Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Laws Inherent in Nature
Law in Nature
Nature's Laws Must Be Universal
"The Nick in the Type"
Agencies Used by Karma
Comments on Chance-Events Based on the Ancient Teachings
Karma and Carelessness
We Make Our Own Destiny
"As Above So Below"
Every Effort Counts
A New Factor Enters
All We Need to Know
Neutralizing or Pre-balancing Karma
Karma and the Problem of Free Will
Character Inclines but Does Not Rule
Power of Choice Inherent in Ego
Not Predestination or Fatalism
Theories of Fatalism
A Non-fatalistic Solution
Freedom of Choice Varies
Free Will a Factor in Evolution
Delayed Effects and Free Will
Dual Aspect of Free Will
Good and Evil
Suffering and Adversity as Teachers
"Good" Karma and "Bad" Karma
Karma and Revenge
"Interfering with Karma"
Karma and Forgiveness of Sin
Karma and Mental Healing
Is It Unfair to Suffer for Forgotten Deeds?
Are Delayed Effects Conductive to Wrong-doing?
Karma-Nemesis, and Karma-the-Friend
Karma and Its Companion Doctrines
Karma and the Single Earth-life Theory
Karma and Scientific Proof
The Strongest Proof for Karma
Karma and the Great Religions
There is an inherent tendency in Nature to restore balance and harmony wherever these have been disturbed.
If the branch of a tree is bent out of position it reacts with an equal and opposite force which will return the branch to its original position when released. If a stone is thrown up into the air it returns to earth with a velocity equal to that with which it was thrown. If a weight is suspended by a rope it produces a tension in the rope equal to the weight, but pulling in the opposite direction.
These are examples on the material plane of an automatic tendency in Nature, which in Mechanics is expressed by the formula: "to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." We see other examples of a tendency in Nature to restore balance in such common phenomena as water resuming its level after it has been disturbed; the air of the atmosphere moving from high pressure areas to those of a lower pressure or a swinging pendulum returning eventually to its position of rest.
The ancient teachings tell us that the same tendency operates throughout the Universe on all its planes, unseen as well as seen. We human beings are also governed by the same law, since we too are parts of Nature. In our innermost essence we are one with the Universal Life. Through this inner source we are united with one another as are the leaves of one tree or the cells and organs of the human body. The natural relationship between human beings is therefore one of harmony and cooperation for the common good. If this harmonious relationship is broken, Nature responds by setting up reactions of a similar kind. Thus if our motives, feelings, thoughts and actions are of a detrimental nature the same will return to us, and if they are of a beneficent nature the reaction will be beneficial. Thus life gives us back what we put into it.
The tendency in Nature to respond to external impulses by producing equivalent reactions is described by phrases such as "The Law of Cause and Effect," "The Law of Consequences," etc. In Hindu philosophy it is referred to by the Sanskrit term "Karma." Since there is no adequate term in Occidental languages to convey this idea, and in order to avoid cumbersome expressions, the Sanskrit term has been adopted in Theosophical literature for this purpose.
Literally translated Karma means "action," but to the Hindu this word has a more comprehensive meaning than it does to an Occidental. To the Hindu the effect is inherent in the cause. He considers that an initial act is only one half of an operation that is not complete until the reaction has taken place. The term Karma therefore includes both the cause and the effect. It is sometimes referred to as a "law," but this should not be understood in its judicial sense as an edict pronounced by some outside authority, but in the scientific sense as a quality inherent in Nature.
Karma is the fundamental law that governs all actions. It is the preserver of equilibrium, the restorer of disturbed balance. It does not punish or reward, it merely adjusts.
In The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, pp. 643-4, H. P. Blavatsky writes:
[T]he only decree of Karma — an eternal and immutable decree is absolute Harmony in the world of matter as it is in the world of Spirit. It is not, therefore, Karma that rewards or punishes, but it is we, who reward or punish ourselves according to whether we work with, through and along with nature, abiding by the laws on which that Harmony depends, or — break them.
. . . . . . . . . .
[V]erily there is not an accident in our lives, not a misshapen day, or a misfortune, that could not be traced back to our own doings in this or in another life. If one breaks the laws of Harmony, . . . one must be prepared to fall into the chaos one has oneself produced.
. . . . . . . . . .
Karma-Nemesis is no more than the (spiritual) dynamical effect of causes produced and forces awakened into activity by our own actions.
The Book of the Golden Precepts* says of Karma:
Learn that no efforts, not the smallest — whether in right or wrong direction — can vanish from the world of causes. Thou canst create this "day" [this life] thy chances for thy "morrow" [future lives]. In the "Great Journey" [cycle of existences] causes sown each hour bear each its harvest of effects, for rigid Justice rules the World. With mighty sweep of never-erring action, it brings to mortals lives of weal or woe, the karmic progeny of all our former thoughts and deeds.
* See The Voice of the Silence by H. P. Blavatsky which is a translation of some of these precepts.
If we study Nature we find that its forces, wherever we have been able to subject these to rigid tests, obey definite laws.
Thus for instance the laws governing the force of gravitation have long since been established. Many laws governing electricity, magnetism, chemical reactions, heat, light, sound and radiation phenomena are also known. The movements of suns and planets are found to follow laws of physics. Other examples could be cited. In all these instances it has been found that Nature's reactions are consistent and that experiments conducted under the same conditions will always produce the same effects.
All scientific efforts might be said to be directed towards the discovery of new phenomena in Nature, the forces that produce these, and the laws that govern these forces. All this effort is based on the firm conviction that natural phenomena must be based on immutable laws, which, though as yet unknown, are only waiting to be discovered. Every research scientist, by his labor, demonstrates his belief that all phenomena in Nature must be governed by law.
In the world of ideas, we can also see how effect follows cause. This is strikingly demonstrated in the case of mathematics, where every successive step from the simplest arithmetic up to the highest branches of this science is based on facts previously established. A proposition in geometry is demonstrated by a rigid chain of deduction, fact following from other facts, previously demonstrated. Mathematics might be said to be the "measuring stick" by which knowledge gathered in other fields is "measured," for one of the common steps in interpreting experimental data, is to see if these can be reduced to mathematical formulas.
But what about the vast number of phenomena in Nature that we have so far been unable to subject to rigid tests? And what about the experiences of human life, that so vitally affect each one of us human beings in our individual lives, and in our relations with Nature and with our fellow men?
Shall we assume that these phenomena belong to a different class from those that we know to be governed by Nature's laws? Shall we assume that they are haphazard events of chance — or shall we recognize that these phenomena must also conform to definite laws, even though we have not as yet discovered these laws? The main obstacle to an acceptance of law in these cases, lies in the fact that we are unable to trace the workings of such laws. But is our failure to do this sufficient reason to conclude that these phenomena are the result of chance?
There are phenomena that were unknown or unexplained to our forefathers, that are known and understood by us today.
There are phenomena that are unknown and unexplained to large sections of the human race today, but these same phenomena are known and understood by other, more educated people.
If our forefathers in the past and the less educated people of today, being unable to explain these phenomena, had concluded that they were the results of chance, we know that such a conclusion would have been an error of judgment, for our scientists have proved that these phenomena are governed by laws of Nature.
If phenomena that were not understood in the past, have yielded to scientific investigation and are now understood, is it not reasonable to suppose that other phenomena, not understood by us, will similarly yield to future investigations and be found to follow definite laws? Can there be any doubt that Nature's laws are universal and that if some of her phenomena are known to be governed by law, all of them must be?
May it not be true that phenomena unexplained to us, are understood by others more evolved than we are? This is indeed the case according to the Masters of Wisdom, who have evolved beyond the human stage. They are able to transfer their consciousness to the unseen planes of Nature and they tell us from this vantage point, that every phenomenon in Nature is the result of the operation of some law of Nature, and that in those cases, where the chain of causation cannot be followed on the outer physical plane, it exists and can be traced on the inner planes of Nature.
The forces of Nature act automatically and with precision regardless of whether they are seen and understood or not. It is like a person working an adding machine. The mechanism is hidden under the hood and the operator may not understand the principle on which it works, but for each key pressed the corresponding number is added to the column of previous numbers. When the button is pressed that gives the sum-total, the operator knows that all figures have been included and that the sum is correctly added up.
So it is with Man in his relationship with Nature and his fellow men. The sway of Karma is complete, and it is futile for us to try to escape the consequences of our acts, for we carry the seeds of these with us in our inner nature wherever we go. In due time we shall reap what we have sowed. If it was evil, the harvest will be evil, but nothing evil will come to us that we have not sowed; only that which is justly due, no more and no less. — And if the seed was good, the harvest will be good also. It cannot be kept back; it will come to us whether we seek it or not. We do not have "to fight for our rights." Karma will do that for us. But we cannot receive any benefits that we have not earned. If we seek to do so, they shall in due time have to be returned to the one to whom they justly belong.
If a stone is thrown up into the air it will fall to the ground in a few seconds. The impetus given to it by the hand that throws it, imparts energy to the stone. While the stone moves through the air, this energy remains unexpended. When the stone hits the ground its inherent energy is expended in producing some sort of effect where it strikes.
We see then that there are three steps involved in an act:
1) The originating impulse ("the throwing of the stone"),
2) The lapse of time between cause and effect ("the stone in the air") and
3) The effect produced when the energy in the stone expends itself, ("the stone strikes the ground").
1) is "Karma in the making";
2) is unbalanced Karma "suspended" or "stored" as it were, awaiting its opportunity to be balanced;
3) is Karma in the process of being balanced.
It may avoid confusion to note that the term Karma is sometimes used in a special sense as in the expression that "someone is working off a lot of unpleasant Karma." In that case the term does not refer to the complete three-step process outlined above, but only to the accumulated and latent energy of step 2) being transmuted into the active energy of step 3).
When the stone was thrown up into the air and allowed to fall without interference, the interval of time between cause and effect lasted only a few seconds. But suppose that at the apex of its travel, the stone landed on the roof of some building. It would then be prevented from continuing its journey and its stored energy would remain latent. The stone may remain on that roof for years, possibly even centuries, before someone accidentally pushes it over the edge, but when this happens, the stone resumes its fall and when it strikes the ground, the effect will be the same as it would have been if it had fallen immediately. The length of the time period had no influence on the final effect. The same principle applies to a compressed spring. The exact amount of energy used in compressing it will be released when the spring is freed, regardless of the length of time it was under compression.
In human affairs there is also a lapse of time between action and reaction that may vary from zero to many years, perhaps a life-time or even more. It is this delay that causes so many to think that the effect may never come, just as the man who threw the stone that landed on the roof may walk off and forget the incident without realizing that sometime in the future the effect from his act must follow.
Whenever Man thinks, feels or acts, a change is made in the invisible part of his nature; a psycho-magnetic force is generated that henceforth irresistibly draws the man to those circumstances where the balancing of the act can and will take place. Thus Man himself is the link between his act and the effect that must follow. Man is a storehouse of forces and energies of his own making, each one the result of some former act, and each one awaiting its turn to be balanced. As the magnet picks out the iron filings and leaves the sand, so will each one of these unbalanced forces attract its own counterpart.
In this connection there comes to mind a principle of selection employed in a machine which the writer saw in a printing establishment some years ago, one where printing was done with individual, loose type, a separate one for each letter to be printed. After printing, all this type had to be sorted out and each one placed in its proper pocket for use the next day. This sorting was done by a "distributing machine" through which all the type had to pass. Each type had a notch or nick of a certain shape cut in its edge and located at a certain height, all different for different letters. As the type passed through the intricate system of passages of the distributing machine, they all sooner or later passed by a slot which had a projection corresponding to the nick in the type and this nick led the type to its proper destination.
When Man thinks or acts, he makes a "nick" in the invisible part of his nature, which he henceforward carries with him. As he passes through life he will face many experiences, but he will be deeply affected only by those that correspond to the "nick in the type" of his own inner nature.
The fact that the "nick in the type" is invisible should not be surprising, since the thought or feeling that led to the act is also invisible. For those who have developed their inner faculties, thoughts and feelings are visible for they have form and substance on their own planes, the Ancient Wisdom tells us.
Heredity and Environment.
Karma uses many different agencies for the accomplishment of its purposes. Two such media are heredity and environment.
