Theosophical University Press Online Edition
The spirit is not affected by Karma at any time or under any circumstances, and so the Theosophical Adepts would not use the terms "cultivation of the Spirit." The Spirit in man, called by them Ishwara, is immutable, eternal and indivisible — the fundamental basis of all. Hence they say that the body and all objects are impermanent and thus deluding to the soul whenever they are mistaken for reality. They are only real on and for this plane, and during the time when the consciousness takes them up here for cognition. They are therefore relatively real, and not so in an absolute sense. This can easily be proved from dreams. In the dream state we lose all knowledge of the objects which while awake we thought real and proceed to suffer and enjoy in that new state. In this we find the consciousness applying itself to objects partaking, of course, of the nature of the experiences of the waking condition, but at the same time producing the sensations of pleasure and pain while they last. Let us imagine a person's body plunged in a lethargy extending over twenty years and the mind undergoing a pleasant or unpleasant dream, and we have a life just of that sort, altogether different from the life of one awake. For the consciousness of this dreamer the reality of objects known during the waking state is destroyed. But as material existence is a necessary evil and the one in which alone emancipation or salvation can be obtained, it is of the greatest importance and hence Karma which governs it and through whose decrees emancipation may be reached must be well understood and then be accepted and obeyed.
Karma will operate to produce a deformed or deficient body, to give in a good body a bad disposition or vice versa; it will cause diseases, hurts or annoyances, or bring about pleasures and favorable situations for the material frame. So we sometimes find with a deformed or disagreeable body a most enlightened and noble mind. In this case the physical Karma is bad and the mental good.
This leads us to the sort of karma that works upon the mental plane. At the same time that an unfavorable Karmic cause is showing forth in the physical structure, another and better sort is working out in the mind and disposition or has eventuated in conferring a mind well balanced, calm, cheerful, deep, and brilliant. Hence we discover a purely physical as compared with an entirely mental karma. Purely physical would be that resulting, say, from a removal from the ground of fruit peel which might otherwise cause some unknown person to fall and be hurt. Purely mental might be due to a life spent in calm, philosophical thought and the like.
There is in one of the Hindu books a strange sentence respecting this part of the subject, reading: "Perfection of body or superhuman powers are produced by birth or by herbs or by incantations, penances, or meditations."
Among mental afflictions esteemed as worse than any bodily hurt or loss is that Karma from a preceding life which results in obscurity of such a character that there is a loss of all power to conceive of the reality of Spirit or the existence of soul — that is, materialism.
The last field of operation for this law may be said to be the psychical nature. Of this in America we have numerous examples in mediums, clairvoyants, clairaudients, mind-readers, hysteriacs, and all sorts of abnormal sensitives. There could be no clairvoyant according to the Oriental scheme if the person so afflicted, using as I think the proper term, had not devoted much of previous lives to a one-sided development of the psychical nature resulting now in powers which make the possessor an abnormality in society.
A very strange belief of the Hindu is that one which allows the possibility of a change of state by a mortal of such a character that the once man becomes a Deva or lesser god. They divide nature into several departments, in each of which are conscious powers or entities, called Devas, to put it roughly. Yet this is not so far apart from the ideas of some of our best scientific men who have said there is no reason why in each ray of the spectrum there may not be beings to us unseen. Many centuries ago the Hindu thinker admitted this, and, pushing further on, declared that a man might through a certain sort of karma become one of these beings, with corresponding enjoyment and freedom from care, but with the certainty, however, of eventually changing back again to begin the weary round of birth over again.
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 covereth 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 almsgiving.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, a book revered by all in India, the highest place is given to what is called Karma-Yoga or the Religion of the Performance of Works and Duty, and there it is said: "He who, unattached to the fruits of his actions, performs such actions as must be done, is both renouncer and devotee; not he who kindles no sacrificial fires and performs no ceremonies. He who remains inert, restraining the organs of action, and pondering with his heart on objects of sense, is called a false pietist of bewildered soul. But he who, restraining his senses by his heart, and being free from interest in acting, undertakes active devotion through the organs of action, is praiseworthy."