THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 6, April, 1951
(Pages 257-261; Size: 14K)
(Number 57 of a 57-part series)

STUDIES IN KARMA

MAN, NATURE, AND DESERTS

THAT geography in any real sense of the word, as the science of the surface of the earth, was "part of the mysteries in days of old," as H. P. Blavatsky declared and classical literature testifies, is clear to any earnest student of esoteric philosophy. That compendium of Kabalistic Theosophy, the Zohar, is quoted as saying "These secrets (of land and sea) were divulged to the men of the secret science, but not to the geographers" (S.D. II, 9). Certainly, in recent years the subject has widened in scope, until we find specialists dealing respectively with physical geography, biogeography (the animal side of environment), economic, and historical geography. But, if the aim of the study is to explain the interaction between Man and Place, it can be said that only a beginning has been made in these inquiries.

Not yet is it even recognized in scientific circles that part of any true geography must be the examination of the Continents "on which the four great Races, which preceded our Adamic Race, were born, lived, and died" (S.D. II, 6), mentioned as these are under varying names in the annals and scriptures of many nations. The occult basis of the geography of ancient times is clearly indicated in the following sentence from William Q. Judge's The Ocean of Theosophy (1893):

Man is a great dynamo, making, storing, and throwing out energy, and when masses of men composing a race thus make and distribute energy, there is a resulting dynamic effect on the material of the globe which will be powerful enough to be distinct and cataclysmic.
What is true of material is true also of climate and man's influence upon it by his use and abuse of natural forces. In this connection, some recent observations of the science editor of the London News Chronicle (Mr. Ritchie Calder) on a trip which he undertook for UNESCO, and which took him 15,500 miles across deserts, are not without interest.

Mr. Aldous Huxley (following in this Professor Fairfield Osborn and Mr. William Vogt) has reminded us that nature is preparing a just and terrible revenge of war, famine, and pestilence, an effect of which our hubris -- the insolent disregard of moral law and Nature's laws -- is the sole cause. He affirms that man lives, for the most part, as a destructive parasite on this planet. And, in his recent work, Themes and Variations (1950), he relates the phenomenon to our ideas of progress:

Industrialism is the systematic exploitation of wasting assets. In all too many cases, the thing we call progress is merely an acceleration in the rate of that exploitation. Such prosperity as we have known up to the present is the consequence of rapidly spending the planet's irreplaceable capital (p. 230).
What is not remembered so clearly by these writers who are bent upon warning us of the impending crisis of our civilization, attributed by them to growth in population combined with the decline in the production of food, is the recurring nature of the phenomenon. Drawing a distinction between what he calls the climate and the man-made deserts, Mr. Ritchie Calder calls attention to a historical parallel in the comparatively recent past:
It is a trite textbook phrase that North Africa was once a granary of Greece and Rome, and Mesopotamia was a fabulously productive area. The men of the Eighth Army who fought their way from El Alamein to Tunis and who know the Libyan and Western Deserts might reasonably question these textbooks. And those who know the desolation that was once Sumeria and Babylon may be suspicious of the legends. Yet I found plenty of evidence of what had been and what could be again. Late one afternoon I stood on the hills above Carthage when the slanting rays of the sun produced a curious effect. They brought out in shadow, all over the landscape, outlines of Roman fields of nearly 2,000 years ago -- neat geometrical squares. From Carthage I travelled into the desert hinterland of Tunisia and found in the waste lands the remains of Roman and Byzantine fortified farmhouses. These formed the circumference of a province and were at the same time its frontiers against the desert. With the experts I discovered again the olive and wine presses, the granaries, the wells and underground reservoirs -- proof of one-time fertility in a land that is now dust. (The Listener, London, May 18, 1950.)
In Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky used a reference to Carthage (not the one supposed to have been built by the Phoenicians in the ninth century B.C.; but the Carthage which, according to the Greek historian Appian, of about the second century A.D., was standing as early as 1234 B.C.) in order to illustrate the truth of the doctrine of cycles. She quoted a writer in the National Quarterly Review as saying:
"The recent excavations made among the ruins of Carthage have brought to light traces of a civilization, a refinement of art and luxury, which must even have outshone that of ancient Rome; and when the fiat went forth, Delenda est Carthago, the mistress of the world well knew that she was about to destroy a greater than herself, for, while one empire swayed the world by force of arms alone, the other was the last and most perfect representative of a race who had, for centuries before Rome was dreamed of, directed the civilization, the learning, and intelligence of mankind." (I, 520.)
Obviously, cyclical changes cannot be ruled out altogether, and, even in the case of man-made deserts, a cyclical law would appear to be in operation. There were many karmic effects of "abandoning a philosophical and logical Pantheism," including the "prop for lazy man," i.e., a Providence possessed of fatherly attributes. Not the least of these was the disturbance of the balance of Nature by the destructive and greedy propensities of unbalanced Man. Apart from wars, Mr. Ritchie Calder tells the story of the nomad and his goats, a simple illustration of how man, in the darkness of his ignorance, ceases to be a co-worker with Nature:
Deserts are cold and there is a desperate need for fuel, for cooking, and for warmth; and that means using trees and shrubs. The forests and the vegetation which bound the earth, which acted as the umbrella against the rains which otherwise scour away the soil, and as a parasol against the sun which powders the soil into dust, and as a wind-break to check the winds which blow away the soil in blinding duststorms, have been cut down and burned as fuel. ... What the fuel gatherers start, the goats finish. Nature, no matter how ill-used, always struggles to reassert itself, but the young shoot which rears its head will be devoured by the predatory goat, the trees will be stripped of their bark, and the goats will rear up and eat the leaves.
A great deal of research remains to be done for the purpose of applying and extending the theosophical philosophy in the matter of cyclic evolution and karma. From the recorded teachings we begin to see the close relationship between the One Universal Life and the One Law which governs the world of being. But we have not yet fully realized the esoteric interpretation of this central doctrine of the many world faiths, as when karma (an effect-producing cause) becomes an unerring and impersonal "Law of Retribution" with far-reaching moral effects (S.D. I, 634). Certainly, both aspects of the Law are discernible in the phenomena of deserts, man-made or otherwise. History affords spectacle enough of this truth. In a review of Professor Fairfield Osborn's and Mr. William Vogt's books, a writer in the London Times Literary Supplement (March 5, 1949) remarked:
The fall of Nineveh and Babylon and the annihilation, beneath desert sands, of the hanging gardens, or carefully terraced hills, were probably caused by nomadic tribes driven by hunger to attack this area of cultivation, with the result that the area passed out of existence as a food producer. The barbarian invasions and the collapse of North African civilization are two further instances of hunger driving men to war and of the destruction of fertile areas in the resultant chaos.
And now Mr. Ritchie Calder reminds us that when men start making deserts the results are spectacular and terrifying:
In our own lifetime we have seen in the North American continent deserts produced in thirty years. When the dust from the dustbowls of the Middle West blotted out the sun of New York at high noon, that was an omen to our day and generation. The deserts of North Africa and the Middle East are that same story writ large over the centuries. With my lunch in Baghdad I have eaten dust which was once the Garden of Eden caught up by the winds to envelop Baghdad in a gritty fog denser than a London pea-souper. I have seen in Tripolitania the results of sand-dunes on the march, moving on an irresistible front, slowly overwhelming a town, engulfing dwellings and crushing warehouses. I have seen in the Sahara what looked like bushes and what were in fact the crests of palm trees as tall as tenements which had been smothered by the sand. ... The ancient civilizations knew how to deal with this. They had elaborate irrigation systems and methods of water control, but when the ancient empires collapsed, their man-made systems collapsed with them, and, in decay, the very methods which they had used speeded up the process. For example, the elaborate irrigation canals which criss-crossed Babylonia from Tigris to Euphrates, when they silted up, created marshes. The marshes harboured mosquitoes -- Alexander the Great died of malaria beside the waters of Babylon. Malaria crippled the people so that they could not work. And the rich granary of the ancient world became a desert.
It is beginning to dawn upon even the most inveterate materialist, scientific or political, that the price of survival involves a painful change not only in man's behaviour, but also in his outlook, in his responsibilities and rights. The truth of the matter is that there is a natural cycle of life and death, and deserts have their own lesson to teach in this connection.

Two questions arise in face of the evidence adduced by Mr. Ritchie Calder and others as to diminishing resources. Why do the facts attract comparatively little attention, and what should be done about them? The answers usually given are to be found in the indifference of urban populations to what affects mankind and nature as a whole, and in the propaganda for a world government. Some would answer additionally to the first question that a good deal of indifference is due to the ignorant belief that science and technology can do anything, even prevent the disintegration of society that is bound to follow the exhaustion of natural resources. In fact, however, the true answers lie in another order of experience, that which follows the realization of "the Unity of all in Nature, in its ultimate Essence," and of the fact that the course of Nature (including the human species) -- "of the ever present and the ever-becoming Nature" -- is "under the sway of KARMIC LAW" (S.D. II, 446). It is part of the purpose of the Theosophical Movement to aid in clarifying man's perceptions of these truths. As Maeterlinck has rightly said: "He who sees without loving is only straining his eyes in the darkness."


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:

A STANDARD OF LIFE

Not a desire, but in obedience.

Not an idea which is not a sacred communication.

Not a word which is not a sovereign decree.

Not an act which is not a development and extension of the vivfying power of the Word.

--SAINT-MARTIN

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