When a soul or Ego is ready to return to incarnated life all the old ties that linked it to other Egos in the past begin to assert themselves, and the strongest of these will attract the Ego to that family circle with which it has most in common. The incoming Ego will therefore be drawn to those parents that are more or less similar to itself, at least in some respects. The consequence of this inner similarity often reflects itself in a similarity in outward appearance. But since the inner similarity is not complete in all its details, there are also differences in outward appearance.
The characteristics of the incoming Ego are due to its own former thoughts and deeds, i.e., its Karma. It is therefore Karma that determines our family connections and with this our heredity. The sequence, therefore, is not that children are like their parents because they are born together, but that they come to their parents because they are similar to them in character. It is a case of "Birds of a feather flock together." They flock together because they are inherently alike; they do not become alike by flocking together.
Whereas love, similarity of character, common interests are the factors that usually draw the Ego to its future family, there can also be other forces at work. Souls may be drawn together in order to work out some unsolved problem; to settle some old Karmic score. A wayward soul may be given an opportunity to redeem itself by being drawn to a good family, while at the same time its presence there acts as a spur for the development of patience and charity on the part of the rest of the family. Similarly a relatively advanced soul may choose to incarnate in a backward family for its own discipline while at the same time the other members of this family can profit by the presence, of a helpful influence in their midst.
If similarity between parents and children were due solely to heredity, it should be uniform and consistent, but this is not the case. Children may be like their parents in some respects, but differ widely from them in other ways. Children in the same family also show great differences in characteristics even though they have identical ancestry. A case is known of so called identical twins, where one was an albino with milky white skin and hair and reddish eyes, while the other had black hair and dark eyes like both parents.
Geniuses are sometimes born in families with just ordinary intellectual development, and idiots have been born to highly intellectual parents.
Napoleon showed an ability and genius completely lacking in his parents and among his many brothers and sisters. The musical ability of Bach gradually faded out from his family line.
Those who claim that our innate characteristics are caused by our heredity point to similarities, but ignore differences. A satisfactory theory must explain both. Since heredity fails to do this it is evident that the cause of our inherent characteristics lies deeper than the simple transfer of qualities from parents to children.
The ordinary theory of heredity also introduces problems of injustice and responsibility, which it fails to solve. Why should one child be handicapped by an unfavorable heredity, while another is aided by a favorable one? How can anyone be held responsible for his acts if his characteristics are determined by his parents and not by himself ? Parents in their turn can shift the responsibility to grandparents and so on ad infinitum. Ultimately none would be responsible for any action. The criminal could then excuse his crime by blaming it on his heredity. No organized society could endure if this view of heredity were applied in courts of law.
The difficulty with the ordinary theory of heredity is that it endeavors to explain Man's inherent characteristics on the basis of a single earthlife. The problems of heredity cannot be solved unless we recognize the doctrine of reincarnation. Seen in the light of repeated existences all difficulties vanish. The Soul, the Ego, has lived before and its present characteristics are the results of its former actions. Heredity, therefore, is an effect, not a cause. It is one of the means used by Karma to bring to Man the effects of causes he sowed in previous lives. There is no injustice in the process and each one is himself responsible for what he is, and what he does.
Our environment like our heredity is the effect of our former thoughts and deeds. At birth we are drawn to such circumstances and surroundings as we made for ourselves in our past lives or to an environment where unbalanced Karma can be balanced. Environment like heredity is one of Karma's most effective working tools.
Environment is another thorn of injustice if seen from the viewpoint of a single earth-life, but is recognized as a just balancing of effects if viewed in the light of reincarnation.
When we say that an event "happens by chance" we mean either that it happens without cause or that the cause was not apparent. Used in the former sense the expression is self-contradictory, for an event can not be produced by a "cause" that by definition is no cause. There is no such thing as chance, if by chance we mean that events happen without cause. Every event in human life, from the most commonplace to the most strange and unusual is governed by the Law of Karma.
But if we use the word "chance" in its second sense it becomes a convenient term to describe events whose cause is concealed from us.
In many events the delay between cause and effect is brief. We can therefore see the connection between the two and it is easy to recognize the operation of Karma.
In the case of other events including those referred to as accidents, strokes of luck or misfortunes, chance, etc., there may be a long time period between cause and effect. In these the effect is seen, but not the cause. The Ancient Wisdom tells us that all such events are the delayed effects of causes sowed earlier in this life, or perhaps in a previous incarnation and long since forgotten. When the time is ripe for the balancing of these causes "the nick in the type" of the individual's own inner nature leads him into trouble or saves him from it. The strange outward circumstances are the means used by Karma to accomplish its ends.
Illustrations of such events are given below. They are all actual cases reported in newspapers and magazines.
Danger in Security -- The home should be a safe place, but the National Safety Council reports that for one year out of 88,000 fatal accidents in the U.S., 28,000 or nearly 32% occurred in the home.
A man was seated on the front porch of his home. A speeding car picked up a pebble from some gravel on the street and threw it 80 feet, with the speed of a bullet, striking the man in the forehead and killing him.
Another man had difficulty in getting his foot into a shoe. He gave an exasperated yank, lost his balance and fell. The resultant skull fracture killed him.
A man, who had to leave his car behind on account of a flat tire, started walking to the nearest town. In order to be safe from being struck by passing cars he walked on the outside of a row of trees growing along the highway. A car trying to pass a truck got out of control, passed between two trees and struck the pedestrian, who was hospitalized.
Safety in Danger -- A man plunged safely over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but broke his neck slipping on an orange peel.
A professional parachute jumper, who had made 2226 leaps from planes and balloons without injury, was hospitalized after a tumble from the back of a parked truck.
A lady flier once fell 3,000 feet in her plane and escaped unhurt, but suffered a broken nose and other injuries when her bed collapsed in a hotel.
Narrow Escapes -- In an explosion in a Texas school where 413 children lost their lives, one girl leaned under her desk to pick up a piece of paper just as the blast let go. The desk shielded her from falling debris.
Just as a man drove his automobile onto a three-track railroad crossing, he saw a train bearing down on him. Thinking it was on the farthest of the three tracks, he jammed his foot on the brake. But his foot slipped, struck the accelerator and the car leaped forward to the outside track. The locomotive grazed the rear of the car, since the train actually was on the center track, on which the driver had intended to stop.
Singular Rescues -- An automobile mechanic was overcome by carbon monoxide gas, while repairing the heater in a closed car. He slumped forward in such a position that his chin hit the horn button. Friends came to his rescue.
A British submarine had been lying on the bottom of the ocean two days and the crew expected certain death. The captain led them in singing the well-known hymn "Abide With Me." Sleeping tablets were then distributed to calm the nerves of the sailors. One of them fainted soon afterwards and fell against an apparatus that set the air mechanism in motion, whereupon the submarine came up to the surface and headed for shore. All on board were rescued.
Kept from Danger -- A high school boy, busy helping his father in the grocery store, just missed the school bus speeding by. He tried to hail it, but was left behind. The bus was struck by a freight train. Twenty-two of his school mates and the driver were killed.
A man, traveling with his wife and baby in the desert country of Arizona, stopped briefly to do some work on his car. A little later he came to the usually dry bed of a stream-crossing to see three other machines, just ahead of his own, swept away by a flashflood, caused by a cloudburst, that struck without warning.
A mother used to take her four year old child for a swing in the lawn-hammock every day after dinner, but one day the mother was too busy and told the girl to go alone. The girl, however, preferred to wait inside until the mother was ready to come. A few minutes later a crash was heard and when the mother looked out into the back yard she found that a windmill and water tank, located in a neighbor's yard, and weighing many tons, had collapsed and the hammock where mother and girl used to swing was buried under heavy timber and debris.
Blessings in Disguise -- A girl injured her spine falling down stairs and as a consequence lost the use of both legs. Doctors held out little hope for recovery. Five years later a truck ran into the carriage in which she was being wheeled to a theater. After the shock her condition began to improve and after a few months she was able to walk unaided.
A woman, who had become deaf from an ear infection, had her hearing restored three months later by the shock she received when her house was struck by lightning.
A fifteen year old boy suffered a leg infection after a soccer game injury, and could not walk without crutches. A year later he was kicked by a horse and this drove to the surface a bone chip which x-rays had failed to disclose. After this was removed the leg healed and the crutches were discarded.
So far -- but no farther -- A man, who was working near an ice saw, got his overalls entangled dragging his leg into the machinery. The saw cut off the leg, twisted the overalls into a powerful tourniquet and then jammed. The man lay helpless for an hour, the twisted clothing cutting off the flow of blood and saving his life.
A man was "hanged" for a crime he did not commit, but the rope slipped and he did not die. Later the real murderer confessed and the innocent man was saved.
A teacher who had been blind for 18 years, slowly and without any apparent cause regained her sight.
Appointment with Death -- During the bombardment of a city a business man grabbed his money and dashed off to the country in his automobile, because a house near him was bombed. Miles away he was blown to pieces by a bomb.
In an earthquake an office worker had to pass through the machine room of a laundry to reach the street. The building collapsed and the woman was killed. If she had remained in the office she would have been unharmed, for that building was not damaged.
Karma strikes or Karma saves -- A gas explosion under a city street sent a heavy cast iron manhole cover five stories into the air, crashing through an elevator skylight, falling down the shaft and into the elevator, killing one passenger, but leaving the other three unhurt.
In the eruption of Mt. Pelee on Martinique on May 8, 1902, the city of St. Pierre was destroyed and all its inhabitants killed except one. A prisoner, held in the city jail, was the sole survivor.
Immunity to Disease -- Some people, who are constantly exposed to contagion, do not contract disease, while others who are not so exposed, and who may use every means to protect themselves, may be stricken with it.
Accident-prone Individuals -- Accidents are not uniformly distributed through the population. Statistics on this subject show that accidents in any group of individuals are mainly due to a very small number of accident-prone persons. This proneness to accidents is a relatively stable individual quality.
Circumstances do not explain -- It is evidently impossible to explain these events as effects of the outward circumstances under which they happen, for the outcome is frequently the opposite to what should be expected under these circumstances. The home should be a safe place, but it may not be. Slipping on an orange peel should be less dangerous than going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A fall of three or four feet off a parked truck should he less likely to cause injury than thousands of parachute jumps, but it was not.
The Cause must be in the Individual -- Why is it that under the same circumstances different individuals fare differently? In the Texas school explosion where hundreds were killed, one who was in the midst of it escaped. The same happened in the Mt. Pele eruption where many thousands were killed; one who was in the center of the destroyed city was saved.
When we add to this the fact, furnished us by accident statistics, that certain individuals are much more subject to accidents than the average, does it not become apparent that the real cause for what happens must be inherent in the individual himself rather than in the circumstances?
No place is safe if it is our Karma to be hurt, as shown by accidents in the home.
Seeking safety may lead us into danger as was the case with the man who put a row of trees between himself and the highway, the woman who sought safety from the earthquake and the man who fled the bomb.
No danger will bring us harm if we are not due to be harmed, as shown in the case of the school girl in the gas explosion and the prisoner in the eruption of Mt. Pelee.
Karma strikes when our time is up, but not before. The parachute jumper and the man who rode over Niagara Falls both had some more time due them and escaped a greater danger only to be overtaken by a lesser one when their time was up.
We may be brought to the brink of disaster and death may seem inevitable, but Karma will provide an escape if we are due to be saved, as was the crew of the submarine, the man who fainted with his chin on the horn button and the man who was "hanged."
When our own effort to save ourselves would have brought us death as in the case of the man crossing the three railroad tracks, Karma intervenes, if we are to be spared, and, causing us to make what we think is a false step, saves our life.
We may be kept from danger by circumstances that we object to at the time, but later find were the means of saving our lives, as happened to the boy who missed the school bus, the driver who was delayed and escaped the flash-flood, and the mother and child who were unable to take their usual swing in the hammock.
When we have exhausted the measure of suffering due us, Karma finds ways and means to bring relief, means that may seem harsh, but bring the desired results as in the case of the invalid whose carriage collided with a truck, the woman whose hearing was restored by a stroke of lightning, and the boy whose infection was cleared up as an indirect result of being kicked by a horse. Or Karma may use means that are less spectacular as in the case of the school teacher, whose eyesight returned after 18 years of blindness.
