The Theosophical Forum – December 1943


The doctrine of reincarnation, and its twin doctrine of the workings of Karma from one incarnation to another, are of course truths, and there is always need to know of them and to appreciate them. Nevertheless it remains true that ulterior causes operate through proximate causes: fire will not bake our bread without the assistance of the baker, nor can Hercules lift the wagon out of the rut unless the wagoner puts his own shoulder to the wheel. So we must be careful not to slip into the habit of thinking of Karma as though it were an extraneous and alternative cause disputing the responsibility with minor causes, and invoked as an explanation in cases where we fail to discern the proximate cause. Again, it would be wrong to imagine that, when a more familiar explanation of an occurrence or experience is suggested, the operation of Karmic law is thereby depreciated; on the contrary such an explanation supports faith in Karma by showing us some of its ways of working.

If the experiences of people's lives were examined with a more seeing eye, it might become more evident that such experiences were the natural and inevitable result of their conduct and character in the present life. Thus, if a person who has so far led a life of ease and comfort should suddenly be plunged into privation, it is not necessary to call in, by way of explanation, some avenging or chastening deity or power. For such a result may be attributed to the effects of satiety. The individual himself, in his inner nature, actually craves such a change: he has disturbed the natural and all-pervading law of harmony by going to excess in one direction, and senses the need of an adjustment. And, since this deeper nature of his has the power to bring about results, the said results are thereupon brought about. The outer or lower nature, not understanding what has happened, complains, and casts about for some other explanation of what seems to it unjust and arbitrary. It is well for us that our lives are not confided to the unchecked guidance of our shortsighted and fatuous lower minds; and that there is within us a wiser vision and a surer hand to direct our feet on the path which we secretly know we ought to follow if we are to reap the full fruition of our experiences and to round out our character on a less petty scale. The chastening hand of affliction has often brought people to a thankful recognition of its beneficent effect; it has taught them to feel for others rather than to be so engrossed in self.

Again take the so-called "good" people, of whom we read in first-class romances. Even though the author of such a romance may fail to see the point, it may become clear to the reader that the so-called "good" person is in reality selfish and self-indulgent; and there is such a thing as moral self-indulgence and self-satisfaction. The villain of the story, on the other hand, may have the virtues lacking in the hero or heroine. He is more sincere and honest; he is not a humbug. This probably explains the sympathy we so often feel for him, and our comparatively weak respect for the hero. The reverse of fortune which comes down on the good person is felt to be a necessary lesson, needed to get him out of his comfortable and self-approving rut.

In short, we know so little of people's real characters (including our own), that our failure to discern the justice of an event or experience may be due mostly to our ignorance in that respect. We know there is an immutable law of readjustment, but, as said, this law must act through secondary causes, and it is interesting and helpful to examine into these. It might perhaps be as well to say here, in order to meet probable objections, that neither the present remarks nor any other reasonable explanations of Karmic law deprives anybody of the privilege of feeling sympathy and exercising compassion, if so minded. For if on the one hand it is impossible to interfere with Karma, there is no more to be said; and if, on the other hand, we can interfere with Karma, then we do it equally whether we withhold our help or afford it. "Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin."

To believe in Karma does not prevent us from trying to understand its workings. We do not need to make it into a personal God, which "moves in a mysterious way, its wonders to perform," or "hides a smiling providence behind a frowning face." We shall better co-operate with it when we understand it better.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition