Few subjects have given rise to more talk, more trouble, more fighting than justice; and there is no easier occupation for one who has a small scattering of mind and intelligence and a certain amount of observation than that of denouncing the injustice in life! Many have been led to the conclusion that there is really no such thing as justice. Yet how could we object to injustice, if we didn't have inside of us, behind the mind, a conviction that there is justice in life? Don't we all have a belief or feeling that each human being has some natural, individual right which ought not be violated? We may take it as a fact, then, that there is in nature and in man a principle of justice, and that law and order are different ways of expressing the rightness of things.
The whole of existence is the effort of the soul of things to find itself a proper and fitting form. In this it is not always successful; in fact, it cannot be, for it will never reach its ultimate goal until the final expression of the universe is achieved. The universe, existing by its own nature, by its own laws, is therefore inherently governed by a principle of right which it is constantly seeking to express — and forever failing to achieve completely. Life thus becomes a series of experiments and developments; and when we talk about progress, we recognize that fact. Therefore we demand progress towards some ideal, and I believe it is unavoidable that justice should be an integral part of that ideal.
The belief that justice is at the root of life is a very old one, but by degrees it has been lost sight of by those who did not find it convenient.
The religions of the world have not succeeded in showing man the harmony and fitness of nature's workings; on the contrary, their priesthoods have often taught just the opposite, inventing ways of tempering the seeming unfairness in the world by creating a God outside of us who must be petitioned on our behalf. Thus they have, if unwittingly, presented injustice as the law of life.
In many ancient philosophies it was maintained that though man has a mind, has a body, he is a soul, a spiritual being, existing by right of his own innate godhood. The essence of justice is thus within man; and to achieve it he must constantly strive for a more perfect expression of his own inner nature. Many talk about expressing themselves, but they often mean only their animal nature. You can live according to nature — as a pig does or a bird; or you can live according to nature as a man should, who is neither a pig nor a bird. And when we try to find what is the real man, we learn from all the old teachings the same thing: man is a soul, and all souls are reflections from the one Light, separate in form but not in essence.
If we can get away from those things that disturb us, from passion, from anger, from ideas and theories of our legal rights, and get back into our inner consciousness, we shall find that we have a pretty sure sense of justice. When we come to apply it in any particular case we may get all mixed up in the details, but behind the confusion there remains a central ideal. Once in a while this breaks through, and everybody recognizes it as something fine, coming from the heart and soul of man — not the mind which reasons and argues. By arguing we can go on forever multiplying schemes of right and wrong, remedies for this and that, but all the while getting further and further away from the inherent rightness of things.
Some of the formal religions are crude in their expression of right and wrong. The old idea of retributive justice, for instance, "an eye for an eye," if taken literally, reflects a narrow and distorted view — it is simply revenge. Bacon says in one of his Essays that revenge is a sort of wild justice. A man has done a wrong; in punishment, he must suffer a similar wrong. That is to say, one wrong has been done, therefore in payment another must be done, and perforce another must follow, and yet another. Naturally there is no end to it. What is needed is something different and positive, something of opposite quality that may be put into the other scale. That is where the noble teaching of mercy comes in as a counterweight, for the law of life is harmony, and discord merely a disturbance of the natural order. Readjustment is not attained by the perpetuation of disharmony, but by adopting such means as are fit to reestablish the balance. Now in this world, as we are at present constituted, we may have to take stern measures to restore order. Since the purpose behind an act weighs heavily because it determines the character of the other acts to follow, the effect of a severe deed with a constructive motive is quite different from that of violence in the name of compensation.
In much of the Orient justice was known thousands of years ago under the name of karma, and was made intelligible by the doctrine of reincarnation. The idea prevailing in the West is that man comes from nowhere; against his own will he is thrown into this world, lives, suffers, dies, and then is judged worthy of an eternity of pain or of bliss. The whole scheme is utterly impossible and unnatural to any rational man; it offends his sense of justice. It is no use covering up by saying that the ways of the Almighty are inscrutable and that we must not question; the mind protests against it. Surely we belong to the universe and did not come unwillingly into this life! We must have been born then because of our innate desire to exist, and this same overwhelming urge is leading us back again and again to life's experiences.
What we are and what happens to us results from the workings of a law of absolute justice, that is, absolute in principle, for in operation the most precise principle may be interfered with. The law of gravity is very perfect and simple: a body will fall, unless it is prevented from doing so; but the law remains unaltered. In the same way the law of justice is not destroyed by obstacles that come in the way of the natural working out of its objectives.
When we realize that law and order are the primary functions of the universe and that, since we are part of it, cosmic justice is the root of our own lives, the cause of our very being, then we begin to see that there is system in life. Fortunes and misfortunes come to us not by blind chance, but result from things that have happened in the past, errors in other lives, seeds sown; and by the same token, whatever will come to us in the future will be the harvest of the present. When once this idea catches hold of us, we look differently upon people who do wrong; we are not so anxious to avenge injustice; because when we see a little farther, we recognize that they will learn in time by suffering for what they have done. It is inevitable, and we do not have to take charge of that; our task is justly and mercifully to reestablish the harmony that has been disturbed.
To restore harmony — this is justice; and we find the best laws of the wisest legislators aimed in this direction. The noblest minds are free entirely from the idea of retaliation and revenge. It is too mean-spirited for an age which claims such enlightenment as ours. The practical application of any principle naturally has to be adapted to the conditions prevailing among a particular race or nation. Laws and customs which may be good, because suited to a certain time or people, might be unsuitable in other areas. What is basically necessary, therefore, is to help awaken the understanding in the minds of all people that in the heart of things there is law and order, and that we have but to assist this inherent principle to manifest in appropriate laws and customs. We cannot expect perfection, but at least we shall have this ideal towards which to strive.
So when we observe injustice in the world, we are simply recognizing that life is evolving and that we are in a state of growth in which imperfection is natural. If we wish to progress, we have to rise above that condition of mind which argues and reasons from the outside and get into our inner self, into our own hearts, and find there the reflection of that cosmic justice which is at the core of the universe.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1987/January 1988. Copyright © 1987 by Theosophical University Press)