Serious misfortunes may be due us, but not the loss of life, and Karma brings us the one without the other, as it did to the man who lost his leg in the ice saw, but was saved from bleeding to death. And if we are due to lose our life, death may overtake us in the most unexpected manner, as it did with the man in the elevator killed by the flying manhole cover.
We may have in our system germs of many dangerous diseases, but they are powerless to hurt us unless it is our Karma to contract the disease.
What is due us will come to us, whether good or bad. What is not due us will pass us by. The "accidents" and "chance events" of life as well as heredity and environment are tools used by Karma in balancing old and forgotten causes.
The Arabs illustrate the futility of trying to escape one's destiny with the following story:
Omar, the merchant, had been foretold that he would meet death on a certain day at 7 o'clock in the evening. When the day arrived he mounted his fastest horse and rode all day into the desert to find a safe hiding place. Just before 7 o'clock he reached an oasis and threw himself exhausted on the ground, congratulating himself at having found a safe refuge. Looking around he saw someone else lying under some trees nearby and got up to investigate. The stranger asked him: "Are you Omar, the merchant?" On receiving an affirmative answer, he continued: "I was told to meet you here at 7 o'clock. I was beginning to think that you would be late, but I see that you are just on time. I am Death; now let us go."
The real causes of accidents and other "chance-events" can not be explained on the basis of a single earth life, but are easily recognized when man's repeated earth lives are taken into account.
If our destiny is inescapable is it any use to exercise carefulness in our actions?
Nature can always be trusted to balance Karma in the most merciful way consistent with Justice. When we are careless or reckless, we may interfere with Nature's plan. We are then challenging our Karma and may thereby bring down on ourselves an avalanche of effects that was not scheduled to come until later in life. If left to Nature we might have been given more time and been better prepared to face this experience when it had to come. We should take such precautions as common sense dictates, knowing that if we are not karmically connected with an impending event, these precautions will be effective. Excessive precautions will not save us from our destiny and may instead lead us into a situation where this destiny can be fulfilled as shown by the examples cited.
If our carelessness affects others it may hasten their Karma and force them to meet it when they are unprepared. The fact that we have caused injury to others by our carelessness makes us karmically liable to injury by the carelessness of others. We have sowed a harmful seed, which we eventually shall have to reap.
If instead of being careless we are solicitous for the welfare of others, we generate a helpful force that protects them so that their Karma may be balanced according to Nature's plan instead of being precipitated out of season.
We ourselves determined what our destiny was to be by our own thoughts, feelings and acts in former lives and herein lies the key to our future destiny. We cannot change our past actions and must reap the effects of these, but we can make the future brighter and happier by our present thoughts and acts.
Man is a free agent and can set new causes in motion. The motives for his actions can be inspired by his higher principles or by his personal desires. As explained earlier, the Human Ego stands as it were between these two opposing poles of its nature and has the power to choose one or the other. The impulses from the higher side of man's nature come from his spiritual source, which is the source of all life, and these impulses are therefore always of an altruistic nature. It is these impulses that should be the motives of all our actions and if followed we can never go wrong. Our actions will then be helpful to others and never injurious to ourselves.
The spiritual unity and spiritual origin of all men is the basis for the ethical teachings that have been given to men by all great Teachers of the past. They are embodied in the Sermon on the Mount and epitomized in The Golden Rule. When we do unto others as we would have others do unto us, we need not give any thought to the consequences that will follow. Karma will take care of these and our future lives will not be marred by tragedies and misfortunes.
But unfortunately we are not all capable of living up to the high ideals of the Golden Rule. We have in former existences yielded to the selfish impulses of our lower nature with the result that these are now strong and crowd out the higher motives. And when we follow the lower impulses friction and strife are the result, leading in many cases to accidents and disasters in future incarnations. Thus we make our own destiny and bring upon ourselves the tragedies that we so bitterly complain of later.
We are unable to follow the operations of Karma on inner, invisible planes, but they can be observed on the material plane. We can then apply these observations to other planes if we make use of the ancient principle known as the Hermetic axiom: "As above, so below." According to this the small mirrors the great; the lower reflects the higher and what happens on higher planes has its counterpart on lower planes, making due allowance for the different characteristics of the different planes. We see an application of this principle in the similarity that exists between the structure of the solar system and the structure of the atom.
The Hermetic axiom in its turn is based on the oneness of all life. Since the same One Life manifests on all planes of Nature, but under different aspects, it is but natural that the same laws should govern on all these planes.
A few examples showing how the Law of Cause and Effect works in the material world should therefore illustrate how this Law operates on other planes of Nature.
In ordinary money matters it is possible to repay a debt before it is due, and it is considered fair and proper to repay it either in a lump-sum or "on the installment plan" — a little at a time. But we can become indebted to others in many different ways besides borrowing money from them. If the case is comparable to a money debt, however, it seems fair to assume that it can be repaid in advance and either all at once or a little at a time.
We learn from Physics that two equal and opposite forces neutralize each other and their combined effect is zero. If one of the forces is larger than the other the effect will equal the difference between the two and will act in the direction of the larger force. Thus in the world of human relations, if we call such actions as will bring happiness, peace and well-being to others and to ourselves "meritorious," and those that bring unhappiness, strife and suffering to others and to oneself "de-meritorious," and compare these two activities to the action of physical forces, it becomes apparent that such actions might counteract each other and leave a net result of zero, or a balance of merit or demerit, whichever predominates.
Or if we are engaged in business and charge more for our goods or services than they are worth we are doing an injustice to our fellow men. We put an extra burden on them, by whatever amount we have overcharged them, and in due time Karma will balance this by making us the victims of profiteering by others. We shall then have to pay back what we gained unduly.
We do not know how much of this or a similar nature we may have done in the past, but whatever it is, we shall have to make it up. We cannot reach each one of our victims individually to make restitution for we do not know who they are, or where they are. If we want to remedy the harm we have done, we must start a series of actions of an opposite nature and in a general way act so as to serve our fellow men without seeking selfish gain in return. By doing this we prebalance our Karma instead of waiting until Karma collects the debt we owe.
The illustration was taken from the field of commerce, but the principle applies to any human activity. We might be remiss in our mental attitude to others; we might be sulky and temperamental when we should be pleasant and even-tempered. We might be critical and cynical when we should be kindly and appreciative. We might have erred in a hundred different ways in our relations with our fellow men, but whatever may be the nature of our demeritorious acts we should start meritorious acts of an opposite nature to balance the former.
As another example we know that on the material plane we are affected by the forces of Nature, but we are not governed or enslaved by them. We cannot interfere with these forces in the sense of making them inoperative, but we can overcome their effect by interposing other and stronger counteracting forces.
The force of gravitation, for instance, tends to keep us on the ground, and if we want to get from the first to the second floor of a building, we have to overcome this force. We do this by interposing a muscular force that is stronger than that of gravitation.
If there were no stairway available, few would be able to make the ascent, but there is nothing to stop us from building a stairway and making the climb step by step — "on the installment plan."
If we want to get back to the ground floor, we can get there by jumping, in which case we might incur a serious injury, or we can use the stairway and thereby overcome the effect of the gravitational force by a number of small muscular resistance efforts. Throughout all this we were under the influence of the force of gravitation, but this did not prevent us from accomplishing our purpose.
If we can thus overcome a force on the material plane, it should be possible to overcome unexpended karmic force in any field by interposing another and opposite force in this same field.
A stone placed on one pan of a scale may keep this down for a long time, but a fine trickle of sand continuously pouring on the other pan will in time balance and then outweigh the stone. In the beginning it seemed as though the sand had no effect for the stone remained unmoved, then, suddenly, it is lifted. And so it is with our own actions. We do not know how big our "stone," our accumulation of demerit, may be, and we may have to wait a long time before the results of our efforts will become apparent. But as every grain of sand did its part towards outweighing the stone, so every effort at self-improvement, even the smallest, counts, and if continued, the time will come when all demerit will be balanced.
In every field of karmic guilt, meritorious action will introduce a new and beneficent force that will affect the result for the better.
The action can be compared to a ball thrown through the air. If there is no wind, the distance the ball will travel is governed by two factors: the impulse given to it by the hand and the force of gravitation.
If a wind is blowing, a new factor enters, that will change the result. If the ball moves against the wind, its travel will be shortened; if it moves with the wind its travel will be lengthened.
In either case the original impulse, given to the ball by the thrower, had its full effect. In case of the adverse wind, however, part of the impulse was absorbed in overcoming the wind resistance, with the net result that the ball travel was shortened.
In the case where the ball travels with the wind, none of the original impulse is dissipated, and the effect of the wind is to increase the ball's travel.
If we apply this principle to human actions, and for the purpose of illustration consider that the direction in which the ball is thrown represents de-meritorious action, then the adverse wind would represent meritorious action.
As the adverse wind reduced the ball travel, so would the meritorious action counteract at least a part of the demerit and make the net effect less unfavorable than it would have been if no effort at counteraction had been made. It is conceivable that a hurricane might even reverse the direction of the ball's travel.
Karma is such a vast and intricate subject that it would require super-human intelligence to understand how it works in all its various applications. But such detailed knowledge is not necessary in order to understand its application in daily life. All we really need to know is that we shall reap what we have sowed, all that we have sowed and nothing that we did not sow.
With this idea firmly in mind it is easy to see the folly of all wrongdoing, of all action that brings suffering and injury to others. It is also plain that if we apply the Golden Rule to our actions, the harvest will be beneficial to others and to ourselves and there will be no unfavorable balance that we shall have to make up later. From that time onward, life will take on a brighter and happier aspect.
If an individual through former thoughts and deeds has built undesirable qualities into his character, he need not accept this condition with a negative, fatalistic attitude. Instead of allowing these tendencies to remain in his nature, he can take a positive attitude and, with proper counteraction, do much to modify his character for the better.
Some of the Ancient Teachings that touch on this subject follow:
Measures taken by an Ego to repress tendency, eliminate defects, and to counteract by setting up different causes, will alter the sway of Karmic tendency and shorten its influence in accordance with the strength or weakness of the efforts expended in carrying out the measures adopted.
The effects [of Karma] may be counteracted or mitigated by the thoughts and acts of oneself or another, and then the resulting effects represent the combination and interaction of the whole number of causes involved in producing the effects. — "Aphorisms an Karma." Originally published in The Path magazine, March 1893.
What might be called the doctrine of the nullification of Karma is an application in this department of the well-known law in physics which causes an equilibrium when two equal forces oppose each other. A man may have in his Karmic account a very unpleasant cause and at the same time a cause of opposite character. If these come together for expression at the same time they may so counteract each other as that neither will be apparent and the equilibrium is the equivalent of both. In this way it is easy to understand the Biblical verse: "Charity covers a multitude of sins," as referring to the palliative effect of charitable deeds as opposed to deeds of wickedness, and giving a reason for the medieval knight devoting some of the years of his life to alms-giving. — From Echoes from the Orient, by Wm. Q. Judge, p. 48.
Karmic causes may interfere with each other and produce a result in our life which, while similar to neither cause, will be the proper resultant of both. It may also be exhausted by two opposite Karmic causes meeting each other and thus destroying the effect of each. — From an address by Wm. Q. Judge, delivered at the Convention of the Theosophical Society in Chicago, April 27-28, 1890, and reprinted in The Theosophical Forum, Dec. 1943 p. 551.
The nature of each incarnation depends upon the balance as struck of the merit and demerit of the previous life or lives upon the way in which the man has lived and thought; and this law is inflexible and wholly just. — From An Epitome of Theosophy by Wm. Q. Judge, p. 24.
[Every minute portion of Karma need not] be felt in the same detail as when produced, for several sorts of Karma may come to a head together at one point in life, and, by their combined effect, produce a result which, while, as a whole, accurately representing all the elements in it, still is a different Karma from each single component part. This may be known as the nullification of the postulated effect of the classes of Karma involved. — Ibid., pp. 25f.
We can trust Nature to administer our Karma to us in the most merciful way consistent with Justice, and when we are best able to receive it. We would therefore do well to face Karma when it comes and get through with it, for whatever we endure now is that much less to be endured in the future.
If we seek to dodge it and succeed in doing so temporarily, it will return at a later time, when it may coincide with some other Karma, thus adding to the burden of the latter.
One individual may be strong enough to bear up under a heavy blow that would crush a weaker character. But as "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," so the second individual may receive his Karma through a series of little trials, one after another. Thus Karma can be distributed over a longer or shorter period, but the sum total of retributive Karma must balance the initial act.
Major accidents, such as trainwrecks and shipwrecks, plane crashes, fires, floods, earthquakes, etc., are cases where large numbers of individuals are drawn together because they have similar Karma to work off. Every participant has by his former acts created such Karma as will result in a serious accident or even the loss of life. The "nick in the type" of all these individuals is similar and this similarity psychomagnetically draws them together to that place and those circumstances where their former deeds can be balanced.
Group-Karma is therefore no different from individual Karma. If the individuals concerned had not met their destiny in a group, they would have met it sooner or later in separate accidents.
Epidemics that wipe out vast numbers of the population and famines that may affect large portions of the human race are also cases of individual Karma suffered collectively.
Nations like individuals have their life cycle. In the beginning they are strong and vigorous, then follows a period of maturity and finally disintegration and decay. They also have their Karma depending on how they have acted as nations in the past. If they have been aggressive and by brute force subjugated their weaker neighbors they will in their turn meet the same fate. The Egos that make up that nation incarnate again together, perhaps in the same nation after this has grown old and decrepit, or perhaps in another nation under a new name. This nation will now become the victim of its stronger neighbor and thus reap what it had sowed in the past.
Every individual is drawn to that nation to which he properly belongs by similarity of characteristics and by past association. National Karma as well as all other group Karma is therefore ultimately based on the Karma of its individual members.
* Writers on this subject point out that the expression "free will" is not descriptive of the real problem. They generally agree that man is free to use or not to use his will in an effort to satisfy some desire, but he is not free to choose what that desire shall be. This is pre-determined by the character with which he has been endowed. Since the desire governs the will, the problem becomes: "Is man free to choose his desires?" rather than: "Is he free to use his will?" The expression "free will" has been retained here since the problem is popularly referred to by that term.
"Behind will stands desire" said the Ancient Hermetists and behind or above desire is the Ego, the conscious entity experiencing the desire.
Will is a universal, impersonal, colorless force devoid of moral qualities. It is the desire that motivates the will, that determines its nature or moral quality.
The will is a driving power used by an Ego to control and direct its energies to accomplish a desired purpose. The will exists on all planes and the higher the plane, the more powerful is the will. It is possessed in greater or less degree by all entities.
"I want" is not the same as "I will." "I want" is the same as "I desire." "I will" when I strive to obtain the object of my desire.
We often hear it said of an ambitious or aggressive individual who plows through all resistance in order to attain some desired goal, that he has "a strong will," but since the "quantum" of will used depends on the strength of the desire behind the will, it would he more appropriate to say that such an individual has "strong desires."
Taking a Second Thought.
"Think twice before you speak" (or act) is an ancient rule.
When we "think once" it is our desire using the lower mind to accomplish its purpose without giving the Ego a chance to exert its influence. The Ego was then dominated by the desire.
If we stop "to take a second thought," the Ego has time to call the higher mind into action. It can then examine the desire and decide on how to act. If it decides favorably, the Ego draws upon the will and directs it to accomplish the desired objective. In this case the Ego was the determining factor rather than the desire.
* Much that is said here is explained by Chapter IV, especially the sections dealing with the Human Ego, Mind, Moods and Character Building.
The desires that motivate man's will come from various sources within his complex nature and are of many different kinds. Some come from the organs of the body; others from the emotional nature or the mind. These are more or less connected with the comforts and pleasures of the Personality. Still others come to man from his Higher Nature. These concern his responsibilities and duties towards others and are of a broader, more altruistic type. These two types of desires naturally conflict with one another.
The active, experiencing entity, the Human Ego, stands midway between the higher and lower principles of the human constitution and feels the contrasting impulses to action from these two sides of its nature. The same individual at one time experiences a certain desire and at another time one of an opposite nature; sometimes he experiences both simultaneously.
When the Ego repeatedly yields to a lower impulse, this grows ever stronger and eventually becomes habitual. Due to lack of self-analysis the Ego has identified itself with the impulse and temporarily surrendered its power of control. When this point is reached the Ego automatically yields to the desire whenever this presents itself. The desire then uses the will to accomplish its purpose and the Ego negatively submits.
When the Ego has come to a realization that it is not identical with its thoughts or desires, it will no longer yield automatically to every thought or desire that presents itself. When confronted with conflicting desires it will instead examine them and weigh and pass judgement on them before choosing.
We know that different individuals react differently when confronted by divergent impulses, for each one is inclined in a certain direction by the qualities inherent in his character.
As an illustration let us assume the following case. Three individuals, whose daily duties are of a monotonous uninteresting nature, are unexpectedly offered an opportunity to go on an extended pleasure trip or some other amusement that would take them away from their duties and might involve the loss of their positions and incomes.
The first individual might act on the spur of the moment and accept the opportunity without considering the consequences. The desire of his personal nature for pleasure was so strong that it brushed aside the call of duty, and the Ego, being accustomed to identify itself with its desire, submits and fails to use its power of choice.
The second individual feels the same desire for pleasure as the first and the same call of duty, but after a moment's deliberation, he declines the opportunity for pleasure and sticks to his duty instead. In his case the sense of duty was so much stronger than the desire for pleasure that it naturally overruled the latter, and it required little effort by the Ego to make its choice.
The third individual is also aware of the same opposing impulses as were felt by the other two. He feels both, but he is not dominated by either. He looks beyond the present moment to the final effect of his action. He takes time to listen to the voice of conscience that whispers to him about his duties to his family and to his fellow men. He weighs and compares the pros and cons before he decides what to do. He hesitates, leaning now to one side, then to the other. He has come to a parting of the road. He cannot proceed unless he makes a choice. He cannot travel both roads. He must choose one or the other. And he does choose.
Let us suppose that the two opposing attractions are exactly equal, for there must be such a case, since either of them may be stronger than the other. If then the two attractions are equally strong, and since a choice has to be made and is made, the power to choose must be inherent in the Ego and not in the attractions. And if the Ego has the power to choose when the attractions are equal, it also has the power to choose when they are not equal. A change in the attractions cannot take away from the Ego its power to choose, since this power is inherent in the Ego and not in the attractions.
When the attractions are unequal and the desire for pleasure is stronger than the sense of duty as in the case of the first individual, he yielded to the desire because he was negative and had his consciousness centered in his Personality. He too had the power of choice but did not use it.
If he had been positive and had his consciousness centered in his Higher Nature, he could have refused to submit to the lower impulse, used his power of choice and resisted the lower impulse, even though this was stronger than the higher. This requires effort, for the Ego has to furnish the will that is necessary to over-rule the stronger desire. The Ego is not under compulsion to make this effort, for the upward attraction does not force itself on the Ego. It is felt merely as an appeal to the better side of the Ego.
In this case the higher appeal by itself would have been ineffective, and would have been overruled by the stronger desire unless the Ego chose to ally itself with the appeal and add its force to this side of its nature. If a man resists a desire for something that he likes to do, and that is easy to do, and instead does something that is drudgery and requires effort on his part, such action must be the result of a conscious and deliberate choice and a resolutely applied will.
We can slide down hill without effort. We do it from sheer inertia, but we cannot stop that downward slide without determination to do so, and we cannot climb uphill without effort. That determination and that effort are not forced on us, but are the results of choice and a strong will.
The different manner in which the three individuals reacted to the same impulses was due to differences in their characters. It has already been explained how man builds his own character by his thoughts, acts and habits. A part of this work has been done in his present life, but by far the greater part he carries with him from former existences.
His character gives him an inclination in a certain direction, but he is not obliged to follow this. He has the power of choice as we have seen and the opportunity to choose is given him by his dual nature. This opportunity has always been his for man's nature has been dual as long as man has existed. By his choice and the acts that follow he creates causes that Karma later returns to him as effects. Since man is the maker of his own character, he alone is responsible for his desires, preferences and consequent reactions.
Man is free to choose, but he must reap the consequences of his choice. It is a destiny he cannot escape, but it is self-made, and since it is not imposed on him by anyone else it is not "predestination." Neither is it "fatalism" for it is not the result of blind, mechanical forces.
When man by his own choice initiates an act, he thereby calls the forces of Nature into operation. He invokes the Law of Cause and Effect, which thenceforth takes over the operation and adjusts the effect to the cause. The conception of free will is therefore in full accord with the Law of Cause and Effect. Neither one invalidates the other and both are factors necessary to man's evolution.
From the remotest antiquity to the present time, the problem of free will has been a subject of heated debates and much controversy. Many philosophers have come to the conclusion that man is not free to determine how he shall act, but that his choice is predetermined by his inherent characteristics, his desires, his likes and dislikes.
The theologian and the materialist both assume that man came into being at birth and must therefore conclude that he had no part in the making of his character. This must have been made for him by the power that brought him into being, whether that power was God as the theologian believes or blind forces operating in Nature as the materialist holds.
Given a certain character a man must act in a certain way. If he has a noble character, his acts must be good; they cannot be otherwise. If his character is evil his acts must also be evil. He has no choice in either case. He thinks he is free to act because he is free to follow his desires, but since these desires were implanted in him, this sense of freedom is only imaginary. Actually he has no freedom of choice or free will as it is popularly called. These are some of the theories of fatalism. If they were true, man would be an automaton without initiative, a robot compelled to move in a pre-determined groove.
Under these conditions man cannot be held morally responsible for his acts. This responsibility must be placed on the power that brought him into being.
The fatalist takes for granted that man only lives a single life on earth and it is this assumption that leads to all the difficulties that follow. The Ancient Wisdom on the other hand teaches that man has lived on earth before. The character, that now inclines him to a certain line of action, was not made for him; he made it himself in former lives. In this life he reaps the effects of his former actions through the medium of this character.
The fatalist also assumes that man is a single, unitary being, identical with his desires, for he makes no distinction between the man himself, the Ego, and the desires he experiences. If this assumption were true, then there would be nothing to offer resistance to these desires and they would dominate man's life completely. In that case fatalism becomes the inescapable conclusion. But there can be no desires felt unless there is an entity, a center of consciousness, that experiences these desires. This entity, says the Ancient Wisdom, is the Human Ego, and the desires are only part of the many-sided vehicle used by the Ego.
They are not identical with the Ego any more than the cocoon is identical with the larva that spun it around itself.
The single earth-life theory is totally inadequate in solving the problem of free will, but with an understanding of man's complex nature and an acceptance of the doctrine of Reincarnation this problem can be solved in conformity with Justice and the Law of Cause and Effect.
The degree of freedom to choose, varies in proportion with the degree of development attained by the individual.
Small children, whose minds are immature have very little freedom of choice and act almost wholly from impulse. They are therefore not karmically responsible to the same extent as adults. But as the years pass, mind and self-consciousness develop. With these comes the power to tell right from wrong, man's choice becomes deliberate and he is thenceforth morally responsible for his acts.
The less evolved man feels the same opposing attractions as his more developed brother and has the same opportunity to choose, but is less likely to make use of this opportunity. By sheer inertia he allows himself to be swayed by his impulses instead. In this respect some human beings are not far above the animals who obey any impulse that comes upon them.
It is the kind of character we have made for ourselves that determines the degree of freedom of our will.
In the Kingdoms of Nature below the Human, the freedom of choice is very limited, but even in these there exists a certain freedom within the limited range of each one's activities.
The Ancient Wisdom teachings regarding evolution are treated extensively in such works as The Esoteric Tradition and Man in Evolution by G. de Purucker. It will here only be touched on in its relation to Karma and free will.
The Universe exists for the evolution of the Soul and the method used to attain this objective, the "scheme of Evolution," is to place man in a series of circumstances where he has to choose between conflicting interests and learn by the experiences that follow upon his choice. Freedom to choose is an indispensable factor in the operation of this plan.
Even the most insignificant act of ours is the result of choice, either made consciously or by force of habit, and that habit was the result of unnumbered choices in the past.
In the business affairs of everyday life we are constantly faced with situations that require choice on our part. In many cases we cannot foresee the consequences of our decision, but have to choose more or less blindly. We may choose wrong, but if we had not chosen we would never have found out our mistake. We learn by a process of trial and error in which mistakes are valuable lessons.
Man often allows himself, even against his better judgement, to be governed by his lower nature rather than by his higher, because he thinks it is easier and more to his advantage. He is shortsighted and grasps at the immediate reward, the pleasant experience close at hand, which this choice seems to offer. If he had taken the long-range view he would have seen that the easy advantage he gained would have to be made up for later by some counterbalancing labor or other compensation, and he would have seen that the selfish pleasure he enjoyed may bring suffering or some other misfortune in its train.
If one such experience is insufficient to teach him the lesson, the individual will repeat his mistake and Karma will reproduce the same effect. After a series of such actions the memory of the experience will associate itself with the selfish impulse, and when this returns, the Ego, even if it has forgotten the details of its experience will, subconsciously, be forewarned and refuse to submit to the impulse. If we choose what we know is beneficial for others and for ourselves, all goes well. If we choose unwisely or selfishly, nothing can stop us from doing so, but we have to reckon with the consequences of our choice.
Thus we see that Nature's methods are beneficent, for the suffering she brings helps us to break up selfish impulses before they become permanent: It helps us to get a grip on ourselves and to make a new start in the right direction.
It has often been asked: "Why were not all men created so that they would always choose what was good for others and for themselves?"
If man were "only able to choose good" he would not be choosing at all; he would act under compulsion. He would be an automaton and would have no opportunity to develop free will and this is a faculty that belongs to a fully developed man. If he is to evolve, man must be free to choose evil as well as good, right as well as wrong. He can not develop strength of character except by repeated victories over his lower nature. If man had no freedom to choose wrong, there would be no merit if he chooses right.
A child that learns to walk could never accomplish this feat if he had to succeed at his first attempt. He must be free to take his tumbles, get bruised and gradually gain control over himself. Likewise man must be free to make mistakes in order to learn by them; and man's nature is made with dual tendencies in order to give him this opportunity.
Struggle is a temporary phase of evolution says the Ancient Wisdom, and once man has won his battle over his lower nature and allied himself permanently with his Higher Nature his struggles will cease. From that time onwards his evolution, directed by his Higher Nature, proceeds smoothly and his higher faculties unfold as a bud unfolds into a flower.
The effect of an act does not always follow immediately upon its cause; there is often a long delay between the two. If we are to learn by experience, it might be asked: "Would not the lesson carry more weight if the effect followed immediately upon the cause, for we would then see the connection between the two?"
If the effect did follow immediately upon the cause, as the thunder clap follows the bolt of lightning, an individual with selfish tendencies would never dare to let these out through fear of immediate retribution. He would be prevented from giving an outlet to these tendencies, and they would be repressed but not eliminated. They would then force themselves to the surface at some later date.
In the hope that the effect may be long delayed, or led by ignorance to believe that no effect will follow, the individual will take a chance and try his evil ways. In due course the effect follows and the experience becomes a lesson. The inherent tendency is thus "worked off" instead of being merely repressed.
But it is not necessary that man should give vent to his evil tendencies in order to evolve. They can be faced and conquered on the mental plane and would not have to lead to physical results. It is only when we refuse to do our battles on the mental plane that we have to fight them on the outer plane.
Free will is a tool that man must learn the use of. It is a valuable tool, but like so many other tools, its use is accompanied with certain risks. To an experienced user it is of great benefit, while in the hands of the inexperienced it can cause injury to the user as well as to others.
The man whose consciousness is centered in his personal nature feels his separateness from his fellowmen more strongly than his oneness with them. His motives are therefore often selfish and he acts without due regard for the welfare and the rights of others. By his actions he encroaches on their rights just as other similarly-minded persons encroach on his rights.
When hosts of human beings act in this manner the result is the strife and conflict that is so prevalent in the world today.
Children a few years of age are usually willing to follow the advice and guidance of their parents without much opposition. After a few more years, however, they enter upon a period when they want to have their own way. Then they get themselves into mischief of many kinds and cause trouble for themselves and their parents. When more years have passed they begin to develop responsibility and become more helpful members of their respective families, later to develop into fully responsible men and women.
It would have been stagnation for them, if they always were to be led and directed by their elders. Maturity requires a self-directed life and development of initiative. Lacking in experience the child has to learn its lesson at the cost of much friction and strife. It is a trying period for child and parents, but it is a necessary phase in the child's evolution. The process is made easier to the extent that the child voluntarily accepts the helpful advice of its elders.
Like the child the whole human race is now passing through its "trying age" as it begins to exercise free will. It has not yet learned to do this wisely. Through weakness or ignorance it chooses to follow selfish impulses, and this, done on a grand scale, has brought the whole world into a state of turmoil.
The "trying age" of humanity would be less trying if men followed the Golden Rule and other ethical teachings given them by Jesus, Buddha and other great teachers, for humanity has also had its "Elders" that have tried to lead man through this period with the least possible suffering and strain.
But for humanity, as for the child, this period is only a rung in the ladder of Evolution, that must be surmounted before greater progress can be made. After this phase has been passed and man has reached a point in his evolution where he allies himself with his Higher Nature, he will realize his oneness with his fellow men and his responsibility to them. He will have learned to use his free will more wisely. He will choose to work in harmony with his fellows and for the common good.
There are signs in the world of a growing realization that we are all mutually dependent on one another; that this is "One World" in which there can be no lasting prosperity or happiness in one part if there is misery and unhappiness in another.
The presence of evil in the world presents a problem that can not be solved on the assumption that a beneficent, all-wise and all-powerful God is the creator of man. The problem could not be better stated than in the words of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, written some twenty-two centuries ago:
Either God wishes to remove evil from this world, and cannot, or he can and will not, or he neither can nor will, or, to conclude, he both can and will. If he will and cannot, it is impotence, which is contrary to the nature of God; if he can and will not, it is wickedness, and that is no less contrary to his nature; if he neither will nor can, it is wickedness and impotence at once; if he both can and will (which alone of these conditions is suitable to God), whence comes the evil which exists in the world?
What we call "evil" or disharmony, strife, greed, oppression, tyranny, together with the misery and suffering that result from such conditions, can be traced directly back to man's belief that he is separate from his fellows and can act without regard for their welfare. The belief that he can do this without having to reap the consequences thereof, gives free reins to his selfish impulses and he acts accordingly. When this attitude of "each one for himself" is taken by vast multitudes of individuals, whose interests conflict, the result is the evil that is so prevalent in the world today.
The duality of spirit and matter that exists in the Universe and in man creates a series of situations in which man has to choose between obeying the impulses of his higher or lower nature. Later he experiences the effects of his choice, and it is by these experiences that Nature teaches man whether he is breaking her laws or living in harmony with them. Good and evil are the end-products of actions inspired by man's higher or lower nature, and it is by comparing these contrasting results that man gradually learns to recognize that the path of altruism is better than that of selfishness.
Standards of good and evil are not fixed conceptions, but vary according to the development of evolving entities. What is "good" for one degree of development is "evil" for a higher degree, and what is "evil" for a lower degree is "good" for one still less developed.
The flame of a candle is a bright, luminous object when placed in a dark room, but it is a dark body when compared to the sun, for it actually throws a shadow when placed in bright sunlight. Good and evil like light and darkness are likewise relative conceptions, but for each degree of development there is a standard of good and evil. Anyone who acts, or tries to act in accord with his best knowledge and belief, is doing what is right or "good" for him, while anyone who acts contrary to this belief, is doing wrong, or "evil." A person who centers his consciousness in the material side of his nature has as yet little control over his appetites, whereas another man, who may be further evolved, centers his consciousness in the spiritual side of his nature and has his appetites under control. More would be expected of the latter and for him to act selfishly would be inexcusable, while to the former it would be understandable, even if not excusable.
Many qualities and quantities in Nature exist "in pairs" or as opposites. For instance there could be no mountains unless there are lowlands or valleys above which the mountains rise. The hand could not feel either heat or cold if all objects were the same temperature as the hand. When compared to a hot object, the hand is cold, while to a cold object it is warm.
There can be no shadow unless there is a light to produce it. If the sun were shining on us day and night, year after year, we would not look upon it as light, for we would have nothing to compare it with. It is only when the darkness of night replaces the sunlight that we learn to appreciate the value of the latter.
The two conceptions of good and evil form a duality on the moral plane, just as the examples cited are dualities on the material plane. We cannot think of good except as a contrast, an improvement on something that is not good, or "evil."
Man is here to progress, and the very idea of progress implies a moving forward from something outgrown and therefore no longer "good," to something better seen ahead; a climbing upward from something inferior to something superior. If there were no such contrasts as forwards and backwards, up and down, good and evil, there would be no "ladder" up which to climb, no resistance to be overcome.
Good and evil are states through which entities pass as they progress from imperfection towards perfection. In the present stage of man's evolution such contrasting states are necessary to his progress, for they involve experiences that man must have in order to round out his character. By experiencing the adverse effects of evil, man fortifies himself against future failures, but to choose evil deliberately for the purpose of experiencing it, is to slide down hill, and is not progress, but retrogression.
When men have learned the lesson of good and evil, they will naturally and automatically act from altruistic motives, and the gross evil that is prevalent in the world today, will be a thing of the past. The duality of good and evil as we know it, will then have served its purpose and will be discarded as a piece of training apparatus in a gymnasium, that is no longer needed. Humanity will then have reached a higher grade in Nature's school of experience. This higher grade will not be free from all problems and difficulties, for man's nature will always be a duality of spirit and matter with its consequent contrasts, but such difficulties as may arise will not lead to the gross evil that plagues the world today, but will take a form appropriate to the higher plane on which humanity will then exist.
It will be seen from what precedes, that the presence of evil in the world is due to the actions of imperfect, unevolved human beings, who break Nature's laws of harmony, and not to any force outside of man, neither God nor blind chance. Man made the evil in the world, but it is also in his power to restore harmony.
In the words of H. P. Blavatsky: "Neither good nor evil would exist were it not for the light they mutually throw upon each other." (Lucifer, Vol. I, No. 2, October, 1887)
"If we would discern good from evil, light from darkness, and appreciate the former, we can do so only through the contrast between the two." (Ibid.)
Or in the words of Plotinus: "The experience of evil produces a clearer knowledge of good."
Those who believe that our existence here is limited to a single earthlife and who see no purpose in life except the pursuit of pleasure naturally look upon disease and suffering as misfortunes without specific cause and with no useful purpose. To them such misfortunes are but evil intruders that should be eliminated as quickly as possible, since they interfere with a full enjoyment of life.
According to the Ancient Wisdom, however, the purpose of life is not the pursuit of pleasure, but the evolution of the soul; the strengthening of character, and the misfortunes that befall us in life are not accidental, but are the karmic retributions, for our former acts. While such retributions are painful to endure, they compensate for this by hastening our evolution, for they teach us lessons that we do not learn while life runs smoothly and without difficulties.
Is it not often the case that when life is all pleasant, we settle down to enjoy it and neglect to search for anything beyond our own comfort? We become more self-centered and live a life that is stagnation so far as evolution of our higher faculties is concerned. But Nature will not long tolerate such a condition to exist. A continuous indulging in pleasures is an invitation to disease, and when disease comes pleasure-seeking has to stop and the consciousness turns to more serious subjects. The impaired condition of the physical nature reduces the power of the lower principles to dominate the Ego, and gives the higher principles in man's nature an opportunity to exert their elevating influence.
The breaking up of the everyday routine caused by the disease, the enforced quietness, the time for reflection, all help to give a new outlook on life. What formerly seemed so important may now be recognized as quite insignificant, and the really important things in life may be seen at their true value.
By making the physical nature uncomfortable, suffering forces man to direct his interest and attention towards his Higher Nature. It frees him from the grip of the lower nature and drives him to seek a refuge in the peace of his Higher Nature. Never again, even after health is restored, need the grip of the lower nature be as strong as it was before, if the man takes advantage of the opportunity for a new start that the suffering has opened up for him.
Suffering has another important function. It awakens compassion in our hearts. It enables us to understand the suffering and hardships that others have to pass through, and thus we become ready to extend sympathy and offer them such help and comfort as it may be in our power to give.
