Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Very many Western people say that this Oriental doctrine of Karma is difficult to understand, being fit only for educated and thoughtful persons. But in India, Ceylon and Burmah, not to mention other Asiatic countries, the whole mass of the people accept and seem to understand it. The reason for this lies probably in the fact that they also firmly believe in Reincarnation, which may be said to be the twin doctrine to Karma. Indeed, the one cannot be properly considered without keeping the other in view, for Karma — whether as punishment or reward — could have no actual or just operation upon the Ego unless the means for its operation were furnished by Reincarnation.
Our deserts are meted out to us while we are associating in life with each other, and not while we are alone, nor in separateness. If being raised to power in a nation or becoming possessed of wealth is called a reward, it would lose all value were there no people to govern and no associated human beings with and upon whom we could spend our wealth and who might aid us in satisfying our manifold desires. And so the law of Reincarnation drags us into life again and again, bringing with us uncounted times the various Egos whom we have known in prior births. This is in order that the Karma — or causes — generated in company with those Egos may be worked out, for to take us off separately into an unknown hell, there to receive some sort of punishment, or into an impossible serio-comic heaven to meet our reward, would be as impossible as unjust. Hence, no just-hanged murderer absolved by priest for praising Jesus can escape. He, together with his victim, must return to this earth, each to aid the other in adjusting the disturbed harmony, during which process each makes due compensation. With this doctrine we restore justice to her seat in the governance of men, for without it the legal killing of the murderer after condemnation is only a half remedy, since no provision is made by the State for the being hurled out of the body nor for the dependants he may have left behind, and, still further, nothing is done for those who in the family of the murderer survive him.
But the Theosophical sages of all ages push the doctrine of Karma beyond a mere operation upon incarnated men. They view all worlds as being bound together and swayed by Karma. As the old Hindu book, the Bhagavad-Gita, says, "all worlds up to that of Brahma are subject to Karma." Hence it acts on all planes. So viewing it, they say that this world as it is now conditioned is the actual result of what it came to be at the beginning of the pralaya or grand death which took place billions upon billions of years ago. That is, the world evolves just as man does. It is born, it grows old, it dies, and is reincarnated. This goes on many times, and during those incarnations it suffers and enjoys in its own way for its previous evolutions. For it the reward is a greater advance along the line of evolution, and the punishment is a degraded state. Of course, as I said in a former article, these states have man for their object and cause, for he is the crown of all evolution. And, coming down from the high consideration of great cosmic spaces and phenomena, the Theosophist is taught to apply these laws of Karma and Reincarnation to every atom in the body in especial and apart from the total Karma. Since we are made up of a mass of lives, our thoughts and acts affect those atoms or lives and impress them with a Karma of their own. As the Oriental thinkers say, "not a moment passes without some beings coming to life in us, acquiring Karma, dying, and being reincarnated."
The principal divisions of Karma are three in number. One sort is that now operating in the present life and body, bringing about all the circumstances and changes of life. Of this we see illustrations every day, with now and then strange climaxes which throw upon the doctrine the brightest light. One such is immortalized in India by a building erected by the favored son of fortune, as we would say, and thus it came about. A Rajah had a very strange dream, so affecting that he called upon his soothsayers for interpretation. They said that their horoscopes showed he was required next day to give an immense sum of money to the first person he should see after awaking, their intention being to present themselves at an early hour. Next day the King arose unusually early, stepped to his window, threw it open, and there before him was a chandalah sweeping up the dirt. To him he gave a fortune, and thus in a moment raised him to affluence from abject poverty. The chandalah then built a huge building to commemorate his sudden release from the grinding chains of poverty.
Another class of Karma is that which is held over and not now in operation because the man does not furnish the appropriate means for bringing it into action. This may be likened to vapor held in suspension in the atmosphere and not visible to the eye, but which will fall as rain upon the earth the moment conditions are ripe.
The last chief class is that Karma which we are making now, and which will be felt by us in future births. Its appropriate symbol is the arrow shot forward in the air by the archer.