we choose. I happened to belong to this group, The Planetary Initiative, which is headed by a man, Donald Keese, who has been long associated with the Secretariat of the United Nations, and who not too long ago was a speaker at the Krotona Institute School of the Theosophy. That particular congress adopted a declaration, stating simply that a vision of a preferred future for humanity and the world is necessary to provide a direction and a goal and to offset the anxiety and pessimism now so widely felt. As I say, this man who is head of the Planetary Initiative movement, Donald Keese, is associated with the Secretariat at the United Nations; he is very much influenced by theosophical thought. We needn’t underestimate the places into which the theosophical world view has been carried. And it was suggested at that congress that three key elements for that preferred future were to be noted. First of all, the challenge and opportunity for achieving individual human potential and realizing the essential spiritual identity of each person, leading to the assumption of responsibility and initiative in a spirit of cooperation, self-realization, accompanied by responsibility. The second element that was involved was known as human community, involving an educational process for wholeness, environmental stewardship, social and economic justice and life-serving technology and the use of renewable resources. And the third was simply a cooperative world order based on natural law.

There are increasingly, I might say, a number of individuals who recognize that amidst all of the problems today there is emerging a global society. And it seems to me that our responsibility is to under gird, if I may put it that way, and to aid in a growth of that, but to under gird it, with a world view that is comprehensive, elegant and simple, the theosophical world view. And so, to achieve the goals new approaches can be proposed, involving at the personal level of focus on inner values that promote harmonious relations, the development of a sense of brotherhood and the attempt to develop in a personal life the embodiment of those characteristics which are necessary for a peaceful world as well as the development of a spiritual sensitivity, accepting personal responsibility for our present world condition. At the societal level: a life enhancing education leading away from competition to a sense of community and non-violence, combining a reverence for life with an active concern for the whole, nurturing cross cultural understanding.

Happily I am involved in a private secondary school on land, purchased by one of the great leaders of the theosophical movement Dr. Annie Besant, where this precise educational philosophy is being fostered and given expression. We need to encourage the development of a science of peace-craft and so, I think, we can aid in a nurturing values for this preferred future, planetary equity, reverence for life, broadened prospective and respect between diverse populations, functioning within the natural laws of life systems, caring and sharing stewardship and global awareness of interdependence.

Those are the values, I think, fostered by a commitment to the ethics of an understanding heart. And they flow directly from a life that is singularly focused on the reality that all life is truly one.

The age old way, the paramita path, the bodhisattva path, the path of Christ trodden, the Christ path of the divine, is the one valid choice which lies open before each one of us.

In one of the ancient scriptures of the East the daily life and conduct of the one who walks that path, who practices the contemplation of the highest, the one Supreme Reality, is described in two very simple Samskrit words: dannam atman Jnanam which means simply that the knowledge of the immortal, atman, is the gift, dannam, which we disseminate all around by the presence of our being in the world. This is the highest gift that we can give, that where ever we are, among whom so ever we walk, we share the sublime gift of knowing the Self is one.

That is the choice we can make daily, here and now, and by that choice we affirm the future.

In the Gnostic tradition the very beautiful word, the Gospel of Truth, inspired, it is said, by Valentinus, contains these words: The day on high has no night. Say in your heart that it is you who are this perfect day that it is in you that this light, which does not fail, dwells. Speak of the truth with those who seek it, and of the noses with those who in their error have committed sins, You, who are the children of the understanding heart, join to the man who has discovered himself and awakened and blessed is he, who opened the minds of the blind.

We are children of the understanding heart. We have perceived even a faint glimpse of that Reality which underlies all existence, who have seen that Light shining in the darkness and walk ever toward it, may we be peaceful, may we be free of fear and hatred and greed, may we be free of corruption and misperception, may we create a world filled with love and compassion, where all are free and none are hungry, may the openness of our hearts and minds touch those who are frozen with fear, may our cry for peace be heard, may each of us come to know our wisdom and our strength, our love and joy, our beauty and our compassion and may we share these gifts freely, may each of us be infused with the spirit of those whose lives are always dedicated to creating peace, that our collective spirit may heal this filling world.

Go then, in beauty, peace be with you, till we meet in our hearts inner Light.

Last update: januar 2009
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