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Theosophy

Karma

TheosophyAn extract from Elementary Theosophy.

"A man's deeds come back to him," "that which a man sows, that shall he also reap," "cast thy bread upon the waters and it shall come back after many days," are three sayings which contain a law belonging as sister to reincarnation, known as karma. The punishment aspect of it the Greeks called Nemesis; but that is only half of it. It belongs to reincarnation because there is not time in any one life for all the deeds a man does therein to come back to him. They come back to him because they are his.

Whenever we do anything at all, purposefully, we do three things, though we ordinarily think of one only. Consider, for example, theft. (a) The thing visibly done is the taking of some one else's property. (b) Invisibly, a change of character for the worse is made; this shows itself in the fact that whatever is done once is easier to do the second time. (c) The third thing, also invisible, is that the world's atmosphere, in which we all share, in which our minds live as our bodies live in the common air, is poisoned. An evil wave has been sent into it. This wave, in however slight degree, does act on and affect the minds of all other men. The world is hard enough, cold enough, selfish enough as it is; this wave worsens it. The minds of men become by it, in however slight degree, more suspicious, more grasping, harder. They feel, though without noticing it, an increase in what we might call the thief element. Of course the wave sent out by one single act of theft is very slight. But when we multiply it by millions every year, we can understand why the world is as it is. Each of the millions has broken the harmony that should have been, the harmony between men in act and thought, which must some time come about.

A whole life may be spent in undetected and unpunished theft. But it was all registered; the successive acts were written deeper and deeper on the man's character; and they sent successive waves into the world's atmosphere. To that atmosphere, which he helped to make, with that character, which he entirely made, the man comes back. The echo of his own past deeds returns to him, finding an exactly answering echo in his nature. All the world tendencies, the effects of all the deeds ever done by man, come flooding in upon him, as they do on all of us. Some find no echo in his character -- he may, for example, have no tendency to murder. He will be tempted only by those that do have their echo in his character.

All is now ready for the opportunity. When that comes, what will happen? What is likely to happen? He falls under the load of impulse he built into himself.

The luck not to be found out (if it can be called luck) which he enjoyed before, some time or other now fails -- perhaps on the very first occasion. Then there is a calamity, disgrace. By that he may learn to reform, or many such may be necessary, extending perhaps over more than one life. They go on happening until at last he is strong enough to receive out of the world's atmosphere his own current, find its echo in his own nature, and yet refuse to yield. When there is no longer that echo, the battle is finally won there. The man has fought and neutralized that much evil; he has cleared the world's atmosphere of that much of the stain which he made in his thefts.

This is one aspect of karma, the coming back of evil deeds. The law cannot forgive anything, for that would be to leave our characters still weak. True forgiveness is done by man himself when he turns so strongly to his higher nature that he becomes at one with it. After that he can face the echoes of his own deeds without fear; they find no answer in his own nature.

There are many other aspects, for the law is really an explanation of life. Good deeds come back as certainly as bad ones. He who does a good deed sweetens the world's atmosphere and his own character. The current comes back as an urge to repeat them, finds an echo in his character, and goes back to others with the benediction of some new good deed. The world is bettered, its burdens eased a little. The man has the inner joy and peace of harmony with his divine nature; just as, by the other kind of action, he has unrest within and without. Ill deeds bring inner unrest and outer pain; good deeds, inner peace and outer harmony. With both hands this law helps us on to our greater destiny, to the real life to come.

But karma goes even deeper; it replies to defects of character which are not seen to injure others. We shall understand if we remember that its aim is to develop, to restore us to our proper and highest nature. It meets our weaknesses with tonics, and tonics are sometimes bitter. Wiser eyes than those of ordinary men are needed to follow its work in individual cases; but the general principles are easy enough for a child to grasp. Some men meet seemingly unmerited disgrace. Where is the justice of it? Others close their lives in the prolonged pain of some slow malady. Where here is justice? In man's own former thoughts and deeds. It is nature's response to character.

We must try to take nature's long view if we would understand her work in its beneficence. In such cases as we have supposed, there must be a failure somewhere needing correction, some flaw in character needing strengthening. Some characters only bring forth their finest flower after great pain. The pain is transient, the flower eternal; and it was the flower that nature wanted to secure. Perhaps there was a latent love of others' good opinion, which, uncured, remained a weakness and might have led on to all kinds of evil, hypocrisy, ambition, vanity. The weed is now uprooted. But in the last life it may have been very luxuriant -- leading, it may be, to some marked sin or crime. Karma carried that over to the next page of her ledger, the next life. But the possibilities in details are endless.

Physical pain, again, often calls forth the most magnificent endurance, strengthening the will in some cases as nothing else can. In such a case it could be crudely described as punishment for the lack of endurance and patience; or, more correctly, as a difficult bit of nature's beneficent training. A good deal of the work of karma is to call our attention to failings of which we were before unconscious, and give us the opportunity to correct them.

So the theosophist sees in the workings of karma a law which is wholly beneficent, which punishes and rewards for one sole purpose: the evocation of the soul. It works behind and through every event of our lives. Nor are its ways inscrutable. If we watched all that happened to us from day to day and from year to year, noted what duties came up to be done, what pains and pleasures came into our path, what accidents befell us -- if we watched instead of complaining, we should find that at every turn we were being offered opportunity for growth of will, of mind, of character. If outer life is monotonous, there is the opportunity to light up the outer life with the radiance of the inner life, with the companionship of the divine. If outer life is painful, it is the opportunity to develop will and endurance. And if we stop the fierce wish to escape pain and procure pleasure, putting that much force into compassionate deed and thought, we should find our minds grow steadily clearer in comprehension of this law and its purpose. There are no accidents. Whatever happens we have ourselves brought about in this or some other life. We have done, or left undone, and the effects of both constitute our environment and the stream of events.

Our deeds of yesterday are the parents of the events of today, and events are the mask of opportunity. They press on us from without, as our divine will does from within both in the same direction. Karma waits at our side and when we have acted or not acted, she adjusts the effect so as to teach and train us. We have freewill; the future is absolutely in our hands. Karma, if we so choose, will show us her face as friend; it is always inner peace for those who walk with her. She is always the friend of those who make themselves the friends of humanity, who develop every faculty and talent and strength of their nature that they may serve humanity the better.


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