Oddly, but undeniably, when we think of karman we generally consider it in its immediate relation to ourselves, and associate it in our minds with the idea of punishment or retaliation for acts committed or omitted. Tacitly, it comes to be a sort of Nemesis or agent of divine retribution. But this is only as our consciousness is touched by the ever-immanent mystery surrounding this most recondite, most mysterious doctrine of the theosophical philosophy. Let us once begin to broaden the idea of karman to universal proportions, and we see it as one of the majestic rhythms of the universe, protective even in its most awesome aspects. Protean in its forms, it appears variously to our imagination. It is divine justice; it is compassion; it is an energy of the Hierarch of which we all are parts, continually rectifying itself, just as we in our smaller way continually bring ourselves into line. It is the music of the universe ever developing its themes and arriving at its resolutions. It is the activities of all beings of whatever kind, moving on to their respective culminations. It preserves and restores proportion, balance, and equilibrium throughout the cosmos. We ourselves share in its mighty rhythms, and are just one of the armies of beings hastening on to the fulfilment of our destinies.
For karman is fulfilment: it is a rhythmic interaction between beginnings and endings, between acts initiated and acts completed, between causes and results, which are in reality one, because they cannot be separated.
According to the dictionary, fulfilment is to bring to completion or consummation, to carry out the purport of, to bring out or manifest fully — though this last meaning is given as rare. We add, it is significant. We have fulfilment of hopes, of desires, of expectations, of promises, of prayers, of prophecies, of duties and obligations, but all of these are karman. In the light of this teaching fulfilment is a flowering, the crowning reward of effort, the consummation of a long series of efforts, an ending, a completion, of any related series of actions. It is not stationary, because it is forever coming into being, ever moving towards an ending, which is at the same time another beginning.
But fulfilment presupposes a promise, and in fact we could not be discussing this aspect now, were it not that in the past such a promise, fundamental and spiritually binding, had been born at the inmost center of our consciousness. This goes back to the time, in the very beginnings of our planet, when as a host of souls, of spirit-monads, coming over from an older world, we began our evolution on this new sphere. In these beginnings was registered a purpose — not of words, but sounded in the atmosphere itself of the subjective worlds — to fulfil the destiny for which this planet was to furnish the setting. Thereafter a series of actions began, which has proceeded even to the present day, in fulfilment of that early promise; and the present human race, whatever may be its present status, and into whatever byways it may have strayed, is in reality deep in its struggle to win out to the light and peace of spiritual maturity, forecast for itself in that early and innocent time.
In the same way our birth into any one earth-life is a promise: there has been, before the birth of the soul, a contact, a connection, with that same godlike part of our nature which started us off in the beginning, in which resides wisdom and the prophetic faculty. There has been a moment of vision, when our human self, the self that is going to be conscious during this life, sees in perspective the life to come, and what needs to be accomplished in that life in terms of character and essential achievement. We can picture the human self, like the knight-errant of old, full of the energy of hope, embarking on the journey of life, soon forgetting, perhaps, the promise of that vision; or perhaps it does not utterly forget, and then we have an individual with a sense beyond the present moment, a sense of the hidden significance of his existence.
In the training of children the teacher, whether consciously or not, is striving to keep that memory alive in the child. If the child is responsive, it establishes habits that lead in the end to the fulfilment of its spiritual aspirations. It tends to gravitate towards essential actions, to heed those impulses that are always urging it to act creatively Then, as deeper understanding dawns, the soul will recognize what is its "appointed work in life," and move forward to a maturity where peace of mind is possible. The old motto: "Do well the smallest duty and when the day is done, there will be no regrets, no time wasted — then joy will come," takes on a poignant meaning when applied to a lifetime rather than to a single day.
There must be many causes that keep us from fulfilling all that we might do in one lifetime, but one such cause, undoubtedly, is the failure to act in close harmony with the essentials of our destiny, the neglecting to make sufficient use of the faculties we possess. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita: "He who doth not cause this wheel thus already set in motion to continue revolving liveth in vain, O son of Pritha."
Directly connected with the doctrine of fulfilment, certainly, is the teaching that at the end of life there is an accounting to be given. We might say that the Higher Self has set the human self a task to be performed. Yet its decrees are not arbitrary. Its energies are attracted to the weak points in our character-fabric, as air rushes into empty spaces, and we are impelled toward the fulfilment of our own profound purposes.
