Copyright © 1974 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
Science teaches us that the living as well as the dead organism of both man and animal are swarming with bacteria of a hundred various kinds; that from without we are threatened with the invasion of microbes with every breath we draw, and from within by leucomaines, aerobes, anaerobes, and what not. But Science never yet went so far as to assert with the occult doctrine that our bodies, as well as those of animals, plants, and stones, are themselves altogether built up of such beings; which, except larger species, no microscope can detect. . . . Each particle — whether you call it organic or inorganic — is a life. Every atom and molecule in the Universe is both life-giving and death-giving to that form, inasmuch as it builds by aggregation universes and the ephemeral vehicles ready to receive the transmigrating soul, and as eternally destroys and changes the forms and expells those souls from their temporary abodes. It creates and kills; it is self-generating and self-destroying; it brings into being, and annihilates, that mystery of mysteries — the living body of man, animal, or plant, every second in time and space; and it generates equally life and death, beauty and ugliness, good and bad, and even the agreeable and disagreeable, the beneficent and maleficent sensations. — The Secret Doctrine, I, 260-1
Life-atoms are intimately connected with the causes and manifestation of disease. Both health and disease are karmically the consequences of the characters and tendencies which we ourselves have impressed upon the life-atoms composing the various sheaths in which we, the human egos, are clothed during earth life: impressed upon them by our thoughts, our feelings, our desires and our habits. This does not mean, however, that a man has now a photographic duplication, as it were, of his last physical body with the same diseases that he may have been suffering from then. Predisposition to health or disease, shape of body, and physiognomy, are all matters of karmic change, of evolution.
A man in one life may have a disease and exhaust the karmic causes which brought it about, and in the next life be perfectly free from it, or he may not be free — it all depends upon his karma. We have the same life-atoms and the same astral monad as before, both of course modified according to the karma previously engendered. The karma of these life-atoms and of this astral monad is simply brought over from the past life, and begins anew from the very point at which that life was closed. Life is continuous; but as all things change, including the very life-atoms of our body, and as our soul has changed for the better in its devachan by absorbing its experiences, so the new man is indeed the old man, yet is in a sense new.
We have now practically the same body that we had in our last life. Nevertheless, as a general rule — save in certain instances due to karma, as in the cases of those who die in childhood or in early youth — the reincarnating ego is born into a different race when it returns to earth, into a different era, into different surroundings. The life-atoms are identical, but they change necessarily, just as last Monday is not the same as the Monday to come, although we are the same person.
How about the growth and change even in one life of a human being? Has a full-grown man the same contour that he had as the newborn babe? And yet it is the same individual, the same life-atoms. Is the child the same as the adult man? Yes and no; the same body, but how different! So it is with succeeding lives. Just as the child grows into the adult by slow stages, so does a man pass from incarnation to incarnation, continuously the same in essential being, although in each new life undergoing a change, let us hope, for the better. We are making ourselves now very largely what we shall be ten years hence. We may have conquered a disease that we are today suffering from, or we may have a disease then that at present we do not have. In either case we ourselves are responsible. Disease, therefore, is the working out of karma, for everything that comes to a man is the consequence, the flowering, of seeds sown in the past.
Our physical life-atoms, being our children, partake of our swabhava, and respond to our thoughts and feelings, to our example; but it does not necessarily follow that a man whose present life has been marked by high endeavor and by noble characteristics should in the next earth life have a healthy body. The contrary of this is too well known: noble-minded men and women who are frail and sickly, and, on the other hand, vicious characters who have healthy bodies. How is this to be explained?
In the case of a fine and unselfish character who has a weak physical vehicle, he has won his freedom so far as the inner man is concerned; but so far as the life-atoms are concerned which he still has to use, he has not yet cleansed them of the preceding stain which that same spirit-soul brought upon them. But in time when the cycle of a frail physical body will have passed, then the man will be able to shine in splendor.
It is likewise true that some corrupt and evil human beings have bodies of physical beauty, but this is rare. More often, it is the unadvanced human souls who possess bodies of physical perfection, simply because the fire within is not yet aroused, and neither consumes nor enflames the body. Genius usually appears in a weak and often decrepit body because the inner fire is too strong for it, and can tear the body to pieces when it does not distort. Yet, if one were given the choice, who would not liefer be a genius, particularly a spiritual genius, even with a weak body, than an individual whose soul is spiritually dead — or as yet wholly unawake!
To say that selfishness is the cause of all disease is too general a statement. To be more specific, it is the form of selfishness called passion, whether conscious or unconscious, which is the fruitful cause of disease — unconquered violent passion, such as hatred, anger, lust, etc. Any such passion, mental or physical, shakes the lower constitution of man; it escapes from the control of the guiding hand of the higher part of his being, changing the direction of flow of the pranic life-currents, condensing them here, rarefying them there. It thus interferes with the normal, easy workings of nature, which in this connection means health. In fact, selfishness is at the root not merely of most disease, but of most evil-doing, and both are originally caused not by unconquerable but by unconquered passions.
