The Theosophical Forum – August 1937


When H. P. Blavatsky gave The Secret Doctrine to the world, more particularly to the western world, she presented the teachings in a way which could be understood in degree by some who were breaking away from the crystallized conceptions of the day but who thought, nevertheless, in the terminology of those beliefs.

H. P. Blavatsky gave us seven Jewels of Wisdom, the second of which is the teaching concerning the doctrine of Karman. Considering the knowledge extant in her day, it is not strange that many, not hoping fully to understand teachings which were in some cases sketchy and in some cases merely hinted at, awaiting the development of more intuitive minds, should call the second Jewel of Wisdom the Law of Karman.

Just as Theosophists stress the necessity for teaching the septenary nature of man as against the threefold division, i. e. soul, spirit, and body, in order that man may more fully understand this nature and profit by the understanding, so Theosophy teaches that Karman operates as a law and that man is himself his karman.

Karman comes from the Sanskrit root-word "kri," which means "to do"; thus Karman means "action." We have a law of Karman or action operating on our physical plane. As an example, let us drop a pebble into a pool of water. As the energy goes out from center we call this centrifugal force, and as it returns to center due to some law within its own nature we call this centripetal force. So far as I know, there is no law in the universe to prevent the centripetal force from being inherent in the action itself. It is true that the water may be scooped from the pool, if it were possible to do so with sufficient speed, and the center of the action removed, but no law can prevent the action of centripetal force if the center remains unchanged.

In his Notes on the Bhagavad Gita, Mr. Subba Row, who was an eminent Eastern student of the Wisdom Religion, tells us that the Wisdom Religion postulates a First "Cause" or Principle, this being, logically, the infinite, eternal, immutable, boundless, rootless root of all being. He asks us to imagine in this eternal Boundless which is called Parabrahman, centers of energy, in germ. These are called Logoi or, in singular, Logos or The Word. From these Logoi emanates a light. This light of the Logos is called Daivipra-kriti or Fohat or cosmic energy. Now from the objective point of view of the Logos, Parabrahman, or the rootless root of all Being, is seen as a veil thrown over itself. This is called Mulaprakriti or cosmic matter. Mr. Subba Row designates eight forms of this cosmic matter, naming them earth, water, fire, air, wind, mind, intuition and egotism.

Theosophy gives us the Law of Analogy to aid our study, and by applying it here, we see that energy, operating through one medium of cosmic matter, must operate on the same principle through all forms of cosmic matter. Energy, operating through the medium of water, must operate on the same principle of earth, air, fire, wind, mind, intuition or egotism, and thus it is that a man may modify his own center of being by growth and a constant unfolding of his own inner nature in such a way that the centripetal force of his acts and thoughts will be beneficially altered in its effect upon the center which is the man.

Now let us see how it is that man himself is this karman. The Leader of the Theosophical Society, Dr. Gottfried de Purucker, emphasizes and grips this teaching in the second half of the fourth chapter of his book The Esoteric Tradition. For this part of our argument we are going to review the text in the last half of this chapter on the life and teachings of Gautama the Buddha. It seems, according to Dr. de Purucker, that there is a popular belief that Gautama the Buddha taught complete annihilation of the entity at death. He points to the Jataka Tales, the rebirth stories of the Buddha, some six hundred in number, which Tales refer in many cases to rebirth. These Tales give evidence of the common acceptance by the multitudes of Buddhists of an X-factor in the complex of skandhas forming the human being, which X-factor passes from life to life. According to our Leader, Buddhism teaches an evolution of this X-factor of consciousness and will through many rebirths, bringing about constantly increasing power and faculty until finally the entity becomes a man, then a Bodhisattva, or one who is filled with the spirit of the Buddhic principle (Bodhi), the fountainhead of utter wisdom.

The Leader asks what it is that passes through many rebirths until it becomes a Buddha? The scriptures of the Hinayana or southern school of Buddhism call this the karman or results and consequences. Dr. de Purucker asks if it is thinkable that the Titan Intellects of the human race taught that bare consequences, naked composites, sheer effects, technically called skandhas, can or do pass in entitative fashion from life to life, re-collect themselves, after being dispersed time after time as atomic aggregates into the various realms of nature from which they were originally drawn. He tells us then that this depends upon the meaning we give to the term "skandhas" or "samskaras." Mere aggregates of atoms existing on the psycho-emotional and physical plane without an internal bond of spiritual-psychological union is a materialistic idea, rejected by philosophical and scientific thought; but if we understand samskaras to mean psycho-magnetic and material aggregates of life-atoms attracted to each other because of their intrinsic magnetic vital powers, unified and governed by the repetitive action of the same spiritual and intellectual forces which formerly held them in union as an aggregated vehicle, the teaching is then consistent with what we know of the intricate unitary and yet compounded character of our constitution and consistent with all the teachings of Hindu philosophy as well as the Buddha's profound philosophy. The point Dr. de Purucker now brings out is, he says, the inner content of the Buddha's doctrine and is found in both the Mahayana and the Hinayana Schools and taught by Theosophy.

