THEOSOPHY, Vol. 34, No. 3, January, 1946
(Pages 83-88; Size: 18K)
(Number 1 of a 12 part series)

THE CYCLE'S NEED

We are outwardly creatures of but a day; within we are eternal. Learn, then, well the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, and teach, practice, promulgate that system of life and thought which alone can save the coming races. Do not work merely for the Theosophical Society, but through it for humanity. 

--H. P. BLAVATSKY
THEOSOPHISTS need be haunted by no doubts as to where their duty lies -- what they must do. The body of knowledge which they have undertaken to transmit to the world offers certain crucial ideas or teachings "which alone can save the coming races." The task is to spread those ideas.

Knowledge of the Law of Karma brings patience and strength to the suffering, courage to workers for good, and responsibility to the powerful. It is the equalizer of conflict, the foundation of justice and the balm of private and social wrongs. Conviction of this truth makes it possible for a man to begin living a constructive life, whatever his circumstances. For the believer in Karma, achievement and progress are not dependent upon any force in heaven or earth outside himself. Karma is not a contingent truth or law; it is ultimate.

Reincarnation is the key to understanding the law of Karma. Without the doctrine of successive lives on earth, the basic intuition that justice is inherent in Nature must remain without support from the lifetime's experience. Countless enigmas are explained by reincarnation. The conception of soul and egoic evolution gains substance and structure from this teaching. All the small and large events which have been laid to good or bad fortune, to blind natural forces or to the malignance of man, are shown, in the light of reincarnation, to have a larger dimension of meaning. Knowledge of reincarnation makes reliance on the law of Karma the only rational course. And while it is true that rational choice seems to hold little attraction for many men, these doctrines afford even the superficial thinker and the weak or illogical reasoner a perfect basis for ethics and an unerring guide in life.

There are many statements of what is socially and ethically desirable for the human race, but only in Karma and Reincarnation do we find the impetus which may stir the individual to move in the direction of the ideal. Karma and Reincarnation are not a plan for the distant future, a constitution for Utopia, nor a chart of the heavenly regions; these teachings mark the path to realization of every ideal and offer self-compelling reasons for traveling upon it. They are the dynamics of human progress.

Theosophists know these things, and because they know them, students give their best energies and every moment they can spare from personal responsibilities to furthering the work of the Theosophical Movement. Once the importance of these ideas has been realized, no further spur to action is required. The difficulty confronting students is rather the resistance of the world to the teachings of Theosophy. More than anything else, they feel the tragedy lamented in The Voice of the Silence:

Behold how like the moon, reflected in the tranquil waves, Alaya is reflected by the small and by the great, is mirrored in the tiniest atoms, yet fails to reach the heart of all. Alas, that so few men should profit by the gift, the priceless boon of learning truth, the right perception of existing things, the knowledge of the non-existent!
Finally, the passage of truth to the heart must be opened by each one for himself. Egoity requires the freedom of independent choice; the soul is saved or lost by and through its own integrity. But until the time comes for that great decision, the path of soul-evolution is thronged with the fellowship of common ignorance, common imperfection and common potentiality. Our defects, weaknesses, blindspots, all, like our affinities, are our own, in whatever ground they take root and ripen. So it follows that until the last great choice is met, we can help one another along the way. We can help each other to be ready to stand alone when the final test comes; we can be teachers to some, pupils to others, and helpers to all.

As learners, we study our own needs, and as teachers, the needs of others. There is, then, the obligation to examine the barriers to acceptance of Reincarnation and Karma which exist in the mind of the race. What blocks the heart's perception, the mind's grasp, of these truths?

Ignorance is the non-moral aspect of selfishness; selfishness the moral result of ignorance. Teachers direct their followers to the acquisition of knowledge so that, in the progress of time, the grip of selfishness may be lessened and the soul come to act directly in the body, and no longer by intuitions only vaguely reflected in the brain. This is the relation of study to practice, of knowledge to right action. Knowledge makes right action more desirable than wrong action. It swings the balance of motive toward the Good.

Today, the hunger of the world is not so much for right action as it is for knowledge. "Science," a teacher wrote, "is the thought-form of the age." Thus, the philosophy recorded by H. P. Blavatsky presents knowledge in its true relation to ethics. A study of Theosophy shows that there is not the slightest possibility of separating the two. They are the two aspects of the one truth.

This, then, is the first great obstacle to be overcome in the race-mind: the false idea that knowledge and morality can be isolated one from another. It is a misconception running through every branch of science, coloring its facts, limiting its method, and biassing its conclusions.

In almost every discussion of contemporary human problems, scientific writers preface their observations with the statement that we must look to science for our basic knowledge of man and of nature. In effect, this means, from the Theosophical viewpoint, that we must deny the possibility of a metaphysical origin for man, regard him simply as a highly intelligent species of animal, rule out any larger sense of cosmic purpose for his career on this planet, and ignore all spiritual accounts of his nature and destiny, before attempting to deal with the tremendous social difficulties and maladjustments in which the race is involved.

This dogma is a fundamental block to truth in the scientific world-view. It prejudices every scientific worker, writer, and student against a philosophical study of man, either directly or by implication, and it effectually suppresses an appeal to the spiritual aspirations of the race, as well as accepting the stamp and limitation of the beast for the whole of humanity. It is an all-pervasive doctrine of materialism which must be contested at every point, with vigorous rejection of its supposed "facts," exposure of its practical effects, and with counter-presentation of an alternative view.

Another misconception of science is the belief that there is a "physical" reality. Its discovery has been proclaimed the objective of theoretical physics by Dr. Albert Einstein, and all strictly "physical" theory is circumscribed by this avowed end of research. Again, a methodological limitation has become a materialistic dogma, making it possible to condemn all philosophical explanations of cosmology, all suggestions of spiritual correlates to physical forces, or of intelligence behind the laws of nature, as "unscientific," and therefore virtually worthless or positively misleading.

Without carrying this analysis further, the stultifying effects of materialism in science may be seen to have ramified throughout every branch of modern thought, setting the enormous prestige of science against any idea of soul or immortality. It is necessary to understand the sources of this materialism in order to overcome its influence. This will involve pursuit of the suggestions offered by H. P. Blavatsky on the subject, and specific illustrations of the process of reaction to illogical dogma which ended by enthroning scientific skepticism and, to a large extent, dogmatic materialism, as the ruling intellectual attitude of the epoch.

In contrast to the vigor of scientific presentations, the weakness of modern religious institutions has led to the widespread view that religion, or the subjects commonly identified with it, are unimportant, or merely sentiments of a poetic nature, having little to do with the hard world of fact. The essential weakness of religion is to be traced to the Personal God idea and its train of consequences in thought and human behavior. For one thing, the anthropomorphic God has successfully kept thousands of scientists in the ranks of Materialism. It has rendered the race obtuse to genuine moral philosophy and opened the way to the abuses of organized religion. The atheism of science and the anthropomorphism of religion are the two poles of distortion of the One Reality taught in Theosophy. There is one correction for both errors, but the method of applying the correction may vary widely.

Other misconceptions which withhold inquiry into the teachings of Karma and Reincarnation include various pre-occupations of the age. There are multitudes who imagine that they are helpless as individuals -- that no good is accomplished without a great organization with great leaders to plan and direct its work. New political and economic systems are the panaceas espoused by others, to the exclusion of the moral ideas which alone would make it possible for their ideal systems to operate with any success.

The technological achievements of modern industry have slowly undermined the dignity of the individual, who in far too many cases has been reduced to an unintelligent cog in a vast productive scheme. Relatively few men have creative occupations in the industrial world, which is operated largely from the top by highly trained specialists and skilled administrators. This devaluation of the work of the individual injures his self-respect, reducing his capacity for independent thought, criticism and evaluation. The obvious compensation for these weaknesses is increased reliance on outside authority -- in science, religion, medicine, politics, and all the lesser relationships of life. Man tends to become more of a "creature" than a creator, intellectually, morally, and practically. Conventionality and orthodoxy are strengthened by these tendencies, and as the social patterns crystallize, the reactions of rebellious individuals become desperate and irrational. Fanatical resistance to authority is caused by lack of philosophy and the apparent futility of the struggle to escape from the threatening mold.

The twin extremes of blind acceptance and resentful rebellion are alike barriers to the philosophic mean inspired by Karma and Reincarnation. On the one hand, these teachings compel the assumption of a self-reliant position, which is precisely what the lover of authority wishes to avoid, while the stress on individual responsibility, implied by the doctrine of rebirth, has little appeal for the aroused rebel against the established order. Successful promulgation of Karma and Reincarnation requires a common intuitive ground of ethical agreement; acceptance of them depends in large measure upon a deep sense of their consistency with a current of moral ideas already held. Thus the general decline of self-reliance and a sense of individual responsibility operates to discourage interest in the key teachings of Theosophy. There are other tendencies in the modern world which make Karma and Reincarnation more acceptable than ever, but we are now concerned with the principal obstacles which need to be overcome.

Another unfortunate effect of industrial progress has been its disturbance of family and community life. Efficiency in communications and transportation has vastly increased the mobility of individuals, so that "home" is less and less the seed-bed of character, culture and gentility. Recreation is almost synonymous with watching what others do or have done. Training children in responsibility requires a special effort on the part of modern parents, whereas, a generation ago, the actual necessity of the aid of the children in getting the housework and "chores" done provided a natural means for the learning of helpfulness and responsibility. Intelligent parents can and do create corresponding duties for the children of today, but this involves conscious perception of the needs of the young -- a perception far from common. We have, in short, to do deliberately the things which once were accomplished automatically by the structure of the social environment. Failure in this means the further rooting of habits of self-indulgence, thoughtlessness and emotional instability. The gathering momentum of decline in this direction opposes any focus of attention on the great questions of moral justice and immortality.

The religious world of today is a sea of spasmodic eddies in social reform, around which flow great backwashes of reaction and passive orthodoxy. Modern Protestantism offers only the residues of a once unified doctrine, while Catholicism is everywhere active in exploiting the ignorance, fears and unrest of the masses. Sects which make virtues of dogma and bigotry seem to grow more rapidly than others. Among the cultured, the more "refined" appeal of mysticism without social responsibility, of "yoga" without philosophy, is developing numerous coteries of those who imagine they are the spiritually "elite." The effects of spurious occultism on the latter groups reveals the deadliness of the Eye Doctrine, when separated from Brotherhood and active work in the world. Such people cannot be aroused to the living truth of Karma and Reincarnation because they think they know it already. Despite appearances, the Theosophical Movement will find no allies in these quarters, which represent a decadent current of efflux.

Educational thought constitutes an arena in which all these tendencies meet with other more favorable currents; the single word "controversy" best characterizes the field of education today. Simply because of the vitality exhibited in the struggle of ideas, there is more hope in education than in any other area of social relations, but here, too, the possibilities are dimmed by an almost boundless confusion. The conceits of specialists meet in head-on collision with the sentiments of the "liberals," while most attempts at synthesis of the two viewpoints lose the vigor of both. The truths modern educators have to offer are either partial or partisan, and "whole" viewpoints suffer the emptiness of excessive generality. The scientific tradition in education is marred by all the denials described on earlier pages, while the humanist adherents of the classics either compromise with organized religion or fail to make the transition from the academic to the practical issues of daily life. Liberal learning might become the body of organic wisdom in the modern world, but not without the heart-beat of essential truth. Karma and Reincarnation are needed to give the pulse of life to the cultural tradition of the West. These two ideas touch the principles in man's nature which need to be aroused before he can make use of his great heritage, whether of science, religion, philosophy or literature.

The evolutionary cycle has reached that point in its progression when new responsibilities have to be assumed by the human race. It is a time of transition from the psychic to the Manasic basis of action. Without Karma and Reincarnation, a Manasic basis for action cannot exist. We must make this transition successfully, or the race will fall back into retrograde psychism and Kama-manasic materialism. The choice is crucial, for the present, and for the future.


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