The subject of Universal Law is, or can be, a profound one. Fortunately Theosophical teachings are fascinating and provocative in both their simplicity and their complexity. Theosophy has that virtue, which led Judge to so delightfully compare it to an ocean, of varying depth — a study in truth from the shallowest understanding of it to its most unfathomable depths. So this discussion of the great Laws of Nature is only a viewpoint taken from some depth or another in the Ocean that is Theosophy. Such a discussion readily brings forth questions on freedom, for we want to know whether law has anything to do with our lack of freedom. We are not entirely free and why can we not be? What is freedom?
Freedom is only relative as probably are all such abstractions. The lack of it is certainly not due primarily to man-made laws, for these in the main give us more freedom and security of a physical kind. But even without the most confining of these laws man would not be free. This is because the Universe is based on a comprehensive law or operation which governs all Nature and makes it inevitable that we be dependent upon and responsible for all living things. Therefore we are far from being entirely free agents.
By Universal Law we mean the operation of the Universe, the inevitable, the immutable, the everlasting Laws of Nature. And our perception of these Laws, when clear and accurate, is Truth. We are not dealing here with physical law alone, which is only the outward manifestation of that which works in invisible and causal realms. If we use Dr. de Purucker's definition of Universe — "actually and literally imbodied consciousness" — then Universal Law is the working of these consciousnesses, the vast and complete function which expresses the individuality, the essential characteristics of the Universe. And we are a part of, we compose, we are the Universe.
This great Law is neither dictated nor enforced by any outside agency, or by one individual upon another, for all beings are agents, instigators, perpetuators and reapers of the Law. While this is true, it is only highly evolved beings, the gods, who are the ideal, the relatively perfect instruments through which the Law may operate. Entities below us in evolution are entirely unself-conscious agents, and we are only beginning to realize that we are agents and have the possibilities of perfecting ourselves. It is, for example, of a Dhyani-Buddha that we might say, speaking in correspondences, the very circulation of his blood, his respiration, his movements, thoughts and energies are manifestations and expressions of Universal Law.
There is enough authority in our Theosophical teachings for us to say that Karman represents, at least to our minds, the sum total of Universal Law. Perhaps the most familiar statement to this effect is from The Key to Theosophy, where H. P. Blavatsky says that Karman is "the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the source, the origin and the fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature." While the literal translation of the Sanskrit term Karman is "action," we have the more or less traditional definition of the word as it is used Theosophically. It is that Law of Consequences according to which every action, every thought, every emotion is a cause which produces an inevitable effect. These actions as produced are energies that must be expended, and from this expenditure come unavoidable results.
Nevertheless, the broader definition as "action," with its implied reaction, more aptly describes Karman as the Ultimate Law. The entire Universe is in constant action. We can see and feel this action in our world of senses: not particularly in the rather desperate hustle of our human affairs, but in the gentle breezes and the harsher winds; in the movement of trees, in the fall of snow and rain; in the tides, the shifting sands, the rise and fall of continents; in the growth of plants, the twinkling stars, the sun's rays and moving shadows; in the heart-beats and respirations, in the constant flow and interchange of atoms. Have you glanced at a patch of bare ground or grass, thinking it to be still and calm with no sign of movement; then on looking closer have you seen the dense and quicksilver activity of myriad ants? So it is with Karman, for this activity is concerned with all spheres, visible and invisible. It can be imagined that from a distance this Universal Law would seem to function as a smooth continuous flow of action, a hardly discernible movement. But on closer scrutiny this same movement would be seen as vigorous action, pushing action; impelling forces intercepting, converging, dovetailing each other, but all in one general direction.
Remembering Dr. de Purucker's definition of Universe, we might say then that Universal Law (Karman) is "consciousnesses in action," which is a statement of the function of the Universe as a whole. While it is often spoken of as one vast Law, it has many facets, many characteristics. Just as we make ourselves acquainted with a chemical by studying its various properties, its characteristics and reactions, so may Karman be broken down, not into different laws, but into extensions or properties of the One Law. The various doctrines of the Ancient Wisdom may be formulated into extensions of Karman in terms of action.
For example, we have the doctrine of Evolution which is the reason and purpose of all action. Our activity is for the purpose of evolving, of unfolding and developing. This process brings forth all the possibilities that lie latent within each being. The Law of Cycles is the measurement and rhythm of action, the time-periods, great and small, of repetitive but progressive activity (the measurement) and the duality expressed in these periods, such as activity and rest (the rhythm). This rhythm may also be seen in the dawn, the rise, the peak, the fall, and the twilight of any cycle. The teaching of Hierarchies gives us the organization or system of consciousnesses in action. A hierarchy has been defined as "a system of delegated, directive powers and authority that exists in a self-contained body, directed and guided by a Hierarch." Theosophically this refers to the unnumbered classes of evolving entities. There is an endless chain of hierarchies, the peak or apex of one forming or being included in the base of the next highest. The nature of these consciousnesses in action is composite, Seven-Principled. All entities have the opportunity of awakening and developing and perfecting these principles.
Then we have the doctrine of Reimbodiment. Embodiment is one-half a cycle as previously mentioned, the activity side, the empirical and informative aspect of action. The other side, death or disembodiment, is rest and the assimilation of the experiential. Reimbodiment then is the coming into the experiential side of life again and again. Reincarnation, the term used when speaking of man, has been viewed with much alarm in the past, perhaps because the view has been rather myopic. It should be considered as a part of endless Universal cycles applying to every living being, not as a strange occurrence that has only to do with man. All the cycles that we know include repetitions of rest and activity; there is nothing that is in an unceasingly and everlastingly active state. Just as inconceivable is a never-ending latent or quiescent condition. Activity and rest are dual aspects of life.
As the culminating extension of action, there are the Laws of Universal Brotherhood and Compassion which express the co-operative action necessary to a perfect functioning of the whole. In another sense they express the responsibility of action, the responsibility of every acting consciousness to all parts and to the whole. Until we recognize this Law and comply with it we hinder not only our own evolutionary activity but all such activity. We must recognize the Oneness — in source, function and purpose — of all that is.
Our study of Universal Law is important in the same way as knowing the laws that govern our cities, states and countries. We have no excuse for not knowing those that apply to us. Ignorance of these laws does not mitigate or cancel out punishment when they are not upheld. So it is with the Laws of the Universe. They work on us or through us whether we know it or not — how much to our advantage if we do know! Perhaps the most significant aspect of this knowledge is that any enforcement of these great Laws is done by us, the consciousnesses in action. We impel ourselves, we impel Karman. The divine urge within us to manifest and evolve is the same force which brings action and reaction. Therefore we can see the futility of opposing these Laws and in particular of trying to set them aside, an absurdity so well under-scored in Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary where he defines to pray as "to ask that the Laws of the Universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy."
Either ignorance or knowledge of law is directly connected with that elusive quality called freedom. It is elusive because it is relative. As an instance, two definitions under free in Webster's Dictionary are: one, "not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being" and two, "not united or combined with anything else; unattached." By the first we are free because we are not determined by anything beyond our own nature or being. By the second we are not free, for we are not unattached, we are united to all things. Does it seem paradoxical to say that laws confine only when they are ignored or actively worked against? It is true, for obedience to law is the only freedom; we are slaves when we struggle against it.
Probably all great Teachers have said in essence: "The truth shall make you free." And they have not meant a technical knowledge of truth; they mean becoming truth. In understanding and becoming the Laws we gain mastery over them and freedom of harmonious action. This recalls H. P. B.'s words from The Voice of the Silence: "Chafe not at Karma, nor at Nature's changeless laws. . ." "Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance."