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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


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


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


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


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