Rights, Duties, Privileges
Feb 03, 1995 02:48 PM
by Dara Eklund
Theos-roots may not be designed for posting old, obscure
theosophical writings, but it seems like a good idea. Under the
above title, Henry Travers Edge, a personal disciple of HPB,
wrote the following article.
On August 4, 1789, a large and unruly Parliament of excited men
sat in a hall at Versailles. It was the National Assembly of
revolutionary France, and it was framing a new constitution for
the country. But what was agitating the assembly at the moment
was the preamble to that constitution -- a Declaration of the
Rights of Man. Suddenly one of the members interposed with an
amendment. He proposed that the Declaration of the Rights of Man
should also be a Declaration of the Duties of Man. His amendment
was impatiently rejected, the majority being 575 against 433; and
the assembly proceeded to adopt almost unanimously the motion
that the preamble should consist only of a Declaration of Rights.
Human nature has not changed much since then. We still hear much
about the rights of man. About the duties we do not hear quite
so much. The lesson is applicable to the present situation, if
When we demand our rights, or promise other people their rights,
the motive concerned is self-interest, the self-interest of an
individual or of a class. When duties are spoken of, it is
conscience that is appealed to. Which is the better for the
welfare and progress of the individual -- self-interest or
conscience? Which is better for the welfare of the community?
This mention of rights and duties suggests that they are opposed
to each other. Rights are pleasant things, and duties are
painful things. Rights are what we want and can't get, and
duties are what we get and can't want. So perhaps it is
advisable to find another word that will suit the case better.
That is why the word `Privileges' was chose for the third of our
What are the Privileges of Man? Do they include the Rights or the
Duties or some of both?
I believe that a man's Rights and Duties and Privileges are
really all one and the same thing. But the word `Rights,' in
this case, means something that *cannot* be taken away from a
man. He does not have to clamor for this kind of Rights; no one
can do him out of them.
To be a Man, a human being -- is not that privilege enough? Does
it not confer power enough? For what is Man?
An ancient emblem represents him as having a human head, the body
of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. The human head represents
man's intellect; the lion's body, his daring and will-power; the
eagle's wings, his power of aspiration. With these divine gifts,
man can make himself what he will; and yet he abrogates them and
clamors for lesser things he calls his rights.
We do not need to clamor for our rights; we only need to
*recognise* them. The real Rights of man are his *birthrights,*
and we know that he is born of the Spirit as well as of the
flesh. Leastwise, however the doctrine and theology may run, it
is an indisputable fact that you and I are somehow mysteriously
endowed with a Mind and a Heart and a Will and good many other
things that money cannot buy and thieves cannot steal. The
sooner we recognise these gifts, the sooner we shall have our
Rights. The sooner we exercise these gifts, the sooner we shall
do our Duties. And, as to Privileges, all this will be privilege
enough and to spare. Let us claim our Birthrights.
Would you like to be a strong man or a weak man? A strong man is
self- dependent, but a weak man is always leaning on other
people. The weak man has his eyes fixed on the past and on the
future, but never on the present. The future is always getting
away from him as he goes, like his shadow thrown before him; and
the past is always receding from him. Only the present stays
with him, but this he seems to have no use for. He is the
unpractical man. The weak man is affected by the opinions of
others, by praise and blame; he is alternately exhilarated and
depressed by the turns of fortune. He lives in an atmosphere of
expectation and fear and is a creature of vain emotion. The
strong man simply takes his life as he finds it and acts strongly
here and now in the present place and the present moment.
Why be a weakling? Why not face boldly the life in which you find
yourself and determine to utilize you wonderful resources to the
Surely it is the venturous man who discovers things. The man who
waits for a lead never starts at all. Yet how many people there
are today who say feebly that they do not know the mysteries of
life, and that they can never know; people who demand to be shown
before they will move; people who will stay where they are until
they can see something better? These people do not realise that
it is often necessary to take a step *first* before you can see
where to plant the next step.
If you would discover something about the mysteries of your own
nature, you must have faith enough and grit enough to start. You
must not wait for knowledge to fall into your lap. The kingdom
of heaven has to be taken by might; it will not throw itself at
When we try to imagine the future of humanity, and can think of
nothing better than a lot of people, of different classes, all
clamoring for what they consider their rights, we do not get a
very edifying picture. What is needed is that people should be
taught to recognise their *privileges* -- the rights that they
have, not the rights that they think they ought to have. "Seek
ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these
things shall be added unto you," means that, if you attend to
your duties, your rights will take care of themselves.
Surely it is a privilege to take care of duties!
Man has many more rights and privileges than the thinks he has.
What he is clamoring for is mere pittance. There are rights and
privileges waiting to be claimed; but they are the price of duty.
A man who has not the faith or the grit to do his duty will stay
where he is and will go on hungering for his rights. But the man
who recognises that duty is his privilege will obtain all the
rights he expects -- and more.
And remember that your better nature has its rights as well as
your inferior nature. Why not give it a chance? And it is just
because you will not give it a chance that `Fate' steps in and
does it for you. The human race would soon perish from
self-indulgence if it were left to choose its own fate according
to its selfish desires. Fortunately, a power wiser and stronger
than our selfish desires steps in and gives us what is good for
us. What is this power? It is the power that rules our destiny;
it is our own real Self, the light behind our mind, the guiding
star of our lives. Why not recognise its claims and admit that
our higher nature has also its rights and privileges?
To follow duty is simply to recognise the claims of our higher
nature. What we call duties are the rights of our higher nature;
and when we sacrifice a duty to a personal pleasure, we starve
our higher nature to feed our lower.
So much has been dinned into our ears about our animal nature
that it is time a little more was told us about that spark of
divine creative fire that is in all of us. Then perhaps we would
have more self-reliance and not be expecting so much from systems
and regulations. If you think you are as good as the other man,
it is up to you to show it. No doubt social conditions are wrong
in many points; but they would stand a better chance of righting
themselves if a little more of the spirit of true self- reliance
and self-respect were abroad in the world.
-- "The Theosophical Path", Jan. 1923
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