Doing What Depends On Us

Economic, political and social life now undergoes a high speed change whose end results are yet to be known.

Every aspect of the present civilization is going through a transmutation which causes multiple positive and negative effects. There are no mere spectators.

The actions of one individual affect all. In other words, one must be aware of the domino effect or the law of interaction. The theory of complexity confirms the butterfly effect, which establishes the power of a small event to change the whole world.

It would be unintelligent and inefficient to pretend we don’t know of the mirror effect. The law of reciprocity operates in all interactions.  Everyone is a psychological looking glass to each human being. Now is the right time therefore to act in peace and serenity so as not to expand the sources of trouble, in the first place, and to reduce them as far as possible through intelligent cooperative action.

Wherever there is good will, there is a healthy path.

It is better to make mistakes for being too careful than to err by being careless. Practical measures taken by individual initiative can be easily chosen and decided upon, according to practical reality.

A decisive point consists in keeping our state of mind active and elevated, centered in constructive effort. Each day makes a difference: the velocity of facts is enormous.  Regarding dangers, individual and collective, we must build a practical preemptive strategy that includes all departments of life.

Every citizen can obtain a deep feeling of tranquillity from knowing that he is doing today what depends on him. One can always practice right action according to his possibilities. A clean and clear conscience allows us not to worry too much with that which is not our duty to do.

In times of calamity, one must remember that there is no death, except on the physical plane. Only the lower self dies. Reincarnation – gilgul, rolling or recycling in Judaism – is a fact in nature. However, the physical body and the “personal” self are valuable instruments of the Spirit. Preserving these tools in honest ways while cooperating with one’s fellow beings is the right thing to do.

In dangerous circumstances, two childish mistakes ought to be avoided by the use of common sense:

1) The first error is an attitude of indifferent passivity regarding social changes that are potentially catastrophic. The present turning of the page in History takes place in all spheres of life at once. The Butterfly Effect means that a good-willing individual has the potential to make a vast difference, which tends to remain unseen and unacknowledged. This is correct, for sowing is better than harvesting.

2) The other mistake to be avoided consists in an excessive level of personal anxiety, which makes it more difficult to develop effective action. Selfishness should not be on the agenda.  Panic is worse than useless.  An essential serenity results from knowing that we are doing the best we can.

Generous actions that aim at defending Life are both a duty and a privilege. If we seize the positive opportunities surrounding us right now, other bright potentialities will become visible.

In the Jewish tradition, Simeon the Just used to say:

“The world stands on three things: on Torah [the Law], Divine worship, and acts of loving-kindness.” [1]

Such a fundamental statement implies that the world falls apart whenever a sense of Duty, or Law, is too weak; or when the divine world gets forgotten and the feeling of respectful kindness is left aside.

The three points highlighted by Simeon the Just are the moral sources of social peace, and their absence the origin of social (and political) chaos. These principles or the absence of them pave the way to the beginning and end of civilizations. What about individual action according to free will?

Some rules must be followed, in order to preserve good sense and develop right action in troubling times. A few of them were taught almost 2,000 years ago by Epictetus, who said:

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”

Inner tranquillity and outer effectiveness are the right things to preserve and expand in the present world transition. Epictetus clarifies:

“Within our control are our opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. These areas are quite rightly our concern, because they are directly subject to our influence.  We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives. Outside our control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have, whether we’re born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are regarded by others, and our status in society. We must remember that that those things are externals and are therefore not our concern. Trying to control or to change what we can’t only results in torment.”

The Stoic philosopher says one must remember this:

“The things within our power are naturally at our disposal, free from any restraint or hindrance; but those things outside our power are weak, dependent, or determined by the whims and actions of others.”

The path to frustration is indicated by him, so that it can be better avoided:

“Remember, too, that if you think that you have free rein over things that are naturally beyond your control, or if you attempt to adopt the affairs of others as your own, your pursuits will be thwarted and you will become a frustrated, anxious, and fault-finding person.” [2]

The quality of your thoughts and feelings is your immediate responsibility. It is a grave mistake to allow your mind to be led by random subconscious wishes and fears.

Mental dispersion is not an innocent mistake and may provoke one’s death. The Pirke Avoth says that mindless interruption in the study of one’s spiritual teaching attracts destruction to the careless individual, or to society. [3]

Trivial behavior brings about calamities. Irving M. Bunim points out:

“Our attention-range and mental capacity are ultimately limited. When trivia take over, the age-old teachings […] are sure to go. He who deliberately substitutes a thousand and one items of worthless nonsense for the principles of [spiritual] law and lore, surely incurs a guilt that will cost him his very soul.” [4]

Balance and common sense stimulate goodwill, which in turn opens the door to bliss. It is not a clever thing to do, to forget that the state of a community is but a reflection of the state of the minds and souls in it. The effective way to improve society consists in expanding awareness. The right kind of attention produces a sense of common responsibility which defeats selfishness and avoids unnecessary pain.

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NOTES:

[1] “Ethics from Sinai”, an eclectic, wide-ranging commentary on Pirke Avoth, by Irving M. Bunim, 3-volume edition, Philipp  Feldheim, Inc., New York, copyright 1964, see volume I, Perek I, Mishnah 02, p. 38. See also Perek 1, Mishnah 18, page 106 in the same volume, where Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel mentions equivalent principles: “By three things does the world endure: truth, justice and peace”.

[2] “The Art of Living”, Epictetus, a new interpretation by Sharon Lebell, HarperSanFrancisco, New York, copyright 1994, first edition, 114 pp., see p. 03.

[3] “Ethics from Sinai”, a commentary on Pirke Avoth, by Irving M. Bunim, 3-volume edition, Philipp Feldheim, Inc., New York, see vol. I, Perek III, Mishnah 09, p. 266: “If one is travelling on the road and is reviewing the Torah that he has learned, and he breaks off his study and says, ‘How lovely is that tree, how lovely is that field’, Scripture regards him as though he has incurred guilt to pay with his life.”  The pilgrim must have the thorough and calm vigilance of a warrior in battle. See also Mishnah 10, page 270 in the same volume.

[4] “Ethics from Sinai”, Irving M. Bunim, vol. I, Perek III, Mishnah 10, p. 272.

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See “The First Step in Healing” and “The World War in Our Minds”.

Read “Israel, the Old New Land”.

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About the Author
Born in Brazil in 1952, Carlos Cardoso Aveline is a journalist by profession and author of the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”. He has other works published on esoteric philosophy and ecology. The editor of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, Cardoso Aveline thinks Judaism, Jewish philosophy and Israel have important roles to play in the ethical rebirth the world needs in the present century. He lives in Portugal and directs the Library and Research Center of the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose associated websites include www.TheosophyOnline.com and www.HelenaBlavatsky.Org .
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