If we are cold and indifferent to the distress and suffering of others it is a sign that we ourselves have not had the experience that they are now passing through. If we are callous and hard, how can sympathy be awakened in us except through suffering? We too must suffer in order to understand.
Patience, endurance and fortitude are other faculties that suffering helps to develop.
Besides the beneficial effect that suffering has in improving man's character it is also a help to him on the physical plane, for disease is a purifying process whereby the disharmony, which man created by former wrongdoing, is eliminated and balance and harmony restored.
Poverty and prosperity are other experiences necessary to a rounded-out character.
If a prosperous individual lives in luxury and comfort, without making an effort to relieve the poverty and misery by which he may be surrounded, or which he knows exists, it is evident that he has not yet had the experience of being poor. Since the sight of the misery of others is not enough to arouse his compassion, he must himself pass through this experience in order to understand. It is one of the "grades in the school of experience" that cannot be skipped, and poverty will exist as long as there are individuals that have not learned the lesson thereof. After he has had the experience and knows the hardships it entails, he will no longer be indifferent to the misery of others, but will, with sympathetic understanding for their situation, do something to improve it. A broad, generous, sympathetic nature is characteristic of one who has learned the lesson of poverty and profited therefrom.
Poverty comes to individuals as the result of their Karma, but this is no excuse for the more fortunate to refuse aid if they are in a position to give it.
Poverty teaches lessons to both rich and poor. It is a challenge to the prosperous to show compassion, to practice generosity. The prosperous of today, may have been the poor in the last incarnation. This is their opportunity to show if they have learned their lesson. For the poor the experience is an opportunity to learn the value of little things, to curb wastefulness, to practice economy, to reduce one's wants.
Those who have had to ask for charity report that their requests are much more frequently answered in the districts of the poor than among the well-to-do, even though the amounts received in the former case were smaller, showing the effectiveness of poverty as a teacher.
Experience of success and adversity are both needed for man's training, just as sunshine and rain are necessary for the growth of plants. The oak grows strong by resisting the wind and man grows strong by overcoming the obstacles he has to face. Benefits can he extracted even from unfavorable situations. Every difficulty that we meet can be used as a stepping stone. A ship can be sailed against an unfavorable wind by skilful use of sail and rudder. Periods of success, ease and comfort are not growing periods but interludes for rest between trials.
Mencius, the Chinese philosopher (Third and Fourth Century, B.C.) writes: "When Heaven is about to be gracious to any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, subjects him to extreme poverty, and confounds his undertakings. In all these ways it stimulates his mind, strengthens his nature and supplies its incompetences."
And Buddha says: "He who has learned to suffer with patience will be purified and will be the chosen instrument for the alleviation of suffering."
And Socrates, speaking of pleasure and pain, says: "How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they never come to a man together and yet he who pursues the one is generally compelled to take the other. They are two and yet they grow from one stem — and this is the reason why when one comes the other follows."
Understanding Lightens Burden.
Suffering is hard to bear under all circumstances, but an understanding of its cause and purpose makes the burden easier to carry.
The knowledge that it is karmic, and not the result of blind chance, that we have brought it upon ourselves, removes the sense of injustice that would otherwise add to our burden.
What we have made for ourselves must come to us — we can not escape it — but on the other hand no more will come to us than is our own.
The karmic suffering that we are now working off will never return and we shall have that much less to face in the future.
When we experience prolonged suffering and pain we are apt to think that this condition will be permanent, but this is not so. When that particular "karmic deposit" is exhausted, the suffering will cease, that account will be closed and will remain so if we do not open it up by sowing new seeds of disharmony.
It helps us to endure suffering if we realize that it is not a meaningless accident without purpose, but that it is a process of purification and helps to restore harmony and health.
It is difficult to recognize the value of suffering while we are experiencing it, but after the ordeal is over, many who bore it bravely have said: "It was hard, but I would not have missed that experience for any price."
It also helps us to realize that while the suffering is temporary, the gain in character development is eternal.
Is suffering necessary to evolution?
The Ancient Wisdom tells us that on higher, more spiritual planes of existence, planes closer to the universal source of life, evolution proceeds as normally and painlessly as the growth of a bud into a flower.
Man's evolution could also proceed without suffering, if his actions were always governed by his Higher Nature, for this never prompts him to act contrary to Nature's laws of harmony.
Man has always had Teachers who, through the various religions of the world, have taught him how to live, and he has had his conscience to warn him when he was in danger of doing wrong. But in the past, as at the present time, man has ignored the ethical teachings that have been given him, and the result is the widespread suffering that we see in the world today.
Man was meant to fight his battles on the mental plane and if he wins his victories over his lower nature there, he will not have to go through his struggles on the physical plane. If he allies himself with his Higher Nature, he avoids painful consequences; if not, he invites misfortune. He himself calls into operation the suffering he needs to learn his lesson.
The great variety of circumstances under which people live, such as wealth, social position, poverty, sickness or health, etc., are all due to the Karma of the individuals experiencing them. It depends on how the individual reacts to the impact of these circumstances whether they will prove to be a benefit or a detriment to him, for his present reaction determines his future Karma.
Circumstances of wealth, position and power, if used wisely, can be the means of doing much good in the world. They enable their possessor to relieve suffering, spread happiness and promote enterprises that are of general benefit. If used in this manner these circumstances afford an opportunity for man's Higher Nature to express itself. In that case they tend to advance man's evolution and can therefore properly be called "good" Karma.
But such favorable circumstances are not always used in this manner. They can be a temptation to lead a life of idleness and smug comfort. They offer opportunities for an unrestricted pursuit of pleasures, which may lead to dissipation. When reacted to in this manner they are apt to increase the selfishness of the individual, thereby retarding his evolution. Under these conditions what seemed like favorable circumstances actually turned out to be "bad" Karma.
Poverty, hardships, ill health likewise may be either "good" or "bad" Karma according to the reaction they produce in the individual experiencing them. Adversity is a more effective teacher than success, and may, if it develops fortitude, patience and endurance, strengthen a man's character. If reacted to in this manner, adversity promotes man's evolution and, even though it is not pleasant to experience, is in reality "good" Karma.
Whether Karma is "good" or "bad" therefore does not depend so much upon the circumstances we find ourselves in, as on the manner in which we react to them.
What is pleasant Karma, therefore, is not necessarily "good" Karma, and what is unpleasant is not necessarily "bad" Karma.
When the effect of a former deed returns to us we can react in different ways. Suppose it is an unfriendly remark that comes back. If we can accept it without striking back, if we "absorb the shock" without trying to retaliate, we have then and there balanced the effect and closed the account. But if we resent the reaction, if we "toss the ball back" to our adversary, we have set a new cause in motion, which in due time will return to us, and the process will repeat itself until we learn not to strike back. "For hate never is overcome by hate at any time. Hate passes away through love. This is the ancient rule," says the old Buddhist scripture, the Dhammapada.
The desire to retaliate arises from a feeling that we have suffered some injustice, which we feel should be returned in order to restore balance. But if we realize that every event is governed by Karma, we see that the suffering was due us, and that there was no real injustice involved. We also see that the one who caused us injury has thereby set the stage for a similar injury to befall himself, and Karma will inevitably bring this to him without any action on our part.
"To me belongs vengeance and recompense" says the Lord according to Moses. (Deuteronomy XXXII, 35) In other words, it is not for man to revenge himself, but to leave it to Nature and the Law of Cause and Effect. If man insists on taking revenge, he is thereby sowing the seed for the return to himself of the same injury in the future. He is repeatedly striking his head against a stone wall. The only way out is to return good for evil, as taught in the Dhammapada and likewise taught by Jesus.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: "Ye have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matt. V, 38, 39) And in the verses that follow there are many other precepts, all based on the principle of returning good for evil.
The saying referred to by Jesus is found in Exodus XXI, 23-25. Here, in referring to the punishment that will follow upon evildoing, it is stated that: ". . . then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
This, it will be noted, is a concise statement of the Law of Cause and Effect or Karma for it affirms that for every evil done an equal punishment will follow. But, as Jesus says, this Mosaic maxim is not to be taken as a guide for our actions. These should be governed by the principle of returning good for evil.
If the suffering of an individual is due to his Karma, is it right to interfere with this by trying to relieve the suffering?
The first rule for all our actions should be the Law of Compassion; it is our duty to follow the natural impulse based on human solidarity and render all possible aid to the sufferer.
Furthermore we are not in a position to judge what is or is not someone else's Karma. How do we know but what it is the sufferer's Karma to be relieved by us and failure on our part to render aid may be an interference with Karma rather than the act of rendering such aid? "Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin," says an ancient Hindu scripture. (The Book of the Golden Precepts. See The Voice of the Silence by H. P. Blavatsky.)
When we have rendered such aid as is within our power, our duty is fulfilled. It will then depend on just what is the Karma of the sufferer. If it is to be relieved, our aid will be effective; if not it will fail in its purpose.
It is not possible to interfere with anyone's Karma in the sense of removing it as a cause, but even if the Karma must be experienced it can be made more endurable by compassionate love from some sympathetic friend. This generates a beneficent force that touches and is felt by the sufferer and helps him to bear up under his suffering. It "mixes" with the pain and makes this easier to bear.
There is a belief held by many, that we can by prayer to some higher power, or by the adoption of some formula of salvation, be relieved from experiencing the effects of our evil deeds. The ideas we hold influence our actions and a belief that we can escape the consquences of our acts leads us to think that it is not vitally important how we act, since the effect of wrongdoing can always be eliminated by prayer for forgiveness. Those who hold this belief act without serious forethought of the consequences and may thereby bring misfortune on themselves and others.
Since a belief in the forgiveness of sin has this detrimental effect, it becomes important to determine if this is a reasonable assumption on which to base one's future and one's destiny.
It will be noted that the doctrine of the forgiveness of sin contradicts that of Karma. Both doctrines can not therefore be true.
The effect of evil deeds could never be erased unless it were possible to suspend the Law of Cause and Effect, and since this is a law of Nature and not a man-made dictum, it can not be suspended. We know that this does not happen in the material world and would not base our actions in the practical affairs of everyday life on such a belief.
Yet this is in effect what we expect Nature to do when we pray to be freed from the consequences of our wrong-doing. We then ask Nature to break her own laws and make exceptions in cases where we would like to have them made. But in cases where we have done something commendable we would want the same law to operate so that we would receive the fruit of our labor.
If we were successful once in evading the consequences of our acts we would try it again and again and others would do the same. If Nature's laws could be thus turned aside, man would not learn the lesson which he called forth by his unwise action. A Universe in which this could happen would be a Universe without law, in which all evolution would be impossible.
When man is faced with the ever recurring necessity for choice which daily confronts him, Karma gives him the information he needs to make a wise choice and it tells him what will happen if he does not. After that it is up to the man himself to use his free will and later get his experience.
A wanderer, who comes to a parting of the road, and there finds a road-sign which tells him that the road of selfishness leads to a swamp of misfortunes, while the road of altruism leads to the firm ground of a happy and harmonious life, can save himself much needless suffering and make his evolution easier if he heeds the warning given by the sign.
If he does not heed it but, because he hopes to gain a temporary advantage, deliberately chooses the road that in the end leads to unhappiness and misfortune, he has no one but himself to blame for the result, for he was forewarned and was free to take the other road.
When the effect of his ill-advised deed overtakes him he suffers, and this suffering, if meditated on in the light of Karma, will aid him in making a wiser choice the next time he is faced with one. Paradoxically, he realizes that the time for "after-thoughts" is before the choice is made.
The doctrine of forgiveness of sin is also a sign at the parting of the road. It does of course tell the traveler to take the road to firm ground, but it adds that, if he takes the road to the swamp and begins to sink, he can get out of his trouble by asking someone else to come in and take his place. This sign may make comforting reading, but will Nature be satisfied with this arrangement? Will she receive an impulse from a certain direction and return it in a different direction? Will she change her laws because a certain sign says so? Where do we see any evidence of this in the material world? We would not risk our material welfare on such a belief; is it not still more important not to risk our moral welfare on it?
