This title comes from a saying of H. P. Blavatsky: "From birth to death every man is weaving destiny around himself, as a spider does his web." There is another well-known saying which sums up the doctrine in a nutshell:
"Sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny." That means, leaving out the intermediate links, that our destiny springs from our acts. Therefore, if man is responsible for his acts, he is responsible for his destiny. Goethe recognises this when he makes Faust say: "Du, stolzes Herz, du hast es ja gewollt." " 'Tis thou, proud heart, 'tis thou hast willed it so." 'Tis a proud moment for a man when he can rise up in his might and proclaim his own invincible soul. Then he ceases for a moment to blame God or Fate or his parents or other people for the unpleasant things of life. For a moment of illumination he realizes that he himself and he alone is the responsible person, reaping the just consequences of his own acts. But we do not live continually in such an atmosphere of exaltation, and for our more ordinary moments the consolations of philosophy are not to be despised. And, lest anyone carp at the word philosophy, let me remind you that each one of us has a philosophy of some kind or another, good, bad, or indifferent. If we don't like the word, we can call it something else; but there it is; and if your philosophy satisfies you, stick to it; but if not, seek a better.
It matters not what our religion or philosophy may be, we cannot get away from the fact that here we are. Each one of us has to make the best of the situation in which he finds himself. We may lean on props, but in the end we are driven back to our own resources, to whatever strength we can find within ourselves. But in place of outworn theological dogmas and the negations of materialistic philosophy, it is much better to have a philosophy which explains and interprets the facts of life; which is what Theosophy does.
Nothing happens by accident; and chance is just a word which covers our ignorance. If we cannot trace the cause of a thing, we say it happened by chance, but that is no explanation — it is just a convenient phrase. There was a time when men blamed God for epidemics, but now we know they come from neglect of sanitation, and we do not blame God any more. That is a feather in the cap of science, by the way. But we still go on blaming God or luck for things that we cannot explain; who knows but later on we may find the right explanation for these things too, and so blame them on to the right place — our own shoulders?
We see people around us reaping harvests of sorrow, and likely enough we ourselves have had our share. But then do we not see people sowing harvests of sorrow? Some people are sowing the wind; others are reaping the whirlwind; some are doing their best to break themselves up; others are laboring to put themselves together again. Some are ruining good constitutions; others painfully striving to improve bad ones. Some are squandering; others painfully gathering. And so on. Life is a mass of effects without visible causes, and of causes without visible effects. But the reason why we so often fail to connect effect with cause is that we take too narrow a view of the range of human life; we see but a small part of the picture. Religious people say that in the eye of God all is just; but Theosophy says that in the eye of man all may be recognised as just, if only that eye is fully opened. However, we must not expect to leap at a bound from ignorance to knowledge, but must be content to move by degrees. Theosophy is able to give quite a new picture of life which gives us confidence in the universe and its laws in ourselves. The following is taken from an English translation of one of the novels of Alexandre Dumas:
There is a moment in the affairs of every man which decides his future. This moment, however important it may be, is rarely prepared by calculation or directed by will. It is almost always chance which takes a man as the wind does a leaf, and throws him into some new and unknown path, whence, once entered, he is obliged to obey a superior force, and where, believing himself free, he is but the slave of circumstances and the plaything of events.
Note — it is chance that is said to determine our actions in a crisis; and we are the plaything of circumstances and events. But chance is only a name for undiscerned causes, not a cause in itself. There is no such thing as a mysterious power called chance which rules us; it is only a word we use when we do not know the real cause. A man's decision in a crisis is determined by the character which he has stored up by all his past thoughts and desires and acts. Such moments are testing times, and our subsequent fate is thus decided by the total effect of our life up to that time.
But what, you may ask, about the apparently casual circumstances that produce such powerful effects in crises like these? Let us take an illustration. You turn down a side street and there arrive just in time to meet somebody, whom a little earlier or a little later you would have missed; and this meeting changes the whole course of your life. Or again, you meet with a sudden accident, which cripples you for a longer or shorter period, and again alters your life. Are such events casual? No, we cannot see the connexion, but it must be there; for there can be no results without causes. But the explanation is quite simple: it is merely that we do not know all the laws of nature; and consequently many things must happen which we cannot explain. But this does not mean that we cannot know them or that we never shall know them. We already know more than some of our ancestors did. It is only a question of more knowledge when we shall be able to trace the causes of events which seem to us now to be casual.
