The Theosophical Forum – October 1942


From Shanghai, China, over station XQHB, a series of Theosophical radio broadcasts was given last year by Miss Elsa-Brita Bergqvist and Miss Inga Sjostedt, in which they outlined the fundamental tenets of Theosophy. This talk, given last May 18th by Miss Bergqvist, deals with the subject of Swabhava, the essential characteristic of a thing.

Good evening, everybody:

The speaker last week gave an explanation of the doctrine of Karman, Nature's law of perpetual readjustment of harmony wherever this has been in any way disturbed. It is a habit of Nature, which amounts to a natural law, because it never fails to balance causes and effects with perfect exactness.

But Karman is more than this. In a perfectly true sense we are our own Karman. It is not something that happens to us independently of ourselves, but rather is it the qualities in ourselves that attract the circumstances from which we derive joy or sorrow. To illustrate this, may I point out that people in favorable circumstances are often not as happy as some less fortunate people who yet retain a serene contentment in the face of great difficulties. The important thing is not so much what fate has in store for us, but rather what qualities we have acquired to deal with that fate. At each moment we change these qualities, and so our lives and fates are perpetually changing. Nothing in the universe ever stands still, for life is synonymous with change. For anything ever to remain the same for even an instant of time is incompatible with life, and as everything is alive, it is an inconceivable abstraction. We change all the time, and at any given moment we are not the same as we were the previous moment in mind or body. Our thoughts change and with them the qualities that compose our minds and characters. Through all these changes we are nevertheless conscious of being one and the same entity. That is, our individuality does not perceptibly alter, but little by little we grow by adding to our egoic center those qualities of our lower nature which by our efforts we have raised to the level of our higher selves. This is a slow process of development, and we may live thousands of lives on earth before our personal lower nature has become fully absorbed into the divine center within us, and we shall function consciously on the spiritual planes, just as now we function in the emotional and lower mental states of consciousness. It is this petty emotional everyday nature, which has little by little to raise itself to the level of our Spirit and in so doing to become absorbed in the Spirit — that is to say in our true self.

As we know, there are no two things exactly alike, no two leaves, as the saying goes, with identical markings, and this holds true of all the spheres of nature. There are no two people with the same qualities in equal proportion. As we grow and evolve we are continually altering all the complex parts of our constitution, incorporating in ourselves attributes and thoughts that we contact, and exchanging with other entities the atoms of our physical, mental, vital and emotional vehicles. We develop in ourselves those qualities with which we are most closely related. Just as a child will try to emulate the object of his hero-worship, we all seek to acquire the qualities we admire in others. As we continually give and take thought-entities and develop the attributes that appeal to us, so we change ourselves and our attitude to our surroundings. The circumstances we encounter are to us either pleasant or unpleasant according to the reaction of our own natures, and so it is that each of us is his own Karman, for it is the self-developed qualities in each man that determine his attitude to the trials and triumphs he meets, and whether he profit or lose by his experiences on the earth.

It is also these qualities, which the Theosophist would call collectively by the Sanskrit word Swabhava, meaning innate characteristics. It is the swabhava then, or the collection of peculiar characteristics of an entity, that determine his Karman. As all entities are at different points on the ladder of evolution, they all have different lessons to learn, different experiences to pass through, and the unerring justice of Karman places them in the setting perfectly adapted to the gaining of the experience necessary for the next step. For instance, it is the swabhava of a man that causes him to be a man, for with his particular qualities he could be nothing else, just as it is the swabhava of a rose to be a rose. It could not be any other entity, for its peculiarities are those which go to make up a rose. If you planted an acorn, you would not expect to see a maple tree grow, neither would a sheep be expected to produce kittens. Each entity imbodies in the form suited to its inner qualities, which is the same as saying to its state of development. These facts quoted from nature are so obvious and we have been accustomed to take them so much for granted, yet it would be well to consider for awhile, why it is that a seed — take for instance a strawberry achene, which itself bears no resemblance to the finished plant, would invariably produce a strawberry plant, even though it be planted in a bed of nasturtiums or cauliflowers. There is something in that achene which is typical. It contains latent in itself the potentialities of a strawberry plant, but not anything else, yet there is no visible indication of what it will produce.

As an entity progresses and garners experience, its swabhava constantly changes and grows better or worse, and when the entity by means of accumulated experience and consequent change of qualities, has exhausted the stock of knowledge to be gained in one bodily form, then that entity will incorporate in, assume the body of, a more highly evolved form of life. This does not mean that the physical forms change for that reason — they do, as a result of climatic and other changes — but rather that the soul inhabiting a form of life is promoted to inhabit a body more suited to its growing capacities for self-expression. We could not as human beings find sufficient freedom to express our abilities in any form lower than the human. Neither are we sufficiently wise and experienced to imbody in the form of for instance a planet. Our swabhavas are those of men and women, and these characteristics are changing all the time. We possess in our will and mind the ability to make of ourselves anything we wish, and it is our immediate duty to grow into conscious spiritual entities, for which fitting vehicles will be furnished when we have attained to our goal, as perfected humanity.

Now please remember that we are constantly changing, that our thoughts and emotions are in a constant state of flux, and that we are continually weaving into the fabric of our being new qualities, and it is the aggregate of our characteristics at any given moment which is this same swabhava. Our swabhava, therefore, is never the same from one instant to the next, because as the atoms composing our minds and bodies change, so the aggregate, of which they are the component parts, changes in proportion, and it is this aggregate which at any particular instant is our swabhava or character or state of evolution. Evolution means the unfolding or bringing forth of that which is within. Man, as an integral part of the Universe, contains within himself in latency all that the universe contains, and can unfold whatever qualities he desires from within himself. Our swabhava, therefore, is the sum-total of what we have to date evolved from our innate potentialities through the experiences encountered during our many lives on earth.

At the beginning of this talk, I mentioned that the Higher Self or individuality, as distinct from the lower personality, does not perceptibly alter, and then proceeded to explain how everything in the universe is constantly changing. Lest anyone should have found these statements contradictory, it would be as well to explain more fully. The individuality, or Higher Self or Reincarnating Ego, does not perceptibly alter — perceptibly to us, that is, because our perception does not function on its plane. It is our higher mind and Spirit which are meant, and these parts of us are unfortunately not much in evidence in our everyday lives. We live for the most part in the personal, emotional, selfish principles of our nature and take but little heed of the still, small voice of our Higher Self. This Higher Self is a ray emanating direct from our Universal Spirit, the to us highest conceivable Divinity, and could we but communicate with this Divine Center in us we should see the higher egos as growing evolving entities, but on a higher rung of the evolutionary ladder than the personalities we inhabit for a life.

It is our aim and the Karmic law that we shall help evolve the personalities and incorporate into our individualities all that can be garnered from the chaff of these evanescent forms. For our emotions and lower mental qualities are, as said in a former talk, merely the garments of the true self, and disintegrate on the death of the physical vehicle, while the ego passes through the experiences it has prepared for itself during life and in due course of time returns to earth, where it gathers up the fruits of which its former personality contained the seeds to build itself a new personality for the future life on earth. We are thus responsible for every one of our qualities of character. We have builded for ourselves the residences of our egos, and if these be not to our liking it is entirely our own fault.

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