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The Problem Of The Inequality Of Conditions








If suffering in general is the child of Necessity--since it is born of
multiplicity and the limitation of the Infinite, without which the
Universe could not exist--it would seem that we ought to find it
falling upon all beings without distinction, in uniform, regular, and
impartial fashion. Instead of this, it is every moment losing its
character of impersonality; it respects those who are guilty on a
large scale; and, without any visible cause, strikes fiercely the most
innocent of persons; noble souls are born in the families of
criminals, whilst criminals have fathers of the utmost respectability;
we find parricides, and brothers hostile to each other; millionaires
die of surfeiting alongside of paupers dying of hunger; we find giants
by the side of dwarfs; the healthy and well-formed near the crippled
or those wasted away by terrible diseases; Apollos contrast with
Quasimodos; men of genius are met with, cheek by jowl with idiots;
some children are stillborn, others blind or deaf and dumb from birth.
Extremely different races people the earth--on the one hand,
unintelligent and cannibal negroes; on the other, the proud, handsome,
and intelligent, though selfish and cruel white race. Again, from a
moral standpoint, who can explain congenital tendencies to crime, the
vicious by birth, the wicked by nature, the persons with
uncontrollable passions? Wherefore are thrift and foresight lacking in
so many men, who are consequently condemned to lifelong poverty and
wretchedness? Why this excess of intelligence, used mainly for the
exploiting of folly? It is useless to multiply examples, one has only
to look around at hospitals and prisons, night-shelters, palaces and
garrets; everywhere suffering has taken up its abode. Can no reply be
given to this terrible charge brought against Divinity? Is man to
remain in a state of dejection and discouragement, as though some
irreparable catastrophe had befallen him?

According to the Church, all this is the work of the soul which God
gives at the birth of a man--a soul that is good or bad, prudent or
foolish, one which damns or saves itself according as its will can, or
cannot, dominate its passions, its intelligence discover the way to
heaven or not; according as grace or rejection predestine it to heaven
or to hell.

Is it not the depth of profanity to represent God as watching over
conceptions in order to create souls so unfairly endowed, most of whom
will never hear the Gospel message, and consequently cannot be saved,
whilst the rest are destined to animate the bodies of savages and
cannibals, devoid of moral consciousness? Is it not an act of
sacrilege thus to convert God, Who is all Wisdom and Love, into a kind
of accomplice of adulterers and lewd persons or the sport of
Malthusian insults. Unconscious blasphemers are they who would offer
this Dead Sea fruit as the true manna of Life!

There is also another theory, often advanced in certain quarters, on
which we must say a few words, for though it contains only a minimum
of truth, and consequently cannot withstand serious examination, it
has led astray more than one earnest thinker. Inequalities of
suffering, it has been said, arise from inequalities of social
conditions. Intelligence, morality, will, in fact all human faculties,
develop more or less according to their environment; men are born
equal; they become unequal as the result of different environment; pay
the same care and attention to all and they will remain equal, and if
they are equal, the theory seems to imply, evil will disappear from
the face of the earth.

This is not so.

