THEOSOPHY, Vol. 33, No. 11, September, 1945
(Pages 413-417; Size: 15K)
(Number 37 of a 57-part series)



ALTHOUGH there is of necessity one death for every birth, the former is universally disliked, while the latter is universally regarded with approval. This seeming paradox arises from the fact that things in this age are not as they should be. Most people die prematurely and with unfinished business. Many, if not most, are consumed by inordinate desires, for which a life-span is insufficient. Above all, having lost the truth about life and death, men fear death as the "unknown."

Much as we dislike death, a special resentment is reserved for death by violence, which is definitely considered out of the natural order. This is not because of its rarity. Over the last few thousand years of history, it is probable that nearly as many human beings have met death by violence as by disease. (Or by starvation, which in all important respects is violent death.) The deaths of American youth in the war up to this year of 1945, terrible as they may seem, amount to only about half as many as were lost by accident at home in the same period. In some periods of history, death by violence was more frequent, hence more "natural" than death by disease. We may well be on the verge of such another period. At any rate, common or uncommon, death by violence is of supreme interest as being that which we most dislike for ourselves, most desire for our enemies. These are high tributes to its importance.

The importance of violent death as a problem differs vastly, depending upon whether one is or is not a Theosophist. To men of the world, the problem of violent death consists merely of the problem of avoiding it -- and by physical means. To the Theosophist, the question of greater interest is what follows it; and all too well does he recognize that the problem of avoidance is purely moral and spiritual, not at all physical. No physical ingenuity can counteract a current of violence, once set in motion metaphysically. The ancient Greeks regarded death by lightning as an evidence of hidden sin, blackening the reputation of the deceased in consequence. Had they known more, they would have regarded any death by violence as an evidence of hidden sin; but they would not have spoken against the dead, because they would also have known that all were tarred with the same brush. The sin may have been, and usually is, hidden not for years but for a life or many lives.

It is true that intimate knowledge of the inner life of one who has so died will sometimes reveal a pit digged by violent and brutal thought, unknown to the world, which at last grew so deep that it caved in on the digger without other overt manifestation. But in other cases, the life and mind of the victim may have been as impeccable as can be hoped for in these days. The cause, then, has to be sought farther back.

All things have come into being through thought, will, and feeling. It is a form of thought that brings violent death, which may or may not have been manifested in physical action by the thinker. The popular attitude is irrational. The death of a criminal, or an enemy in war, is regarded as the result of guilt. The criminal regards it as the result of being caught, holding that, with better command of material forces, it need not have happened. The public adopts the same short-sighted view, in thinking that with better command of material forces an accidental death need not have happened. To kill a criminal, or to regard any death as "accidental," is to disavow all faith in the natural law of justice.

Were it not for popular faith in the justice of violent death, there would be less of it, whether accidental or intentional.

Violent death results from desire for violent death, whether for oneself or another. A sufficient accumulation of rebellion against life, of desire that we should be quit of it, results in our own death, whether by suicide or other violence. It may contribute to the deaths of others by the unseen influence exerted upon them. If it results in suicide, it also results in a dolorous sojourn in nightmare-land, and in a rebirth among the circumstances, intensified, from which we sought escape. It is also said that death by one's own hand results in one's being cut off by accident, unwilling to die, in the next incarnation.

Desire for the death of another, whether or not physically realized, results in one's undergoing all the experiences which that other would realize or has realized through his own death, for it must be learned that such desires are not to be entertained.

"Desire for the death of another" has many aspects, entailing many forms of karma. The killing of someone in self defense or defense of others; the putting to death of a criminal; killing in war which one has been taught to regard as lawful: these do not always or necessarily involve "desire for death" in the form of hate or blood-lust. Often a matter of widely-distributed community karma is involved, and evil may be largely nullified by conviction of duty, exercise of courage, exhibition of self-sacrifice or compassion. Necessarily there are unlearned lessons and hence future karma, since if one's karma were really good, he would not find himself under the seeming necessity of inflicting death. Where hate is present, or personal gratification is felt over the death of another, the karma is of the worst, and involves the experiencing of all that is suffered by the slain in his taking off -- sometimes more.

Not without reason is murder regarded as the greatest of crimes -- though other crimes often occasion more physical suffering and loss. Murder and suicide involve fundamental rebellion against the whole karmic complex of which one is a part, and which he has himself created so far as he is concerned in it. These crimes, whether individual, or collective, thus arise from rebellion against the very SELF. Of the two, suicide is actually the worst. Judicial or military killing has an ameliorated individual karma because of the influence to which the man is subjected by the community. In the end, payment must be made in full, but is distributed over numberless individuals and many generations. The killing of a personal enemy is but a logical application of the principle of community killing. It will be found that the reasoning of a murderer of this kind is exactly parallel with the reasoning of a community engaged in war or capital punishment. Public war involves the spirit of private murder; if it is true that private murder involves capital punishment, it is far more true that capital punishment involves private murder.

