Building the Foundations of Mutual Help
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
“To teach is not to transfer knowledge,
but to create the conditions for the proper
production or building of knowledge.”
Paulo Freire 
It is unavoidable: along the path to inner wisdom one must face collective situations involving the question of power, of organization, of interpersonal relations and group decisions. The same happens with altruistic initiatives regarding social and ecological issues.
Things might seem to be easier if spiritual learners or volunteer workers of noble causes were all blind pilgrims, weak and obedient. If they limited themselves to mechanically follow orders, as part of a lifeless ritual. However, altruistic persons often have personal initiative and creativity and prefer being self-responsible.
How can one then build a power structure that is brotherly and consistent, combining strong and independent persons?
The key-idea is apparently simple, and dwells in the fact that a true solidarity preserves the autonomy of every one.
History shows that in the last few millennia, it has not been easy to build healthy collective structures. Fortunately, we now have the tools for this goal to be achieved with no unnecessary complications, in theosophical associations and other groups of idealists. Indeed, the secret of collective karma is in relationship structures.
From a psychological point of view, the search for coercive power - the power of dominating people - is a pathological mechanism. There is another kind of power structure which is creative and brotherly. The opposite of neurotic power is not an absence of power. The idea of totally eliminating leadership mechanisms is as wrong as the very ambition for personal and authoritarian power. Leading, teaching and learning are all natural functions of life.
A healthy alternative to authoritarian domination is not the absence of power but a cooperative power, whose collective structures aim at making mutual help easier. In fact, every organism generates karma and produces consequences, in one way or another; and brotherly structures generate positive karma, the good karma of higher levels of life.
1. Manipulation Is Not Power, and Power Is Not Manipulation
In his book significantly entitled “Escape from Freedom”, Erich Fromm wrote about the illusion of wishing to have personal power over other individuals:
“… In a psychological sense, the lust for power is not rooted in strength but in weakness. It is the expression of the inability of the individual self to stand alone and live. It is the desperate attempt to gain secondary strength where genuine strength is lacking.”
And Fromm added:
“The word ‘power’ has a twofold meaning. One is the possession of power over somebody, the ability to dominate him; the other meaning is the possession of power to do something, to be able, to be potent. The latter meaning has nothing to do with domination; it expresses mastery in the sense of ability. If we speak of powerlessness we have this meaning in mind; we do not think of a person who is not able to dominate others, but of a person who is not able to do what he wants. Thus power can mean one of two things, domination or potency. Far from being identical, these two qualities are mutually exclusive. Impotence, using the term (…) to all spheres of human potentialities, results in the sadistic striving for domination; to the extent to which an individual is potent, that is, able to realize his potentialities on the basis of freedom and integrity of his self, he does not need to dominate and is lacking the lust for power. Power, in the sense of domination, is the perversion of potency.” 
Thus, the power we must generate and share in groups aiming at the study and practice of esoteric philosophy is the power of the heart, the power of creativity and of cooperative leadership.
The task is easier if we have the patience to simultaneously identify and get rid of the old mechanisms or patterns of personal impotence that nurture the sickly search for power over others. The present moment in human evolution paves the way to new kinds of relationships, which are capable of generating brotherly power and the leadership of mutual help. There is nothing forbidding us from being an active part of the process.
I have outlined a theory of conflicts in the first part of the book “Three Pathways to Inner Peace”. Chapter four of the work is dedicated to the conflict between good and evil on the basis of what I learned in the last few decades. Available in our associated websites, chapter 11 of that volume, entitled “A Psychoanalysis of Religions”, examines the mechanisms of leadership in spiritualistic and theosophical associations.
There is much to be done along these lines.
Establishing human relations on the basis of mutual good will is an essential task in order to build the right kind of vibrational patterns. Humanity has today a unique karmic opportunity. The unfoldment of such a sacred potentiality is but waiting for the right kind of approach on our part, to take place. It is the task of the students of esoteric philosophy to gradually produce the subtle structures necessary for the energy of good will to stop being wasted away in negative skandhas, or blind habits from the past which reproduce suffering. Thus a better world will finally emerge.
We must expand the sociological science of solidarity: a brotherly mode of producing and living is needed. The cooperative mode of production becomes natural and possible when the individuals adopt as their personal goal to expect more from themselves than from others, and to control themselves rather than to dominate the external world.