Our diseases are the results of wrong thinking, feeling and consequent acting on our part either in this life or in a former one. The disturbances thus produced in our inner nature gradually work their way from the mental plane, through intermediate stages, down to the physical plane, where they appear as disease. Instead of looking upon disease as something to be shunned, we should look upon it as a beneficent process of purification aimed at restoring inner harmony and health. It is the last stage in Nature's effort to rid the system of the effects of former wrongdoing.
When the disturbances manifest in the physical body as disease, we can aid Nature in her work by using such medicines as are known to be helpful in leading the disease out of the body without permanent injury to the body. A cheerful and optimistic frame of mind can also be a great help to this end.
To "cure" disease by thought, or so-called Mental Healing, which usually takes the form of a denial of disease and an affirmation of health, can prevent the disease from manifesting through the body. But this has not removed the cause. It has reversed the natural process and returned the effect to the mental plane where it is re-planted as a cause. Here it lies in wait for another opportunity at expression and may he reinforced by a new crop of similar causes, the result of more wrong thinking and acting. Thus growing in strength, the time will come when it will burst all barriers and eventually force itself out as a disease that may be far more disastrous than the one that was dammed back originally.
It is difficult for us to recognize the justice of suffering that we may have to endure, when we are unable to recognize its cause. Especially is this the case when we see an individual who has lived a spotless life suddenly afflicted with some painful or fatal disease. To a Human Ego, that identifies itself with its Personality, and therefore sees only what has happened during its present existence, such suffering does of course seem unmerited. But to the Higher or Reincarnating Ego, which is the same throughout the series of incarnations, it is known to be karmic justice. It was the Reincarnating Ego, that jointly with its former Personality sowed the seed of suffering in the past, and it is the same Reincarnating Ego, that, jointly with its new Personality, suffers the effect in the present incarnation.
But since the feeling of injustice experienced by the Human Ego during life, although not based on fact, yet seems very real to the Human Ego on account of its limited vision, it is entitled to have a compensation for this apparent injustice, and this it receives in the blissful postmortem dream state.
Karma is constantly making adjustments between causes and effects. These adjustments do not always, and in a single operation, restore an exact balance, but may hit the target a little above or below the mark. Especially is this true in the case of "Group-Karma," where it is only reasonable to suppose that there must be differences in degree between the karmic guilt of the group members. The Karma is just for the average of the group, but may be too harsh on some while it is too lenient on others. Any such unbalanced remainders would then be taken care of by future events, favorable or unfavorable as the case might be.
Karma is like the man who reads our gas-meter; if he overcharges us one month it is compensated for on next month's reading, but when the final reading is taken there will be no remainder. Like the pendulum, that stops in the exact mid-position, so Karma will come to rest when cause and effect balance exactly.
Judging Others by Their Karma.
In case we are inclined to judge our fellow men by their Karma, it would be well to remember that one who is experiencing suffering and pain may have sowed the seeds for this many incarnations ago, and may since that time have changed his character for the better. Furthermore, by unkind judgement of others, we sow the seed of criticism to be directed against ourselves when we may have to experience some karmic suffering.
There is another reason why outward experiences are no criterion to judge a person's character by. An individual who makes an earnest effort at self-discipline and self-improvement is by this action challenging his old Karma to come to the surface. The more unselfishly this is done, the more will his Karma be hastened and bring down upon him an accumulation of effects, which under normal conditions might have been distributed over a long period of time. The case is comparable to that of a student who takes up a serious program of training that requires much hard work. His life may seem bleak and austere when compared to that of another who is drifting along comfortably and without effort. Judging superficially, we may conclude that the drifter's life was to be preferred, when in reality it is one of stagnation. Seen in its true light a life of suffering may be an indication that here is a Soul that is hastening its evolution and fitting itself for some great work to be done in the future.
Sometimes our Karma comes to us through impersonal processes of Nature and other times through the actions of our fellow men. Nature makes no mistakes and returns to us all that is due us and nothing that is not due us. In all normal cases when Karma reaches us through our fellow men the effects are also in full accord with what is due us.
But there may be abnormal cases. It is conceivable that a perverted human being might deliberately and with malicious intent do injury to others, which, in some cases, it might not have been their Karma to endure.
If this should happen Karma will make adjustments by a suitable compensation to the victim. The perpetrator of the deed, on the other hand, has by his evil act sowed the seed of a similar experience, which sometime in the future he shall have to reap.
The following objection to Karma is frequently made:
"It is unfair that we should suffer for deeds that we have long since forgotten."
If we object to Karma on the ground that we sometimes have forgotten the cause of our suffering, we should ask ourselves if we also object when Karma brings us benefits which we earned by some long forgotten deed. If we do not object to the benefits, is it fair to object to the misfortunes?
If we act contrary to our sense of right and our better judgement, and if the effect follows swiftly, we see the connection between our act and the suffering that follows, and we recognize the justice of what happens to us. But suppose the effect is delayed, even beyond death, does that alter the intrinsic justice of the suffering that must eventually follow?
Is it not of common occurrence that individuals who do what they know is wrong, if the effect is delayed, want to forget, and soon do forget their misdeed, confident in the belief that no unfavorable effect will follow? Long after the deed is forgotten, perhaps later in this life, perhaps in a succeeding incarnation, the effect does materialize in the form of suffering or some misfortune. Then the "victim" of this suffering asks indignantly: "What have I done that this should come to me?" He does not know, but he did know he was doing wrong at the time he committed the deed. The misfortunes that come to us today, and that seem so undeserved, are the results of our former misdeeds, and our misdeeds of today will return to us as similar unpleasant surprises in the future.
If the mere forgetting of an act would nullify its effect and relieve us of responsibility for it, then a poor memory would be a valuable asset.
We know better than this, however, and prove it by our actions in ordinary business affairs. For, if a person has borrowed some money from us, and when it is due, pleads that he has "forgotten all about it," and that it is unfair that he should have to pay, we do not accept this as a valid excuse for non-payment. How then can we expect our forgetfulness to interfere with the operation of the Law of Cause and Effect?
If we do not accept the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, how shall we then account for suffering that has no visible cause?
If we accept heredity as a cause, we suffer for the sins of our ancestors, which we could not even forget, since we never knew anything about them. This makes heredity a more unjust explanation than Karma.
If we accept the theory of the theologian that God created man at birth, then we had no part in producing the suffering that we now endure, but God is responsible for it.
If we take the view held by the materialist, that man is the product of blind natural forces, then our suffering must be due to the imperfect work of these forces, over which we had no control.
The explanations offered by heredity, by the theologian and the materialist allow man no part in causing the suffering he has to endure. Are not these explanations more unfair than that of Karma, which teaches that man himself is the cause of both his own suffering and his own good fortune, even though he has forgotten the originating acts?
Objections have been raised to Karma on the ground that, since the effect of evil deeds may be long delayed, the temptation to disregard the future retribution and accept the present advantage would be too strong and this would result in unchecked evil-doing.
Does not this objection apply still more strongly to the doctrine of forgiveness of sin, or to a belief in chance? If either of these theories were correct, effects of evil-doing might be avoided entirely.
Karma teaches what every observer knows to be a fact, namely that the effect does not always follow immediately upon its cause. But Karma gives no assurance that the effect will be delayed. It may follow immediately, but whether delayed or not, it is inescapable. Anyone who still is inclined to gamble with destiny should review his past experiences and see if he has not met with accidents or misfortunes for which he could assign no cause. Such experiences are the delayed retributions for past misdeeds that now catch up with him. In some long-forgotten past he reasoned, as he does today, that the retribution would probably be so long delayed that he might ignore it. But now when the effect of his misdeed comes home to him, he resents it and feels that he has been singled out by fate to suffer unjustly. The "future," that seemed so far away when the deed was committed, has arrived: it is the present time, and the effect was no less painful because it had been delayed. The self-deceiving reasoning of the past was no help in avoiding his present misfortune. Should he then apply it again to the future?
With our present experience before us and realizing that we may have many more such misfortunes awaiting us, "just around the corner" perhaps, any temptation to wrong-doing based on the hope that the effect might be postponed should lose all its attractiveness.
When we plant a seed we do not expect immediate results, but we know what the fruit is going to be and choose the seed accordingly. Should we use less judgement in something that affects our own future welfare?
Those who consider Karma a harsh and cold doctrine, because it teaches that we must face the consequences of our acts, think only of its punitive aspect.
In Greek Mythology this aspect of Karma was symbolized by Nemesis, the goddess of retributive justice, who was represented as relentlessly pursuing the guilty until punished. But this is only one half of the doctrine, and Karma can be looked upon as a guardian angel just as much as an avenging deity for it protects the innocent from harm just as surely as it punishes the guilty. It is our friend as much as a stem teacher for it rewards our good deeds just as surely as it punishes our misdeeds. The friendly, happier aspect of Karma is of course just as important as the Nemesis aspect, and should be emphasized just as strongly as its negative counterpart. The only reason so much has been said about Karma-Nemesis and so little about Karma the friend, is the fact that almost everyone will accept the latter as needing no explanation, while objecting to the former as being unjust.
The doctrine of Karma is only one out of many teachings which collectively form the Ancient Wisdom. None of these teachings is complete by itself; all mutually shed light on their companion doctrines. Each one of them should therefore be studied in its relation to the others in order to be seen in its right perspective.
Karma, for instance, if viewed by itself alone, may seem like a cold, mechanistic doctrine. But when it is realized that the purpose of life is the evolution of the Soul, then it can be seen that Karma is of inestimable value to man for it is a statement of the law that governs his evolution. It points out the right road and warns him of the pitfalls.
The fundamental unity of all life is another doctrine closely related to Karma. The fact that all men are inwardly united and all have the same ultimate goal makes harmony the natural condition in men's relations with one another. Karma promotes this harmony, by teaching that our own deeds return to us, thereby proving the wisdom of altruistic action.
Evolution, the oneness of all life and Reincarnation are all links in the same chain of ideas and all are necessary in order to present Karma in its true light.
In Karma lies the hope of building a better world, for it teaches that every effort counts and will bear fruit. We can make Karma our friend and it need not be harsh unless we make it so.
Any thoughtful individual, who observes life around him, must have been struck by the inequalities, injustices and misfortunes of various kinds that afflict so many human beings. He notes instances where the innocent suffer, while the guilty go free, where the honest fail while the dishonest prosper. He observes that some men are gifted and talented, while others have very limited capacities; that some have robust health, while others are invalids for life. He sees these and a variety of other inequalities and he asks: Why all this injustice? Why are not all healthy, gifted and prosperous?
Seeking an answer to these questions he examines current theories in regard to man and the world he lives in. He finds two principal lines of thought, one presented by orthodox religion, and the other held by the materialists. These two groups have widely divergent views in some respects, the theologian believing that man is created by God, the materialist holding that he is the product of material energies operating in Nature. In other respects they hold similar views. Both might be called "Creationists," for both assume that man is created at birth. They are also in agreement by both taking for granted that man is limited to a single life on earth.
If these latter assumptions are true, man is not responsible for what he is or what he does or the circumstances of life in which he finds himself. All this was predetermined for him by the power that brought him into being, whether that power was God or Nature with its forces.
The misfortunes that befall man are under these conditions actual injustices inflicted on him by extraneous agents, and he suffers effects which he did not cause; he reaps what he did not sow. In other words the assumption that man is created at birth and is limited to a single earth-life leads to the inescapable conclusion that man's life is not governed by the Law of Cause and Effect. And vice versa: If the Law of Cause and Effect governs man's life, then the preceding assumptions must be wrong.
The belief in creationism and a single earth-life is incompatible with a belief in Justice and a Law of Cause and Effect as governing principles in human life. The two propositions are the antithesis of each other.
No misfortune can befall a man justly unless he brought it on himself, and since some misfortunes begin with birth, how could man have brought them on himself unless he existed prior to birth?
Likewise there are many causes set in motion by man, that do not come to fruition before death. How can these be equitably balanced if the death of the body meant the death of the Soul?
An explanation of the inequalities of life in conformity with Justice, makes an existence of the Soul both before birth and after death imperative requirements.
The doctrine of Reincarnation fulfills these requirements. It explains the apparent injustices man now suffers as the effects of his own former deeds, and that eventually he shall reap all that he has sowed.
