Point Loma edition 1993
Blavatsky Trust edition 2010
In recent years the word Karma has passed into our language, with the general connotation that whatever happens in life is the consequence of some previous action, event or circumstance. This meaning is correct, but the teaching of Esoteric Science shows how far the operation of Karma exceeds the simplistic picture of rewards and punishments affecting human lives.
Karma is Law. The Key to Theosophy gives a short but comprehensive definition of the term:
... we consider it as the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the source, origin, and fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature. Karma is the unerring law which adjusts effect to cause, on the physical, mental, and spiritual planes of being. As no cause remains without its due effect from greatest to least, from a cosmic disturbance down to the movement of your hand, and as like produces like, Karma is that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently and equitably each effect to its cause, tracing the latter back to its producer. Though itself unknowable, its action is perceivable. Key to Theosophy, 201
Law, as used in this statement, means in effect the way things are in Nature, and the way they behave, phrases which give recognition to the many aspects of Karma expressed in such descriptive definitions as: the law of alternation, the law of causation, the law of balance and harmony, the law of evolution, the law of innate intelligence. Students of the cosmic process have also chosen to describe the varied operations of Karma in other terms, such as: the law of coming into being, the law of motion, the law of orderly change, the law of essential unity, and so on. Let us look at some of these descriptions.
In answer to a question about the nature of "God, the Soul, and Man," Mme Blavatsky states that "in their origin and in eternity the three, like the universe and all therein, are one with the absolute Unity." When, according to the law inherent within itself, the Unity must again put forth a universe, a polarity can be said to arise within it, expressed as Spirit and Matter: the former is the active, positive, energetic aspect, described as male, while the latter is the passive, receptive, substantial aspect, described as female. However, the two are in no sense separate; neither can be said to have any existence without the other, for they are but aspects of the One Life.
This is the second of three Fundamental Propositions that are at the root of the esoteric philosophy. After the statement of the Law as the causative principle behind the manifestation of a universe, The Secret Doctrine gives a few examples to illustrate its operation on the scale of human experience.
An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe. Secret Doctrine (I 17, I 4S, I 82)
The principle operates throughout Nature, whether the scale be that of man and his twenty-four hour cycle or of a universe and its periods of scarcely imaginable duration. Nothing therefore can be considered in isolation from what went before or from what followed after, either in the days of a man's life or in the life of a universe.
Our "Universe" is only one of an infinite number of Universes, all of them "Sons of Necessity," because links in the great Cosmic chain of Universes, each one standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor. Secret Doctrine (I 43, I 74, I 115)
The emergence of a material universe is therefore not a creation, in the usual sense of making a new thing ex nihilo, but is rather
... the periodical and consecutive appearances of the universe from the subjective on to the objective plane of being, at regular intervals of time, covering periods of immense duration. Key to Theosophy, 83
The process may be seen as analogous, on a cosmic scale, to the resumption of a man's activities after a night of sleep for the purpose of furthering , the "unfinished business" of the previous day.
The very word Cosmos, from the Greek kosmos, meaning order, is applied to the universe-according to the Greek Lexicon-because of its "perfect arrangement." Karma, explains The Key to Theosophy, is the "Law of re-adjustment which ever tends to restore disturbed equilibrium in the physical, and broken harmony in the moral world." Key to Theosophy. 205 It is this aspect of Karma that is often emphasized in popular presentations of the teaching, both because it is easier to grasp and because of its obvious relevance to human life. In this form it has been taught in the world's Scriptures, as for example in the Dhammapada: "if a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage," and in the saying of Jesus, "With the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again." The analogy with sowing and reaping used by St Paul: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal.vi 7), is shown in the Buddhist teaching to apply to the sequence of lives in the doctrine of rebirth: "Like everything else in nature, the life of man is subject to the law of cause and effect. The present reaps what the past has sown, and the future is the product of the present."
