If we are to help transform the condition of human life and consciousness, it is essential that more thought be given to the deeper spiritual significances of this aim.
The great keynote of freedom which signifies our modern era has been embodied in revolution, the rejection of orthodoxy and the urge for change, experiment and for direct experience, but above all in humanity’s struggle for human rights. As we move from an age of authority to one of experience, people seek for others what they demand for themselves – the right to freedom of thought, speech and worship, and the right to those conditions of life that will permit full expression to the dignity, equality and brotherhood of all humanity.
Thus, the great historical declarations from Magna Carta on, including the declarations of the American and French revolutions, the Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Peoples adopted in Russia in 1918, the Atlantic Charter, the Four Freedoms, culminating in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, are signposts in the recognition of the individual person’s own essential humanity and concern for others.
The fact that these great statements of intent have taken such a hold on human consciousness demonstrates their essential spiritual potency and divine origins. They have given humanity purpose and direction and an ideal at which to aim. They are the equivalents along the line of government and the social structure of the great pronouncements of the world teachers and religious leaders, such as the last sermon of the Buddha, the Sermon on the Mount, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the Eight Means to Yoga, or Union with the Soul.
THE PRINCIPLE OF FREEDOM
It has been said that standing behind the trinity of light, love and will which represents the highest conception of divinity of which humanity is capable, there lies another greater principle. This is the principle of liberation, of which humanity’s demand for freedom is a faint and most inadequate reflection, but nevertheless to which it is a clear and definite response. All life seeks liberation. Our modern struggle for human rights is a response to the direction of life itself, and this is its essential meaning. However imperfect the expression and however crude the attempt, the search for “human rights in larger freedom” is, in the last analysis, one of the most profound spiritual impulses in all human history.
Yet human rights do not exist in a vacuum. They must find expression in a complex and worldwide network of human relationships. A declaration may establish the goal and act as a magnet for thought. The law may compel a certain observance and restrict, limit and punish the grosser forms of abuse. But no law or declaration can, on its own, change human thinking, eliminate blind prejudice and self-interest, or create that atmosphere of brotherhood and goodwill in which the full expression of human rights can be achieved. One can no more legislate the removal of prejudice and the denial of human equality than one can create abundance with a stroke of the pen. The observance of human rights depends on the establishing of right human relations. And right human relations are based on tolerance, understanding and goodwill; on a sense of responsibility for the welfare of all; and on a willingness to accept, indeed welcome, the immense diversity of humankind, and to love the freedom which enables that diversity to flourish within the unity of the greater whole.
TRANSFORMING HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS
If the expression of human rights depends on the establishing of right human relations, right human relations can only be established by the development of a more inclusive consciousness. St. Paul said, “Be ye therefore transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The transformation of human life on this “planet of pain” can only be achieved by the transformation of human consciousness.
Today, this transformation of humanity is under way. The outline of a planetary synthesis, based on a worldwide interdependence, has emerged. But critical, desperate problems face the human family. Human rights, though enshrined in many national constitutions, are far from being adequately established or observed. Attitudes of prejudice, greed, fear and suspicion poison relations between individuals, groups and nations.
In 1988, marking the fortieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly unanimously launched a World Public Information Campaign for Human Rights. This campaign called for the creation of a universal culture of human rights that will permeate societies all over the world. The campaign has provided an opportunity for renewed and conscious effort to educate the public in right human relations and in society’s collective duties and responsibilities to one another. Also, it has helped focus attention on those grave and worldwide problems which still stand in the way of a new world order based on right human relations and the rights of all humanity. A further landmark in the promotion of such a universal culture was reached when the General Assembly adopted a resolution to convene a World Conference on Human Rights, which took place in Vienna in 1993.
Perhaps the most disturbing trend and gravest problem facing humanity at this moment is the growth of extremism. Our worldwide problems of race relations, poverty, ecological imbalance, war, and disarmament, and our failure as yet on a world scale to provide even a minimum education for the vast mass of the world’s children, have combined to create massive frustration. The downtrodden and dispossessed, fired by the vision of freedom and human rights, can wait no more. Those who would change the current state of affairs and work for right human relations are likewise frustrated both by the enormity of the world’s problems and the all too widespread inertia of those men and women of goodwill who could help so much but who choose to remain silent — immersed in petty problems and personal affairs.
Much of this extremism is understandable. It is a last resort reaction to the perpetuation of intolerable conditions. It can also stir the lethargic to constructive action, and there is evidence that the extremity of human crisis is doing just this. But it is also a tragically double-edged weapon, feeding hatred and violence, deepening old cleavages, creating new ones and destroying the already tenuous fabric of relationships that have been built across areas of conflict.
Extremism today could get out of hand and, totally disrupting society, destroy not only the present evils it seeks to obliterate but the new society which its exponents seek to create. The issues are finely balanced. The men and women of goodwill are urged to take immediate and effective right action.
THE NEED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
The human race is therefore faced with a number of decisive issues:
First: the question of freedom and human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies many of the principles on which the new age must be built and which must be anchored in human consciousness before it can manifest.
Second: the need for right human relations, which can only be established through the generation and worldwide distribution of the energy of goodwill.
Third: the need to tackle those world problems that stand in the way of human progress. Unless humanity understands the true nature of these problems they will never be solved, and this understanding calls for a continuing educational campaign.
These are tasks in which all can share. And while no one can tell another how he or she should serve, it is essential to point out that the need today is for dedicated servers in every field of human activity who will cooperate with the divine Plan as it seeks to work out in world affairs.