We notice then that the doctrine of Reincarnation is a corollary to the Law of Cause and Effect. If the latter operates in human life, Reincarnation must be a fact.
There is no disagreement between Creationists and Reincarnationists in regard to our present earth-life. The disagreement concerns what precedes birth and what follows death.
The Masters of Wisdom, who have reached a higher stage in evolution and can enter inner planes of existence in full possession of their consciousness, tell us that Reincarnation is a fact, but until the ordinary individual has reached this stage, he has to be satisfied to theorize on what takes place on these planes. If Reincarnation to him is only a theory, it should be remembered that the beliefs of the Creationist and the materialist also are no more than theories, unsupported by direct observation.
The comparative value of these theories will have to be determined by their ability to explain life and their agreement or disagreement with such facts of Nature as are known.
The assumption that man's Soul was created or came into existence at birth is not in accord with the knowledge we have of the material plane. On this plane it has been established that matter and energy are indestructible, a fact referred to as The Law of Conservation of Energy. Matter and energy can undergo many transformations, but were never created and can never be annihilated or destroyed.
Man's Soul or consciousness is energy of some kind belonging to inner, unseen mental-spiritual planes of Nature. These inner, unseen planes are just as much a part of Nature and subject to its laws, as is the outer material plane. The Law of Conservation of Energy must therefore have its counterpart on the unseen side of Nature and the higher mental-spiritual energies must be as indestructible on their respective planes as their counterparts are on the material plane. And if they are indestructible, they could not have been created, but must have existed always. What has no end can have had no beginning. What is to be of infinite duration in the future must have been of infinite duration in the past.
The conclusions to which the single earth-life and repeated earth-lives theories lead, can now be compared.
The belief that man begins his existence at birth cannot be reconciled with a belief in Justice or that man reaps what he sowed and is therefore contrary to the Law of Cause and Effect.
A belief that the Soul existed before birth harmonizes with a belief in Justice, for it explains when and where man sowed the seeds that resulted in the inequalities and "injustices" of birth, and is therefore in harmony with the Law of Cause and Effect.
The belief that man is created at birth conflicts with the Law of Conservation of Energy, which states that energy can neither be created nor annihilated.
A belief in the pre-existence and indestructibility of the Soul is in accord with the Law of Conservation of Energy.
A belief in repeated earth-lives explains how causes, sown by man, that have not yet been balanced, will bring their effect in some future earth-life.
It is apparent, then, that the doctrine of Reincarnation conforms to known laws in Nature, while the theories of the Creationists are contrary to these laws.
It is difficult to understand how a belief, that is so illogical as the single earth-life theory, can have held such sway over men's minds as this idea has in the Occident. The only plausible explanation for this is the fact that no alternative theory was available.
After the condemnation by the church-authorities in the 6th Century of the doctrine of Reincarnation, no reference was made to it in the church teachings. This left the single earth-life theory without a competitor and thenceforward it was accepted by generation after generation without challenge as to its validity. But since the Ancient Wisdom teachings have again been brought to the attention of the West, the single earth-life theory is no longer alone in its field. It must now face a comparison with the doctrine of Reincarnation.
A belief that we are here only once has no basis for its existence other than the fact that we have inherited it from our ancestors and that certain surface indications seem to be in its favor. Chief among these is the fact that we do not remember our past lives; neither can we peer into the future and see what is in store for us. All we are sure of is our present earth-life and without investigating further we have taken for granted that this is the only life we have had or will have here.
But surface indications can be misleading. We have been deceived before by ideas that at one time were generally accepted and considered unassailable, but later were proved to have been entirely wrong.
There was a time, for instance, when man accepted as self-evident and beyond argument the belief that the earth was flat and was the center of the Universe. Pythagoras, who taught that the sun was the center of the Universe and that the earth was a sphere, was vigorously attacked and ridiculed by the Church Father Lactantius (260-330 A.D.) for holding such views.
In rejecting Pythagoras' ideas Lactantius writes as follows:
The folly of this foolish old fellow ought to be laughed to scorn!
How can people believe that there are antipodes under our feet? Do they say anything deserving of attention at all? Is there anybody so senseless as to believe that there are men living on the underside of the earth, whose feet thus are higher than their heads? Or that the things which with us grow upright, with them hang head downwards? That the crops and trees grow downwards? That rains, and snows, and hail, fall upwards to the surface of the earth? . . . These people thought that the earth is round like a ball . . . and that it has mountains, extends plains, and contains level seas, under our feet on the opposite side of the earth: and if so, it follows that all parts of such an earth would be inhabited by men and beasts. Thus the rotundity of the earth leads to the idiotic idea of those antipodes hanging downwards! . . . I am absolutely at a loss to know what to say about such people, who, after having erred in one thing, consistently persevere in their preposterous folly, and defend one vain and false notion by another . . . — From The Divine Institutes by Lactantius, BK III, Chap. XXIV. Quoted from The Esoteric Tradition by G. de Purucker.
We now know that the idea Lactantius so effectively ridiculed was right, and that the flat-earth theory which he accepted, was wrong. Lacking evidence to the contrary, he based his opinion wholly on outward appearances and was led to a wrong conclusion.
The single earth-life theory is another belief generally accepted in the Occident today. It dominates our thinking in its own field as completely as did the flat-earth idea some centuries ago.
But the single earth-life theory leads to conclusions that are impossible to reconcile with Justice and an orderly Universe governed by law. It is incapable of solving the problem of free will and of showing that man is morally responsible for his actions. It fails to explain heredity, environment and accidents in harmony with Justice. It is the great obstacle that confuses our thinking and prevents us from seeing that we create our own misfortunes.
Since the single earth-life theory has caused such havoc in our thinking and has produced such disastrous results by depriving man of his faith in law and Justice, is it not time that this theory should be challenged and an effort made to determine what justification there is for its existence?
All that can be said in its favor is that it has been accepted by past generations and that there is no outward evidence to contradict it, and so, in the absence of alternatives, it has been left unchallenged as to its validity.
The doctrine of Reincarnation, on the other hand, solves all the problems that the single earth-life theory leaves unsolved, in harmony with Justice and law in the Universe.
In the light of repeated existences the sequence of cause and effect can readily be understood. Man himself is responsible for his heredity, his environment and the good or evil fortune that may befall him and he is morally responsible for all his acts.
A Fragment of a Long Story — Trying to understand life on the basis of the single earth-life theory is like trying to understand a book by reading a page in the middle of it. Events that are narrated on this page are the effects of causes described on preceding pages and can not be understood unless these pages are read. The effects of new activities described on this single page will appear on some following page or in a later chapter. The full significance of what the single page relates can only be understood when the book is read from start to finish. A single earth-life is but a "page" in the endless story of a Soul on its pilgrimage towards perfection. If we could read the record of our past lives, we should have the explanation to all that happens to us in this life. If we could look into the future and see what will take place there, we would see the result of our present actions.
Can there be a reasonable doubt in the mind of anyone, who makes a fair comparison of the two theories, that the doctrine of Reincarnation solves life's problems more in accord with Justice and law, logic and reason, than does the single earth-life theory?
The single earth-life theory may be strongly entrenched in men's minds today, but let us not forget what happened to the geocentric theory. History may repeat itself and the day may not be far distant when the single earth-life theory will join the geocentric one in some "museum" of obsolete ideas happily no longer darkening our mental horizon.
Reincarnation is the "Lost Chord" in modern thought that must be restored before man's faith in Justice can be re-established.
Karma is the law that governs man's life. Reincarnation is a companion doctrine to Karma that explains how Karma operates.
The great success achieved by scientific research on the material side of Nature has given rise to a popular belief that scientific theories are infallible and have been proved beyond possibility for doubt.
The scientific method of proof consists in gathering all known facts in regard to some phenomenon in Nature and then in assuming some theory, that fits these facts and explains the phenomenon. If no new facts are discovered that contradict this theory, it is considered proved.
No responsible scientist will claim that such proof is final for it is recognized that there is always a possibility that new facts may be discovered that call for a change in the theory or perhaps its complete abandonment for a new and better one.
The author of a textbook on Physics used in one of our largest universities, referring to one of the most important and generally accepted laws in Physics, expresses himself as follows: "Like all the fundamental physical laws, the law of conservation of energy is not capable of direct proof, but is an assumption consistent with all known facts, and is to be accepted until some phenomena are discovered with which it is inconsistent."
Scientific knowledge, then, is not in a class by itself as being infallible, but such theories as are based on actual facts, correctly interpreted, are strong probabilities and the nearest possible approach to truth, based on the information available.
If we were to apply the scientific method of proof to Karma as it affects us human beings, we should take note of all the experiences we meet during life. These are the "facts and phenomena" that have to be explained in conformity with the Law of Cause and Effect. Since every experience we meet can be explained by Reincarnation and Karma as the effect of our own acts, it is apparent that the doctrine of Karma with its companion doctrine of Reincarnation "fits the facts" and therefore should be accepted until some new facts are discovered with which it is inconsistent. Karma can therefore be considered proved by the same method that the scientist uses to prove his theories.
Man's moral instincts, his sense of "the fitness of things," experience, analogy, reason and logic tell him that this Universe is governed by the Law of Cause and Effect.
The strongest proof for Karma, however, lies in the fact that there are no alternatives. It is logically impossible to imagine an event that happens without a cause.
In the Bible there are many statements to the effect that man shall "reap what he sows," that he shall "receive according to his works," and this is the doctrine of Karma:
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. — Gal. VI, 7
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, until all be fulfilled. — Matt. V, 18
Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, so shall ye be judged: and with what measures ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. — Matt. VII, 1, 2
. . . for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. -- Matt, XXVI, 52
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days . . . [lives] — Eccl. XI, 1
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. — II Cor. IX, 6
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy . . . . Ye have ploughed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity. — Hos. X, 12, 13
He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. — Rev. XIII, 10
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? — Matt. VII, 16
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. — Matt. V, 7
Similar statements are also found in: Matt. XII, 36; Matt. XVI, 27; Job XXXIV, 11; Ps. LXII, 12; Prov. XXIV, 12; Jer. XVII, 10; Jer. XXXII, 19; Rom. II, 6; Matt. XVI, 27; II Cor. V, 10; Col. III, 25; Rev. 11, 23; Rev. XXII, 12.
In the Anugita, Ch. III, one of the Upanishads, we find the following:
Whatever action he [man] performs, whether good or bad, everything done in a former body must necessarily be enjoyed or suffered.
In the beautiful poem The Light of Asia, Sir Edwin Arnold tells the life story of Gautama, the Buddha, and also gives some of his teachings. Referring to Karma he writes:
KARMA — all that total of a soul
Which is the things it did, the thoughts it had,
The "self" it wove with woof of viewless time
Crossed on the warp invisible of acts.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Before beginning and without an end,
As space eternal and as surety sure,
Is fixed a power divine which moves to good,
Only its laws endure.
. . . . . . . . . . .
It will not be contemned of anyone;
Who thwarts it loses, and who serves it gains;
The hidden good it pays with peace and bliss,
The hidden ill with pains.
It seeth everywhere and marketh all:
Do right — it recompenseth! Do one wrong —
The equal retribution must be made,
Though Dharma [The Law] tarry long.
It knows not wrath nor pardon; utter true
It measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;
Times are as nought, tomorrow it will judge,
Or after many days.
By this the slayer's knife did stab himself;
The unjust judge hath lost his own defender;
The false tongue dooms its lie; the creeping thief
And spoiler rob, to render.
Such is the law which moves to righteousness,
Which none at last can turn aside or stay;
The heart of it is love, the end of it
Is peace and consummation sweet. Obey!
. . . . . . . . . .
The books say well, my brothers! Each man's life
The outcome of his former living is;
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrow and woes,
The bygone right breeds bliss.
That which ye sow ye reap. See yonder fields!
The sesamum was sesamum, the corn
Was corn. The silence and the darkness knew!
So is a man's fate born.
He cometh reaper of the things he sowed,
Sesamum, corn, so much cast in past birth;
And so much weed and poison-stuff, which mar
Him and the aching earth.
If he shall labor rightly, rooting these,
And planting wholesome seedlings where they grew,
Fruitful and fair and clean the ground shall be,
And rich the harvest due.