The lower parts of an entity form a compound aggregate and this is mortal and perishable and is called in Buddhism samskaras. However, there is something, an X-factor of a spiritual, intellectual and psychological character, around which the aggregated compound or samskaras re-gather or re-collect at each new rebirth. This X-factor, he says, cannot be designated as an immortal soul in the Christian sense because that idea implies a static condition and the teaching is that nothing in the universe is static or unchanging. This X-quantity is that vital, psychological something which insures the re-collecting of the samskaras for each new life, a fruitage or result of past lives. The Leader tells us that Karman is as good a name as any for this X-factor if we understand it to mean consequences, results, spiritual, intellectual, psychical, physical, etc. He gives the example of a child developed from an invisible life-germ to great age, and suggests how each phase is a change from the preceding one but is based or founded upon a preceding phase. This is the key to the Buddhist thought. Just as a child is born and develops, so the karman of an entity passes from body to body, from low to high, through different life stages of rebirth through the different ages. This X-quantity the Theosophists call the "Reincarnating Ego"; the Mystical Buddhists call it "the Shining Ray from the Buddha Within"; and the Hinayana School calls it the "Karman" — this karman evolving, growing continuously better, nobler, until the man through these karmic changes or changing karman, finally becomes a Bodhisattva and then a Buddha, finally entering Nirvana.

Theosophists call this X-factor, this Karman, the Monad, imperishable in essence, the fountainhead of consciousness and will, passing from age to age throughout the manvantara, reproducing itself by means of rays from its essence in the various reimbodiments or reincarnations it brings about. In Mystical Buddhism, the Leader tells us, especially in the North, this Monad is known as the Dhyani-Buddha, the core of every reimbodying being. The Esoteric Tradition also tells us that every Monad is a ray, a droplet of and from the cosmic Maha-Buddhi, just as in Mystical Buddhism every Dhyani-Buddha is a ray from the Amitabha-Buddha, a manifestation of Alaya, the cosmic spirit.

In simple words the teaching then is this: there is a ray from the celestial Buddha within the composite entity called man, the man builded of the samskaras, and the influence of this ray persists through the ages and re-collects the samskaras together anew, reproducing the same karmic entity. The karman of the man then is the man himself. Because man continually changes, continually grows, the karman which is the man, continually changes for the better.

The esoteric Dharma of Gautama the Buddha states that every man is a manifestation on earth of a Buddhic principle belonging to his constitution and manifesting in three degrees or planes: (a) as a Celestial or Dhyani-Buddha, (b) as a Dhyani-Bodhisattva, (c) as a Manushya-Buddha. All human faculties and powers are like rays from the spiritual sun, derivatives from this interior compound Buddhic entity, and union with this core of our being is the aim of all initiation, for when man becomes one with the Buddhic principle within him, the seat of the abstract Bodhi, he becomes a Buddha. A Buddha is one who is fully awakened in all the ranges of his constitution and is a complete and, relatively speaking, perfectly evolved human being.

Dr. de Purucker assures us that mortification and mutilation of the physical vehicle is not the way to initiation, and points to Gautama's rejection of such lower yoga with the replacing of it by the control of the will, living the life, combined with intellectual awakening, the path of interior development: the becoming at one with the superior elements of the human constitution, divine in their higher parts, spiritual in the next lower range, and intellectual in the third. The real Yoga, the only Yoga of value, according to the teaching, is that of man ever striving consciously or unconsciously to attain union with the divinity within. The only way to unutterable wisdom and peace of the divine is found within one's self. All the luminaries of the human race, the spiritual and intellectual giants, were those who developed more or less the Buddhic principle in themselves. Every man may walk the path, for in his constitution are the same elements which the Great Ones possess.

According to our authority, the unquestioned teaching of the Buddha was that a man may obtain union with Brahma. Something of a spiritual-intellectual character works through the samskaras that form man, which entity must obtain union with the cosmic spirit, here called Brahma. This, too, is the essence of the teaching of the Vedanta of India: that the root of all Being is the cosmic spirit, that reunion with it is inevitable and that there is a path by which such union may be obtained in a pilgrimage vastly shortened. Even here, the Leader wishes us to understand, the freed Monad does not stop, for beyond Brahman are realms of consciousness wherein reside the roots of the cosmic tree, the individualized Adi-Buddha, the cosmic creative Logos of Adi-Bodhi, or Alaya the Cosmic Originant. The world of Brahma is a relatively imperfect sphere of lives and life, for beyond even Brahman lies Parabrahmic infinitude.

We have seen how it is that Karman operates as a law and how it is that man is his karman. We have seen that, if our analogy holds true, it is useless to send forth thoughts and deeds of a certain character and expect them to return to us different in essence from what we send forth. We have seen how it is that as we think and do, so we are; and we have seen that it is the nature of all things to evolve and grow. How shall we apply this to our lives? Can we not unfold from our nature and allow to grow and expand those qualities within our own nature that make for universal harmony? We can all develop understanding and sympathy. We can all unfold awareness of the cares and sorrows of others. We can help each other through kindly and wise understanding that all may benefit. By becoming less self-centered, by growing and unfolding spiritually, we may change our center of being so that returning evil thoughts and acts cannot then so greatly injure the finer substance of our greater natures. Thus we protect those who may be weaker and might fail if the added force of our failures to live in harmony with the laws of nature are added to their own weakness.

No one can say just what has been the effect of giving to the world the Seven Jewels of Wisdom, but it is certain that here is a cosmic philosophy which in its simpler aspects answers the questions arising in the minds of the masses, and in its deeper studies gives hints of the sublime heights to which the scholar may rise. This cosmic philosophy has at its heart the cure for every ill of mankind through its understanding of man's nature and the relation of that nature to the universe. It gives man the inspiration he needs to win onward on the evolutionary path. It brings a conviction of the necessity for man to learn his direct responsibility to the rest of creation as well as to his own kind.

The Theosophical Forum