Many of you will know the title of this article as a song released by the Hollies in 1969. But there is a story behind the song. It is actually the motto of Boystowni, the orphanage for boys set up in America by Father Edward Joseph Flanagan in 1917 and made famous by Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney in the 1938 movie by the same name.
The movie centres around John and Michael Murphy, the sons of two Irish immigrants living in New York in the early 20s, whose parents are killed in a gas explosion, leaving them orphans. They are placed in an orphanage run by a kindly nun, and soon after there is the possibility that the younger John will be adopted, thereby separating the brothers. Michael overhears a conversation between a nun and a priest in which he tells her about an old seminary friend (Father Flanagan) who "has founded a wonderful place for boys, and he keeps them together...he calls it Boystown...but it's in Omaha..." Michael and John formulate a plan to run away from the orphanage and they have many heart-rending trials and adventures as they make their way to Boystown, eluding police and bounty hunters. Eventually Boystown is within sight and Michael, carrying the now sick and lame John on his back, staggers towards it. Father Flanagan, seeing them approaching, rushes out to greet them and says to Michael "That boy on your back must be very heavy", and Michael utters the motto of Boystown, "He ain't heavy; he's my brother".
The words of the song exemplify the energy of Aquarius the energy of brotherhood, peace, right human relations, goodwill and love. It is an energy that has been dreamt about for millennia: visions of Paradise from the epic Gilgamesh carved into stone by the Sumerians; the kingdom of Shamballa by the Tibetans where advanced men and women live in jewelled palaces; tales of Avalon, El Dorado, Hyperborea and so on. While such visions inspired myth and poetry, various philosophers also discussed Utopian concepts such as Plato, Thomas Moore and Francis Bacon. Further, all the world's religions taught about heaven, not only as a distant and seemingly unobtainable ideal, but also as the kingdom of God, established on earth as a prelude to a Golden Age where the "lamb would lay down with the lion" and "swords would be fashioned into ploughshares".
But the hunger for peace and right human relations was set against a backdrop of separatism, enmity and hatred for each other, symbolised by the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam (humanity). After Cain killed his brother Abel, God asked him where Abel was. Cain seemed to answer for all humanity when he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" and set in place our anti-social, separatist, self-interested human condition which has caused us to be at war with each other ever since.
But then 2000 years ago Christ appeared with a revelation of the Father and taught humanity that the Father was Love and His Plan for everyone was that they were to become Love as well. We are so used to this concept now but in Christ's day it was revolutionary. When asked by the legalistic Jews, "Which commandment is the first of all?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest, the first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself". On that occasion, he repeated the ancient golden rule: "In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you."
Then on the eve of his death, while expressing his last wishes to his apostles, he said: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. And this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Christ summarised his revelation of God in one word: "love" and for the last 2000 years we have been learning how to love as a child learning to walk falling flat on our faces, more often than not hurting ourselves and sometimes taking others down with us.
Part of the difficulty has been learning to understand what love is, and for the most part getting it wrong.
For those on a spiritual path, learning to love means mastering the love of the personality, and identifying and ultimately fusing with the love of Christ within us, the love of the soul. Yet how do we bring that love into our daily lives and into the lives of those around us? How do we use that love as a force for change? We do it through the practice of goodwill, as goodwill is love in action.
In 1936 Alice Bailey said in the book Esoteric Psychology:
"In every country in the world today, men of good will and of true understanding are to be found. Many thousands of them are known. They are however, either ridden by fear or by a feeling of futility, and by the realisation that the work to be done is so stupendous that their little isolated efforts are utterly useless to break down the barriers of hate and separation everywhere to be found. They realise that there is apparently no systematised spread of the principles which seem to hold the solution of the world problem; they have no conception of the numerical strength of those who may be thinking as they do, and they are consequently rendered impotent through their loneliness, their lack of unity, and the dead weight of the surrounding inertia. Out of this condition, how shall order be restored? How can the economic situation be stabilised, and the world be brought to a condition where there is a just and right sufficiency for all? How can national differences be healed and racial hatreds be ended? How can the many religious groups pursue their work of leading men to an expression of their divinity along the lines of individual heritage, and yet at the same time exist in harmony and present a united front to the world? How can wars be ended and peace be brought about on earth? How can a true prosperity be established, which shall be the result of unity, peace and plenty?
Only in one way. By the united action of the men and women of goodwill and understanding in every country and in every nation. Steadily and quietly, with no sense of hurry, must they do three things:-
First, they must discover each other and be in touch with each other. Thus the sense of weakness and of futility will be offset. This is the first duty and task of the New Group of World Servers.
