Studies in the Secret Doctrine:
The Law of Karma
The Universe of Law is accepted as a basic truth by all. The most superstitious slave of priestcraft, the believer in chance, coincidence, the “psychological moment,” fatalism, and also the most abject materialist reared by modern science — all avow that the universe, physical, moral, mental, is — must be — governed by law. Law, however, assumes the aspect of a whimsical and mysterious personal god with some; with others, is locked up in the power of thought exerted by human free will; is the code of the partly discovered and the partly to be discovered “facts” of modern “exact science” with a third class. The truth that the “infallible laws” of materialistic science break down in conflict with moral problems does not disturb the upholders of those “laws”; on the other hand the advance of knowledge which has overthrown the “revealed will of God” makes little difference to the blind believer in the non-existent “Almighty.”
That all humanity feels the presence of an unfailing power which works incessantly, and unmistakably producing results, is in itself the evidence that the universe is governed by Law. Further, in the material world, cause and effect have been related so often and with such unfailing resultants that instinctive human belief has taken a more substantial form and has become an intellectual belief with many. The nefarious influence of exoteric creeds and religions is so great that in spite of that intellectual perception, men and women fail to apply its lessons when confronted with moral problems and perplexities. For example, the intelligent person who utilizes the knowledge of medicine to cure a bodily ailment will forget that every cause is related to its effect and pray to the mysterious god who “in his infinite wisdom called home through the gateway of death” the ailing friend or relative!
Since the days of Plato the correct understanding of the laws of Nature has been obscured till their very existence has become forgotten and unknown. The tyranny of the church drove men to unbelief and modern science gradually uncovered the fact that the laws of nature are infallible while the gods of the temples, the churches and the mosques are fragile and breakable idols. It was, however, left to Theosophy to proclaim the interdependence of the worlds of Spirit and Matter, to assign to the soul its proper place, from which both religion and science had dethroned it, and to give to the body its right position in the scheme of things — the lowest, most shadowy and transient of coverings, in which the immortal soul of man is sheathed, but which can be transformed into a veritable Temple of God, i.e., of Man who has reached the Stature of Perfection. Through the channel of the greatest Theosophist of the modern age was once again the message given:
… it suffices to ask these pretended agents of the three gods of the Trinity, how they reconcile it with the most rudimental notions of equity, that if the power to pardon sinners for sinning has been given them, they did not also receive the ability by miracle to obliterate the wrongs done against person or property. Let them restore life to the murdered; honor to the dishonored; property to those who have been wronged, and force the scales of human and divine justice to recover their equilibrium. Then we may talk of their divine commission to bind and loose. Let them say, if they can do this. Hitherto the world has received nothing but sophistry — believed on blind faith; we ask palpable, tangible evidence of their God’s justice and mercy. But all are silent; no answer, no reply, and still the inexorable unerring Law of Compensation proceeds on its unswerving path. If we but watch its progress, we will find that it ignores all creeds, shows no preferences, but its sunlight and its thunderbolts fall alike on heathen and Christian. No absolution can shield the latter when guilty, no anathema hurt the former when innocent.
Away from us such an insulting conception of divine justice as that preached by priests on their own authority. It is fit only for cowards and criminals! If they are backed by a whole array of Fathers and Churchmen, we are supported by the greatest of all authorities, an instinctive and reverential sense of the everlasting and ever-present law of harmony and justice. (Isis Unveiled, II, 544-45.)
… There is no “chance” in Nature, wherein everything is mathematically co-ordinate and mutually related in its units. “Chance,” says Coleridge, “is but the pseudonym of God (or Nature), for those particular cases which He does not choose to subscribe openly with His sign manual.” Replace the word “God” by that of Karma and it will become an Eastern axiom…. (The Secret Doctrine, I, 653.)
… we consider it [Karma] 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 equitablyeach effect to its cause, tracing the latter back to its producer. Though itself unknowable, its action is perceivable. (The Key to Theosophy, p. 201.)
… Learn that no efforts, not the smallest — whether in right or wrong direction — can vanish from the world of causes. E’en wasted smoke remains not traceless. “A harsh word uttered in past lives is not destroyed, but ever comes again.” … (The Voice of the Silence, p. 37.)
Man is a triple being — he is the energizing spiritual Monad, plus the guiding intelligence (Manas), plus the gyrations of Matter (Karma). The impartite One Self or Atman energizes the Self-conscious Intelligence to gain knowledge and experience, to garner wisdom out of it, and thus to master the universe of matter. This triple work of (1) mastering matter, (2) by understanding its laws, so that (3) the march of the Monad continues, is neither the work of a designing God nor the result of a designless concurrence of atoms, as theology and science assert. The Secret Doctrine says:
The ONE LIFE is closely related to the one law which governs the World of Being — KARMA. Exoterically, this is simply and literally “action,” or rather an “effect-producing cause.” Esoterically it is quite a different thing in its far-fetching moral effects. It is the unerring LAW OF RETRIBUTION. To say to those ignorant of the real significance, characteristics and awful importance of this eternal immutable law, that no theological definition of a personal deity can give an idea of this impersonal, yet ever present and active Principle, is to speak in vain. Nor can it be called Providence. For Providence, with the Theists (the Christian Protestants, at any rate), rejoices in a personal male gender, while with the Roman Catholics it is a female potency, “Divine Providence tempers His blessings to secure their better effects,” Wogan tells us. Indeed “He” tempers them, which Karma — a sexless principle — does not. (I, 634.)
… This Law — whether Conscious or Unconscious — predestines nothing and no one. It exists from and in Eternity, truly, for it is ETERNITY itself; and as such, since no act can be co-equal with eternity, it cannot be said to act, for it is ACTION itself. … Karma creates nothing, nor does it design. It is man who plans and creates causes, and Karmic law adjusts the effects; which adjustment is not an act, but universal harmony, tending ever to resume its original position, … KARMA is an Absolute and Eternal law in the World of manifestation; and as there can only be one Absolute, as One eternal ever present Cause, believers in Karma cannot be regarded as Atheists or materialists — still less as fatalists: for Karma is one with the Unknowable, of which it is an aspect in its effects in the phenomenal world. (II, 304-6.)
Karma is Action and, from the standpoint of the metaphysician as well as that of the student of Occultism and Esotericism, that Action is devoid of any personality. Karma gives birth to beings but its movement is sui generis, and it is above its creatures. Its intelligence is like that of a river — its waters find their own levels, make their own channels, and, however weary their journey, they wind surely to their destined sea. Its justice “knows not wrath nor pardon,” and is exhaustless in nature. Says The Secret Doctrine:“Karma is a mysterious law and no respecter of persons.”
Karma is the perpetual motion in the Absolute and its character is dual — cause and effect, Spirit-Matter, the primal pair in the manifestation of the One Life. There is no such thing as a causeless effect; there is no effect which does not become in its turn a cause; no Spirit without Matter and no Matter without Spirit. Thus we come to the third element of Karma — Fohat, the relation between Cause and Effect, Spirit and Matter. This is the totality of the beings which compose “Nature.” Says The Secret Doctrine:
The whole order of nature evinces a progressive march towards a higher life. There is design in the action of the seemingly blindest 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 (Dhyan 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. (I, 277-8.)
The “Great Breath” in which the triune differentiation lies concealed in latency is the Law of Attraction-Repulsion, of Cause-Effect. As its ideative or spiritual tendency impels, through its Fohatic or energic nature (daiviprakriti), its substantial or material nature (mulaprakriti), manifestation (manvantara) occurs; when it withdraws the impulsion, the material nature is absorbed, and pralaya ensues.
In the long series the same law produces reflections of reflections and shadows of shadows — the innumerable sub-manvantaras, followed by equally innumerable sub-pralayas. Sleep, death, pralaya of man and of nature, materially, mentally and spiritually, is by and under the one unvarying law of attraction-repulsion, of cause-effect, which is called the Law of Karma or Compensation.
By this Power sidereal universes, each with its many solar systems and each of the latter with its planets, come into being; they all are held together in their movements by this Power inherent in them; this same Power will in process of time and motion bring them back to a higher homogeneity. (Cf. The Secret Doctrine, I, 101-103.)
The Kingdoms of Nature on earth are formed by this Law of the triple nature of the One Life — elementals and elements, vegetables and animals, and ultimately Man — with his unique opportunity and possibility.
Thus Monads or Atma-Buddhis of varied degrees of unfoldment gain for themselves the power of an independent conscious existence; having passed through every elemental form, each has acquired individuality, the root, seed, or germ of self-consciousness which sprouts, grows and evolves into the state or condition of Self-consciousness. This is the axial point in evolution, the arrival at the human stage.