Inequality of suffering does not result from inequality of condition.
Many a poor tiller of the fields enjoys a degree of peace and
happiness that those favoured by birth or fortune would envy. Disease
visits poor and rich alike; moral suffering is more especially the
appanage of the so-called higher classes, and if obscurity and poverty
render certain troubles specially severe, wealth and rank play the
same role in afflictions of another kind; there is a dark side to
every picture. More than this, inequality of condition is one of the
fundamental factors of social equilibrium; without it, many urgent and
even indispensable functions would be neglected, numerous general
needs would remain unsatisfied; so-called menial work, which, in a
state of society that is still imperfect and consequently selfish, is
performed only in the hope of remuneration, would never be done at
all; every man would have to provide for the whole of his necessities;
no one could find time for self-improvement or for flinging himself
entirely into those divers branches of activity which, if personal
interest were absent, would make life infinitely better and progress
extremely rapid. The partisans of this theory rely on diversity of
tastes to fill the diversity of functions that are necessary in social
life: another illusion. The inferior, painful, or difficult tasks will
never find sufficient workers, whilst easy or honourable posts will
always be overcrowded. To believe the contrary would be to shut one's
eyes to the present imperfection of men; it would mean the belief that
they were noble and lofty beings, eager for self-sacrifice, demanding
only to work for the happiness of all, without a single thought of
their personal preferences; it would mean seeing, in present-day
humanity, that of the future in which each individual has attained to
such a degree of perfection that not a single idle, ill-disposed, or
stupid person is to be found amongst them, for each one would regard
himself as the brother and helper of all, and the universal standard
of life would be: Each for all and all for each! How ardently we
desire that this were so; how eagerly we pray for that future, so far
away, when we shall have grown to this nobler stature, and the
present fratricidal struggle shall have given place to a lasting
peace, the offspring of a higher, spiritual, universal love. Anxiously
do we await it; like lost travellers, we fix our eyes on the dark
horizon to catch the first faint streaks of light, harbingers of the
dawn. We greet with joy and gratitude all such as believe in that
blessed future and endeavour to hasten its coming, all who
impersonally and in sincerity aim at the social Unity towards which
the heart aspires, and especially those whose aim it is to advance in
accordance with that continuous, progressive evolution based on the
physical, moral, mental, and spiritual amelioration of men, for it is
they who have learned the secret of Nature. Indeed, evolution shows us
that, the more souls grow, the nearer they approach that perfection to
which progress destines them, and happiness exists only in perfection.

To return to other aspects of the subject.

Men are born equal, we are told.

A single glance at the differences in the moral and intellectual
qualities of races and individuals, at the differences between young
children, even at the differences in the instincts of infants at the
breast, is sufficient to prove the contrary.

There are savages in whom no trace whatever of the moral sense can be
discovered. Charles Darwin in one of his works relates a fact, which
Mrs. Besant has quoted, in illustration of this. An English missionary
reproached a Tasmanian with having killed his wife in order to eat
her. In that rudimentary intellect, the reproach aroused an idea quite
different from that of a crime; the cannibal thought the missionary
imagined that human flesh was of an unpleasant flavour, and so he
replied: "But she was very good!"

Is it possible to attribute to the influence of surroundings alone a
degree of moral poverty so profound as this?

Many a mother has been able to find out that souls are not equal, in
other words, that they are of different ages, by the discovery of
diametrically opposite qualities and tendencies in two children born
under the same conditions; in twins, for instance.

Every schoolmaster has noticed the same fact in the pupils under his
charge. Mrs. Besant says that amongst the 80,000 children who came
under her inspection in the London schools she would often find side
by side with gentle, affectionate little beings others who showed
criminal tendencies from birth.

Looking at the question from another point of view, are we not
continually finding in schools and educational establishments pupils
who, for no explicable reason, show a disposition for one branch of
instruction only? They shine in this, but are dunces in every other
subject.

As a final example, do not infant prodigies prove that men are not
born equal? Young, who discovered the undulatory theory of light,
could read with wonderful rapidity at the age of two, whilst at eight
he had a thorough knowledge of six languages.

Sir W. R. Hamilton began to learn Hebrew when he was three, and knew
it perfectly four years later. At the age of thirteen he knew thirteen
languages.

Gauss, of Brunswick--the greatest mathematician in Europe, according
to Laplace--solved problems in arithmetic when only three.

No, men are not born equal. Nor does environment cause the
inequalities we find; it favours or checks the development of
qualities, but has no part in their creation. Still, its influence is
sufficiently important for us to give it due consideration.

We are linked to one another by the closest bonds of solidarity,
whether we wish it and are conscious thereof or not. Everything
absorbs and throws off, breathes in and breathes out, and this
universal exchange, if at times bad, is none the less a powerful
factor in evolution. The atom of carbon, on entering into the
combinations of the human body, is endowed with a far higher power of
combining than the one which has just left the lump of ore; to obtain
its new properties, this atom has had to pass through millions of
vegetable, animal, and human molecules. Animals brought into close
contact with man develop mentally to a degree that is sometimes
incredible, by reason of the intellectual food with which our thoughts
supply them. The man who lives alone is, other things being equal,
weaker physically, morally, and mentally than he who lives in a large
social environment; it is for this reason that the mind develops far
more rapidly in large centres of life than in the country. And what is
true of good is, unfortunately, true also of evil qualities.