The symptoms of disease, which only too often are treated as being the disease itself, are not infrequently the efforts of the forces of health to throw the poison out of the body. A disease should be understood as a purifying process because the end will be a cleansing. It should be welcomed in the sense of a quiet understanding of the situation, and without either fear or an attempt to complicate or hinder the process. But many people have an idea that the curing of disease consists in damming it back, shutting the doors against its egress out of the system. Such damming back, however, allows the roots of the disease to take firmer hold and spread and accumulate energy, so that when it reappears — as it inevitably will for its roots have not been extirpated — its reaction upon the body is more violent than it would have been if the disease had been allowed to take its course. As W. Q. Judge has written:
. . . diseases are gross manifestations showing themselves on their way out of the nature so that one may be purified. To arrest them through thought ignorantly directed is to throw them back into their cause and replant them in their mental plane.
This is the true ground of our objection to metaphysical healing practices, which we distinguish from the assumptions and so-called philosophy on which those methods are claimed to stand. For we distinctly urge that the effects are not brought about by any philosophical system whatever, but by the practical though ignorant use of psycho-physiological processes. — The Path, September 1892, p. 190
There is an ethical side to all this which has not been sufficiently touched upon. In many instances diseases may be a heaven-sent blessing: they cure egoism, they teach patience, and bring in their train the realization of the need for living rightly. If we with our ungoverned emotions had bodies which could not be diseased, they might well be weakened and killed by excesses. Diseases actually are warnings to reform our thoughts and to live in accordance with nature's laws.
A new cycle in medicine entered the world in the latter half of the nineteenth century: no longer were human beings dosed until they died with mighty draughts of this and mighty potions of that. Doctors were beginning to see that it is nature that cures, and that the wise physician is a guide and an eliminator rather than a doser. Nevertheless, because of the still imperfect knowledge which physicians have, diseases in their acute stages often kill. Their course is too rapid for the human system to withstand the strain. On the other hand, the medical practitioners of the distant future will understand so well what diseases are, and the methods of curing them — indeed, how to prevent them — that they will lead a disease out so gently that it will appear to vanish while actually it is manifesting itself, even as the body today very often throws off a sickness by its own unaided powers. (1)
As I have already said, there is no certain knowledge as to the meaning and cause of disease, with the result that new systems of medical practice are constantly being introduced. For example, some advocate the use of stimulants and narcotics; others, eliminative and suppressive measures, with respect merely to symptoms. I might add that there is more justification for these and other methods in vogue in certain of the regular schools of medicine, than there is for those opposed to all medical practice, such as the schools of so-called mental or faith healing. It is a very dangerous thing indeed by the use of affirmations and denials, or by methods of intense psychologic thinking, to dam back elemental forces working their way outwards through the human constitution. Consequently, however imperfect medical science may be today, it nevertheless treats the body with material means, which are the least harmful.
The ancient wisdom has some points of agreement with the "sects of deniers," as H. P. Blavatsky neatly called them; for instance, the teaching that a bright and cheerful spirit is a good thing to have; again, that life should be faced with an attitude of courage, and with an appeal to the spiritual energy inherent in the universe. But these are mere isolated points of agreement. There are other things which are impossible to accept, such as the notion that matter does not exist. If we were to deny the existence of matter, we should be obliged to deny the existence of spirit also, because spirit and matter are the polar antitheses of each other. Above all, there is the question of the concentration of personal interests around the individual, and the strenuous attempt at getting help for oneself, which is so contrary to the true spiritual ideal. If a man, in order to seek relief from some affliction, uses the spiritual powers of his being and tries to drag them down into the material world, he is proceeding in a direction opposite to nature's evolutionary flow, which is upwards. The rule is to raise, not to debase. Such action is a swimming against the current; and this is where the system of the healers or deniers is basically wrong.
We must remember that everything that happens to a man is the working of karma, and that diseases are the result of inharmonious thoughts and emotions of this or of a past life now working themselves out through the body. More particularly, all diseases are brought about through the instrumentality of elementals. This is the ancient teaching, and was the belief of the entire world until the West, in its supreme wisdom, began to look upon this consensus of opinion of the human race as founded upon superstition.
In the New Testament, due to its faulty translation arising out of a misapprehension of what those early Christian writers intended to say when they wrote these tracts, diseases are ascribed to the operation of devils or demons — a mistranslation which is grotesque. These daimonia, as the Greek word runs, are simply the lowest order of animate and sensate creatures — commonly called in theosophy elementals — forming the lowest step of the hierarchical ladder of which the highest is the condition of spiritual existence of as well as an actual world inhabited by the gods. Between elemental and god there is a wide range of difference in evolutionary progress, but no difference in essence or in origin, man occupying an intermediate stage on this ladder of life.
All diseases, therefore, from epilepsy or cancer to a common cold, from tuberculosis to a toothache, from rheumatism to any other physical ailment, are brought about through elementals working as the instruments of the karmic law. And the same applies to mental diseases: an outburst of anger, a raging temper, persistent melancholia, and the manias of various kinds, all are elemental in origin. Homicidal mania is an example in point; essentially it is quite unhuman as well as being inhuman — it is elemental. In this case an elemental has control of the human temple, and has for the time being dispossessed the rightful human dweller therein. Such a state is due to weakness and self-indulgence.
Epilepsy is likewise due to an elemental, which is a nature spirit, an energy center, a consciousness center, of an unevolved kind which in this case has usurped temporarily the position normally occupied by the human soul in the body. Epileptics, in actual fact, are 'moon-struck' when they suffer an attack. In this connection it may be of interest to note that one of the ancient Mesopotamian gods, spoken of in the early Christian and Jewish scriptures, is Beel-Zebub, usually translated as "Lord of the Flies." Zebub does mean flies, but the fly is mystically symbolic of an astral animate entity, and hence was taken as representative of the character and antics of the elementals. Therefore, Lord of Flies simply means Lord of the Elementals — of the elemental forces and powers; and that lord is the moon.
In antiquity and during the Middle Ages, epilepsy was known as the "sacred illness" on account of its marked psychological element which contrasts it so strongly with other more purely physical afflictions. It was believed that elementals of a higher grade, possessing a larger psychological sphere of activity, were concerned in the "falling sickness." This thought also prevails throughout the Orient, as in the South Sea Islands where things which are sacred in any sense are called tabu, forbidden, and considered to be under the special protection of the elemental spirits of nature.
Epileptic seizures are in reality no worse than any other outbreak of disease, for, as indicated, every disease can be traced to the same causes: an originating series of thoughts and emotions, eventuating in the present life in a distortion and an inharmonious interaction of the pranic currents in the body. According to the character of the emotions and thoughts, so is the disease.
In regard to cancer, there is one fundamental cause branching into two: deep-seated selfishness, first; and next, acting on this general background, unregulated emotionalism, the causes of which may have been sown ages back in other lives. The combined power of these two vital-astral currents weakens or even destroys resistance, and so directs the currents of life that they leave certain portions of the body where they are naturally in check, and center on others where they run riot. However, by control of the emotions and by self-forgetfulness, it is possible to help nature modify the course and development of the disease. Many more people would suffer from cancerous growths on the body if nature did not automatically gather together its forces of resistance — intellectual, emotional, moral, physiological, and what not — and thus cause the body to react so strongly that the resistance wards off the attack.
Many things regarding the human body are great mysteries, simply because we do not know enough about our evolutionary history. For example, we should understand cancer better if we realized that all growths, malignant or benign, are physiological memories of the method of propagation which the early third root-race used unconsciously. Then such growths were normal and natural; now they are abnormal at best and malignant at the worst. Then they were caused by the natural currents of life running true and strong; now they are caused by the same currents of life running strong in a wrong minor direction — wrong because occurring out of evolutionary time.
There is, however, a sure preventive of all diseases which partake of both a physiological and a psychological character, and that is the practicing of the age-old virtues, such as the paramitas.
As diseases are the karmic result of past errors of living, of working inharmoniously with nature, the way of health is to work with nature; and this is possible because we are an integral part of it. Every sage and seer has taught the way. The method is voiced again and again in every great religion and philosophy. But no true sage or adept ever interferes with the karmic law, for they are the servants of that law and manifest it in their works among mankind. In some senses also are they the bringers about of the karmic law; for thereby is natural equilibrium achieved and evolution advanced. Thus are they healers of the souls of men. Heal the soul and you heal the body.
Karma-Nemesis is the synonym of PROVIDENCE, minus design, goodness, and every other finite attribute and qualification, so unphilosophically attributed to the latter. An Occultist or a philosopher will not speak of the goodness or cruelty of Providence; but, identifying it with Karma-Nemesis, he will teach that nevertheless it guards the good and watches over them in this, as in future lives; and that it punishes the evil-doer — aye, even to his seventh rebirth. So long, in short, as the effect of his having thrown into perturbation even the smallest atom in the Infinite World of harmony, has not been finally readjusted. For the only decree of Karma — an eternal and immutable decree — is absolute Harmony in the world of matter as it is in the world of Spirit. It is not, therefore, Karma that rewards or punishes, but it is we, who reward or punish ourselves according to whether we work with, through and along with nature, abiding by the laws on which that Harmony depends, or — break them.
Nor would the ways of Karma be inscrutable were men to work in union and harmony, instead of disunion and strife. For our ignorance of those ways — which one portion of mankind calls the ways of Providence, dark and intricate; while another sees in them the action of blind Fatalism; and a third, simple chance, with neither gods nor devils to guide them — would surely disappear, if we would but attribute all these to their correct cause. With right knowledge, or at any rate with a confident conviction that our neighbours will no more work to hurt us than we would think of harming them, the two-thirds of the World's evil would vanish into thin air. Were no man to hurt his brother, Karma-Nemesis would have neither cause to work for, nor weapons to act through. — The Secret Doctrine, I, 643
Karma is the habit of universal being, which so works that an act is necessarily followed by a result — a reaction from surrounding nature. The very core of this doctrine is that every thought and deed sets up an immediate chain of causation, acting on every plane to which that chain of causation reaches. But what is this primordial habit of nature, which makes it react to an arousing cause? Cosmically speaking, it is the will of the spiritual beings who have gone before us and who now are as gods, whose will and thought direct and protect the type and quality of the universe in which we live.
But there is no God outside of us which dictates what our destiny or fate shall be. We are free agents, children of the universe, gods going through the sublime adventure of cosmic life. Having free will, intelligence and consciousness, dwelling in a universe of which we are inseparable parts, we are in our inmost essence Parabrahman, and yet in all exterior garments of consciousness we are individualized.
