THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 7, May, 1936
(Pages 306-308; Size: 10K)
(Number 30 of a 57-part series)



Higher than Indra's ye may lift your lot,
    And sink it lower than the worm or gnat;
The end of many myriad lives is this,
    The end of myriads that.

Only, while turns this wheel invisible,
    No pause, no peace, no staying-place can be;
Who mounts may fall, who falls will mount; the spokes
    Go round unceasingly!

--Light of Asia.

THE present understanding of Karma as held by the Western Theosophical mind as well as by the majority of Hindus, is definitely hedonistic. Most of us who travail in want and unfulfilled desire, apply Karmic law to our own case, it is true; but how?

Our present poverty, say we, is due to misdeeds and ill thought in past lives; overlooking, in most cases, enough poor thinking and selfish irresponsibility exhibited already in the first half of this life to account for the miseries of the remainder of it. And how naively direct is our chain of causation! If we are poor now and put upon, we think it needs must be because we robbed and cheated in the past, or failed in application to material duties, or despised and persecuted the poor. If we are powerless and downtrodden, it must be because we have been tyrants and abusers of the weak. And if we are rich, it must have been much honest and useful work performed, for which last incarnation furnished too little time for the collection of a full pay-check. If we are powerful, we must in the past have learned to treat with justice and consideration such few as did fall to our domination.

So runs our understanding. But it is based upon so short a view of the Eternal Purpose of the Self, so little understanding of the transmissive mechanism of Karma, that what we see as the whole of the chain is ofttimes only a few incidental links. Such reapings as mentioned do occur, it is true; moreover, the trend toward them is probably present at all times in all lives, sometimes augmenting, sometimes lessening the force of deeper continuities. Yet, reasoned out, such thinking leads to the conclusion that all "rewards" and "punishments" are material; ergo, the real purpose of life is to enjoy pleasurable things and to avoid painful ones. It is true, few Theosophists follow that "ergo" to the bitter end. But it is inherent in the view of Karma above set forth.

Most Theosophists temper this attitude with a tincture of a higher viewpoint which they could hardly miss, granted they study the books at all. They will readily state that "poverty is not necessarily bad Karma," and will even quote or philosophize extensively on the subject -- provided it is somebody else's good Karma of poverty they are dealing with. Their instinctive reactions day by day betray the true feeling, which is what counts -- in the here as well as the hereafter. It will be found then that they accept personal misfortunes of their own as "good Karma" only as a last cold-comfort resort and after exhausting every means in the attempted avoidance of said good Karma.

Thus there is made a religion of Theosophy which is every whit as far astray from the spirit of the teachings as is the spirit of the Church astray from that of Jesus -- a religion just as deceptive because of its lip-service, its mechanical and material recognition of Karma. It is the same Hindu sectarian spirit which sees in observance of the Scriptures simply a means to the end of prolonged enjoyment of Swarga, or of being born a successful Vaishya next life instead of a Sudra. One of these days we shall have a respectable and influential American Theosophical Church whose members will deal meticulously and honestly with their neighbors in order that business may be better next incarnation! And it will be a church that will have "pull" and staying power, as offering the American mind something more easily visualized as a reward of virtue than some misty heaven in astronomically unlocatable regions. We may even rise (almost) to the faith of the ancient Druids, who lent money on the promise of repayment next incarnation!

By analysis of the nature of the attachments of consciousness to objects, vehicular or environmental, understanding is reached concerning the deeper causes. A serious observation of the lives of human beings ought to show the fallacy of the material punishment-and-reward conception. On the basis of that, every man born rich, or who acquires riches easily, ought to be a man good and benevolent from birth in proportion to his fortune. We see nothing of the kind. There are some men born rich or made rich who stay that way and do much good with their wealth according to their lights. There are some heirs of successful men who are monsters from the start. There are many others, of generally benevolent nature by birth, whose characters show steady deterioration under the possession of wealth, and who end as ruined men, wicked men, insane men, or suicides.

On the other side of the scale, there are men born poor whose poverty stirs them to great deeds, the least important being the acquirement of wealth. There are men born poor or become poor who yield to every temptation of that environment, who grow dissolute, embittered, and hopeless. There are men in whom poverty brings out the god, and others in whom it brings out the devil. In general, and in proportion of numbers, character stands up better under poverty than it does under wealth.

The problem becomes simpler as well as deeper once it is understood that it is the power of the Self to attach Itself to "that upon which the heart was set." What we fail to understand is that the attachment is to whatever is dwelt upon, regardless of whether with liking or disliking. Hate is only the opposite pole of love. But it is not in the nature of man to dwell overmuch on the condition in which he is -- for eternal dissatisfaction is his name. Desire fixes ever upon that which is not.

The poor man dreams constantly of wealth. The rich man dwells morbidly on the poor, or lies awake nights in dread of falling to their condition, or drifts into bitter contempt of their incapacities, or schemes to "keep them in their places" for safeguarding of his own hoards. And so, inevitably, each of these two, changing places from incarnation to incarnation, ride the wheel up, down, up, and down again, until the impatient Self, eager to be on its true way once more, dashes the personal man into some shattering disaster, and "remolds the rest nearer to the heart's desire." And all these, rich man, poor man, oppressor and oppressed, ruler and ruled, come with the results of old attachments modified, ameliorated or intensified by the incessant reaction of Nature and of Mankind alike, which presses back against every deed done by every sentient thing.

None of these conditions are the Soul's own road, though they may be made so. That Road is the way of learning, along which, as environmental conditions, riches and poverty, power and weakness, respectability and disreputability, are all the same. From them all, learning can be had; and if learning is not had, they mean nothing. They are not the true Karma; they are but the inevitable fulfillment of the attachments of the Self. Their result for good or ill lies in the Self, not in the condition. Let Self be free of desire and of repulsion, and in no long time it will find itself, among men, in the right time, the right place, and the right condition, for the greatest possible service to Mankind.

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