karma -- THE universal law of compensation, and justice for all
Mar 09, 2002 04:22 AM
I recently posted this essay, and then found it to be incomplete.
Permit me to offer it in its entirety. The Last half was somehow
Karma -- The Law of Cause and Effect -- Compensation
Karma is an unfamiliar word for Western ears. It is the Sanskrit
word, and is a name adopted by Theosophists of the nineteenth
century for one of the most important of the laws of nature.
Ceaseless in its operation, it bears alike upon planets, systems
of planets, races, nations, families, and individuals. It is the
twin doctrine to reincarnation. So inextricably interlaced are
these two laws that it is almost impossible to properly consider
one apart from the other.
No spot or being in the universe is exempt from the operation of
Karma, but all are under its sway, punished for error by it yet
beneficently led on, through discipline, rest, and reward, to the
distant heights of perfection. It is a law so comprehensive in
its sweep, embracing at once our physical and our moral being,
that it is only by paraphrase and copious explanation one can
convey its meaning in English. For that reason the Sanskrit term
Karma was adopted to designate it.
Applied to man's moral life it is the law of ethical causation,
justice, reward and punishment; the cause for birth and rebirth,
yet equally the means for escape from incarnation.
Viewed from another point it is merely effect flowing from cause,
action and reaction, exact result for every thought and act. It
is act and the result of act; for the word's literal meaning is
Theosophy views the Universe as an intelligent whole, hence every
motion in the Universe is an action of that whole leading to
results, which themselves become causes for further results.
Viewing it thus broadly, the ancient Hindus said that every being
up to Brahma was under the rule of Karma.
It is not a being but a law, the universal law of harmony which
unerringly restores all disturbance to equilibrium. In this the
theory conflicts with the ordinary conception about God, built up
from the Jewish system, which assumes that the Almighty as a
thinking entity, extraneous to the Cosmos, builds up, finds his
construction inharmonious, out of proportion, errant, and
disturbed, and then has to pull down, destroy, or punish that
which he created. This has either caused thousands to live in
fear of God, in compliance with his assumed commands, with the
selfish object of obtaining reward and securing escape from his
wrath, or has plunged them into darkness which comes from a
denial of all spiritual life. But as there is plainly, indeed
painfully, evident to every human being a constant destruction
going on in and around us, a continual war not only among men but
everywhere through the whole solar system, causing sorrow in all
directions, reason requires a solution of the riddle.
The poor, who see no refuge or hope, cry aloud to a God who makes
no reply, and then envy springs up in them when they consider the
comforts and opportunities of the rich. They see the rich
profligates, the wealthy fools, enjoying themselves unpunished.
Turning to the teacher of religion, they meet the reply to their
questioning of the justice which will permit such misery to those
who did nothing requiring them to be born with no means, no
opportunities for education, no capacity to overcome social,
racial, or circumstantial obstacles, "It is the will of God."
Parents produce beloved offspring who are cut off by death at an
untimely hour, just when all promised well. They too have no
answer to the question "Why am I thus afflicted?" but the same
unreasonable reference to an inaccessible God whose arbitrary
will causes their misery.
Thus in every walk of life, loss, injury, persecution,
deprivation of opportunity, nature's own forces working to
destroy the happiness of man, death, reverses, disappointment
continually beset good and evil men alike. But nowhere is there
any answer or relief save in the ancient truths that each man is
the maker and fashioner of his own destiny, the only one who sets
in motion the causes for his own happiness and misery. In one
life he sows and in the next he reaps.
Thus on and forever, the law of Karma leads him.
Karma is a beneficent law wholly merciful, relentlessly just, for
true mercy is not favor but impartial justice.
"My brothers! each man's life
The outcome of his former living is;
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes,
The bygone right breeds bliss. . . .
This is the doctrine of Karma."
How is the present life affected by that bygone right and wrong
act, and is it always by way of punishment? Is Karma only fate
under another name, an already fixed and formulated destiny from
which no escape is possible, and which therefore might make us
careless of act or thought that cannot affect destiny? It is not
Everything done in a former body has consequences which in the
new birth the Ego must enjoy or suffer, for, as St. Paul said:
"Brethren, be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a
man soweth that shall he also reap." For the effect is in the
cause, and Karma produces the manifestation of it in the body,
brain, and mind furnished by reincarnation. And as a cause set up
by one man has a distinct relation to him as a center from which
it came, so each one experiences the results of his own acts. We
may sometimes seem to receive effects solely from the acts of
others, but this is the result of our own acts and thoughts in
this or some prior life. We perform our acts in company with
others always, and the acts with their underlying thoughts have
relation always to other persons and to ourselves.
No act is performed without a thought at its root either at the
time of performance or as leading to it. These thoughts are
lodged in that part of man which we have called Manas -- the
mind, and there remain as subtle but powerful links with magnetic
threads that enmesh the solar system, and through which various
effects are brought out.
The theory put forward earlier, that the whole system to which
this globe belongs is alive, conscious on every plane, though
only in man showing self-consciousness, comes into play here to
explain how the thought under the act in this life may cause
result in this or the next birth. The marvellous modern
experiments in hypnotism show that the slightest impression, no
matter how far back in the history of the person, may be waked up
to life, thus proving it is not lost but only latent.
