The Theosophical Forum – June 1948

FATE, CHANCE, LUCK, KARMAN — Helen G. Steward

Just what is fate? Fate is a phantasy. Fate as fate simply does not exist. Fate as popularly understood is a haphazard concept of an unswerving and exacting destiny. Fate expresses a conception which seems to have prevailed more or less through all ages in all religions. The word is derived from the Latin fatum, which has a primarily passive signification, denoting a decree or ordinance uttered. This conception of fate springs from man's feeling of his own unworthiness and helplessness.

Chance may be defined as that which determines the course of events in the absence of law. Strictly speaking, it is an idea that few would now be disposed to admit. The idea of chance, as referring to some apparently capricious, or at least unexplainable, event, distinguishes it from the idea of probability. Chance means risk, hazard, a balanced possibility of gain or loss. So, in placing too much credence in the reality of what it is supposed to stand for, we profess ourselves to be the slaves of chance, and, as Shakespeare says in Macbeth, "the plaything of every wind that blows."

Luck means that which happens to a person "by chance," conceived of as favorable or unfavorable, as though there were some inward connection between a succession of fortuitous occurrences, favorable or unfavorable. For example: Gamesters say one ought to continue to play while luck is with one, and discontinue playing when luck is against one!

Can luck or chance or fate restore life to the murdered, honor to the dishonored, property to those who have been wronged? Can fate force the scales of human and divine Justice to recover an equilibrium that has been disturbed or destroyed? No, but Karman can. The operations of the Universe are governed by law and order; eternal, immutable, exacting laws which leave nothing to chance! Many laws are known to us; but there are other laws operating around us all the time, silently, steadily, serenely, unseen.

These words, Fate, Chance, and Luck, which we put to work on many occasions are a means of passing a situation off lightly without thinking the matter through. Is it not much snappier and easier to say, "Oh, she is lucky!" or, "Oh, well, it's fate," than to analyze the matter carefully? Catch phrases often carry us through. Far easier to switch a subject into a lighter vein than to worry too much over it!

There cannot be such things as fate, chance, or luck operating in the Universe. This presupposes a mad Universe, that could not hold together for a fraction of an instant of time. No part could or would cohere with any other part; everything would be helter-skelter, indeed a very crazy Universe.

All the deductions of modern philosophical scientists are based on the one unquestionable fact — that Nature pursues invariable processes. So-called fate, chance, and luck are but the operation of forces set in motion perhaps today, or yesterday, or in previous lives. But always they are set in motion by us and the results are experienced by us. Occasionally one of these stern laws of compensation steps into our lives and takes its course, and man calls it fate — but this just law of compensation is simply following the fluctuations we have set in motion.

Everyone is weaving around himself, thread by thread, as a spider weaves its web, his so-called fate! The weaving, the action of the weaving, is man's own free will! He has free will within the circle of his own possibilities. His own choice — his actions — are not circumscribed or bounded by any law outside of himself! When the last strand of the web is woven and man is seemingly enwrapped in the network of his own doing, his own weaving, then he finds himself under the empire of his own self-made desires and their natural results.

Our station in life, our abilities, whatever of mentality we may have, are ours because we have builded them into the fabric of our being and have hence earned them. When bad luck, so-called, comes upon us, we must stand firm as a rock, and not be swayed like a feather in the breeze or carried away in a whirlwind raised by our own emotions.

When we die, we take with us a load of Karman — good, bad, and indifferent causes — set up in this life. Where can the result of those causes be met, balanced, enjoyed, suffered? Nowhere but on this Earth in another life. We often hear the expression, "It's in the lap of the Gods." So it is — our fate, our chance, our luck — but it also lies in our good right hands! We long for the scenes that we have known, for loves we have known, for "life" — this is desire and desire draws us back to work out our fate, to get our good luck to have our chance!

We are artists, artists of character, and that character is ourselves. Character shows in our faces, lines of experience, deep lines of sorrow, pain, joy, suffering; they are there for us to read in each other's faces — strong faces, weak faces. Who wrought those lines in our faces? Chance? Luck? Fate? We make ourselves what we are, and at any instant if we are not satisfied with ourselves, we can begin to change ourselves. If we sit down every day or at night and think over carefully what we have done, said, and thought during the previous day, we will certainly see where we have set into motion causes — a string of causes — of which we will have to reap the benefits, the pain, or the sorrow.

When we submit to the urge of the Lower Self, the call of the personality, and later bring down upon ourselves some unpleasant circumstances, we may say, "Isn't that just my luck?" But when the Higher Self is in the driver's seat, and the God within shines forth and shows us just what we can make of ourselves, then the soul has no regrets — it has a path, a goal, and it knows there is no failure for the soul.

The voice of the soul is unaccented by the pressure of outside events. The soul lives in conditions unaffected by excitements of the hour, the sorrows and joys of the world. This statement, of course, refers to the spiritual soul, the bearer of the Spiritual Ego, which is a living, conscious entity. For man is a wonderful being, and if he takes his evolution seriously, decides to leave not one single thing to chance, but to be conscious every second of his own inherent divinity, his greatness and responsibility, then he can become a living example of self-directed evolution. When he works consciously with the Law, a co-partner with the highest there is, his "job" becomes bigger and bigger, and his "web" is a golden glow that will shine forever, and will "illumine even the darkest corners of the earth."

The fourth word in our title is the only word we can really "hang something on" — Karman. Karman is the sum total of our efforts in the past, our storehouse, the result of our past actions, thoughts, and desires. Karman: our money in the bank. Karman: which all of us are making even now, which I am making as I write and which you are making as you read. It is a pleasure to know we must pay our own debts — no one is responsible for them but ourselves! No absolution can save us, no anathema hurt us, no one can harm us without harming himself.

Our strongest vitality lies in our psychological conception of our Inner God — a man can have no God that is not bounded by his own human conception of God. The wider the sweep of his spiritual and divine powers, the greater will be his God! For, as the sun shines not only when it seems to pass away from the clouds, but has always been radiant even when hidden — so our fate, our chance, our luck lies hidden behind the veil of time, and the causes and results often seem to be obscured by vapors rising from our lower desires.

Putting into practice all the Theosophical teachings which have been so lavishly bestowed upon us, we work with the Law, we ignore phantasies, and we get results. Brushing aside or ignoring our Theosophical heritage and leaving it to chance or fate or luck, we get exactly nowhere — no place —fast. For many, the possibilities of choice become almost limitless, not only because of the complexity of our social life, but even more so because of the complexities of our natures. No one can live satisfactorily unless he has established for himself some scale of values. By doing so, man is using his own free will. He is also making his Karman. He is choosing and willing what he shall do, what he shall be; he is not leaving it to fate, chance, or luck!

What greater stimulus to courage and incentive to valiant exertion than the knowledge that the loftiest ideals, the mightiest powers, the superb beauty of character to which we all aspire, all
are to be found within ourselves? The limitations which so circumscribe our actions are the barriers which we ourselves have wrought by our own actions, thoughts, desires, or inertia. All the beauty the grandeur, the splendor necessary for our unfoldment, for our peace, our perfection, lies within ourselves. The methods used to become ever more at one with the Divine are the actions of our own free will! We who are divine potentiality can truly fashion for ourselves "Temples of Mighty Power."

Wishful thinking gets us exactly nowhere; abstruse metaphysics alone will also get us nowhere; no God outside directs our lives We are imbodied gods — let us make the world know it by our actions. Therefore I shall always look upon Karman as Karman the Blessed, the Stabilizer, the Judge and the Jury — Karman the Sum Total of all our actions and reactions — but always, Karman the Just.


The Theosophical Forum

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