THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 3, January, 1936
(Pages 120-122; Size: 10K)
(Number 29 of a 57-part series)
STUDIES IN KARMA
THE MYSTERY OF ACTION
"THE duty of another is full of danger." This admonition of the Bhagavad-Gita is a healthy one indeed as directed to the members of this nation, whose racial pastime is minding one another's business. But there is an equal and opposite error; the tendency of those by nature over-cautious or timid -- yea, even cowardly -- to misapply the words to the extent of an attempted segregation of integral Karmic lines. There are some, in short, who get into a frame of mind where all safety as well as all duty seems to lie in hastening away from any field where conflicting action appears.
There is nothing easy about delimiting the "duty of another" in a world where Karmic lines have been interlocked in race-wide -- often planet-wide -- manner for some millions of years past. In fact, and to put it in another way, there is no action anywhere which is not in some degree our own, hence no Karma anywhere which is not in some degree our own. The avoidance of choice is impossible. There are some who imagine that the choice can be between action and inaction, and that the safe choice, in which one can seldom go far astray, is for inaction in case of doubt. It is not so. The possession of power to alter a circumstance plus knowledge of that circumstance removes us forever from the possibility of avoidance of action. Why? For the simple reason that, having power to alter an action, and not using it, the full Karma of the action so permitted becomes ours.
In the ancient guide-works, this is expressed in sundry manners: "Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes a deadly sin;" "He who seeth action in inaction, and inaction in action, sees indeed." By no manner of means, then, can retreat from an action which falls in our path exempt us in any way from that Karma. Whether we act or not, it is incurred. But there is a world of difference between the Karma of action withheld as a mere matter of timidity or self-interest, and the action withheld in sincere uncertainty as to the best course; or action in a seeming deed of mercy refrained from because of a clear belief that the after-consequence of the seeming good deed may be bad. Such refraining in itself is action as full as any; it involves thought, the exercise of will, the exercise of choice, which are the elements of action. Time and time again, the wise appear to the ignorant and impetuous to be cold, indifferent to compassion; where if the truth be known, below the calm and externally inactive exterior, a soul may be in greater throes of will-action in the mere act of determining not to act, than is ever experienced by the hotly impetuous.
Inaction is not to be decided upon through mere timidity, or inertia, or conservatism, or self-interest. If the choice is not to act, then let that choice be made as energically, as searchingly, as carefully thought out, as any action we ever do. And let us be eternally watchful, in our conscious inaction as in our conscious actions, of our chameleon and ever self-deceitful motives. It is so easy to call upon the lip-doctrine to support a choice which we persuade ourselves is in the true interest of family, of children, of associates, but which in reality is based upon sheer indolence or even sheer cowardice. The giant evils of the world grow to the stature which destroys civilizations because the active energy of the wicked nourishes itself upon the passivity of the "good." Thus through the Tamas quality the "good" commit the deadly sin of omission and are equally guilty with the wicked, who could not have flourished without them.
Well considered, this will explain many a seeming Karmic anomaly. Why, for instance, in the great war, did millions of normally law-abiding citizens, who had led ordinarily honest and humane lives, meet varied hideous fates? Because in some recent past incarnation they had all been monsters of iniquity? No; the Karmic ways are not simple, and seldom does character change that rapidly. The fact was that they had, in their inertia, participated as fully in the Great Sin as did the active war-makers who victimized them; and not, perhaps, for the first time in like case. Just so, every good-natured passive citizen of the United States, who in his heart abhors war, yet watches unprotestingly the maleficent plots of those who would immerse the country in war-venom under the guise of a forced militarization, is unwittingly buying a full share in the bloody dividends of suffering which "they" are accumulating.
Closely linked to the Karma of the Tamas quality is this intricate question of motive. The Theosophical phrase, "motive is everything," is all too often among us made the catch-all of our deficiencies and inadequacies. True, right motive is essential; but it is not everything in the absolute sense. Far from it. The history of the world shows fully as much damage done by warm but ignorant or reckless altruism as by cold and calculating evil. The ecclesiastic religions, to which a Mahatma ascribed "two-thirds of the evils that afflict humanity," feed exclusively upon "good motive." It is true that the conscious evil-worker damns himself; but the unwise worker for good helps others damn themselves, and his soul thereupon requires of him as the price of his own salvation, infinite suffering.
Most of these "good motives" of ours are insufficient: thus, from the standpoint of Karma, not really good at all. It is not a good motive if it lends itself to self-excuses for not fitting ourselves to the very best of our ability to act wisely, which in Theosophy means to be to the best possible degree able to "help and teach others." Mistakes in philosophy, an antagonizing or injudicious presentation, a depreciating show of ignorance and lack of culture in expression; all these, however "good" the motive, are bad for the progress of the work, and hence conducive to future darkness.
Many struggle painfully against conscious deficiencies, consoled by the thought that neither the Law nor the Masters require more than their best. But sometimes it is a long cast backward to where the deficiency of that "best" began. The ignorance and limitations which make our efforts go astray, were not placed upon us by an outside force. They exist because of neglected opportunities of the past; and wherever opportunity and the will to serve far exceed the capacity to make full use of that opportunity, we may be sure that some such Karma is active. This personality may feel the limitation to be not "its fault." But it is its fault insofar as it partakes of the complex of which the personalities of all the lives are woven; and it must suffer proportionately. To fret over this is both useless and disastrous; but it should ever be held before the mind as a reminder not to miss any more opportunities and so make the case worse -- opportunities which throng upon us every hour of the day would we but open our eyes to see them.
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:
THE REAL OBJECTIVE
Just as the ancients taught, so does Theosophy; that the course of evolution is the drama of the soul and that nature exists for no other purpose than the soul's experience.
--William Q. Judge
STUDIES IN KARMA
THE WHEEL OF LIFE
(Part 30 of a 57-part series)
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