The major problem of humanity's choice — materialism or spirituality


I assume that my readers recognise some intelligent or spiritual direction of humanity. I care not by what name they call that guiding Purpose. Some may call it the Will of God; others, the inevitable trends of the evolutionary process; still others may believe in the spiritual forces of the planet; others may regard it as the spiritual Hierarchy of the planet, or the great White Lodge; many millions speak of the guidance of Christ and His disciples. Be that as it may, there is a universal recognition of a guiding Power, exerting pressure throughout the ages, which appears to be leading all towards an ultimate good. Some definite direction has led man from the stage of primeval man to that evolutionary point where a Plato, a Shakespeare, a da Vinci, a Beethoven can appear. Some power has evoked man's capacity to formulate ideas, to produce systems of theology, of science and of government; some inner motivating power has given man the ability to create beauty, to discover the secrets of nature; some realisation of divine responsibility lies behind the philanthropy, the educational systems, and the welfare movements throughout the world. The progress of the human spirit has been one of irresistible unfoldment, of a developing appreciation of reality, beauty and wisdom. Instinct has developed into intellect; intellect is beginning to unfold into intuition. The significance of God, the registering of man's divine potentialities, and the increasing capacity to understand and to share in the thought processes of others — all these indicate progress and unfoldment.

This picture of the beauty of the human spirit must be placed beside the earlier picture of man's selfishness and cruelty, of man's inhumanity to man. Both pictures are true, but only the one of beauty is eternal; the other is but transient. Man is a composite of higher and lower expressions, and behind all the wars and difficulties which accompany man's progress through the ages lies this major factor—an ancient persistent fight between man's spiritual aspiration and his material desires.

My use of the word spiritual has nothing to do with the use of this word as the orthodox religions use it, except in so far as the religious expression is a part of the general spirituality of mankind. Everything is spiritual which tends towards understanding, towards kindness, towards that which is productive of beauty and which can lead man on to a fuller expression of his divine potentialities. All is evil which drives man deeper into materialism, which omits the higher values of living, which endorses selfishness, which sets up barriers to the establishing of right human relations, and which feeds the spirit of separateness, of fear, of revenge.5

What do we mean by the phrase "forces of evil?" Not the armies of unrighteousness and sinfulness, organised under that figment of the imagination, the devil or some supreme Antichrist, for such an army does not exist, and there is no great enemy of God, arraigned in battle against the Most High. There is only suffering, erring humanity, still half-awakened, dimly sensing the vision, and struggling to free itself from the thraldom of the past, with its tarnished allegiances and its unchecked loyalties. The forces of evil are, in the last analysis, only the entrenched ancient ideals and habits of thought which have served their purpose in bringing the race to its present point of development, but which must now disappear if the New Age is to be ushered in as desired. The old Antichrist rhythms, inherent in the old forms of religion, of politics and of the social order, must give place to newer ideals, to the synthetic understanding, and to the new order.

This whole matter might be looked at from two angles, and it may profit us to do so, remembering always that the objective of the new social order, of the new politics and the new religion is to bring about the unfoldment of the human consciousness, to institute and bring to men's attention the higher values, and to end the reign of materialism.6

Confound not evil with the activities of the gangster or the criminal. Criminals and gangsters are the result of the emerging massed imperfections: they are the victims of ignorance, mishandling when children and misunderstanding down the ages of right human relations; the Law of Rebirth will eventually lead them on the way to good. Those men are truly evil who seek to enforce a return to the bad old ways, who endeavour to keep their fellowmen in slavery of some kind or another, who block the expression of one or all of the Four Freedoms1*, who gain material riches at the expense of the exploited, or who seek to hold for themselves and for gain the produce of the earth, and thus make the cost of life's necessities prohibitive to those not richly endowed. Those who thus work, think and plan are to be found in every nation, and are usually of prominence because of their riches and influence; however, they sin against light and not through ignorance; their goals are material and not spiritual. They are relatively few compared to the countless millions of men, but are exceedingly powerful; they are highly intelligent but unscrupulous, and it is through them that the Forces of Evil work, holding back progress, promoting poverty, breeding hatred and class distinctions, fostering racial differences for their own ends, and keeping ignorance in power. Their sin is great and it is hard for them to change, because power and the will-to-power (as it militates against the will-to-good) is a dominant all-controlling factor in their lives; these men are today working against the unity of the United Nations, through their greed, their determination to own the resources of the earth (such as oil, mineral wealth and food) and thus keep the people weak and with inadequate food. These men, who are found in every nation, thoroughly understand each other and are working together in great combines to exploit the riches of the earth at the expense of humanity.

