One of the cornerstones of the philosophy of the great naturalist, Carl von Linne, was an unshakable belief in an inescapable Nemesis. To him who had penetrated so deeply into the mechanism of surrounding nature, a moral retribution, Nemesis Divina, was as necessary as the physical law of cause and effect. While he endeavored to illumine and explain his belief by his knowledge of the physical laws of nature, he could never prove it philosophically, because he lacked the understanding of the continuity and cyclic appearance of spiritual life.
Many of his notes (Cf. Thore M. Fries' Linne, Lefnadsteckning (1903), English version, Linnaeus, with full biography (1923.) indicate how he sought and longed for an explanation of that something which in the depths of his consciousness he sensed to be true and essential. With his intuitive grasp and deep moral sense of responsibility, how he would have responded to the writings of H. P. Blavatsky, had he lived 150 years later! He would there have found an exposition of human and universal evolution, which places every problem in its right context and gives a view of perspectives that reaches beyond one short earthlife or a single phase of great Nature. For her books contain the most logical and morally satisfying answers to all questions that have to do with our own being and our relation to the cosmos, thus allowing us to catch glimpses of the inner reality that lies behind the often bewildering illusions of outer events.
This may sound like an exaggeration, but it is not, inasmuch as what H. P. Blavatsky brought to the West comprises a portion of the universal wisdom that has existed for ages, far beyond known history — a wisdom that was taught in the ancient Mystery schools and has been restated in various forms by teachers and seers in many eras. The criterion of its value and truth lies in its universality, its capacity to satisfy both heart and mind and offer guidance in explaining the problems of human existence from a scientific and philosophical as well as religious standpoint.
A few guidelines on the theosophical approach to life may facilitate comprehension:
First, the spiritual unity of human beings as well as all other living beings is axiomatic. All are sprung from the same source of life and consciousness, divine in their inmost being, permeated with the same forces and desires, albeit in widely different degree, which urge them forward in their evolution toward the same goal. This intrinsic unity implies also that none is independent or lives only for itself; and the more man's innermost spiritual-divine being comes into expression, the clearer does he see his connection with every other being, the more encompassing becomes his self-consciousness, the greater his responsibility and his ability to be of service. It is at the inmost and purest part of our nature that we are one; it is through our limitations, our lower personal desires and strivings, that we are separate. The former creates mutuality, cooperation; the latter creates self-aggrandizement, conflict and strife. This is a basic fact which cannot be denied, whether for individuals or nations.
Second, what we call evolution or growth expresses itself in a certain pulsating rhythm or periodicity, a condition which may be observed throughout Nature as well as in human life. It is this lawfulness that science has discerned in the movements of heavenly bodies, in the migrations of birds and animals, in the development of plants, in the ebb and flux of the seas — a cyclic progression which is mirrored in the inner as well as external life of human beings, even though the processes here are more difficult to determine. This law of cycles is of great importance as a guidance and support for our thinking, as it offers a basis for analogy which can throw light on daily experience that otherwise would be inexplicable.
Third, the law of cause and effect — a necessary complement to the law of cycles, and therefore having the same universal significance. All that takes place within visible as well as invisible worlds, among mankind and gods as well as among molecules and atoms, is the effect of a cause, which in its turn bears the seed or cause for something new, a seed that one day will ripen. In Hindu philosophy this is known as karma — a word which has no exact counterpart in our modern languages, but which connotes the continuing law-abiding sequence of events, action, thought, motive, seen as links in a chain, which never breaks, as it is interwoven with the structure of the universe. The physical aspect of the law of causation is admitted as one of the foundation-stones of natural history, but according to the ancient wisdom it is valid in all areas, in the life of men and nations as well as in the worlds of stars and the universes of atoms. When applied to self-conscious entities such as human beings, it is linked with moral responsibility, because we have the freedom of will — to the extent that we understand the law — to alter and shape our destinies. Karma is not a condition imposed by outer forces, any more than is cyclic law, but rather is an expression of the working of universal Nature. Similarly, it is not the fruit of some external decision by punishing or rewarding forces, but the ripened fruit of seeds we have sown sometime, somewhere. In short, karma is the universal expression of Nemesis Divina.