When the emphasis is put on painful experiences as the consequences of evil acts in the past, Karma is appropriately described as the Law of Retribution, but it is also the Law of compensation and reward. This aspect of karmic law should not, however, obscure either the fact that the same law governs the entire universe in all its parts, from atom and microbe to
man and planetary system, or the fact that man himself is a responsible agent of that law. This introduces the question of free-will; by choosing the seed he will plant, the farmer chooses the crop he will harvest; Similarly, by choosing how he will act today, a man chooses his own future, for better or worse. The answer has been well summarized in the lines:
Destiny today is master,
Man was master yesterday.
In summarizing the essential teachings of Esoteric Science in The Secret Doctrine, Mme Blavatsky indicates the vast sweep of karmic operations in Nature.
The whole order of nature evinces a progressive march towards a higher life. There is design in the action of the seemingly blind est forces. The whole process of evolution with its endless adaptations is a proof of this. The immutable laws that weed out the weak and feeble species, to make room for the strong, and which ensure the "survival of the fittest," though so cruel in their immediate action-all are working toward the grand end. The very fact that adaptations do occur, that the fittest do survive in the struggle for existence, shows that what is called "unconscious Nature" is in reality an aggregate of forces manipulated by semi-intelligent beings (Elementals) guided by High Planetary Spirits (Dhyani-Chohans), whose collective aggregate forms the manifested verbum of the unmanifested LOGOS, and constitutes at one and the same time the MIND of the Universe and its immutable LAW. Secret Doctrine (I 277, I 298, I 320)
The Passage just quoted draws attention to another aspect of the cosmic process, that of universal Intelligence. When the Wisdom of Solomon declares that "Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily, and sweetly doth she order all things," and again, "being but one, she can do all things," the writer of this apocryphal text does but echo the occult philosophy in recognizing an intelligent principle at every level and in every operation of Nature. In the language of human experience, it could be said that every organism in Nature knows what it has to do and carries out its appointed task. Stars keep to their orbits, atoms combine with some other atoms but not with all, plants select their needed nutrients from the soil, birds and animals mate and rear their young and migrate according to clearly determined patterns. What is instinct but a term to conceal our ignorance of the causative factors in animal behavior? The Hierarchies (see Chapter IV) further illustrate the presence of an Intelligent Principle in Nature, for each one not only acts out its unique role in the grand scheme but also maintains its appropriate relationship with the Hierarchies above and below itself.
A useful collection of Aphorisms on Karma was given by W.Q Judge in his magazine The Path. The following selection shows tile universal and unerring nature of karmic law and its relevance in human life:
Karma operates on all things and beings from the minutest conceivable atom up to Brahma. Proceeding in the three worlds of men, gods, and the elemental beings, no spot in the manifested universe is exempt from its sway.
The Karma of this earth is the combination of all the acts and thoughts of all beings of every grade which were concerned in the preceding Manvantara or evolutionary stream from which ours flows. In the life of worlds, races, nations, and individuals, Karma cannot act unless there is an appropriate instrument provided for its action .... And until such appropriate instrument is found, that Karma related to it remains unexpended.
Karma is both merciful and just. Mercy and Justice are only opposite poles of a single whole; and Mercy without Justice is not possible in the operations of Karma. That which man calls Mercy and Justice is defective, errant, and impure .
... its action may be known by calculation from cause to effect; and this calculation is possible because the effect is wrapped up in and is not succedent to the cause. Echoes of the Orient I 313
There is no finer statement of the Law in the vast sweep of its operations than the memorable verses from Sir Edwln Arnold's The Light of Asia; they speak of the universality of karmic law, which governs the movement of the stars, the wonders of the natural world and the circumstances of human life; they speak too of the power that each man has over his own destiny and of the observance of the law as the key to freedom. The verses that follow are selected from the last Book of the poem:
It knows not wrath nor pardon; utter-true
Its measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;
Times are as nought, to-morrow it will judge,
Or after many days.
By this the slayer's knife did stab himself;
The unjust judge hath lost his own defender;
The false tongue dooms its lie;
the creeping thief And spoiler rob, to render.
Such is the Law which moves to righteousness,
Which none at last can turn aside or stay;
The heart of it is Love, the end of it
Is Peace and Consummation sweet. Obey!"
Arnold, Sir Edwin, The Light of Asia (Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co., 1885) 129·30.
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