Cramped, shoulder to shoulder, back to back, each one of us smelling the sweat and scent of the other, the train lurched forward—and I saw the razor’s edge between Theosophy and religion. Only an hour ago I had been winding my way through empty streets towards the train station having attended, enjoyed, and left a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s home in northern Melbourne. With each block and passing of the minutes the empty streets became half-empty and then, when I could no longer weave in and out of the crowds of people, I realized they were half-full. Now, with each step, the crowds grew and my pace slowed until I was at a crawl, making my way through throngs of people moving in all four directions across the same central square. Having left the party just after midnight, ringing in the New Year with some non-alcoholic wine and the best of intentions but now with second thoughts among the rowdy sea of people, it was 12:45am and I was barely inching towards my goal, the train platform for Pakenham.

Wading through the sea of people heading in the direction of the platform, I could hear the trains come and go in the distance. With each coming and going there was a massive surge from behind sending a shockwave of force rolling through the crowd, almost knocking some of us to the floor as the movement of the masses powered its way nearer the platform. Finally, I found myself at the edge of the platform, standing at the border of the yellow-striped line, helpless to prevent myself from being thrown on to the tracks if the collective unconscious of the masses had caused the body of people behind me to surge forwards out of rhythm. But there was no surge until the train arrived.

 And then I saw something very ugly pour out of the collective unconscious near the open doors of the train, a swelling of the lowest in human nature as the crowd crested towards the entrance, each individual manifesting a sheer selfishness that contorted their bodies and disfigured their faces as they struggled to force their way on to the carriage pushing and shoving—and clawing if they could have—driven by the misshapen habit and misbegotten belief that there was some special place reserved and designated specifically for them on the train. With the inhumanity of devils each one drove forwards to that special place only to find it occupied by another, nudging up against him or her sharing both tepid and toxic smells—a modern representation of a Michelangelo painting where the Mammons and Molechs herded the weaknesses of the personalities under their control into a jubilee of chaos and confusion—and settled into a secondary spot, ousted by someone more clever or quicker or perhaps with horns just a bit sharper than their own, ready for the train ride southwards.

The problem with this scene was that the train had not come for any one of us; it had come for all of us. Yet when that train arrived one could see the swarm of individuals acting out the belief that the train had somehow come for them as distinct units. And so it has been with the religions of the world. In Christianity, Christ came to save you or me as individuals; he may have come to save the world but human beings as individuals never seemed to be able to remove themselves from the centre of that thought, thereby continuing the geocentric view for my salvation—a primitive Galilean view that should have died out with the emergence of the scientific heliocentrism of Galileo—and forcing divinity to circle around “me” instead of “me” circling around divinity. In Buddhism, Nirvana was often seen as personal enlightenment, a hoping for an escape through the cessation of the “me” yet driven by the desires of the “me” for power and knowledge in its own dissolution. In Judaism, the Jews, to the exclusion of others, were the ‘Chosen People’, a people at the centre of a world with God, wreaking vengeance on others and sometimes even on themselves, revolving around them. In Islam, a follower of Muhammed had certain rights over a non-Muslim, an idea that permeated the social structure of the dhimmi system that discriminated against those who didn’t assume an accepted place in the caravan of life. With the small self at the centre of these systems, it was only natural that a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe—or religion—had to spring up, the belief system compensating for the inadequacy of the “me” to perceive and experience reality as it actually is.

Using metaphor for what actually is, Theosophy is a train and it doesn’t come for any one of us but all of us. It makes its rounds regardless of whether you or I am on the platform. If no one is on the platform, it will still come because there might be people on the next platform. Obviously, if there are many people on a particular platform and there is a great demand for it at a particular time, the conductor may increase the frequency of its running or he may add a carriage or two. But to think that the train is coming specifically for me or you is completely wrong.

When I do find a place on the train, it is not such a special place and I won’t hold it for long. What is important is how I balance getting on the train and how I behave with my fellow passengers during the journey. And when I have found my place on the train I don’t get to see what is going on three or four carriages ahead of me—I get to see what is going on in my carriage and that is enough.

I can stay on the train as long as I like though certain stops may distract my attention and I may disembark for a while. Or I may stay on till the end of the line. Either way, when it is time for me to depart, the conductor wishes me well and toots the horn before closing the doors. If I cause a problem on the train, he has an alarm for that too.

Each time I ride the train it takes me where I want to go but not because I want to go there. It goes there because it is scheduled to go there on its time, not mine. In seeing this—seeing that the small self is not the centre of the system but, rather, the train is the centre and its operations are the key—there is no need to set up a system of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe because the “me” is no longer hindering the perception of reality—which is the nature of how the train functions. We, as human beings, begin to forget our own timetable and our false conceptions of a special place and instead are content with catching the next express, or the one after that, and gliding down the rails on its path which, in proper perspective, becomes our own.

“Ekam sad, vipra bahudha vadanti” – “Truth is one. The wise use many names for It”