Altruism is the Cure for Human Folly
John Garrigues
It is an old saying, and a wise, that the fool acts according to his folly, but how else could he act and still remain a fool?
Even the fool is not altogether foolish, or he could not exist at all. He knows some things, and in so far as he acts on the basis of what he knows, the fool is as wise as the wisest.
What, then, is the difference between the veriest fool and the wisest man? Is it not a difference in the degree of their respective knowledge? Knowledge is the impersonal Lord of both, and this Lord is no respecter of persons. The fool and the wise are both sowers in the field of Life, and each alike reaps what he sows.
Were there nothing in common between them, these two extremes, the fool and the wise man, must each forever remain what he is. But since Life is one, it follows that the wise man must ever be impeded by the foolishness of his fellows until he recognizes the common bond of Knowledge, and deals with the fool, not according to the latter’s folly, but in the Spirit of knowledge, which is Compassion. This is Universal Brotherhood. It is given to few to share in the Wisdom of Masters, but all alike, the foolish as well as the wise, participate in and benefit by the Divine compassion of these Elder Brothers of the human race.
Every man does, in a certain limited sense, strive for perfection – that is, to become adept, to become himself master of this, master of that.
Every man does, in a certain defined way, practice brotherhood. Without some degree of this practice no man could be born, no man could live. But our striving and our practice do not go beyond the definitions and limitations of instinct, of habit, of impulse, of environment, of education. In this sense any and all religions are a definition, any and all sciences are a limitation, of our understanding and our practice of brotherhood.
Our experience and our observation should tell us all alike that we have failed in the mass, and continue to fail individually, in our efforts to achieve perfection, to practice Universal brotherhood, to embody Wisdom. Yet despite the individual and the collective failure in every direction, the thirst for perfection, the urge to association with our fellows, the longing to embody Wisdom, never lose their hold on any man. This should teach us that not only are we brother to the fool in his follies and impeded by them, but also that we are brothers to the Masters of Wisdom and aided by Them – alas, all unconsciously to ourselves.
The trouble of the fool is not with his follies, forsooth, but with himself, and so with all of us, each in his own way; which each, all unconsciously, takes to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is as true of Theosophists as of all the other classes of men – that is, of Human Souls. We take it for granted that our apprehension of the Eternal Verities is clean and clear; that our comprehension of their bearings on all the problems of life, on all our relations with our fellows and with Nature at large, is fundamentally correct and sufficient. We assume, in short, that we know ourselves.
If we knew ourselves we would know our own past, and have no need to be taught and retaught the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we knew ourselves we would know our own future, and would have no need of guidance, would have no religion, no science, no philosophy, for we would be ourselves the embodiment of Perfection – Self-knowledge. What distinguishes Man from all the beings below the human? Self-consciousness. And what distinguishes the Masters of Wisdom from ourselves? Self-knowledge.
If we knew ourselves we would know all other beings, those above as those below, for we have over and over again contacted them all, associated with them all, been intimate with them all – or how could our Self-consciousness be?
What is that Key which H. P. Blavatsky put in our hands (she could not put it in our heads or hearts)? Universal Brotherhood: One Life, one Law, one Principle of conduct, which each Being operates for itself, checked or furthered by its own operations. Each Being acts according to his own nature until by association he sees a better nature and adopts it for his own; the vast space of Life in which we have our existence is an Ocean of Knowledge as well as a sea of experience and observation.
There is no Being, however Divine, which has not been a human being. There is no Being, however low in the scale of existence, which shall not someday enter the human tide. There is no human being which shall not one day become the Divine Being – the Master of Wisdom. This is something of the meaning of Universal Brotherhood, as H. P. Blavatsky taught it, as she embodied it: as she taught it to deaf ears, as she embodied it before blind eyes.
She spoke unvaryingly to one end: that we might come, by study and comparison, to throw away our whole fundamental conception of self, of action, of relation, and choose for ourselves the fundamental bases of the Wisdom-Religion for our Principles of being, our motives of conduct. She gave us, not a revelation or a theory or a system of thought, but the Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy.
What militates among Theosophists, as among all other men, against the Universal Brotherhood of H.P.B. and her Masters? Who can be found to deny that Selfishness, conscious and unconscious, is at the bottom of all our human woes? Who but will admit that Unselfishness, even though misconceived, is the sole saving grace in human life? What is the source of selfishness? An erroneous, a false, an infernal conception of Self. What is the source of all unselfishness? The Divine in us, crucified though it be by our ignorance and misconceptions of brotherhood. What is the cure? Selflessness – enlightened unselfishness, through the study and comparison of the Wisdom-Religion of the Masters with the ideas of self and action prevalent among men and overpowering in their influence upon the most sincere Theosophist until by education and application he starts seriously in the pursuit of Self-knowledge. Until he does this, Theosophy is but a name, Masters but a fetish, Brotherhood but a phrase. 
The article “The Key to Self-Knowledge” was first published anonymously in the May 1932 edition of “Theosophy” magazine, pp. 310-312. Garrigues was the editor of the magazine at the time. It was also published at the August 2015 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, pp. 3-5. On the criteria to identify texts written by J.G., read the article “Life and Writings of John Garrigues”.