Russia is today singularly free of such men, so I refer not here to that vast country, as many of her enemies might surmise. Russia is making great mistakes, but they are the mistakes of a fanatical ideologist or of a gangster who sins because of ignorance, through immaturity or in fury at the evil things with which he is surrounded. This is something totally different to the evil with which I have been dealing, and it will not last, because Russia will learn; these others do not learn.7

One of the things which the spiritual leaders of humanity have sought to do is to bring clearly to the attention of men the basic duality which is found in the world today—the duality of selfish, material living and that of unselfish spiritual objectives. This is now clearly defined. The second stage of their task now lies ahead, and that is so to stimulate the vision of men everywhere that — beginning with the intelligentsia — they can consciously take their stand under one or other of the two banners, and so know what they are doing and why.

The recognition of this underlying dualism is necessary prior to the shifting of humanity's consciousness away from its major preoccupation — acquisitive material desire, aggressively obtained — into soul consciousness, with its correlations, group interests, the meeting of group need, and the functioning of a steady group cooperation on a world scale. This is true of individuals, of nations and of races; as you, an individual, work out your own problem in your daily life, you are helping to solve the world problem.

Eventually it will be realised that the responsibility for what governments do rests squarely upon the shoulders of the individual citizens who put governments in their position of power. This is a responsibility from which no citizens of any nation are or should be exempt, and to this all national thinking of the right kind is fortunately awakening.8

The peoples of the world today are divided into four groups, from the angle of Those Who are seeking to guide humanity into the New Age. This is of course a wide generalisation and there are many bridging groups between the four major divisions.

First, the ignorant masses: These, through poverty, lack of employment, illiteracy, hunger, distress and no leisure or means for cultural advantages, are in an inflamed condition. They are developed just enough to respond to the mental control and suggestion of slightly more advanced people. They can be easily regimented, influenced, standardised and swept into a collective activity by leaders of any school of thought which is clever enough and emotional enough to appeal to material desires, to love of country, and to hatred of those who possess more than they do. They can be controlled by fear, and thus aroused to action by emotional appeal.

Knowing no better and suffering so much, they are easily swept by the fires of hatred and fanaticism, and so they constitute one of the greatest and most innocent menaces of the present time. They are the playthings of the better informed, and are helpless in the hands of those who seek to use them for any purpose whatsoever. They can be reached most easily by emotional appeals and by promises, whereas ideas can make but little impact upon their consciousness, for they are not yet developed enough to do their own thinking. The bulk of them are young souls, though there are exceptions, naturally. It is not the idealism of the leaders and demagogues which impresses them and impels them into action (usually of a violent nature), but the desire to retaliate, the longing to possess in the material sense, and the determination to be what is colloquially called the "top dog." They embody mob psychology, mob rule, and mob violence. They are helpless, exploited and — because they are an unthinking, unreasonable mass of human beings, — they present a very real problem, as we all well know and as all governments realise. Blind, unthinking violence has hitherto been met by armed force. Such is the case today. The masses fight and die on the urge of inflammatory speeches and seldom know what it is all about. Their conditions must be bettered, but not through bloodshed and exploitation.

Secondly, the middle classes, so called, both higher and lower. These are the bulk of the nations, the bourgeoisie — intelligent, diligent, enquiring, narrow-minded, essentially religious, though frequently repudiating the forms of religion. They are torn and devastated by the economic conflict, and are, without exception, the most powerful element in any nation, because of their capacity to read, to discuss, to think, to spend money, and to take sides. They form the bulk of the partisans in the world, the fighters for a cause, and are formed into great groups, either for or against this, that, or the other party. They love to recognise and choose a leader, and are ready to die for a cause, and to make endless sacrifices for their ideals, based upon the ideas presented to them by their chosen leaders.

I am not differentiating the so-called aristocracy into a group, because that is entirely a class distinction, based largely on heredity and capital, and the modern adjustments in nations are rapidly fusing them into the large middle class. We are dealing with basic matters, with the groupings which are founded on major attitudes, and not on divisions which emerge when material resources are under consideration. The bourgeois mind is today slowly and steadily permeating the masses, the proletariat, and it is also penetrating into that circle which has hitherto been called the upper classes. It is found existing as a state of consciousness in the aristocracy of any nation and absorbing them under the great present levelling process. Because of this levelling which is everywhere going on, the spiritual aristocracy can now emerge, — an aristocracy based on a realisation of divine origin and goal, which knows no class distinction, no barriers in religion, and no separating differences. We are therefore dealing with human divisions and not class distinctions.

This second group is the most fruitful field from which the new leaders and organisers are being drawn. They constitute an intermediate group between the world thinkers, the intelligentsia, and the masses of men. In the last analysis, they are the determining factor in world affairs. The masses suffer from world conditions and from the situations brought about through the activity of this second group as it responds in some way or another to the new influences, the new ideals, and the new controlling factors in the modern world. This great second group itself suffers at the hands of these who seek to impose the new rhythms upon the peoples, — the political groups, the religious idealists and fanatics, and the protagonists of the new social order and economic regimes has interpreted to them rightly or wrongly by their leaders).

Because of their intelligence, due to the improving educational facilities, the ability to read, and the impact of the new methods of propaganda, the press and the radio, they provide the most powerful group in the world in each nation, and it is to them that the leaders make their appeal, and it is their backing and their partisanship which is demanded, and which means success to any leader. They are the ones who have the controlling vote in national affairs. They are today swept by uncertainty, by questioning, by deep-seated fears and by the desire to see justice done and the new order of things established. Above everything else they desire peace, stable economic conditions, and an orderly world. For this they are ready to fight, and are today fighting in every party, every group, and for every kind of political, nationalistic, religious, economic and social ideals. If they are not literally fighting, in the physical sense, they are fighting with words, speeches and books.

Thirdly, the thinkers of the world: These are the intelligent and highly educated men and women, who sense ideas and formulate them into ideals. These people speak the words, write the articles and books, and utilise all the known methods to reach and educate the general public, and thus stir up the bourgeoisie to activity, and arouse, through them, the masses. Their function and the part they play is of supreme importance. From their ranks come those who are steadily influencing the trend of world affairs, sometimes for good and sometimes for selfish ends. They play upon the human mind as a musician plays upon his instrument, and the power of the press, of the radio, and of the public platforms is in their hands. Their responsibility is enormous. Some few, more perhaps than might appear, are working selflessly under the inspiration of the new era. They are dedicated to the amelioration of human conditions, and the betterment of world affairs along certain lines which seem to them (rightly or wrongly) to have in them the hope of the future, and the uplift of humanity. They are found in every government, party, society, and organisation, and in every Church and religious grouping. They constitute the most influential unit today, because it is through them that the large middle class is reached, swayed and organised for political, religious and social ends. Their ideas and utterances percolate down through the upper and middle classes and finally reach the ears of the more advanced of the undeveloped masses.

Fourth, the New Group of World Servers: These are the people who are beginning to form a new social order in the world. They belong to no party or government, in the partisan sense. They recognise all parties, all creeds, and all social and economic organisations; they recognise all governments. They are found in all nations and all religious organisations, and are occupied with the formulation of the new social order. From the purely physical angle, they are not fighting either for the best in the old order or for the betterment of world conditions. They consider that the old methods of fighting and partisanship and attack, and the ancient techniques of party battle have utterly failed, and that the means hitherto employed on all sides and by all parties and groups (fighting, violent partisanship of a leader or a cause, attacks on individuals whose ideas or manner of living is deemed detrimental to mankind), are out of date, having proved futile and unsuitable to bring in the desired condition of peace, economic plenty and understanding. They are occupied with the task of inaugurating the new world order by forming throughout the world — in every nation, city and town, — a grouping of people who belong to no party, take no sides either for or against, but who have as clear and definite a platform and as practical a programme as any other single party in the world today. They take their stand upon the essential divinity of man; their programme is founded upon good will, because it is a basic human characteristic. They are therefore organising the men of good will throughout the world at this time, outlining to them a definite programme, and laying down a platform upon which all men of good will can meet.

They state and believe that their initial appeal has been of such a nature that, given the assistance of the trained minds to be found in the third group outlined above, and given the needed financial assistance to do the required educational work and goodwill propaganda, they can so change the world (through the sole agency of the men of good will) that — without war, without arousing hatred between men, and without attacking any cause or giving partisanship to any cause — the new order can be firmly established upon earth. Their programme and their technique is outlined a little later in this discussion.

Behind this fourfold panorama of humanity stand Those Whose privilege and right it is to watch over human evolution and to guide the destinies of men. This They carry forward, not through an enforced control which infringes upon the free will of the human spirit, but through the implanting of ideas in the minds of the world thinkers, and the evocation of the human consciousness so that these ideas receive due recognition and become in time the controlling factors in human life. They train the members of the New Group of World Servers in the task of changing ideas into ideals. These become in time the desired objectives of the thinkers, and are by them taught to the great middle class, and thus worked up into world forms of government and religion, forming the basis of the new social order, into which the masses are patiently incorporated.9

There are today three major human trends: First of all, a trend towards a spiritual and free way of life; secondly, a trend towards intellectual unfoldment; and lastly, a potent trend towards material living and aggression. At present, the last of these innate tendencies is in the saddle, with the second, the intellectual attitude, throwing its weight upon the side of the material goals. A relatively small group is throwing the weight of human aspiration upon the side of the spiritual values. The war between the pairs of opposites — materialism and spirituality — is raging fiercely. Only as men turn away from material aggression and towards spiritual objectives will the world situation change, and men — motivated by goodwill — force the aggressors back to their own place and release humanity from fear and force. We are today reaping the results of our own sowing. The recognition of the cause of the problem provides humanity with the opportunity to end it. The time has arrived in which it is possible to institute those changes in attitude which will bring an era of peace and goodwill, founded on right human relations.

These two forces — materialism and spirituality — face each other. What will be the outcome? Will men arrest the evil and initiate a period of understanding, cooperation and right relationship, or will they continue the process of selfish planning and of economic and militant competition? This question must be answered by the clear thinking of the masses.10

Civilization might be defined as the reaction of humanity to the purpose and the activities of a particular world period and its type of thinking. In each age, some idea functions and expresses itself in both racial and national idealisms. Its basic trend down the centuries has produced our modern world and this has been materialistic. The aim has been physical comfort; science and the arts have been prostituted to the task of giving man a comfortable and if possible a beautiful environment; all the products of nature have been subordinated to giving humanity things. The aim of education, generally speaking, has been to equip the child to compete with his fellow citizens in "making a living", in accumulating possessions and in being as comfortable and successful as possible.

This education has also been primarily competitive, nationalistic and, therefore, separative. It has trained the child to regard the material values as of major importance, to believe that his particular nation is also of major importance and that every other nation is secondary; it has fed pride and fostered the belief that he, his group and his nation are infinitely superior to other people and peoples. He is taught consequently to be a one-sided person with his world values wrongly adjusted and his attitudes to life distinguished by bias and prejudice. The rudiments of the arts are taught him in order to enable him to function with the needed efficiency in a competitive setting and in his particular vocational environment. Reading, writing and elementary arithmetic are regarded as minimum requirements, plus some knowledge of historical and geographical events. Some of the literature of the world is also brought to his attention. The general level of civilized information is relatively high, but it is biased and influenced by religious and national prejudices which are instilled into the child from his earliest years, but which are not innate. World citizenship is not emphasized; his responsibility to his fellowmen is systematically ignored; his memory is developed through the impartation of uncorrelated facts — most of them unrelated to daily living.

Our present civilization will go down in history as grossly materialistic. There have been many material epochs in history but none so generally widespread as the present or which have involved such untold millions. We are constantly told that the cause of this war is economic; that is surely so but the reason is that we have demanded so much of comfort and of "things" in order to live "reasonably well". We require so much more than our forefathers needed; we prefer a soft and relatively easy life; the pioneering spirit (which is the background of all nations) has faded, in most cases, into a soft civilization. This is particularly true of the Western hemisphere. Our standard of civilized living is far too high from the standpoint of possessions and far too low from the angle of the spiritual values or when subjected to an intelligent sense of proportion. Our modern civilization will not stand up to the acid test of value. A nation is today regarded as civilized when it sets a value on mental development, when it puts a premium on analysis and criticism and when all its resources are directed towards the satisfying of physical desire, towards the production of material things and towards the implementing of material purposes as well as towards dominating competitively in the world, towards the amassing of riches, the acquiring of property, the achievement of a high standard of material living and towards the cornering of the produce of the earth — largely for the benefit of certain groups of ambitious and wealthy men.

