The Path – October 1891

KARMA AND FREE WILL — A. Keightley

Every student of Theosophy is aware that the meaning which is ordinarily given to the Sanskrit word Karma is "Action". Further there is attached to it the kindred idea of "Reaction", and these two meanings, when sufficiently expanded, give a very wide and logical explanation of the action of the Law of Karma as affecting the general life of man. It is only, however, when study is carried deeper that students begin to perceive that men seem to be bound by a "circle of necessity" from which there appears to be no escape; while others declare at first sight that the Law of Karma is but another expression for the Mohammedan "Kismet", and a more or less plausible pleading for the adoption of "fatalism" as affecting mankind. No amount of discussion will serve to convince such persons that the flaw which they think that they have found is no flaw at all, and this is, it would seem, because they have never yet realised that the Law of Karma or "Action" applies not merely to man but to the whole Universe of which man is but a small and insignificant part. Moreover, there arises in the mind of the student another idea which is mistaken. As Mme. Blavatsky has long ago pointed out, Karma is not only Karma-Nemesis or the reaction following upon evil conditions, but it also bears with it the reward for efforts towards good actions. Thus, then, if we regard the Law of Action in its true proportion, we see that it governs the whole Universe, ordering the stars in their courses as well as men in theirs; that, in reality, if we carry the consideration from the moral and physical planes of action to the metaphysical, the statement of the Law of Karma in its entirety is but another expression for the great Law or Principle of which we neither know nor can know anything save that three of its expressions or manifestations are Life, Consciousness, and Motion or action. Consequently the Law of Karma or the Law of Action is also the Law of harmonious action in which action and reaction are balanced and equal. In other words, the Law of Karma is the Law of Harmony in the Universe.

It is only when the Unity of Harmony is separated into its component parts of Tune and Discord or Action and Reaction that we are then able to appreciate the fact of differentiation, and then, being able to choose and therefore responsible, we become the subjects in place of the allies of the great law of harmony divided into its component parts of action and reaction.

Thus Karma is not really opposed to "Free-Will" when Karma is properly understood. It is also true that Free-will has not really received its full meaning. Generally it is understood to mean that a man is absolutely free to choose between two courses of action or the possession of certain qualities in himself, and in fact is a law to himself in every particular. Such a view can and does proceed from selfish, self-centered individuals alone, the product of this age of denial and materialism. It is, however, opposed by all religious systems, and is actually opposed by the practical social work of the most advanced materialist thinkers. It is only one of those attempts which selfish man makes to realise his idea that he is the sum and crown of all nature, and that, if he chooses, everything in nature must be subservient to him. In other words, the one man who follows this idea may be free while all others who come in contact with him must be his slaves. Even if this were possible, there is one enemy which such a man would have to conquer before he became all-powerful, and that enemy is the law of change, and he would have to conquer the great change called death. Therefore, since the laws of nature are stronger than the will or desire of individual, or, rather, personal man, freedom of will is only possible for man when he is in close alliance with nature and her laws.

If we regard nature we can plainly see that, however much we may be able to modify our surroundings, we commence with a certain capital in hand, as does everything from a planet in its orbit to the stone of which that planet is formed. In other words, everything in nature is within what is called the "Circle of Necessity". Everything has had its origin in the one universal principle and acts according to the laws which are inherent in that Principle. These are the natural laws which are universally applicable, and therefore may be called universal or natural law. Upon them depends the very nature of existence, and, whatever may be the appearance which we see, the real nature and essence of everything in the universe depend upon and conform to these laws. Therefore it follows that this "circle of necessity" is the necessity for manifestation arising in the great principle, which, from being unmanifested, becomes manifested during the great periods of time which are called Manvantaras in the Orient. Within this "circle of necessity" — this great general scheme of evolution and development — there are other possibilities. One of these possibilities is that the products of evolution can diverge from the general line; in other words, that while the general manifestation of will and purpose arising in the one great principle is fixed and determined for a certain progress during a certain time, the units of evolution manifesting such will, can, and do vary in the rate of manifestation. That this is the case is particularly seen with the evolution of mental processes. When this point is arrived at in the general scheme, the divergences from the general law become more and more marked. In fact, in the evolution of the animal world the entity known as man has arrived at the age of responsibility, and. having become self-conscious of his relation to his surroundings, has chosen to act for himself and deal with his own actions as seems best to him. He has had the choice before him of either slowly following the general line of the evolution of the animal races strictly according to the line of evolution in the "Circle of Necessity", or he may go beyond and outside of it in a measure by retreating into the more subtle region of his own nature, and so quicken up the processes of manifestation. In the end, however, he finds that this means acting more and more strictly according to the laws of nature. Still, as with light passed through a convex lens, the nearer the approach to the lens or the source of light the less time is found to be required to go over all the rays, and the nearer together they are found to be, so with man's nature. The nearer he gets to the origin of his own being, the greater the intensity of action and reaction resulting from divergence.

Further, through the choice which has been made to quicken up the processes, or by reason of mistakes arising through ignorance or through deliberate errors because they are found to be more pleasing to the external nature of the animal man, habits and customs have sprung up which have an ever-increasing tendency to repeat themselves. Further than this, these habits and customs blind men to the real nature of the customs, and, because they are found to exist in large numbers in common, they are therefore thought to be right. In fact, men bind themselves by these habits and customs, and in this way they limit their free-will. They have made for themselves a false "Circle of Necessity" from which they neither can nor do desire to free themselves. But at the same time a feeling of pride causes them to assert that they are free, and therefore this question of free-will and fatalism causes them to revolt against the Law of Karma. There are many who insist that they are free, and feel themselves to be so until they are brought face to face with nature. By this I do not mean to say that they are swept away in a storm or by any other natural convulsion, but they are brought face to face with facts within their own nature which they are unable to control. They then find that with all their boast of power they are but puny mortals after all, and that the immortal powers exist in nature and themselves in spite of all they can say or do to the contrary.

Thus there is the choice before man in his present existence. Either he has to choose a course of action which is in harmony with the real true laws of nature, or he has to take the opposite course. As a general rule it may be said that the growth of the habits and customs which cause man to take this opposite course is due to ignorance of his own true nature and therefore of nature at large. A slight divergence from the general and natural line of harmony will have a tendency to widen more and more until it is scarcely possible to trace the line in all its windings and deviations. Thus when man finds himself face to face with the retributive and restorative action of the harmonious law, he is apt to be so short-sighted as to cry out against it and say that he has not deserved the punishment. He, as a rule, is totally ignorant of the larger sphere of life provided by the law of moral compensation working through Reincarnation. He is unable and at times unwilling to perceive the dictates of his own real nature, and depends entirely upon external conditions. Therefore his will — his natural will — is fettered by ignorance, and it is his own will that punishes him. The personal man is not free, but the individual man is free to follow the laws of nature, and does so follow them that it places the personal man in the position in which he can correct the faults and error from the law which he has caused. In short, will which is eternally free is identical with Karma, each having its rise in the one great Eternal principle of the Universe. As the Bhagavad Gita states it in Chap. VIII,

"Karma is the emanation which causes the existence * * * of creatures."


The Path

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