… It is the sphere of final evolutionary adjustments, the world of Karmic scales, the Hall of Justice, where the balance is struck which determines the future course of the Monad during the remainder of its incarnations in the cycle…. (I, 182.)
… Evolution is an eternal cycle of becoming, we are taught; and nature never leaves an atom unused. Moreover, from the beginning of the Round, all in Nature tends to become Man. All the impulses of the dual, centripetal and centrifugal Force are directed towards one point — MAN…. (II, 170.)
This individual or entity in whom the germ of self-consciousness was unfolding is a “good rupa,” which “could stand, walk, run, recline and fly. Yet it was still but a chhaya, a shadow with no sense,” says the Stanza. (II, 102.)
… It has already been stated that, to become a Self-Conscious Spirit, the latter must pass through every cycle of being, culminating in its highest point on earth in Man. Spirit per se is an unconscious negative ABSTRACTION. Its purity is inherent, not acquired by merit; hence, as already shown, to become the highest Dhyan Chohan it is necessary for each Ego to attain to full self-consciousness as a human, i.e., conscious Being, which is synthesized for us in Man…. (I, 192-3.)
The process which is so graphically described by Mr. Judge as the lighting up of Manas follows. The Secret Doctrine repeatedly speaks of the gift of the Rebels or Fallen Angels — the Luciferian Host. These “mind-born sons of Brahma” project their radiant shadow or spark and give birth to the future inner man, who is described as the Conscious Entity; this radiance projected “later on becomes the Human Higher Self owing to the personal exertion of the individual;…” (II, 95.)
… This “Conscious Entity” Occultism says, comes from, nay, in many cases is, the very entire essence and esse of the high Intelligences condemned, by the undeviating law of Karmic evolution, to reincarnate in this manvantara. (II, 248.)
… Rudimentary man … becomes the perfect man … when, with the development of “Spiritual fire,” … he acquires from his inner Self, or Instructor, the Wisdom of Self-Consciousness, which he does not possess in the beginning…. (II, 113.)
Thus the Law of Karma or Action comes into a new phase in its operation. Its blind intelligence adjusts the disturbed equilibrium in kingdoms other than human. The relation between Cause and Effect is neither accidental, nor the result of deliberate conscious planning, but, so to speak, happens. In what happens, however, there is not an error or a mistake, nor any miscarriage of any kind whatever, for the Fohatic Will works without the aid of reasoning intelligence. Hence is there no moral “evil” in non-human kingdoms.
… There is no Devil, no Evil, outside mankind to produce a Devil. Evil is a necessity in, and one of the supporters of the manifested universe. It is a necessity for progress and evolution, as night is necessary for the production of Day, and Death for that of Life — that man may live for ever. (II, 389.)
If man perceives evil, cruelty and wastage — in short, Nature red in tooth and claw — it is because man is ignorant of the Fohatic aspect of the One Life. Human mind views the activity of consciousness in other forms in terms of its own powers and knowledge, imposes its own limitations and also its modes and processes on other grades of conscious life. The Emancipated Soul of the Master, through a definite development of his self-conscious intelligent nature, does not see the universe as mortals do who cast their own gigantic shadow on the screen of the universe and behold it as a glorified reflection of themselves. The Mahatma sees the universe as it is; it is reflected in Him; He is it; as an ancient verse has it, He has become “the Supreme Purusha who pervades the universe of the moving and the non-moving and whose form is a sphere.”
The attainment of this master-hood is possible for every son of man. This possibility lies in the right use of Karma. With the birth of self-consciousness cause and effect do not “happen”; Will is now joined to Intelligence; instinct and impulse have made room for reason. The creative power of Will has become active, when hitherto it worked passively. Having received the gift of the gods, the Creative Fire of Intelligence, man comes under a new phase of Karmic operations: that creative fire has to energize him, to induce him, to Action or Karma. Now, man has to find ways and means, to devise efforts, to move from within. Hence the following:
… The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations…. (I, 17.)
… there are no such privileged beings in the universe, whether in our or in other systems, in the outer or the inner worlds, as the angels of the Western Religion and the Judean. A Dhyan Chohan has to become one; he cannot be born or appear suddenly on the plane of life as a full-blown angel. … Gods, created as such, would evince no personal merit in being gods. Such a class of beings, perfect only by virtue of the special immaculate nature inherent in them, in the face of suffering and struggling humanity, and even of the lower creation, would be the symbol of an eternal injustice quite Satanic in character, an ever present crime. It is an anomaly and an impossibility in Nature…. (I, 221-222.)