I admit that it is not easy to see what is the cause that decides a man to turn to the right or the left, or that brings upon him sudden accident or bereavement or illness; but we know two things: (1) that there must be a cause; (2) that there must be many causes which our present faculties are unable to discern. Our faculties are either complete or incomplete: if the former, we are all-wise, masters of wisdom; if the latter, there must be things we do not know.
Now let us take a glance at modern civilization and ask what have been our means of knowledge. Religion has bid us rely on Providence, but has not gone into details; science has concerned itself with the world of the bodily senses, and with sundry metaphysical speculations as to what underlies it. So we can see that the reason why we understand so little is that we have not studied. If we begin to study along these lines we shall know more; but we neither can nor should expect to know the whole mystery at once. But every student who is pursuing a course of study has to take some things provisionally on faith, knowing that, though he cannot prove them now, he will be able to do so later on. If he objects to such a procedure, he will have to remain ignorant.
In the meantime it makes an immense difference to our outlook on life if we can accept the idea that the whole universe is pervaded by order, and that our own individual lives partake in this universal order and harmony and justice. Our experiences in this life are conditioned by our acts in this life or in an earlier life; but our actions are not determined, because man is divine in his essence, and this fact gives him the power of regulating his own conduct. It depends on man himself how he will confront the circumstances which his self-created destiny has made for him.
We weave our destiny round ourselves by our thoughts. A thought is an act. It is a potent energy, especially when accompanied by desire or any other emotion. It leaves us, and we do not trace its subsequent history. Like enough, it will come home to roost; and thus habits are engendered. And so on, as aforesaid, to character and destiny. But whence come the thoughts which enter our mind? Have we ever stopped to inquire? Must they not come from a thought atmosphere, into which all of us are sending thoughts, and from which we are all taking thoughts? We dwell in a thought atmosphere like fish in water, and there is constant intercourse. All our destiny is bound up with that of our fellows, for good or for ill. This is an individualistic age, and people often make a great fuss about the possible effect of their own actions upon themselves. But what about the effect of our actions on other people? This is surely the most important point. If a study of the universal doctrine of consequences is merely to focus each man's attention more strongly on his own personal interests, the great problem of human welfare will only be intensified and not solved; for what we are suffering from is a lack of the sense of solidarity and of our duty to others. As has been pointed out by H. P. Blavatsky, no man can sin alone; so a knowledge of the truth deprives us of the excuse that we can sin in secret and thus escape doing harm to our fellows. Our evil thoughts will poison the atmosphere that others breathe; but correspondingly our noble thoughts will help others through the invisible channels of communication.
Man passes through many deaths and rebirths, but the life of the real man within is continuous through all these changes of the outer man. Consequently the character and destiny which we create for ourselves persist throughout and the chain of cause and effect is continued past the gates of death and rebirth. As the law of analogy is true throughout the universe, we can compare man with a seed. This seed generates a plant, the plant lives and dies; but it produces more seeds which perpetuate its essence, so that other plants of the same kind are produced. When we die, we die down, as it were, like a plant that withers; but there is no ultimate death; for there is regeneration from the germ that is preserved. At death we cast off our outer garments, one by one; and at rebirth we rebuild for ourselves new garments; but the character we have made for ourselves has been preserved latent in the germ and will be reconstituted. Thus each child born on earth has his own individual character, which unfolds itself as he grows, taking its materials from his parentage and his surroundings, just as a growing plant takes its materials from soil and air.
If we can grasp these teachings as to the reign of just and unerring law throughout the universe; if we can realize that every man is in his essence divine; we shall be able to acquire a new sense both of our power and of our responsibility, and shall no longer be content to drift along waiting for some outside power to do our work for us, or trying to escape the burden of thought by absorbing ourselves in external distractions.