Hence karma is not something outside of us; we are our own karma. We, essentially speaking, are the spiritual part of ourselves; the material or elemental, the psychical and the intellectual, are but aspects of our constitution through which our essential self acts. These subordinate parts are bound to follow the current of the life stream as it flows forth from the fountain within — from which originate will, consciousness, understanding, and all the other spiritual qualities and energies, such as love and compassion.
To look at the matter from a somewhat different and more familiar point of view: would you expect that the divine part of you would suffer the karma of what the physical body did? Or that your inner god would be a bondslave to what the pranic life-atoms of your astral body do, or to what your brain-mind or emotions may impel you into? Obviously not. We prepare for ourselves the destiny that we are, or will work through, and we do this from within our spiritual nature wherein ultimately originate all karmic activities. Thus whatever happens to us, we bring about either consciously or unconsciously: we have made ourselves what we are now, and are making ourselves what we shall be in the future.
There is an organ in the brain through which act the elemental karmic energies urging an individual into this or that pathway of action and thought and emotion. This has been called the 'third eye,' or the 'eye of Siva,' and physically it is the pineal gland, the organ that expresses and carries over into the physical body the karmic urges which will impel us to follow this or that course of action, eventuating in either weal or woe. In this regard H.P.B. writes in The Secret Doctrine (II 302):
Now that which the students of Occultism ought to know is that THE "THIRD EYE" IS INDISSOLUBLY CONNECTED WITH KARMA. The tenet is so mysterious that very few have heard of it.
This is a very difficult thing to explain. We are our own karma. That is all we are. We are the effect in our entire constitution of what we were at the preceding instant of time. We are an aggregate of forces, a composite entity with our own characteristics, tendencies and impulses, all of which form and compose us, even to the very shape of our body — all this is our karma, because we and our karma are one.
What causes or controls destiny? Which part of us exercises the greatest sway over what we shall be in the future? It is the higher part; and the lower part is at once our vehicle and our stumbling block. Therefore, as we are naught but an expression of ourselves, an expression of our karma on all the planes, we carve our own future as we have our present and past. We do this by will, by choice, by discrimination — all belonging to the higher part of us which functions as best it may through its own organ, the pineal gland. And this, as said, is as indissolubly connected with karma as it is with each of us, recording succeeding steps in choice and discrimination — or lack of these.
We learn through our faults. Sorrow, pain and suffering are our best teachers. But let us not seek to be 'good'; the man who seeks to be 'good' is exercising one kind of spiritual selfishness, for he seeks something for himself. The roadway to the mountaintop is impersonality; for the truly and spiritually impersonal man never does an evil or a selfish deed. If he did he would be personal. Were the impersonal man to turn a deaf ear to a cry for help, to pleadings of compassion and pity, his impersonality would be but a mockery.
He whose vision is clear, whose heart is at peace, whose mind is tranquil, seeks neither for good nor for evil; his whole being is set on the supernal light within. As long as there are good men in the world there will be evil men, and vice versa. The salvation of the human race is coming about, not by a craving for good and to be good, but by a yearning, which passes all ordinary understanding, to be impersonal, self-forgetful, so that almighty love and compassion, which hold the universe in their keeping, can stream through the human heart without any barrier of the lower selfhood.
Karma, like everything else, manifests in energies, varying in strength. The strongest normally come forth first. Every karmic consequence comes into action at its appropriate time and place. No karma can be turned aside. It may, indeed, be dammed back temporarily, but out it will come some day. Actually, the damming back brings about an accumulation of karma: of other karma of a closely connected type which therefore will increase the action of the karma thus held back.
Nor can we excuse ourselves for a wrong action merely by saying: "How could I help it? It was my karma." This is cheating ourselves with words. When we act, we act from choice and make new karma, deliberately directing our mind and consciousness in thought and in action. Is our choice also karmic? Of course, for everything we think or do is karmic; but we can change our karma at any moment by making new and giving easier direction to the old, for we have created energy through our spiritual nature. At any instant of time, man has the divine faculty of free choice; to strike out along new avenues of effort, which the fields of nature provide for him constantly. The universe is limitless in extent; and the consciousness of man is not only coeval with the universe, but spiritually coextensive.
A strong man makes a strong impress on surroundings, on circumstances, on other men; and the reaction upon him is correspondingly forceful. Feckless individuals make a very weak impression, and the reaction is correspondingly weak. Now the man who has a powerful will, inevitably acts powerfully in all that he does; and whether for weal or for woe there will be an equivalent reaction. Consequently, the higher a man goes along the evolutionary pathway, the more careful must he be.
All karma works from within outwards; it originates within and simply expresses itself on the physical plane. It is man who makes his own karma, because in doing so he makes himself. Man is his own karma, his own destiny — the destiny he incurs is the one which he has carved for himself, and he does so by making himself, by making his character. What he does, he does from himself, and nature's reactions will fall upon him. There is karma of many kinds: mental, psychical, emotional, vital, astral, physical; and there is individual or personal karma as well as collective karma. We have to partake of the karma of the world, of our race, our family, our solar system, and of our universe, because we have put ourselves where we are — none else.
Man can achieve so high a status in spiritual evolution by unfolding from within himself his inner powers in accordance with cosmic law, that he thereby becomes a direct and self-conscious collaborator in his own sphere with the cosmic laws. Doing nothing contrary to the natural order, there is no reaction from nature upon him, and thus he may be said to have "risen above karma," insofar as the term karma applies to his own evolution and character and activity as a man.