The punishment for the rebellion against oneself that is involved in suicide or murder really begins after direct death by one's own hand, or the later death resulting from having desired the death of another.

The karma of suicide is direct and terrible, arising from the state of meditation into which one is thereby plunged. The last thought of the dying governs the states of consciousness thereafter. The last thought of a suicide is intense and dreadful, involving in its structure every unhappiness, rebellion, and hatred that gave rise to the deed. Most of us at times have fits of depression, rebellion. We are forced out of them by the necessary mechanics of life, or by the direct intervention of others, so that we are unable to develop their full potential intensity. In death there is no interruption. The man does not know he is dead; but all the horrific thoughts that led to his death embody themselves in appropriate forms created by his own mind, and rally about his shuddering soul. In a hideous and inescapable fascination, he then plays out the whole drama of his sorry past, which the creative power of his mind embroiders and amplifies to the final capacity of an uninterrupted imagination. When that limit is reached, the mind, unable to do away with itself, has immediate recourse again to that same endless meditation with a seed. Again and again and again the doleful dream -- more intense than any experience in real life -- is passed in review, until at last the arrival of the period of his natural death sets him free for whatever fragmentary dreams of heaven the impulses for good of his past life may have left him. Then comes rebirth and the setting in of payment for the physical aspect of his deed and what it has done to others.

The after-death karma of those slain by other means than their own hand has in common with the suicide the fact that real death must await the natural term. Otherwise the interim fates in the different cases are as far apart as the poles. In certain instances the interim fate is fully as bad as that of the suicide. In others, it may be a sleep, slightly troubled or almost dreamless. Death by accident, war, or murder, sometimes involves worse karma than suicide. Men who are prematurely dead and have died full of passion, long unceasingly after the lost delights, for whose obtaining they no longer have organs. Some of those who are dead by accident desire to regain life more passionately than does the suicide. Both the suicide and the man dead of other violence are subject to astral liaisons with the living -- the tendency to become connected with loosely organized human beings of the type called "mediums." Entering into such connections, they enjoy vicarious gratification from such passions as the medium may indulge in, and greatly stimulate those passions, so that in time the medium may become a monster. Few among such mediums are ever recognized as mediums, or realize it themselves. They appear as "Jack the Ripper" and the committers of other unspeakable horrors usually dealt with in legal and medical books of limited circulation.

But far worse than such channelized manifestations is the general power of these lost selves. All of us strongly affect our friends, relatives, and nation by the tenor of our daily thoughts. We swim as in a sea of thought, which we poison with evil emanations or purify with good. The power of the normal living individual in that direction is limited by constant distractions, interruptions, confusion of interests. No long or intense concentration is possible.

On the contrary, the meditation of the undead is without interruption, indescribably intense, prolonged on a certain line for years, whereas the meditation of the living endures but minutes at a time. In a time of widespread killing, its terrible pressure forces its way into every weak and passive mind, with its pestilence of lust, hatred, and fear. But more than that, it affects also the good and pure. These, even though having the stamina necessary to maintain their own moral balance, find their way clouded, decisions difficult, issues confused, their arms weighted down with uncertainty, their minds unable to see clearly how to help the community at the moment when it is in most terrible need.

Those -- the great majority -- who are too positive or pure for direct obsession, but too ignorant or selfish to stem the psychic tide, tend to be subtly brutalized, their perceptions of right and wrong dimmed, their passions heightened and intelligence muddied, so that all standards gradually fall lower. Individuals take their cue from the community and, unless learned in self-discipline and the hidden facts of life, unknowingly follow the subtle community degeneration. In time, memory of a better past is lost. Then comes the final sorting -- the Day of Judgment of that cycle.

Thus, no possible evil could arise from letting a wicked man live, that could compare with the evil consequences of slaying him. When this lesson is learned, not a few "necessities" will cease.

There has to be final clearance of the Karma of killing. Since the killing of man by man nearly always creates more karma than it expends, the final balancing of the books of a cycle is by cataclysm, famine, epidemic, or other causes of a nature presenting no personality upon which to pin hatred.

Such clearances occur frequently on a minor scale. Whenever a civilization en masse shall awake to the evil of slaying and thoughts of slaying, there will be an end to its war with nature. Meantime, in the case of a good man, death by accident may often be an individual Karmic clearance; so also in the case of a soldier fighting without hate.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


W.Q.J.--The indissoluble unity of the race demands that we should consider every man's troubles as partly due to ourselves, because we have been always units in the race and helped to make the conditions which cause suffering. 

--The Theosophical Forum, November, 1892

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