Taking Theosophical ideas
into the 21st century
Rethinking the Role of the Family
in Spiritual Evolution.
Time was, when being born into a family was
often like joining the crew under the command
of a captain who ran a very tight ship.
Family membership entailed obedience,
responsibilities and loyalty.
This structure is now rare in our society
and modern replacements are more fluid
and less clearly defined.
What has been lost and what benefits do the new
structures offer in the quest for Spiritual Growth ?
In 1911 C Jinarajadasa described the purpose of the family as “a meeting-place of souls to help each other towards perfection.” (Practical Theosophy).
He also went on to describe the role of the family as a platform for development;
“The family is not a meeting-place of simple travellers who meet for a few brief years, and then go their separate ways in eternity; it is far
more a theatre or concert hall where a drama or a composition is being rehearsed, so that all the individuals may learn to perform their parts with
beauty and dignity for the delight of man and of God.”
As a high caste Indian, C Jinarajadasa draws his experience of families from structures akin to those of Biblical times. He describes the family unit as hierarchical with elders in charge and including servants and domestic animals as family members. He avoids the subject of arranged marriages.
The traditional family unit recognizable to us would not include servants although many regard their pets as family members. However, like the one described by Jinarajadasa, our traditional family would be presided over by a dominant male figure who commanded considerable respect and moral authority.
Another familiar model was that of the extended family with members of three or even four generations living under one roof. Authority would be more negotiable but would lie with the older members of the family and was often ruled by one dominant senior member.
There is a traditional family described by Annie Besant in the posting on Family Karma in which the family is almost a dynastic arrangement with its own subculture and traditions.
These models described provided a secure, stable, and in ideal circumstances, a supportive environment in which to grow up. Considerable wisdom drawn from life experience could be handed down the generations and one could often find, or was allocated, a niche for oneself as a valuable family member. This is positive both Spiritually and Karmically.
“He has a definite role in the family, and his
growth as a soul is by playing that role to the fullness of his capacity.”
Unfortunately these structures could impose a rigid and totalist environment in which growth and education were replaced by programming and knocking into shape. A blueprint for your life could be handed down like a sentence from the older generation which determined your religion, moral values and social attitudes. It used to be common for people to say “I was always brought up to believe this” often with no reference to whether they ever questioned it.
Communications and the availability of information have played a big part in the demise of the rigidly controlled family. A significant factor in the past was that before radio and television, it was easier for a senior dominant family member to control and regulate any outside influences on the children of the household.
The introduction of television in particular probably influenced parents as much as it influenced children although it was always children who were accused of “watching too much television”. A parent who forbade his children to read any comic other than the Eagle or buy fizzy drinks and rationed television watching to narrow specific times must seem a historical curiosity in an age when five year olds send emails and have mobile phones.
Most traditional family upbringings were probably not as oppressive as described above but the fact still remained that opportunities for self realization and growth were determined by your elders with a level of coercion. To break with family tradition or values was often difficult and could mean separation or distancing from an otherwise supportive family unit. Nowadays, the “Black Sheep” of the family seems to be an endangered species.
The traditional family could also provide a comfort zone in terms of development which it may be difficult to grow away from. Being comfortable with the ideas of one upbringing is an easy option. Why try harder?
Let me make it clear that in exploring the pluses and minuses of family structures, I am not talking about dysfunctional and problem families in which drugs, alcohol abuse and violence distort any opportunity for growth. These fall outside the scope of this posting.
When it comes to influence the family has on an individual’s spiritual growth, Jinarajadasa made a statement which could be applied to any family arrangement, although this was probably not his intention in 1911;
“He takes birth in a particular family because its environment is both what he deserves and that from which he can get the experiences he needs for his growth.”
Things have certainly changed in the West since he wrote this and the change for most has been a liberation.
There seems now to be no standard family format with related people living in various paradigms and more single occupancy households than family households. The actual act of marriage itself has become optional even when having children and remaining single with no children has become a common lifestyle decision for both sexes. The status of women is unrecognizable from that of 50 years ago when they were hardly independent citizens in their own right. We have come a long way since we spoke about spinsters “being left on the shelf” and the jibe “not married at your age?” which was aimed both at men and women, sank without trace in the sixties.
The old certainties have more or less gone and the support and security of the traditional family has in some cases been replaced by the welfare system. This has left a lot of people feeling isolated in a world where technology means that you hardly need to interact with anyone, if you choose not to do so. It has also enabled many to negate any responsibility for their children although there have always been those who have done this.
To someone brought up in the traditional family era, the idea of a loose knit fluid family structure in which a mother has three children with different fathers (just an example) is often quite frightening.
Structures such as this can be just as supportive as the traditional family and without imposition by a single dominant figure can offer the individual an opportunity for spiritual growth on their own terms.
Clearly defined family roles are no longer provided automatically or imposed by the family and this is also true in most two parent families. The child has a chance to create their own space and find their own level as a useful family member. There are many competing influences on a child and the risk of rigid conformity or programming imposed from above is now remote.
Jinarajadasa’s phrase “the experiences he needs for his growth.” suggests that growth automatically will take place but he describes an ideal situation and he must have been aware of the limitations of the family, as he knew it, in this area.
He also comments of the potential for Spiritual Growth of the child and that the child may come into incarnation more advanced than the parents;
“It is only as regards the body of the child that the parents are the elders; but the child, as a soul, is the equal of the parents, and sometimes is wiser, more capable, and more evolved than they.”
I postulate that the change in family structures in the West has been the result of a greater need for individual’s coming into incarnation to find expression and self realization. This has led over the last 50 years to more experimentation and some trial and error, which is still continuing. This may mean that many of those born in this era will experience an acceleration in Spiritual Growth during their incarnation.
The Blavatsky Blogger
Taking Theosophical ideas
into the 21st century
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