The spiritual nature is not acted upon by any exterior karma except that of the universe of which we are an inseparable portion, and then only because we have our being as a monadic essence in the aggregative essence of some greater entity. But our own personal karma never acts upon the spiritual plane because that plane is the wellspring from which it flows forth. When a human being has reached the evolutionary stage of being wholly impersonal, he makes thereafter no new personal karma. Consequently, he no longer weaves around himself a web of personal destiny. He becomes an impersonal servitor of his spiritual superiors.
There is, of course, impersonal karma, because karma means the sequence of cause and effect arising out of what an actor thinks and does; but the statement that when one has reached divinity, or even as a human being has become truly impersonal, he weaves no more karma, means that no longer do the bonds of personality enchain him. He is freed from them, living as a worker and collaborator of natural law. Yet the universal karma of cosmic Being is the ultimate background of activity of the karma of any individual, because he is inseparable from the universe. The highest god is as much subject to universal karma as is the humblest ant climbing up a sandhill only to go tumbling down again.
When man has reached quasi-divinity because he has become at one with the divine-spiritual nature of his own hierarchy, he is no longer under the sway of the general field of karmic action in that hierarchy. He has become a master of its life, because he is an agent of its inmost impulses and mandates. Thus it is that a man may rise above the karmic sphere in which he finds himself, while remaining within the hierarchical karma of cosmic Being.
A strange misconception has arisen that there can be unmerited karma. This is probably due to a misunderstanding of H.P.B.'s and of W. Q. Judge's statements that unmerited suffering is undergone by all creatures, not only men but the animals, possibly even the gods. There are a number of converging lines of thought which bear upon this question, as well as upon the fact that all karma is merited.
First of all, the universe is imperfect because it is composed of imperfect entities which are evolving — in fact, the universe is these entities. This means that it has a light side consisting of the more progressed entities, and a dark side consisting of those less evolved. Evil therefore, or the dark side of nature, is imperfection, there being no such thing as absolute evil in the universe.
Further, we know that because we are in the universe and are evolving beings we learn from each other, we act and react upon each other. Good actions elevate us and by so much help not only ourselves but others to progress. The Lord Buddha said, if we think evil, suffering and pain follow, exactly as the wheel of the cart follows the foot of the ox which draws it. Every hierarchy is comprehended within the vital sphere of some greater hierarchy; equally so an atom in a man's body is comprehended within the hierarchy of the atoms of his physical constitution. The consequence is that we are suffering in a certain sense from what the gods do, within whose hierarchy we have our being; just as the atoms of our body are subject to all things that the body does. And if the human will causes this body to commit a wrong, the atoms within it necessarily suffer a corresponding action upon them.
Let us go a step farther. Any entity, because it is identical in substance and essence, in energy, destiny and origin, with the hierarchy to which it belongs, has all the qualities, powers, faculties and substances of this hierarchy and therefore of the universe. Man has free will because the universe has. Every monad, because it springs from the heart of the universe, has its quota of free will, and thus is individually responsible for what it does.
We have now the very interesting situation that evil arises out of a conflict of free acting wills: the gods acting among themselves to keep the universe in balance; all subordinate hierarchies acting among themselves to keep their part of the universe in order; men forming a minor hierarchy acting among themselves to carry out their individual destinies. Consequently, whatever happens to a man at any time, in whatever place, is always karma, the result of a preceding cause.
Thus we are subject to the karma of the universe; to the laws which control the solar system, and to the laws which control our planet. We are subject to the laws which affect us all as belonging to the human race; to the government of our country because we are born there; and likewise to our own family karma. Then, most individually, each man suffers in his body or in his mind according to his own thoughts and acts.
Now let us take the question of unmerited suffering, pain, misery, which we must distinguish from the natural fact that everything that happens to us is karma. As we have said before, there is really no unmerited karma, but there is unmerited suffering to various parts of our constitution. To illustrate: I have free will. I strike out a new pathway in life because I receive an inspiration; it is like a revelation to my soul. I change my whole course of conduct. Can I do this without receiving reactions? Of course not. I certainly will affect my family and friends. I will also strongly affect myself, especially my mind and body; but many of these effects are not deliberately planned by me, and in this sense the body receives unmerited suffering. Even the mind may receive suffering that it, as the mind-vehicle, did not merit. Viewed in this way we are always receiving unmerited suffering. But out of it all we learn, we grow stronger, we evolve more quickly.
Unmerited suffering and pain we do experience, but in time we recognize them as karma because the 'revelation' spoken of above came to us when we had arrived at the point in our evolution when the god within could touch our mind and show us a new path. For example, some men deliberately bring suffering and pain upon themselves in order to help the world. They have not merited this suffering as retribution for past evil acts, but they make up their mind that cost what it may they henceforth are going to help the world. And here we have the explanation of the mystery which Christians call the sacrifice of Jesus.
Every buddha does the same, every chela also: he deliberately takes a course of action leading to the gods, but does so for the sake of the world. He acts strongly upon his fellow human beings by this new path he has taken. He raises the whole human race by the strength of his character, by the wondrous and beautiful thoughts he puts into the minds of his fellow men. Here we have a case not of unmerited suffering but of unearned joy, which others receive because one man has chosen the path he did! We thus see that there is unearned or unmerited happiness and joy, just as there is unmerited suffering and pain — but merited or unmerited, whatever may befall anyone at any time, is karma.