Take for instance the case of a child born humpbacked and very
short, the head sunk between the shoulders, the arms long and
legs curtailed. Why is this? His karma for thoughts and acts in a
prior life. He reviled, persecuted, or otherwise injured a
deformed person so persistently or violently as to imprint in his
own immortal mind the deformed picture of his victim. For in
proportion to the intensity of his thought will be the intensity
and depth of the picture. It is exactly similar to the exposure
of the sensitive photographic plate, whereby, just as the
exposure is long or short, the impression in the plate is weak or
deep. So this thinker and actor -- the Ego -- coming again to
rebirth carries with him this picture, and if the family to which
he is attracted for birth has similar physical tendencies in its
stream, the mental picture causes the newly-forming astral body
to assume a deformed shape by electrical and magnetic osmosis
through the mother of the child. And as all beings on earth are
indissolubly joined together, the misshapen child is the karma of
the parents also an exact consequence for similar acts and
thoughts on their part in other lives. Here is an exactitude of
justice which no other theory will furnish.
But as we often see a deformed human being -- continuing the
instance merely for the purpose of illustration -- having a happy
disposition, an excellent intellect, sound judgment, and every
good moral quality, this very instance leads us to the conclusion
that karma must be of several different kinds in every individual
case, and also evidently operates in more than one department of
our being, with the possibility of being pleasant in effect for
one portion of our nature and unpleasant for another.
Karma is of three sorts:
First -- that which has not begun to produce any effect in our
lives owing to the operation on us of some other karmic causes.
This is under a law well known to physicists, that two opposing
forces tend to neutrality, and that one force may be strong
enough to temporarily prevent the operation of another one.
This law works on the unseen mental and karmic planes or spheres
of being just as it does on the material ones. The force of a
certain set of bodily, mental, and psychical faculties with their
tendencies may wholly inhibit the operation on us of causes with
which we are connected, because the whole nature of each person
is used in the carrying out of this law. Hence the weak and
mediocre furnish a weak focus for karma, and in them the general
result of a lifetime is limited, although they may feel it all to
be very heavy. But that person who has a wide and deep-reaching
character and much force will feel the operation of a greater
quantity of karma than the weaker person.
Second -- that karma which we are now making or storing up by our
thoughts and acts, and which will operate in the future when the
appropriate body, mind, and environment are taken up by the
incarnating Ego in some other life, or whenever obstructive karma
This bears both on the present life and the next one. For one may
in this life come to a point where, all previous causes being
worked out, new karma, or that which is unexpended, must begin to
Under this are those cases where men have sudden reverses of
fortune or changes for the better either in circumstances or
A very important bearing of this is on our present conduct. While
old karma must work out and cannot be stopped, it is wise for the
man to so think and act now under present circumstances, no
matter what they are, that he shall produce no bad or prejudicial
causes for the next rebirth or for later years in this life.
Rebellion is useless, for the law works on whether we weep or
rejoice. The great French engineer, de Lesseps, is a good example
of this class of karma. Raised to a high pitch of glory and
achievement for many years of his life, he suddenly falls covered
with shame through the Panama canal scandal. Whether he was
innocent or guilty, he has the shame of the connection of his
name with a national enterprise all besmirched with bribery and
corruption that involved high officials. This was the operation
of old karmic causes on him the very moment those which had
governed his previous years were exhausted. Napoleon I is
another, for he rose to a very great fame, then suddenly fell and
died in exile and disgrace. Many other cases will occur to every
Third -- that karma which has begun to produce results. It is the
operating now in this life on us of causes set up in previous
lives in company with other Egos. And it is in operation because,
being most adapted to the family stock, the individual body,
astral body, and race tendencies of the present incarnation, it
exhibits itself plainly, while other unexpended karma awaits its
These three classes of karma govern men, animals, worlds, and
periods of evolution. Every effect flows from a cause precedent,
and as all beings are constantly being reborn they are
continually experiencing the effects of their thoughts and acts
(which are themselves causes) of a prior incarnation. And thus
each one answers, as St. Matthew says, for every word and
thought; none can escape either by prayer, or favor, or force, or
any other intermediary.
Now as karmic causes are divisible into three classes, they must
have various fields in which to work. They operate upon man in
his mental and intellectual nature, in his psychical or soul
nature, and in his body and circumstances. The spiritual nature
of man is never affected or operated upon by karma.
One species of karma may act on the three specified planes of our
nature at the same time to the same degree, or there may be a
mixture of the causes, some on one plane and some on another.
Take a deformed person who has a fine mind and a deficiency in
his soul nature. Here punitive or unpleasant karma is operating
on his body while in his mental and intellectual nature good
karma is being experienced, but psychically the karma, or cause,
being of an indifferent sort the result is indifferent. In
another person other combinations appear. He has a fine body and
favorable circumstances, but the character is morose, peevish,
irritable, revengeful, morbid, and disagreeable to himself and
others. Here good physical karma is at work with very bad mental,
intellectual, and psychical karma. Cases will occur to readers of
persons born in high station having every opportunity and power,
yet being imbecile or suddenly becoming insane.
And just as all these phases of the law of karma have sway over
the individual man, so they similarly operate upon races,
nations, and families. Each race has its karma as a whole. If it
be good that race goes forward. If bad it goes out -- annihilated
as a race -- though the souls concerned take up their karma in
other races and bodies. Nations cannot escape their national
karma, and any nation that has acted in a wicked manner must
suffer some day, be it soon or late.
The karma of the nineteenth century in the West is the karma of
Israel, for even the merest tyro can see that the Mosaic
influence is the strongest in the European and American nations.
The old Aztec and other ancient American peoples died out because
their own karma -- the result of their own life as nations in the
far past -- fell upon and destroyed them.
With nations this heavy operation of karma is always through
famine, war, convulsion of nature, and the sterility of the women
of the nation. The latter cause comes near the end and sweeps the
whole remnant away. And the individual in race or nation is
warned by this great doctrine that if he falls into indifference
of thought and act, thus molding himself into the general average
karma of his race or nation, that national and race karma will at
last carry him off in the general destiny. This is why teachers
of old cried, "Come ye out and be ye separate."
With reincarnation the doctrine of karma explains the misery and
suffering of the world, and no room is left to accuse Nature of
The misery of any nation or race is the direct result of the
thoughts and acts of the Egos who make up the race or nation. In
the dim past they did wickedly and now suffer. They violated the
laws of harmony. The immutable rule is that harmony must be
restored if violated. So these Egos suffer in making compensation
and establishing the equilibrium of the occult cosmos. The whole
mass of Egos must go on incarnating and reincarnating in the
nation or race until they have all worked out to the end the
causes set up.
Though the nation may for a time disappear as a physical thing,
the Egos that made it do not leave the world, but come out as the
makers of some new nation in which they must go on with the task
and take either punishment or reward as accords with their karma.
Of this law the old Egyptians are an illustration. They certainly
rose to a high point of development, and as certainly they were
extinguished as a nation. But the souls -- the old Egos -- live
on and are now fulfilling their self-made destiny as some other
nation now in our period.
They may be the new American nation, or the Jews fated to wander
up and down in the world and suffer much at the hands of others.
This process is perfectly just. Take, for instance, the United
States and the Red Indians. The latter have been most shamefully
treated by the nation. The Indian Egos will be reborn in the new
and conquering people, and as members of that great family will
be the means themselves of bringing on the due results for such
acts as were done against them when they had red bodies. Thus it
has happened before, and so it will come about again.
Individual unhappiness in any life is thus explained:
(a) It is punishment for evil done in past lives; or
(b) it is discipline taken up by the Ego for the purpose of
eliminating defects or acquiring fortitude and sympathy. When
defects are eliminated it is like removing the obstruction in an
irrigating canal which then lets the water flow on.
Happiness is explained in the same way: the result of prior lives
The scientific and self-compelling basis for right ethics is
found in these and in no other doctrines. For if right ethics are
to be practised merely for themselves, men will not see why, and
have never been able to see why, for that reason they should do
right. If ethics are to be followed from fear, man is degraded
and will surely evade; if the favor of the Almighty, not based on
law or justice, be the reason, then we will have just what
prevails today -- a code given by Jesus to the west professed by
nations and not practised save by the few who would in any case
On this subject the Adepts have written the following to be found
in the Secret Doctrine:
"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 neighbors will no more work harm to us than we would think of
harming them, 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. . . .
We cut these numerous windings in our destinies daily with our
own hands, while we imagine that we are pursuing a track on the
royal high road of respectability and duty, and then complain of
those ways beings so intricate and so dark. We stand bewildered
before the mystery of our own making and the riddles of life that
we will not solve, and then accuse the great Sphinx of devouring
us. But verily there is not an accident in our lives, not a
misshapen day or a misfortune, that could not be traced back to
our own doings in this or another life. . . . Knowledge of Karma
gives the conviction that if --
'virtue in distress and vice in triumph
Make atheists of Mankind',
it is only because that mankind has ever shut its eyes to the
great truth that man is himself his own saviour as his own
destroyer; that he need not accuse heaven and the gods, fates and
providence, of the apparent injustice that reigns in the midst of
humanity. But let him rather remember and repeat this bit of
Grecian wisdom which warns man to forbear accusing That which
'Just though mysterious, leads us on unerring
Through ways unmarked from guilt to punishment'
-- which are now the ways and the high road on which move onward
the great European nations. The western Aryans had every nation
and tribe like their eastern brethren of the fifth race, their
Golden and their Iron ages, their period of comparative
irresponsibility, or the Satya age of purity, while now several
of them have reached their Iron age, the Kali Yuga, an age black
with horrors. This state will last . . . until we begin acting
from within instead of ever following impulses from without . . .
Until then the only palliative is union and harmony -- a
Brotherhood in actu and altruism not simply in name."
These statements are extracted from Mr. W. Q. Judge's The OCEAN
D T B
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