Is Karma Only Punishment?
The Path, February, 1890
The following query has been received from H.M.H.:
“In August PATH Hadji Erinn, in reply to the above question, stated that ‘those who have wealth, and the happy mother seeing all her children respected and virtuous, are favorites of Karma. I and others believe that these apparent favors are only punishment or obstacles, and others think that the terms punishment and reward should not be used.”
I cannot agree with this view, nor with the suggestion that punishment and reward should not be used as terms. It is easy to reduce every thing to a primordial basis when one may say that all is the absolute. But such is only the method of those who affirm and deny. They say there is no evil, there is no death; all is good, all is life. In this way we are reduced to absurdities, inasmuch as we then have no terms to designate very evident things and conditions. As well say there is no gold and no iron, because both are equally matter. While we continue to be human beings we must use terms that shall express our conscious perception of ideas and things.
It is therefore quite proper to say that an unhappy or miserably circumstanced person is undergoing punishment, and that the wealthy or happy person is having reward. Otherwise there is no sense in our doctrine.
The misunderstanding shown in the question is due to inaccurate thinking upon the subject of Karma. One branch of this law deals with the vicissitudes of life, with the differing states of men. One man has opportunity and happiness, another meets only the opposite. Why is this? It is because each state is the exact result bound to come from his having disturbed or preserved the harmony of nature. The person given wealth in this life is he who in the preceding incarnation suffered from its absence or had been deprived of it unjustly. What are we to call it but reward? If we say compensation, we express exactly the same idea. And we cannot get the world to adopt verbosity in speech so as to say, “All this is due to that man’s having preserved the cosmic harmony.”
The point really in the questioners mind is, in fact, quite different from the one expressed; he has mistaken one for the other; he is thinking of the fact so frequently obtruded before us that the man who has the opportunity of wealth or power oft misuses it and becomes selfish or tyrannous. But this does not alter the conclusion that he is having his reward. Karma will take care of him; and if he does not use the opportunity for the good of his fellows, or if he does evil to them, he will have punishment upon coming back again to earth. It is true enough, as Jesus said, that “it is difficult for the rich man to enter heaven,” but there are other possessions of the man besides wealth that constitute greater obstacles to development, and they are punishments and may coexist in the life of one man with the reward of wealth or the like. I mean the obstruction and hindrance found in stupidity, or natural baseness, or in physical sensual tendencies. These are more likely to keep him from progress and ultimate salvation than all the wealth or good luck that any one person ever enjoyed.
In such cases—and they are not a few—we see Karmic reward upon the outer material plane in the wealth and propitious arrangement of life, and on the inner character the punishment of being unable or unfit through many defects of mind or nature. This picture can be reversed with equal propriety. I doubt if the questioner has devoted his mind to analyzing the subject in this manner.
Every man, however, is endowed with conscience and the power to use his life, whatever its form or circumstance, in the proper way, so as to extract from it all the good for himself and his fellows that his limitations of character will permit. It is his duty so to do, and as he neglects or obeys, so will be his subsequent punishment or reward.
There may also be another sort of wealth than mere gold, another sort of power than position in politics or society. The powerful, wide, all-embracing, rapidly-acting brain stored with knowledge is a vast possession which one man may enjoy. He can use it properly or improperly. It may lead him to excesses, to vileness, to the very opposite of all that is good. It is his reward for a long past life of stupidity followed by others of noble deeds and thoughts. What will the questioner do with this? The possessor thus given a reward may misuse it so as to turn it, next time he is born, into a source of punishment. We are thus continually fitting our arrows to the bow, drawing them back hard to the ear, and shooting them forth from us. When we enter the field of earth-life again, they will surely strike us or our enemies of human shape or the circumstances which otherwise would hurt us. It is not the arrow or the bow that counts, but the motive and the thought with which the missile is shot.