Theosophical University Press Online Edition
The Oriental doctrine of reward and punishment of the human Ego is very different from the theological scheme accepted throughout Christendom, since the Brahmins and Buddhists fix the place of punishment and compensation upon this earth of ours, while the Christian removes the "bar of God" to the hereafter. We may not profitably stop to argue upon logic with the latter; it will be sufficient to quote to them the words of Jesus, St. Matthew, and the Psalmist. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again," said Jesus; and Matthew declares that for every word, act, and thought we shall have to answer, while David, the royal poet, sang that those who serve the Lord should never eat beggar's bread. We all know well that the first two declarations do away with the vicarious atonement; and as for the Jewish singer's notion, it is negatived every day in any city of either hemisphere.
Among the Ceylonese Buddhists the name of the doctrine is Kamma; with the Hindus it is Karma. Viewed in its religious light, it "is the good and bad deeds of sentient beings, by the infallible influence or efficacy of which those beings are met with due rewards or punishment, according as they deserve, in any state of being." (1) When a being dies, he emits, as it were, a mass of force or energy, which goes to make up the new personality when he shall be reincarnated. In this energy is found the summation of the life just given up, and by means of it the Ego is forced to assume that sort of body among those appropriate circumstances which together are the means for carrying out the decrees of Karma.
Hence hell is not a mythical place or condition after death in some unknown region specially set apart by the Almighty for the punishment of his children, but is in very truth our own globe, for it is on the earth, in earth-lives experienced in human bodies, that we are punished for bad deeds previously done, and meet with happiness and pleasure as rewards for old merit.
When one sees, as is so common, a good man suffering much in his life, the question naturally arises, "Has Karma anything to do with it, and is it just that such a person should be so afflicted?" For those who believe in Karma it is quite just, because this man in a previous life must have done such acts as deserve punishment now. And, similarly, the wicked man who is free from suffering, happy and prosperous, is so because in a previous existence he had been badly treated by his fellows or had experienced much suffering. And the perfect justice of Karma is well illustrated in his case because, although now favored by fortune, he, being wicked, is generating causes which, when he shall be reborn, will operate then to punish him for his evil-doing now.
Some may suppose that the Ego should be punished after death, but such a conclusion is not logical. For evil deeds committed here on the objective plane could not with any scientific or moral propriety be punished on a plane which is purely subjective. And such is the reason why so many minds, both of the young and old have rejected and rebelled against the doctrine of a hell-fire in which they would be eternally punished for commission of sin on earth. Even when unable to formulate the reason in metaphysical terms, they instinctively knew that it would be impossible to remove the scene of compensation from the very place where the sin and confusion had been done and created. When the disciples of Jesus asked him if the man who was born blind was thus brought into the world for some sin he had committed, they had in mind this doctrine of Karma, just as all the Hindus and Buddhists have when they see some of their fellows crippled or deformed or deprived of sight.
The theory above hinted at of the person at death throwing out from himself the new personality, so to speak, ready to await the time when the Ego should return to earth seeking a new body, is a general law that operates in a great many other instances besides the birth or death of a being. It is that which is used by the Theosophists to explain the relations between the moon and the earth. For, as the moon is held by them to be the planet on which we lived before reaching the earth and before there was any such earth whatever; and that, when our so-called satellite came to die, all the energy contained in it was thrown out into space, where in a single vortex it remained until the time came for that energy to be again supplied with a body — this earth — so the same law prevails with men, the single units in the vast aggregate which is known among advanced Theosophists as the great Manu. Men being, as to their material envelope, derived from the moon, must follow the law of their origin, and therefore the Buddhist priest says, as quoted: "At the death of a being nothing goes out from him to the other world for his rebirth; but by the efficacy — or, to use a more figurative expression, by the ray — of influence which Kamma emits, a new being is produced in the other world very identical with the one who died away," for in this "new being" is held all the life of the deceased. The term "being," as applied to it, may be taken by us with some qualification. It is more properly a mass of energy devoid of conscience and crowded with desires of the person from whom it emanated; and its special province is to await the return of the individuality and form for that the new body in which it shall suffer or enjoy. Each man is therefore his own creator under the great Cosmic laws that control all creations. A better term in place of "creation" is "evolution," for we, from life to life, are engaged in evolving out of the material provided in this Manvantara new bodies at every turn of the wheel of rebirth. The instruments we use in this work are desire and will. Desire causes the will to fix itself on objective life; in that plane it produces force, and out of that comes matter in its objective form.
1. The Rev. T. P. Terunnanse, High-priest at Dodanduwa, Ceylon. (return to text)