Consequently, environment has an undeniable influence, and it is
perfectly true to say that the social conditions under which
individuals are born favour or impede the development of their
faculties. There its influence stops; it can intensify inequality, but
does not create it.

Inequality of condition arises, above all else, from the continuity of
what might be called creation. Atoms are incessantly being formed in
the womb of the Virgin Mother,[22] by the might of the divine vortex
perceived by seers in ecstatic vision, and which theosophy has named
the Great Breath; ceaselessly are these atoms entering into multitudes
of organisms, ceaselessly is the plan of evolution being worked--some
ending, others beginning the great Pilgrimage. It is the existence of
this circuit which creates and keeps complete the hierarchy of beings,
brings into existence and perpetuates the known and the unknown
kingdoms of Nature; souls ascend slowly from one kingdom to another,
whilst the places they leave are filled by new-comers, by younger
souls.

A second cause of human inequality is the difference in effort and
deed accomplished by the will of human beings who have reached a
certain point in evolution. As soon as this will is guided by
intelligence and the moral sense, it hastens or delays individual
evolution, makes it easy when it acts in harmony with divine Law--by
doing what is called "good"--or disturbs evolution by pain, when it
opposes this Law, by doing "evil." By modifying the direction of the
Law, the Soul engenders beneficent or maleficent forces, which, after
having played in the universe within the limit the law has imposed on
them, return to their starting point--man. From that time, one
understands that the balance of the scales in different individuals
becomes unequal. These effects of the will influence to a noticeable
degree the life during which they have originated; they are preserved
in a latent condition after death, and appear again in future returns
to earth.

Thus are men born laden with the results of their past and in
possession of the capacities they have developed in the course of
their evolution. Those whom the difficulties of life have filled with
energy in the past return to existence on earth possessed of that
might which the world admires; now it is perseverance or courage; now
patient calm or violence, which is the stronger, according to the
aspect of the energy developed. Others, again, are born feeble and
devoid of energy; their former lives have been too easy. Men are
philosophers or mathematicians, artists or savants, from the very
cradle.

Objections have been brought against the doctrine of Rebirth by
opponents who have looked only on one side of the individual life, and
so have been unable to explain apparent anomalies, especially in those
cases where it is seen that the effect does not immediately follow the
cause. In reality, every force that emerges from a centre of will[23]
describes an ellipse, so to speak, which travels through a net-work of
other ellipses generated by thousands of other centres of energy, and
is accelerated or retarded in its course, according to the direction
and nature of the forces with which it is connected. It is for this
reason that certain actions meet with their reward or their punishment
almost immediately. Then the people say: "It is the finger of God!" In
other cases, again, and these are the most numerous, the reaction is
postponed; the noble-hearted man, who has made sacrifices the whole of
his life, seems to receive in exchange nothing but misfortune and
pain, whilst close by the wicked, selfish man prospers and thrives
exceedingly. Thereupon the ignorant say: "There is no God, for there
is no justice."

Not so! It is impossible to defeat Justice; though, in the interests
of evolving beings, it may allow the forces around to accelerate or
retard its progress. Nothing is ever lost; causes that have not
fructified remain potential; and, like the grain of corn gathered
thousands of years ago, grow and develop as soon as favourable soil
and environment are offered them. Debts are still recorded, when the
perishable sheaths of our physical bodies have been cast off; they
come up for future payment, often in the next life. But this next life
may not wipe off the whole of the liabilities, so the process is
continued for several successive existences, and this has given rise
to the saying that the sins of the parents[24] are visited upon the
children[25] unto the seventh generation.[26]

Such is the truth.

Souls, equal in potentialities whilst dormant as germs in the womb of
Being, become unequal, as soon as they are born into existence in the
manifested Universe, for they find predecessors, elder souls in front
of them; inequality is intensified when they have reached the human
stage, where intelligence and will come into play, for henceforth,
inequality in the actions of individuals, variations of what might be
called merit and demerit, set up a second factor in the inequality of
conditions. Evolution treasures up the causes that have not been able
to germinate in one existence, and, by successive returns to earth,
realises the aims and ends of that Justice which governs the Universe,
the designs of that Love which makes for progress and leads to
perfection.





Next: Objection

Previous: Why Does Pain Exist?



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