Fourth, the application of the laws of karma and cycles to all living beings remains incomprehensible unless we take into account reimbodiment; or, for those who have reached the human stage, reincarnation, i.e., the periodic reimbodiment of the spiritual monad as a method of gaining experience in the course of evolution. Reincarnation actually is only one aspect of reimbodiment, one phase of the pulsating rhythm of cosmic life. We generally think of life in human form, but we should remember that when worlds or heavenly bodies come into being or disperse, this also is due to the inner cohesive and organizing force that at recurrent intervals makes its appearance or withdraws. The creative and organizing force with us is often called a human monad or reimbodying ego, which has attained some degree of self-awareness, but which is constantly changing and evolving. Therefore there is no question of a cyclic appearance of permanent personalities or anything of that nature, but rather of periodic manifestations of the spiritual life-force which has attained various stages of individual organization, manifesting as will, character, tendencies or trends in certain directions. The seeds, whatever their quality, that once were sown, sprout when circumstances permit — perhaps after several lives of waiting — and bear fruit according to their kind.
If we try to understand world events from this vantage point, we are faced with endless perspectives. We begin to sense that we are actors in a world-historic, nay cosmic, drama, which has had many previous acts that we know nothing about, wherein we have played various parts, and which inevitably will continue through future ages. It is a drama which may seem like a conflict of human passions and ambitions, for these are usually the noisiest; and when they take the lead, mind and intuition are often forced into silence, particularly as long as success lasts. Few human beings, and also few nations, are able to grow spiritually during eras of outward success: they tempt us to self-exaltation at the expense of others; whereas difficulties and reverses often have the opposite effect: they spur the will to greater effort, awaken reflection, self-criticism and perhaps compassion for others who suffer. No sane man deliberately seeks adversities or sorrow for their own sake, but one who understands that these in the final analysis are brought on by ourselves and that they yield opportunities either to pay off old debts, or to learn patience and that greatest of virtues, humility, finds it easier to bear them.
The sense of responsibility and fellow feeling increase tolerance and understanding, just as the desire to help ameliorate the suffering of others awakens hope and a deeper feeling for the spiritual reality that is glimpsed behind the often bewildering illusions of outward events. We may be led to adjust our sense of values, to examine to what degree our traditional ideals endure the tests that difficult circumstances can bring, and to realize that these provide opportunities for new, fresh approaches and the development of powers we hitherto had hardly imagined.
Trust, courage and understanding are born of spiritual knowledge, the knowledge that germinates in the heart, the invisible heart where man's innermost consciousness has its seat, but this must be nurtured, evoked and brought into expression by the mind as well as by will and love. Man is a thinking being who demands answers to problems that vex him and reasons for directing his actions and thoughts in a certain way rather than another. Conventional injunctions do not satisfy those who think independently, yet subjective feelings alone, unguided by intelligence, easily become will-o'-the-wisps. Therefore there is reason to examine thoughtfully the knowledge that can serve as a basis for life, something that is not dependent on outward assertions but rests on conditions of universal significance, which are valid everywhere and under all circumstances.
Such, we believe, are the fundamental principles that H. P. Blavatsky sought to present again to the modern world, in an effort to awaken people to a consciousness of their innate potentials and of the treasuries of wisdom that are preserved in many of the sacred writings of ancient peoples. The Nemesis Divina, which absorbed so great a part of Linne's meditations, as his scattered notes made over a period of years testify, is simply karma — the spiritual energic effect of causes and forces that have been set in motion by ourselves.
(From Sunrise magazine, May 1974; copyright © 1974 Theosophical University Press)