Nature is balanced with exceeding delicacy, and nothing is accidental or fortuitous. The animals, plants and minerals are our younger brothers, and therefore we as men, as self-conscious, moral — or immoral, alas — influences on this earth, will be held strictly accountable for all that we think and do. Even the suffering of animals, whether due to human cruelty or neglect, or to other causes such as being preyed upon by other animals, is karma. But how can an animal be made responsible for its actions if it has no real self-consciousness? While the suffering of the animals is karma, it is not largely derivative from their inner nature; they are not morally responsible, as men are. Hence for them there is no moral retribution, although they are involved in the general karma of the races of beings on earth, in what we might call the earth karma.
In their origin the animals are the offspring of men, and even today are deeply rooted in the astral life of mankind because their inner constitutions are mainly built up of the life-atoms that men are constantly throwing out. Their karma is to a great extent apparently unjust because they have not earned, morally speaking, the suffering that they endure. In a sense they are victims, because they are composite even physically of the life-atoms originating in men, who thereby have made themselves responsible in large degree, spiritually and morally, for the sufferings of the animal kingdom. This is a karma which man will have to work out, not the animals.
Nevertheless the beasts are not wholly free from karmic responsibility, for every psycho-astral monad — the center around which the beast-body is built — is the reflection of a spiritual monad, coming out of past eternities of manvantaras in which that spiritual monad made for itself karma not exhausted when those manvantaras ended. And consequently these monads have come into the present manvantara with these distant karmic stains imprinted into the very fabric of their being. The same observation applies to the plant and to the mineral kingdoms.
In each animal, as in each man, there shines the visible but feeble radiance of a divinity at its heart. In the animals this glory shows only the faintest glimmering of its power. They are on the way towards humanhood, even as we are on the pathway to becoming gods.
I might add that the unmerited sufferings of the animals can be traced to two causes: first, the actions done by them in this or in some earlier life; and second, the things that they did in a previous solar manvantara. For they were living their careers then much as we men do. Just as the reincarnating ego of man must for a time lose its sublime self-consciousness during its embryonic stage before it can become a man again, so even the animals have been full-grown self-conscious entities in a former manvantara, which was much less evolved than this one, on a lower cosmic plane. So too we men on this present cosmic plane are passing through a period of our evolution which is far lower than the one we had attained in a previous solar manvantara when we were gods.
We see how difficult this whole question of karma is. It is all wrapped up with various other teachings. As H.P.B. says, there is not a misshapen day in our lives, there is not a sorrow or a pain, or contrariwise not a joy or a delight, which cannot be traced back to our thoughts and actions in this or in a former life.
It is true that the present personality is in no wise responsible for the acts of any past personality, because it is an entirely new thing, different in every respect from each and every one of those which preceded it on the karmic chain of lives. This being the case, there is indeed apparent injustice in the suffering that each personality unquestionably experiences, in that it must face the results of the misdeeds of its predecessor which it itself did not do. This is one side of the matter. And the other side is that there is no break in the chain of consequences, no disruption of continuity in the karmic line of effects: one personality follows the immediately preceding one as inevitably, as fatefully, as one hour follows another — different from it, yet the same.
Nevertheless, each personality is a new man with a new brain in a new time, speaking a new language, knowing nothing of what brought this or that result upon him; therefore suffering apparent injustices, or receiving apparent fortune, subject to all the so-called whims of fate and destiny. Is the man different from the boy? Absolutely different — in form, qualities, capacities, outlook; but the background of both is the same. Through all runs the stream of the individuality which does not change. From this standpoint, he is in no wise different. The man is merely the resultant of the boy. There is no break in the chain of causation; no real karmic injustice in that the man should be held accountable for what the boy did, good or bad.
There is no enduring, everlasting soul which passes from life to life dipping, as it were, into human bodies alien to it. The idea is a phantasm of the imagination. But there is consciousness expressing itself in manifold forms, each incarnation being but the karma, the fruit, of that which immediately preceded it. This is what Gautama Buddha meant by his teaching that an eternal and immortal soul existing within a man, and after his death existing eternally in the heavens, is an illusion; for all that remains of a man at death is his karma. What a man is at the instant of physical dissolution is himself, that is to say his karma, the result of what he was the previous instant. Not one of us is the same in every identic respect that we were one second ago; much less are we now what we were a year ago.
There is another angle to the matter of unmerited suffering. I am reminded of H.P.B.'s statement in The Key to Theosophy (p. 161) where she says that after death the reincarnating ego receives only the reward for the unmerited suffering which it has undergone in the life just past. It is the man's karma because it happens to him, and there is no such thing as unmerited karma if we mean uncaused at some time in the past by the individual unto whom it occurs. Yet when she called his suffering unmerited she was speaking here only in connection with the devachanic rest, and the reward he would receive for the sorrows and trials he had experienced in his life on earth.