We can rarely trace this thread of consequence from life to life. But one instance is found in the marvelous story "Karmic Visions," found in an old volume of H. P. B.'s Lucifer, and probably written by H. P. Blavatsky herself. The first vision is of Clovis, king of the Franks in the 5th Century a.d. He was a great warrior, conqueror of the Romans and of the Visigoths, powerful and clever, but unscrupulous and ruthless when his warlike spirit is roused. He is called in the story a heartless despot, and is shown refusing mercy to the aged prophetess of the German barbarians, whom he has just conquered. As she dies by the hand of Clovis himself, the prophetess makes the following prediction: "Clovis, thou shalt be reborn among thy present enemies, and suffer the tortures thou hast inflicted upon thy victims. All the combined power and glory thou hast deprived them of shall be thine in prospect, yet thou shalt never reach it!"
We next see that same Ego-soul, in another incarnation — the next but one, perhaps, as hinted — as the unfortunate Frederick III, king of Prussia and later Emperor of Germany, at first victorious in war (in the Austro-Prussian conflict of 1866, and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870). As Emperor he lived but a few short months, all the time suffering intensely with an incurable and agonizing disease. The story of his life is well known. He is shown resting in his villa on the Mediterranean, a prey to unbearable thoughts, to a sense of frustration arising from his deep desire to carry out many needed reforms and humanitarian works among his people, yet powerless to fulfil these hopes, and knowing that he will never in this life be able to serve his people as he so longs to do. He is transformed and spiritually awakened through the prolonged months of agony. And in his turn he exclaims: "Why, oh why, thou mocking Nemesis, hast thou thus purified and enlightened, among all the sovereigns on this earth, him whom thou hast made helpless, speechless and powerless?"
W. Q. Judge, in The Ocean of Theosophy, in naming a few such possible reincarnations, confirms this one of Clovis and Frederick III. As historical curiosities and examples these instances are of interest, and serve to bring home to us the drama of karman as it plays itself out from life to life.
From one great Race to the next, the same law applies. Our present Fifth-Race civilization struggles with evils that had their origin in the less evolved, grossly material days of Fourth-Race Atlantis: our "Atlantean Karman" holding us back, slowing up our progress toward our racial fulfilment.
Even from one great cycle of planetary activity, geologically speaking, to the next, there are still consequences, unfinished beginnings to be completed and fulfilled. Take such a little thing as our lead pencil. The graphite in that pencil was once a part of the luxuriant foliage that waved in the lush forests of the pre-Cambrian jungle. Take the uses of coal, or the various derivatives of coal-tar, or the changes in our way of life since the discovery of the great oil-deposits, and right there we have an object-lesson showing how the activities of one cycle or epoch can affect the conditions of a later one.
The same is true of still greater cycles — even the life-span of universes. Whatever causes are still not worked out when a great universal imbodiment comes to an end, those causes are held over and will come to fulfilment in the next great imbodiment. In fact, as the ancient Hindus teach, each manvantara is a karman; the new one could not come into being save for the karmic causes left unfinished by the actions of entities in the former one.
Human beings all, at times, are subject to a sense of doom, of an impending fate, of prophecies about to be fulfilled, of destiny, kismet "the twilight of the gods," expressed in the god Krishna's sombre words: "I am Time matured, come hither for the destruction of these creatures." Perhaps this is especially true in this age, when as a race we are at a crucial point in the endings (and therefore in the beginnings) of several important cycles. Whatever the age has brought about by its actions, the fulfilment is at hand. "The old order changeth, giving place to new, and God fulfils himself in many ways." Yet, the new is being born amid the very husks of the old. Certain phases of a great civilization, let us say, dissolve before our eyes. The over-all picture changes. But for the individual human beings who have been involved in that change, a new era has begun. The field of experience is as rich as ever, only different. Old orders fulfil their destiny and pass away as such, but new institutions come into being because they have not yet developed their possibilities. And so it is with individual lives: there are episodes: a phase of experience begins, gathers momentum, reaches its peak, declines and comes to an end, but — at about the mid-point of that phase a different one has begun, and is on the way up towards its climax.
Life, evolution, is full of endings as well as of beginnings: the thing is done, it is of the past. It is the Nitya-pralaya that the ancient Hindu philosophy speaks of, the moment-by-moment continuous dissolution of all things, their karman having been fulfilled. Yet there is also, moment by moment, something new being born.
It is the destiny of the races of men, as of all other beings below man, to reach at some time conscious godhood. There are two ways of arriving at this point: one, the long, long way appointed by nature for the mass of humanity who drift and as it were simply respond to the stimulus of events, driven by their karman; the other, conscious altruistic effort, sustained creatively and in harmony with the trends towards a sublime fulfilment. And that fulfilment, that consummation, brings with it the greatest of all rewards: "the power to bless and serve humanity."