The Path – May 1891

ATTITUDE TO KARMIC LAW — Alexander Fullerton

The consciousness of being under Law affects different minds in different ways. With some it arouses bitter, indignant revolt, a dim sense of helplessness making that spirit more intense. With others there is a feeling of despair: "What matters it how we struggle, since the Law will have its way, caring nothing for tears or agony or desolation?" Others treat the matter with indifference: "As the machinery of the universe is confessedly not in our hands, and as we are anyhow the product of a system of evolution, we might as well act conformably to that stage we have reached, letting the Law look after us, which, indeed, it is its business to do."

Any one of these attitudes would be justifiable if the Law was arbitrary, or one-sided, or imperfect, or mechanical, or heartless, or merely punitive, As a piece of cold mechanism, or as a purely disciplinary force, it certainly can evoke neither good-will nor glad compliance. Some perception of this has influenced the preaching of the modern pulpit. Jonathan Edwards's famous sermon on "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" would be as impossible today as a mediaeval harangue upon the Devil. Priest and layman have alike come to see not only that terrorism will not produce piety, but that penalties which are remote, factitious, and evadeable do not permanently influence conduct. Consequently all modern preaching assumes a different hue. Hell and the Devil are not formally abolished, but are locked up in ecclesiastical museums, where they are treated with great respect, indeed, but whence they are not permitted to emerge. The present appeal is to the Goodness of God, the Power of Motive, the Development of Character, the Christ Principle within, the essential Divinity of Man, and the like. There is less pungency, but more reality; the lurid has given place to the sunful.

Still, no change of mental tone will abolish facts. If the theological outlook is more good-natured, as well as more hopeful, it has in no wise more clearly perceived either the omnipresence or the wisdom of the great Law of Karma, the fundamental truth in any system which purposes to take men as they are and make them what they should be. And therefore it is that Theosophy proclaims every other system as mistaken and misleading, offering palliatives or nostrums instead of the only remedy which goes direct to the seat of the evil and effects a genuine cure. Law is emphasized as unflinchingly as by an Edwards or a Calvin, but it is not imaginary or brutal, it is as replete with rewards as with punishments, and it embodies the perfection of Justice and Wisdom.

A perception of this perfectness, this all-roundedness, is the antidote to every feeling towards Law other than that of cordial homage. Nobody will venerate a power which is ever on the alert for peccadilloes and sins, but passes by good deeds as without its scope. To be really fair, it must be as open-eyed to every worthy act as to the opposite, and recompense right as unfailingly as wrong. Once perceived as utterly just, it can be respected, trusted, obeyed. Men will esteem a record which is photographically accurate, and confide in an administration which they know is honest. Why should they not, when they realize that a high thought, a gentle word, a kind act is as sure of its result as a meanness, a selfishness, or a brutality?

When Law is felt to be absolutely fair, resentment towards it ceases. This is on the same principle as is exhibited in schools where the teacher is seen to be invariably just. Boys do not ask for no rule, for the total abolition of all control or oversight, but only that the rule shall be reasonable and right, the control impartial and judicious. A teacher who is as quick to see merit as shortcoming, who has no favorites and never vacillates, is the one who evokes respect, confidence, and obedience. And in the great Karmic field, the perception that Karma has no distinction of persons or qualities, notes every thought or act of every kind, is beyond all influence and above all cajolery, is spotless in its impartiality and rectitude, brings about confidence, confidence evokes respect, and respect arouses friendship.

It puts an end, too, to despair. The Law cares nothing, indeed, for tears, since dislike to discipline is no reason for withholding it; but as sorrow comes only as effect, never spontaneously, there is no question of a sullen submission to evils arbitrarily inflicted and impossible of escape. When a man knows that there is nothing whatever to prevent his own abolition of suffering, the very consciousness of his resources suffuses him with hope.

Indifference also is cured. True we are evolving. But equally true that we are evolving along the line we prefer. If that line crosses the normal order, and if we are content, for the sake of present satisfaction, to accept all the consequences which must follow selfish opposition, the way is certainly open. But, then, neither those consequences nor the contrary ones from enlightened obedience are mere experiences of a stage in development: they are the fitting results of what was a choice. No man is unconcerned over a choice wherein he himself is entirely free, and whereof he himself receives the returns.

Concede the Law of Karma, vindicate its complete pervasiveness and its utter impartiality, show it as full in its notice of good as in its notice of wrong, and you strike the note to which human nature will respond. Men crave Justice from the Higher Powers. They do not ask for unlimited licence, but for fair and equable treatment. Make them see that Karma, and it alone, supplies this, and they are content. The moral sentiment is met, the claim to liberty is allowed, the motive to reverence is stirred. And as the grandly generous nature of that Law is disclosed, its copious reward blessing the worthy and its very inflictions tender with reform, it assumes the countenance of a friend, a friend who may be implicitly trusted and should be unswervingly served.

The Path