In the Lord's Prayer occurs the phrase: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." An extraordinary statement from the Christian standpoint, which has never been explained by any theologian. Now just here is the heart of the meaning of what H.P.B. refers to. The Christos or the Buddha within a man, in other words the higher part of the reincarnating ego, will at times lead the imperfect human ego, the higher astral monad, into temptation. If the human ego falls into the temptation, it suffers. The suffering is karmic. But that human ego did not deliberately in the beginning plan to do the acts which brought about the suffering. Recompense comes to it in the devachan, but the responsible center — in other lives or in this life — is the reincarnating ego.
Man ordinarily lives in the kama-manas, which is not the reincarnating ego, this being the buddhi-manas. Now these are two distinct monads: one is the spiritual monad or reincarnating ego, and the other is the human monad or higher astral monad which is a very imperfectly developed entity. It carries over from its previous life a certain amount of karmic responsibility, but only insofar as its limited powers have acted. The reincarnating ego, on the contrary, carries over from former lives a far heavier load of responsibility; it is continually 'tempting' the human ego into courses of action, some for its good which bring it joy, others for its good which the human ego regards as suffering because it has very little sense of humor. Many of our difficulties become not merely tolerable but actually pleasant when we change our attitude towards them.
However, karma must not be misconstrued to mean that we should ever remain passive or without compassion when others suffer or are in danger, on the wholly fallacious plea that: "Oh, it is only his karma, he has deserved it, let him work it out, he will learn by it and grow stronger." While this is true in principle, to bring it forth as an excuse for inactivity in a time of need is diabolic, and can be traced back directly to the malevolent insinuations of the dugpas of the human race, whose teachings find easy lodgment in the minds of selfish and heartless people. The teaching of all the Buddhas of Compassion is the direct contrary, and was expressed in H.P.B.'s beautiful words in The Voice of the Silence (p. 31): "Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin." Karma will indeed exact every atom of retribution for the passive attitude of him who sits idly by when another is in need of help.
No more philosophically profound, no grander or more graphic and suggestive type exists among the allegories of the World-religions than that of the two Brother-Powers of the Mazdean religion, called Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, better known in their modernized form of Ormuzd and Ahriman. . . .
The two Powers are inseparable on our present plane and at this stage of evolution, and would be meaningless, one without the other. They are, therefore, the two opposite poles of the One Manifested Creative Power, whether the latter is viewed as a Universal Cosmic Force which builds worlds, or under its anthropomorphic aspect, when its vehicle is thinking man. For Ormuzd and Ahriman are the respective representatives of Good and Evil, of Light and Darkness, of the spiritual and the material elements in man, and also in the Universe and everything contained in it. — H. P. Blavatsky, Lucifer, March 1891, pp. 1-2
What is good? What is evil? Are they things-in-themselves, or are they conditions through which entities pass? Good is harmony because relative perfection, and evil is disharmony because imperfection; and these two, good and evil, insofar as we are concerned, apply solely to our hierarchy. Our 'good' is 'evil' to the entities existing in a superior hierarchy. Evil signifies a state of an entity or group of entities in greater or less degree opposing the forwards-moving evolutionary stream of life.
Whence comes the evil in the world, if the divine which is mightier than evil is everywhere? One would think from such a question that evil is an entity, a power or a force, which flows forth from the heart of some thing or being. On the contrary, it is merely the condition of an evolving entity which has not yet fully manifested the latent divinity at its core, and thus is inharmonious with its environment because of its imperfection.
Good is not created. Evil is not created. They are two poles of the same thing. There is no Devil in the universe, wrongly supposed to be the creator and arbiter of evil. Equally so, there is no God, wrongly supposed to be the creator and arbiter of good. It is all a question of growth. Human beings are evil entities when compared with the gods. The gods in their turn could be called evil by entities still loftier than they.
Good is not spirit, evil is not matter, the nether pole of spirit, because that would be saying that matter is essentially evil, which it is not. Evil, whether spiritual or material, is whatever is imperfect and passing through a phase of growing to something better. Neither matter nor spirit is in one or the other condition absolutely, and for eternity. A spiritual entity is evolving just as much as any material entity. Nevertheless, because spirit and spiritual beings are nearer to nature's heart, they are, collectively speaking, more perfect, therefore less evil than matter and material entities.
Evil per se does not become good per se, that is, one state does not become another state, the truth being that it is the evolving entity which passes from one state into another. Both good and evil are conditions of growth. This calls to mind the ancient theosophical — and Christian — expression concerning entities existing in a state of "spiritual wickedness" (Ephesians, VI, 12). Obviously, if those entities, although belonging to the spiritual realms, are imperfect and inharmonious there, they are 'evil' in that state. If entities, belonging to the state which we call relative perfection, exist harmoniously with surrounding beings, then they are entities of spiritual good. Harmony, law, order, peace, love: all these are conditions of entities who are in accord with the onward-flowing current of evolutionary growth. Such entities are more nearly at one with the heart of Being, and therefore endure.
It is the balance of spiritual and material existences — the natural course of universal being — which gives the diversity in the universe. There is no power (or powers) which keeps the universe either all good or all bad; for it is neither the one nor the other. Vast hierarchies are the universe, hierarchies on the invisible planes and likewise on that cross section we call our physical world; and it is the differences in evolutionary degree attained in these hierarchies and in the hosts of entities composing them which provide the vast diversity that the universe manifests. It can at no time be either all good or all bad, for it is perpetually advancing; and this marching army is without beginning and without ending.
