The Theosophical Forum – December 1936

STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! — Iverson L. Harris

The above is the danger-signal which the age-old doctrine of Karman, whether under this or some other name, has flashed before the inner eyes of errant men and nations from time beyond memory. Humanity's Adept-Kings, of whom among all peoples tradition — which is racial memory — tells, the great Spiritual Seers, the exalted Teachers of Religion, the expounders of the loftiest philosophy, and the inspired poets and prophets, have echoed and re-echoed the same message to men and nations down the corridors of time: Ye cannot commit injustice without suffering the consequences thereof; ye cannot wrong the weak and escape the inevitable reaction of your wrong-doing; ye cannot be cruel with impunity; ye cannot sin without becoming the servants of sin; ye cannot be neglectful of duties which are yours by virtue of your status as responsible, thinking beings, and not pay the penalties of your neglect; ye cannot desecrate the temple of your body and avoid disease; ye cannot outrage the god locked up within you and not undergo the tortures of your self-created hell!

For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. . . . By their fruits shall ye know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

Karman — or Karma, as it is less accurately but more popularly called — is not a cosmic G-Man who tracks down our crimes and engineers a speedy conviction before the judgment-throne of the Most High. The word Karman itself is a Sanskrit term meaning action, and is frequently called "The Law of Consequences," or "The Law of Ethical Causation." It is the enunciation of a habit of Nature; and to a student of Theosophy Nature means all the vast aggregate of living entities — intelligences, consciousnesses, powers — visible and invisible, material and spiritual — which in their all-varying states of evolutionary development infill, make up, and indeed are the Boundless All. Karman connotes in the realm of ethics and metaphysics what Newton enunciated concerning the sphere of mechanics and physics when he declared: "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The statement hereinbefore quoted from the Christian Bible is a self-evident fact; but, though axiomatic as far as it goes, it is incomplete because it omits reference to the doctrine of Reincarnation; and this doctrine is absolutely essential in order to provide the necessary time and field for the working out of karman, for the ripple of force to reach the edge of its cyclic basin, and move into the next area of causes — to borrow a figure from The Mahatma Letters. In one short lifetime on this earth too often do we see scoundrels crushing idealism under the heel of cynicism, aided and abetted sometimes in the international field by the devastating power of air-bombers, tanks, and poison gas. I use the phrase "crushing idealism" advisedly rather than "crushing weaker peoples," because, horrible as is the madness of man's inhumanity to man which drives him to wholesale slaughter of his fellow-human beings, still more soul-destroying to men and nations is the triumph of cynicism over idealism. Better can we afford to lose our bodies than to lose our souls. Our bodies are of the earth; but our spiritual parts — our ideals, our aspirations, our compassion, our sense of justice and right, and our impulses towards co-operative, self-effacing labor for the common weal — these are our links with the Solar Divinities — our real "Fathers in Heaven.'

But though the mills of the gods grind slowly, they grind exceedingly small. We who weep over the apparent triumph of wrong — whether it be individual or national wrong — have we lost faith in the ultimate actual triumph of right over wrong? And those who imagine they can trample upon the rights of others, crush those weaker than themselves merely because for the time being they are the pampered prodigals of Mars, let them Stop! Look! Listen!

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 any one;
     Who thwarts it loses, and who serves it gains;
The hidden good it pays with peace and bliss,
     The hidden ill with pains. . . .

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 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
           — Sir Edwin Arnold. The Light of Asia

Throughout history we find this same warning to men and nations uttered by the really great men of different countries; and by "great men" I mean not the wholesale murderers whom profane history so egregiously exalts, but the lofty minds who were not deceived by outward appearances but had, at least in some measure, touched reality. I think, for example, of Aeschylus in his titanic dramas, warning the Athenians to stop! look! and listen! — to cling to the grand ethical principles which made the glory that was Greece under the wise guidance of Aristides the Just, instead of yielding to the blandishments of Themistocles and the cruel imperialists who trampled on the rights of the dependencies of Athens and thus sowed the seeds for the downward cycle of Grecian history. Ignoring this warning, the Periclean Age, despite the efforts of Aeschylus, Socrates, and Plato to save it, if the truth be told, served posterity exceedingly ill and missed the grand destiny which the high gods of Olympus seemingly intended for it. I think, again, of the message iterated and reiterated by Shakespeare in his great tragedies — perhaps most powerfully in Macbeth. Here the retribution which comes to one who ruthlessly pursues his own selfish ambitions with cruelty, ingratitude, murder, is seared into the very soul of the attentive reader. In this drama, be it noted, Shakespeare also shouts "Stop! Look! Listen!" to those who would achieve their personal ends by venturing unpurged into the psychic realms, as Macbeth did in consulting the three witches.

But we ordinary folk, who are without ambition to become kings and certainly have no murderous intentions towards any one — what have we to do with Macbeth's crimes, or with the decadence of Athenian virtue? Stop! Look! Listen! — to this warning from Kenneth Morris's Golden Threads in the Tapestry of History:

That force which, whispering within your heart, used your tongue this morning to sneer and speak traduction, brought down in its day empires in Anahuac and the Andes, stole provinces in Africa; forced opium on reluctant China; warred with, burned, and slandered Joan of Arc.

Finally, the basic ideas contained in the twin-doctrines of Karman and Reincarnation have been clearly set forth by the present Poet Laureate of England, John Masefield, in A Creed. Stop! Look! Listen!

I hold that when a person dies
     His soul returns again to earth;
Arrayed in some new flesh-disguise
     Another mother gives him birth.
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain
The old soul takes the roads again.

Such is my own belief and trust;
     This hand, this hand that holds the pen,
Has many a hundred times been dust
     And turned, as dust, to dust again;
These eyes of mine have blinked and shone
In Thebes, in Troy, in Babylon.

All that I rightly think or do,
     Or make, or spoil, or bless, or blast,
Is curse or blessing justly due
     For sloth or effort in the past.
My life's a statement of the sum
Of vice indulged or overcome.

I know that in my lives to be
     My sorry heart will ache and burn,
And worship, unavailingly,
     The woman whom I used to spurn,
And shake to see another have
The love I spurned, the love she gave.

And I shall know, in angry words,
     In gibes, and mocks, and many a tear,
A carrion flock of homing-birds,
     The gibes and scorns I uttered here.
The brave word that I failed to speak
Will brand me dastard on the cheek.

And as I wander on the roads
     I shall be helped and healed and blessed;
Dear words shall cheer and be as goads
     To urge to heights before unguessed.
My road shall be the road I made;
All that I gave shall be repaid.

So shall I fight, so shall I tread,
     In this long war beneath the stars;
So shall a glory wreathe my head,
     So shall I faint and show the scars,
Until this case, this clogging mould,
Be smithied all to kingly gold.

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