Secondly, they must clarify and elucidate those basic principles of right living, goodwill and harmony, which are recognised, but not applied, by all right thinking people today. These principles must be formulated in the simplest terms and made practical in action.
Thirdly, the general public must be educated in these principles. Steadily, regularly and systematically, they must be taught the principles of brotherhood, of an internationalism which is based on goodwill and love of all men, of religious unity, and of cooperative interdependence. The individual in every nation and group must be taught to play his important part with goodwill and understanding; the group must shoulder its responsibility to other groups; and the responsibility of nation to nation and of all nations to the world of nations must be explained and emphasised." ii
As one considers these words, one can see that much progress has been made in the last 70 years as a higher standard of education and improved communications have resulted in an informed public less inclined to allow their politicians unlimited and unconditional power. But just as encouraging is the goodwill being extended at an international level, mostly for reasons of expediency as the solving of transnational problems require a united approach. Some of these problems include the war on terrorism, cyber crime, slavery, the drug war, human rights issues, environmental challenges and so on.
But not all attempts to work together internationally are prompted by self-interest. It seemed as if the entire world participated in an unparalleled outpouring of love and goodwill at both individual and national levels as the recent South East Asia tsunami tragedy drew forth a collective response from deep within humanity's heart. While some people commented that the donations were infinitesimal compared to the collective Christmas shopping budget, and others complained that more people die through starvation each year and people do not seem to care, surely the point is that the whole world united in a spirit of brotherhood on an unprecedented scale to assist a devastated area.
This kind of response is one of the results of people everywhere demanding a changed value system that reverses the relentless drive towards consumerism and materialism in favour of a better quality of life, where spiritual values are added to the equation and more emphasis is given to closer and more meaningful relationships, not only amongst their personal networks, but also within the global arena.
There has also been a growth in social philosophies like communitarianism which stresses that societal (as opposed to individual) formulations of good are both needed and legitimate. Communitarian concepts have been gaining ground as a response to excessive individualism in the West and a retreat from collectivism and authoritarianism in other parts of the world. The principles they espouse are seen by some as one antidote to religious fundamentalism.
Such developments should encourage us to take heart. While the development of goodwill in the consciousness of humanity first highlights the difficulties and cleavages which distinguish the political, economic and social life of people everywhere, Alice Bailey notes in her book Rays and the Initiations, "the revelation of a cleavage is ever accompanied (for such is the beauty of the human spirit) by efforts along all possible lines to bridge or heal the cleavage. This is testified to by the thousands of groups and organisations working to end cleavages and to pull down the barriers to right human relationships. That these efforts may be faulty and fruitless is often of less importance than the fact that the attempts to heal, to help and to establish right human relations are everywhere being made". iii
But what do these encouraging developments have to do with Aquarius and the story of a little boy carrying his brother on his back?
Aquarius is the sign of the world server. The disciple leaves the "light supernal" experience on the mountaintop of Capricorn, and walks freely among humanity while remaining aligned with the higher light experienced on the mountain. This higher light is then used to transform the darker light of the physical forms that the disciple (along with the rest of humanity) has created. This is the time to be business-like and practical and apply what has been learnt.
The qualities of Aquarius are illustrated in its three characteristics, all of which relate to service of some kind and which manifest according to the individual's level of development:
- The service of the personality, the lower self, which eventually transmutes itself into the service of humanity.
- Superficial and selfish activity which changes into deeper and active intention to be active on behalf of the Hierarchy.
- Self-conscious living, which changes finally into a sensitive humanitarian awareness.
It is quite easy to identify with qualities like service of the lower self, with superficial, selfish activity and with self-conscious living. We see these qualities being expressed all around us every day, and they are not always pleasant to deal with. But we are starting to see more of the superlative qualities of Aquarius like a deep sense of service to humanity, or a life intention on behalf of the Hierarchy, or a deep, selfless humanitarian awareness. These deeper, all-inclusive virtues will increase until humanity experiences all the gifts that Aquarius has to offer.
In the teachings of the Ageless Wisdom, service is defined simply as the spontaneous effect of soul contact. So it begins not with outer activity but from a particular state of consciousness Christ consciousness and the outpouring to others is a result of that.
Part of this higher service ethic is accepting the challenge of the Christ when He said, "Take up your cross and follow me", the "cross" being the burdens of humanity. So often this cross is seen weighing down those on the Path and indeed it is not uncommon to find disciples depressed and despairing instead of experiencing the joy and victory they expected.
Lucille Cedercrans expressed this experience poignantly in the book Nature of the Soul:
"What is that weight of sorrow you have suddenly taken on your shoulders and cannot put down nor bear to hold? What is this burden imprisoning you from natural joy?
It is the weight of the world sorrow pressing in upon you. It is the eternal cry of the imprisoned Soul for release, the Soul of humanity, which suffers the indignities of the evil nature of ignorance.
My brothers, you have scarcely touched it; you have but tasted of the pain of human suffering (and I speak now not of the persona, but of Soul suffering) that every initiate and adept knows so well. What moves God to wait upon humanity? What moves the great consciousness and Light of the Christ to sacrifice His heaven to overshadow and intervene in human affairs? What moves the Hierarchy to stay within the dark star, when the Cosmos waits without? What is it that calls forth compassion from every Life that is free of it? What is the need for compassion?
You have felt that burden, have experienced its likeness, as you have opened your heart to the Soul of humanity, and in most cases, you have considered it your own. You have claimed it, have interpreted it via self-pity, depression, futility. This you think is your own? Ah, my brothers, such ego, for no one unit could have reason or access to such sorrow.
Here is the first step toward freedom. Realize, once and for all, that you have or can experience nothing of yourself alone, for you are not alone. The depressions and sorrows experienced by every mystic or occultist are the sorrows of the World Soul in its total imprisonment.
As you become conscious of the One Life, you open the door of awareness to this condition within a part of it. As you merge more and more closely within the One Life, you will know and experience this condition to its very depths. This is a part of the Consciousness of the Soul. Would you escape it? This is your share of Planetary karma. Yet it need not be the cause of your failure as a disciple. Even in the midst of its awareness, joy can also be known, both the natural joy of life itself, and the joy of knowing that you can serve to alleviate some little bit of that great suffering.
Thus is this pair of opposites balanced, and the initiate born to serve humanity." iv
Alice Bailey elaborates:
"I would remind you that pain, when it is lived out mentally for others, is the worst kind of pain. This you know. But I would remind you that the capacity so to do and so to identify yourself with pain that is not specifically your own is something that all disciples have to master, because it is one of the first steps towards shouldering world pain and the agony of the human family, thus becoming a participant in the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings" and a lifter of world burdens. We work and live on a planet of pain. Until a man is an initiate of high degree he cannot even begin to sense the reasons why this is so; he must perforce then take refuge in the trite platitudes that suffering humanity has evolved to account for things as they are. None of these in any way approximate the true reasons or give any real insight into the problem. Men must wait for understanding until they can no longer be hurt or limited by the pain of others. This follows when we have learnt to handle our own pain. Then and only then can they begin to lift the burden of humanity as a whole and do their responsible share in lightening it." v
Even the Masters who we tend to think of as somewhat removed from the travails of humanity, do not escape this pain as they identify so closely with the world they serve. The Master Djwhal Khul said to Alice Bailey:
"Little as you may realise it as you think of Us in Our so-called safe retreats, the capacity of identification with all that is involved in world pain today and the sensitivity of Those connected with the Hierarchy to the unhappy condition of humanity makes Their task of standing-by one of supreme spiritual agony. They understand the depths of the reaction of humanity; they comprehend and understand, for They are one with all men. This involves a far greater comprehension than you can grasp and one which can only be adequately expressed in the word "identification". They need the staunch support of all Their disciples, the steadfast love, the loyal attitude, the unquestioning response to human need which will enable Them to carry more easily the heavy burden which human karma has laid upon Them and which They carry voluntarily." vi
Before His death Christ sent His disciples out to find the water-carrier who led them to an upper room where the communion service was instituted. This indicated the coming Age of Aquarius where those who followed the Christ would lovingly take upon their shoulders the burden of the world (symbolised by the pitcher of water - on their shoulders but still close to their heart centres) and transmute that burden into waters of life which they would pour out to thirsty humanity thirsty for goodness, thirsty for truth, thirsty for the beauty of life. And in performing this service their own burden will be eased; in fact there is no other way to obtain "relief" for this is the "law" of service.
The image of Michael Murphy carrying his brother on his back speaks of the service of Aquarius where servers deny their own desires, needs and comforts for the good of all, for the sake of brotherhood and goodwill, in service of the One Life of which they are a part. As they do this, they will ease the burdens of the world, including their own.
One hopes that the words in the song will be their experience and they will declare with joy from the deepest part of their being:
It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share.
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy, he's my brother. vii