This is the martyrdom of Self-conscious existence with which the problem of human evil and human suffering — one the cause, the other the effect — is related. Buddhi per se is a passive and latent principle, and only in conjunction with Manasic Self-consciousness it becomes the Higher Self in Man. (Cf. The Secret Doctrine, II, 231.) To live the Religion of Responsibility — the one and only true religion for any man — one has to become convinced of the existence of a personal spiritual entity within the personal physical man. He has to recognize that there are external and internal conditions, which affect the determination of his will upon his actions. Further, he must reject fatalism which implies a blind course of some still blinder power, and perceive the fact that from birth to death he is weaving, thread by thread around himself, his own destiny, as a spider does his cobweb.
The conscious and will-full actor is Man. As such he is at the starting of a new path of evolution. Action or Karma guided by intelligence and energized by will is his special prerogative. The indulgence and use of it begets the sense of duty in him. Dharma,which is the characteristic property on the plane of effects in non-human kingdoms, becomes the sense of duty. When in the progress of evolution through the performance of duty, man comes to glimpse that self-consciousness means not the consciousness of one’s self but that of the One Self, dharma assumes for him the still higher phase of yagna or sacrifice. Performance of one’s own duty leads to family-dharma, to nation-dharma, to race-dharma with their respective virtues of protection, patriotism, humanitarianism — the giving of one’s self to others. Thus the human soul grows. It will be seen that our individual Karma affects and is affected by family, nation and race Karma. Causes generated by a group of individuals, and in which all of them have concern, because of their complex nature, take a longer period of time to produce their due effects. Thus cycles are formed in which reactions take place to previous actions, and a return of effects to the centre of causation marks the completion. Hence the human soul has to free itself not only from cycles of individual Karma but also of group Karma. Freedom, salvation, liberation, mukti, is dependent on the knowledge of the workings of cycles. There are voluntary incarnations and avataras of emancipated beings as there are Karmic returns of nirvanees of long ago. When through the knowledge of the Law of Cycles and Yugas an individual learns to apply the Law of Sacrifice and Yagna to his own growth he acquires the true virtues of tyaga-renunciation and vairagya-dispassion; he knows himself not as one of the many who perform action but as the One Actor. In the Esotericism of the Bhagavad-Gita this is called Krishna-yoga.
Thus there are three stages of the path of the Human Soul — (1) the living of his individual life through and till the payment of debt incurred by himself; (2) the living of his corporate life through and till the payment of debt incurred by him and all those souls he directly contacted, without shouldering the burden of universal suffering; (3) the living of his universal life through all manifested Nature. In the first two instances the Intelligence is drawn into the vortex of evolution caused by cycles. In the third the Individual remains the Servant and therefore the Master of the revolving wheel of time. Therefore it is that we have (1) Pratyeka Buddhas or Buddhas of Selfishness, (2) Buddhas of Liberation and (3) Buddhas of Renunciation to whom reference is made in The Voice of the Silence.
Theosophy advocates the Great Path of Renunciation. The discipline of the Path lies through self-learning, self-correction, self-realization and self-expression; to educate, to energize ourselves, so that ultimately we come to know ourselves as the One Self-Actor whose service is Perpetual. In the Bhagavad-Gita this path of Karma, which sets man free from the bondage of Karma, is fully taught. Enough for our purpose to quote a few words:
… All actions are effected by the qualities of nature. The man deluded by ignorance thinks, ‘I am the actor.’ But he, O strong-armed one! who is acquainted with the nature of the two distinctions of cause and effect, knowing that the qualities act only in the qualities, and that the Self is distinct from them, is not attached in action. (p. 26.)
Five thousand years after Krishna repeated these words on the same battlefield of Kurukshetra, H.P.B. once again spoke them thus in The Voice of the Silence (p. 55-6):
Thou hast to be prepared to answer Dharma, the stern law, whose voice will ask thee at thy first, at thy initial step:
“Hast thou complied with all the rules, O thou of lofty hopes?
“Hast thou attuned thy heart and mind to the great mind and heart of all mankind? For as the sacred River’s roaring voice whereby all Nature-sounds are echoed back, so must the heart of him ‘who in the stream would enter’, thrill in response to every sigh and thought of all that lives and breathes”.