The Only Lasting Solution to Human Misery
Will Be An Inner Change in the Hearts of Men
The Theosophical Movement
“Mahatma” Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)
The following article is reproduced
from “The Theosophical Movement” magazine,
Mumbai, India, November 2022 edition, pp. 23-29.
Every subject worthy of study must somehow connect back to the amelioration of the human condition as its stated end goal. What is socially irrelevant is entirely pointless. Furthermore, from our own lived experience, human life and condition is a whole and not simply the sum of its parts. However, when we apply modern inductive analytical tools for its study, we naturally decompose it into various aspects and study them in isolation. And researchers go so far down the rabbit hole in their chosen field, that they lose connection with the very purpose of their endeavour.
In such a reductionist environment, depending on the mental disposition of the cycle, one or more aspects tend to take on outsized importance. And as it stands, the zeitgeist of our times is Economy. This is likely a self-evident fact for most people but to show its universality, we can use the following simple illustration.
The year 1918 saw the last pandemic of Spanish Flu which was very similar to our present day COVID crisis. It took a similar toll on human life, disrupted the functioning of society and also caused economic damage. However, the newspaper headlines of the time read, “Churches, schools, shows closed”, “Epidemic of Influenza Threatens Whole World”. They tried to objectively capture the subjective human misery wreaked by Spanish Flu. In modern times, newspaper headlines for COVID read, “China market falls on COVID woes”, “COVID-19 Economic Impact Could Reach $8.8 Trillion Globally”, and so on.
Economics has taken on such importance that we even measure human misery or happiness using dollars. In fact, there is such a thing as the Human Misery Index which only takes into account the economic indicators of unemployment and inflation. While, the World Happiness Index gives the largest weightage to real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, so countries such as Bhutan do not even figure on the list. Economics is verily the ruling aspect of the post-industrial human condition!
Since the aim of Theosophy and that of the Masters behind it, is to “work for the liberation or salvation of mankind”, an examination of the ruling aspect of current social condition, namely Economics, is a relevant subject for discussion.
The underlying philosophy of economics is based on the fact that all sentient beings pursue happiness. But being materialists, they define happiness as the consumption of goods and services, leading to an increase in material comforts. In this system, one can define the worst possible state as that which causes misery for everyone involved with no silver-lining. And the best possible state is that which creates the greatest good for everyone without any collateral damage or ill side-effects. An action is judged as good, if it incrementally moves the current state in the direction of the utopian good state and away from the dystopian bad state. Some people are equipped with skills to move the current state more towards the good state than others. These people are economically rewarded and those who act in a way that moves towards the bad state are punished. Those that are consistently good, get consistently rewarded and move up the social ranks. Thus, the formation of deep social hierarchies is inevitable in this system of meritocracy. The desire of individuals to move up the ladder manifests as greed and that which is coeval with it, the fear of moving down the ladder. This greed and fear manifests at the macro-economic scale as cycles of Boom and Bust.
A rather disingenuous argument is put forth in popular thought that the current fragile, interdependent, debt-fuelled economies of nations help maintain the prevailing uneasy peace on earth. It is claimed that since World War II, which saw the birth of the new world economic order, there have not been any large-scale wars. But a sober analysis shows that the current economic order is imbued with violence.
At the individual level, almost every one of us as kids have been shown a destitute person on the streets and warned that if we do not study and make something of our life then we would end up like him on the street. As such, the rat-race in schools is the first manifestation of violence inflicted by our economic order.
Workplaces of today are factories of exploitation. Workers commute through noxious traffic and spend all of their life energy at work. We hear people talk about work-life integration, but the truth is, life is work and work is life. At the end of the day, it leaves them no time or energy for higher inclinations or pursuits. Stuck between the greed of a better life and the fear of a destitute one, workers willingly sacrifice themselves on the altar of social mobility.
At the community level, urbanization is driving before our very eyes the largest displacement of population in Indian history. Rural communities are being destroyed. There are many cases where the only inhabitants of the village are elderly people whose children are all in urban centers or abroad. At the government level, there is heavy taxation and even corruption. Those in power prey on the common man and benefit from that exploitation. Law only exists for those without money or power. At the global level, more advanced countries use debt-traps to undermine the sovereignty of smaller countries to gain access to their resources or for geo-political advantages.
As Leo Tolstoy puts it, “Money is a new form of slavery, and distinguishable from the old simply by the fact that it is impersonal - that there is no human relation between master and slave.” At every level, the current economic order wreaks violence. Alternatives such as communism and socialism have both monumentally failed as an experiment. In democracies, neo-liberal thought processes purport to solve the ills of the current economic order by taxing the rich and re-distributing the wealth to the poor. But ultimately, there appears to be no political solution to immorality.
To find a solution to the violent system of economics, we can look no further than the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi, for inspiration and guidance. For him, life was one-whole and so he based all of it on two simple ideals: Truth and Non-violence. Everything else followed from these two simple ideals. J. C. Kumarappa who was associated with Gandhiji for almost all his life, imbibed these ideals and gave expression to them under Gandhian Economic Thought.
In this system, there are five classes of economies based on their moral disposition. At the lowest is the Predatory economy. Like the tiger of a forest, it lives at the expense of another’s life. Colonialism is an expression of such an economy which consumes sovereign countries for its survival. At the human level, it is represented by assassins and mercenaries.
One level above is the Parasitic economy. Unlike a predator, a parasite does not kill its host but lives at its expense while adding no benefit. Neo-colonialism would fall in this category because it sucks the life-blood of countries without undermining their sovereignty and existence. Thieves and bureaucrats under a license-raj seem to represent this state in society.