This is a drastic generalization but it is basically correct in its main implications, though incorrect where individuals are concerned. For this sad and dire situation (entirely of humanity's own making) we pay the penalty of war. Neither the churches nor our educational systems have been sound enough in their presentation of truth to offset this materialistic tendency. The tragedy is that the children of the world have paid and are paying the price of our wrong-doing. War has its roots in greed; material ambition has motivated all the nations without exception; all our planning has been directed to the organization of the national life so that material possession, competitive supremacy and individual and national selfish interests would control. All nations, in their own way and degree, have contributed to this; none has clean hands and hence war. Humanity has the habit of selfishness and an inherent love of material possessions. This has produced our modern civilization and, for this reason, it is being changed.

The cultural factor in any civilization is its preservation and consideration of all the best the past has given, and its evaluation and study of the arts, the literature, the music and the creative life of all nations — past and present. It concerns the refining influence of these factors upon a nation and upon those individuals in a nation who are so situated (usually financially) that they can profit from them and appreciate them. The knowledge and understanding thus gained enable the man of culture to relate the world of meaning (as inherited from the past) to the world of appearances in which he lives and to regard them as one world, but one existing primarily for his individual benefit. When, however, to an appreciation of our planetary and racial inheritance, both creative and historical, he adds an understanding of the spiritual and moral values, then we have an approximation to what the truly spiritual man is intended to be. In relation to the total population of the planet, such men are few and far between, but they guarantee to the rest of humanity a genuine possibility.

Will cultured people realize their opportunity? Will our civilized citizens embrace the chance to build afresh — not a material civilization this time but a world of beauty and of right human relations, a world in which children can indeed grow into the likeness of the One Father and in which man can return to the simplicity of the spiritual values of beauty, truth and goodness?11

I have been working with A.A.B. as my amanuensis since November 1919. During that period the world has seen great and significant changes, and one of the most significant has been the growth — the phenomenal growth — of spiritual perception. This shows itself in the fact that, in spite of the world catastrophe, in spite of the rampant horror and evil which is stalking our planet, and in spite of human pain, terror, suspense and uncertainty, there are today two factors present in the human consciousness: the vision of a better future and a fixed, unalterable determination to make that vision fact in human experience. This better world is to be a world in which the spiritual values will control, viewing those values as that which is good and right for the whole of humanity and not simply as religious and theological interpretations. Spiritual perception has become inclusive and now concerns the physical plane as well as the metaphysical.

It is not perhaps easy for you to realise the importance of this development which — again in the face of all contending forces — has enabled men to recognise that the Kingdom of God must function on Earth; that it must be externalised and that it need not be some distant point of wishful thinking but should condition man's daily life and control all his planning for the future. For this, men are today working and fighting. They call the vision by many names: better world conditions, the new world order, world reconstruction, the new civilisation, brotherhood, fellowship, world federation, international understanding — it matters not. It is the theme of betterment, of universal welfare, of general security, of widespread opportunity, irrespective of race, colour or creed. This is the factor of importance. The underlying purposes of God are working out, and with this note I seek to begin my Wesak communication to you.

This is the hopeful and most important side from the angle of the Hierarchy Who view all world events from the angle of the future. There is, however, the other side. It is not necessary for me to emphasise the seriousness of the present situation. The war is not yet won. At the time of writing, in spite of sporadic successes and the staying power of the Allied Nations, and in spite of a basic trend towards ultimate victory, the powers of evil have had things very much their own way. They have triumphantly moved forward, except in Russia. This was to be expected at first, because if evil is simply the dominance of matter and the negation of the spiritual values, it is obvious that on the material plane the line of least resistance is to be found for them. Their initial triumphing is, therefore, to be expected. The course of the war hitherto has demonstrated this. When the spiritually-minded people of the world, the men and women of goodwill, the idealists and the kindly, decent folk in every land can bring to bear upon the physical plane the same unified determination and the same united will-to-victory that the forces of evil have shown, then the Forces of Light will assume the upper hand and control human affairs.12


1* "In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

  • The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world.

  • The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour — anywhere in the world."

(Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941)

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  The major problem of humanity's choice — materialism or spirituality