2. The Right Amount of Criticism Helps the Work
The issue of a transparent leadership is of decisive importance for every group dedicated to spiritual learning. The lower selves can’t stay apart from the theosophical pilgrimage or altruistic action. Personal emotions constitute the great battlefield in the effort for learning.
On one hand, power structures based on a blind idealization of leaders are useless. On the other hand, collective structures which depend on competition and on a lack of mutual confidence must not be accepted. One must be creative. It is necessary to form groups in which the external appearance of spiritual goodness cannot be used to hide inner feelings of hatred and envy. We can have the privilege of honestly discussing this challenge, and of using the power of brotherly sincerity.
One of the meanings of the expression universal brotherhood indicates it must include all beings, the wisest and the less-experienced alike, the most devotional as well as the most skeptical. A theosophical association can be a cultural environment where the newly-arrived may feel at home and understand events, while the experienced individuals work on more elaborate issues. The creation of such an atmosphere is an alchemical task. We learn to develop it while working with a wide and varied public, in which all people have different kinds of motivation and levels of information.
For instance, there are various reasons for a moderately skeptical individual to be welcome among students of Eastern and esoteric wisdom.
In the first place, he will appreciate the basic sincerity with which the group works. Secondly, since he is an honest skeptic, he will also have doubts about his own disbelief in the spiritual path, and will admit the possibility that his denial of spirituality is itself a form of blind dogmatism.
The presence of one or two respectful skeptics in a group of altruistic goals will be useful because it will put the association to test, avoiding excessive idealizations and tendencies to blind belief.
In every individual, the right amount of skepticism avoids blindness. But an excessive presence of doubts interrupts Antahkarana, the bridge between the lower self and the higher self. Antahkarana gives one self-confidence, confidence in life and a certainty regarding the spiritual path, in spite of the traps the pilgrim must confront as he goes ahead.
The word enthusiasm comes from en-thousiasm. It is a variant of entheos, which means having a god in one’s own soul (Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, 1989 ed.).
Theosophically, enthusiasm means to be in contact with the divine energy of immortal soul. It is tantamount to say that someone is acting under the inspiration of a ray of light coming from the higher self, although, in a world full of illusion, the light of Enthusiasm must be combined with the light of Discernment and regulated by common sense. Enthusiasm is a manna that falls from heaven, a sacred dew, a gift from Antahkarana.
Negativism and the exaggeration of doubts interrupt the process necessary for the personal self to have access every moment to the joy of life and the certainty of blessing, two feelings which dwell eternally in the immortal soul.
If someone knows the group already, he must have confidence in the collective effort. Otherwise he will be wasting his time. Anyone who disbelieves in the work of an association even after being on familiar terms with it for some time must have the degree of self-respect necessary to abandon it and look for another thing to do which could be considered more correct.
A skeptical has no right to boycott the work of a group, to try to produce mistrust among persons or attack the feeling of enthusiasm that is essential to every noble effort. However, his respectful calls to prudence or to honest self-criticism will be useful. When someone shows in clear and documented ways the mistakes of an institution or the failures of the literature it adopts, there must be collective courage enough to place truth above short term conveniences and recognize the merit of honest criticism. An effective association considers truth more important than the superficial level of its corporate interests. Its leaders know that being untruthful is self-destructive both for an individual and a community.
3. The Labor Theory of Value, and the Value of Knowledge
A theory of power within human groups depends on a theory of value. Each form of collective power emerges around something that is seen as having great worth.
Three factors add value to all things relating to spiritual power, and they are the sources of beneficial influence and leadership:
a) deep knowledge;
b) hard work; and
c) a brotherly intention.
The three items are indispensable if one wants to set a spiritual organization in motion, or preserve its work.
It is the combination of knowledge, work and noble intention that enlightens the concept, also central, of democracy. A humanitarian and philosophical institution has to be a democracy of work, a democracy of knowledge, and a communion of intentions. Accumulated knowledge is the same as accumulated work; and accumulated knowledge, if it is real, means a willingness to work in essentially democratic ways.
In an “inner democracy”, it is not necessary for everyone to have an equal say in each decision to be made. The levels of knowledge, of accumulated effort and experience of each one are quite different. Diversity is important, and ignoring the differences makes an association shallow, constituting a waste of experience and wisdom.
An essential democracy is sustained by the feeling of communion. In it, those who have more knowledge usually work more and harder than others, because they have liberated themselves in deeper ways from personal concerns and can dedicate a large portion of their lives to the search for that wisdom which can only be found through altruism.
However, those who are “younger” on the path must make their decisions as to ascribing or not a special significance to the testimony of the “elders”. The testimony of accumulated experience tends to be extremely useful for them and for the common work, especially if it can be checked and verified in practical terms by all.
The relationship among companions is based on mutual confidence, and yet the individual independence is preserved. Self-responsibility is as important as the practice of helping one another. This universal principal is implicitly present in every healthy human relationship. The father of a newly born baby knows his son is fundamentally his equal, and so does a mother. A child needs help and protection, but has the same dignity and inner independence as an adult.
If the “democracy” were an obstacle to the leadership of the wise, the group would adopt an average standard of low level, and its strength could only be the strength of its most unexperienced members, or of its skeptics. A community that is structured around a form of knowledge must be led by those who have more access - theoretical and practical - to the knowledge shared by all.
However, it is not enough for the group to accept the guidance provided by long-term view and accumulated experience. In order to have a lasting legitimacy, the process of leadership has to be self-responsible, transparent in the way it operates, open to honest questioning, and verifiable. It must aim at forming new leaders. In time, the influence of an experienced leader becomes more philosophical and addresses a smaller number of external issues, except in critical or decisive moments.
4. The Strength of an Association is Not in Outer Form
The idea of spiritual democracy suggests a kind of leader who aims at the growth of others and has no selfish goals.
Such a leadership can only exist and last long by the constant renewal of its acknowledgment on the part of the members of the group, and is not maintained by position, bylaw, or external aspects of the association, although they all can play a role. The strength of a team is not in the number of its members and followers, or in material possessions.
The strength of a philosophical association is in the plainness and nobility of its goals, in the power of the truth present in its teachings, in the effectiveness of its methods, in the intensity of its work, in the example given by its leaders and experienced associates, and in the mutual confidence that unites its associates and those who follow its work with sympathy.
It is also evident that the students must constantly test the teaching they study, verifying at every moment if it is reliable. Blind dogmas are worse than useless. One must have confidence with discernment, and, above all, one must be reliable oneself, which is the source of mutual sincerity. He who has deep confidence in himself is reliable to others. However, this is something to attain, and it is not necessarily easy for all. Human beings are under construction. Spiritual progress is slower than many would like.
Just as there is a fear from freedom, there is a fear from confidence. It’s a threefold fear of having confidence in oneself, in the others and in life. If we keep our eyes open, we will have disappointments and defeats, but we will make progress and will overcome the obstacles by learning from our mistakes. If we do not have confidence, on the other hand, we have the worst failure and the only defeat, which consists in not to try, not to make an attempt, and not to learn. The law of evolution by a conscious effort is the law of the cycle formed by trial, error, observation of the mistakes – and renewed attempt.
The strength of a philosophical association with humanitarian objects is in the need for wisdom felt by the human heart.
The creative power of a group of students results from a “collective labor contract” that unites hearts and minds on a non-verbal level of consciousness. This agreement of souls must express itself in the outer world in a way that can be observed, thought over and discussed by all.
Thought inspires action and is expressed by it. One of the goals of the Independent Lodge of Theosophists and many other philosophical associations is to help awakening and strengthening, in the life of individuals, the light of Confidence with Discernment.
 From the book “Pedagogia da Autonomia” (“The Pedagogy of Autonomy”), by Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire, Ed. Paz e Terra, Rio de Janeiro, 1998, 165 pp., see p. 52.
 “Escape from Freedom”, Erich Fromm, Avon Books, copyright 1941, 334 pp., see p. 184.
 “Três Caminhos Para a Paz Interior”, Carlos Cardoso Aveline, Editora Teosófica, Brasília, 2002.
 I examine the topic of cooperative power in another book, “O Poder da Sabedoria” (“The Power of Wisdom”, Editora Teosófica, Brasília, 2001). See chapter 13, entitled “A Liderança Natural”, or “Natural Leadership”.
 See in our associated websites the article “One for All, and All for One”.
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
The general principles established in the article “Four Ideas for a Brotherly Power” are followed by the Independent Lodge regarding decision-making and organizational issues. The text was first published in November 2016 and constitutes a translation of “Quatro Ideias Para Um Poder Solidário”, which is available at our associated websites.