A tidal wave comes in upon the land and sweeps twenty thousand human souls into the waters and drowns them. Is there therefore evil in the world? What brought that catastrophe about? Or again, an earthquake shakes down a city, and more than a hundred thousand perish. Is that evil per se? The earthquake is an event, as is the tidal wave. Nature's law is that effect succeeds cause. Nature is strictly harmonious at its core and through all its parts, and all its movings are towards a restoration of harmony — which is equilibrium. What we sow, we shall reap. Nothing happens by chance. And if a person is caught by a tidal wave or killed in an earthquake, it is because he himself by his past karma has put himself in those surroundings. He is reaping what he has sown.
We should have a lunatic universe were karma nonexistent, if men could wreck the lives of others, and then escape scot free. Nature is not so built. Man is a god in his inmost and, because he is linked with the divine elements as well as with all the other elements of the universe, what he does, nature reacts against. He has free will, and so reaps the consequences of all that he thinks and does and is. A man who works for brotherhood and kindliness has all nature's evolutionary stream with him; this brings strength and light and induces a cosmic expansion of his inner faculties. The man who works for hate, for selfish ends, who sets his puny will against the evolving river of lives, has all nature's incalculable weight pressing upon him. Such action on his part is imperfection, inharmony, and therefore evil.
Universal nature in manifestation is dual in character, divided into consciousness or the light side and matter or the dark side. Quoting from The Key to Theosophy (p. 112):
Light would be incomprehensible without darkness to make it manifest by contrast; good would be no longer good without evil to show the priceless nature of the boon; and so personal virtue could claim no merit, unless it had passed through the furnace of temptation.
The ancient Zoroastrian religion strongly emphasized this duality, and this conception was very early taken over by the Christians (cf. The Secret Doctrine, I, 411-24, "Demon est Deus Inversus"). But when the cosmic unit passes into its pralaya, then good and evil vanish and are resolved back into the ineffable oneness of cosmic divinity — to lie latent until the new term of manifestation as a universe begins.
Throughout the cosmos we see that evil is the conflict among entities, arising because of their as yet imperfectly developed spiritual powers. Applying this to man and his works, the conflict of human wills and intelligences which strive against each other, produces disharmony, pain, disease, and all the host of evils. Yet when we learn the lesson that our interests are one instead of diverse, we shall work together in a constantly increasing ratio as our spiritual understanding unfolds.
Again, on the universal scale, cosmic evils arise from the different strivings and conflicts of the prakritis in nature with their respective inhabitants. Matter — the seven prakritis — is not evil per se, but crystallized or condensed spirit; and the prakritis are simply incomputably vast numbers of monads individually unawakened or unevolved and hence functioning in nature as fields of material or prakritic extent. When a universe, through evolution of all its variously differentiated prakritis, shall finally reach spiritual levels, these differentiations will merge into the spiritual unity of the cosmic monad, thus bringing about the grand consummatum est, when duality vanishes into unity.
The following passage in The Mahatma Letters (p. 401) gives a further key:
. . . discord is the harmony of the Universe. . . . each part, as in the glorious fugues of the immortal Mozart, ceaselessly chases the other in harmonious discord on the paths of Eternal progress to meet and finally blend at the threshold of the pursued goal into one harmonious whole, the keynote in nature Sat.
Thus, in its essence, matter is as divine as spirit, for it is merely the shadow or vehicular side of spirit.
Main Table of Contents
1. It is with a great deal of reluctance that I touch upon any medical question. For example, the modern method of animal experimentation, vivisection, claims that the knowledge so gained, with its supposed resulting benefits, justifies the means employed. A strange doctrine — for it is not possible that such knowledge can ever be of permanent benefit to mankind. Inhuman, cruel, and selfish acts do but blind the doers thereof, and shut the doors of both mind and heart to the acquirement of truth. On the other hand, as a philosophical proposition it is quite true that even out of the offenses of men, the universe being so balanced in harmony and love, good ultimately will result. But the offender must pay his debt to the uttermost farthing.
One of the many things that have grown up concurrently with vivisection is the use of blood transfusion. Such ideas are all Atlantean in type. There is in this practice the possibility of transferring the latent seeds of disease from man to man, not to mention the psychic aspect. The Mosaic teaching is right: "In the blood is the life." For what is blood? it is actually condensed vitality, and therefore is the original carrier of disease as well as of health.
In regard to vaccines and serums it is claimed that by their use many diseases have been virtually wiped out, or at least brought under control. However, statistics show that new and strange diseases have appeared, and that these act virulently. Any method of treatment which has to do with injecting into the blood stream the secretions coming from some other diseased body is unwholesome: probably in the long run producing a larger number of mysterious diseases than the cases which the practice might possibly benefit.
This is not to condemn present-day physicians as a body. There are many splendid men passing lives of impersonal devotion in medical research, unselfishly working to better the condition of mankind physically. That fact is unquestionable; and of course it is understandable that they turn in any direction where they see the possibility of some new opening of discovery, where they see some better means of attacking a disease in its own center.
The physicians of the distant future will heal in a very different way. They will understand the virtues of simples and how certain juices of plants and mineral extracts can be used; and these will be much less harmful when injected than are those extracts taken from the bodies of unfortunate beasts. We hear a great deal about the successes of this latter method, but very little about the failures. (return to text)