The next higher level is the Enterprising economy which is a balance of taking and giving or producing and consuming. Most nations and individuals belong to this economic moral quality. In this case, there is both an assertion of individual rights and an assumption of responsibility to various degrees. Some birds are said to embody this ethos in the forest. They give back to the jungle economy by building nests that other birds can use but they defend against other birds while they themselves are nesting.
The economic category of the next higher moral quality is called the Gregarious economy. This category is characterized by bees which work for the sole benefit of their respective colony. They produce in abundance as compared to their consumption and as a result the benefits of their industry overflow to those even outside their community. A bee asserts very little of its own individual rights and is almost entirely subservient to the needs of the larger colony or its responsibility. At the human stage, a well-functioning and cooperative joint family operates in this way.
The economic order of the highest moral quality is called the “Mother” economy. It is characterized by the selfless, unconditional, self-effacing service and sacrifice of a mother for her child. The only expression of this ideal in nature is of mammalian mothers for their children. There are no examples of countries that embody this economic system and it was Gandhiji’s dream that India be the example to the world that such a system was indeed efficacious.
Gandhiji believed that it is only in such a system that Swaraj or true independence was ever achievable where one system of tyranny when defeated will not be immediately replaced by another of a slightly different disposition. Such an ideal society would be a stateless democracy or an enlightened anarchy, where social life has become so perfect that it is self-regulated or self-ruled.
The preamble of the American Declaration of Independence holds an echo of this sentiment: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Theosophists posit that the Masters of Wisdom have been working behind the scene to aid humanity since its childhood and that their unseen influence is behind every major milestone of humanity. The declaration of American independence is one such event which laid the keynote for the formation of a nation where a newer and higher race of men is set to evolve. As such, the word “liberty” in the declaration, meaning a state of being liberated, should be taken to mean Swaraj. However, the zeitgeist of modern America gives this word a connotation rather of sweccha or to do as one pleases. This is diametrically opposite to the true meaning of Swaraj as we will see later. Hence, the correct understanding of the word Swaraj is the key that unlocks the expression of the Mother economy.
Swaraj means self-rule, “swa” means self and “raj'” means rule. The depth one finds in the meaning of this compound word will be proportional to the depth of one’s understanding of the word “self”. Freedom fighters alongside Gandhiji took “self” to mean the nation state of India. That if a democratically elected, local government ruled India instead of the British that Swaraj would be achieved. This is a noble but a narrow, political understanding of the term. In today’s materialistic times, “self” has popularly been taken to mean one’s personality that is bestowed with a name and form, leading to the American conception of personal liberty or sweccha.
However, in Theosophy, we make the distinction between the illusory or personal self and the real or Higher Self. The former is physical, thinking and acting nature while the latter is the recording, non-acting and spiritual nature. In the Bhagavad-Gita, these are referred to as Kshetra and Kshetrajna and also as Deha - the physical body with its corresponding principles and Dehi - the indwelling spirit. In The Secret Doctrine (vol. II, p.109) H.P.B. says that “It is a strange law of Nature that, on this plane, the higher (Spiritual) Nature should be, so to say, in bondage to the lower. Unless the Ego takes refuge in the Atman, the ALL-SPIRIT, and merges entirely into the essence thereof, the personal Ego may goad it to the bitter end.” We see a similar metaphor in The Voice of the Silence: “Yea, ignorance is like unto a closed and airless vessel; the soul a bird shut up within. It warbles not, nor can it stir a feather; but the songster mute and torpid sits, and of exhaustion dies.”
On this plane, our real self is in bondage to the illusory self but in a pathological case of Stockholm syndrome, we ignorantly identify ourselves with our captor and do his bidding. From the Theosophical perspective it becomes clear that true Swaraj is only attained when the Ego has freed itself from such false identification, thus bringing the lower entirely under the influence of the higher, to the point where all actions of the lower are completely guided by the higher. As Light on the Path says, this is only accomplished when the Ego willingly “puts the bit into his own mouth” where the reins connected to it are held by the Higher Self. Such is also the hidden meaning of the prayer in Matthew (VI:9-13), “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” This calls for an appreciation of our true nature and striving to live as the Higher Self and not as our personal ephemeral self.
Since the Higher Self is in essence the Universal Self, one who identifies with it, identifies with ALL and will strive for others as men now strive for themselves. When many units of a community embody this ideal, it unlocks the Mother economy. It is an economy in which people have given up greed and hence eliminated its twin - fear. No child fears that its mother may not feed it the next day and hoards food. Similarly, such a community would see no need of ownership and would embrace trusteeship as a natural corollary of the Mother economy. It is not that a Mother economy results in Swaraj but rather that true Swaraj unlocks the Mother economy.
Similarly, we read in The Key to Theosophy:
“To seek to achieve political reforms before we have effected a reform in human nature, is like putting new wine into old bottles. Make men feel and recognize in their innermost hearts what is their real, true duty to all men, and every old abuse of power, every iniquitous law in the national policy, based on human, social or political selfishness, will disappear of itself. Foolish is the gardener who seeks to weed his flower-bed of poisonous plants by cutting them off from the surface of the soil, instead of tearing them out by the roots. No lasting political reform can be ever achieved with the same selfish men at the head of affairs as of old.”
The only true and lasting solution to human misery is to change the hearts of men. That change must come from within. The aim and purpose of Theosophy is to work on the moral and causal planes to bring about true Swaraj, first at an individual level and then collectively as a society. It is only then will we live to enjoy a truly non-violent economy.
The article “Non-violent Economy” was published in the associated websites on 04 September 2023. Links to a few classic works of Theosophy were added.
Click to see the collection of the Indian magazine “The Theosophical Movement”.