THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 1, November, 1964
(Pages 9-12; Size: 11K)


[Article number (22) in this Department]

Last month's discussion of Karma raised some further questions: If a person intends to set forces in motion toward a specific end, to initiate a certain kind of activity, how does he know whether the motivation proceeds from the "higher" or the "lower" man? Does one cease to "make karma" by retiring from the world? Does not undue solicitude about making karma, either "good" or "bad," indicate a lack of philosophic understanding of the Law? [Note: "Last month" refers to the 21st article in this department.--Compiler.]

Doubtless a person begins to question the level of his motivation (1) only after he becomes aware of the dual aspect of his nature and (2) when he begins to feel some degree of responsibility for his motives as well as his actions.

The questioner must realize at the outset that no one can answer his question for him -- the burden of philosophic understanding lies squarely on the person himself. This is a difficult stance for anyone who has been reared in a theological tradition, where the criteria of conduct are placed in a moral code outside the self; and it is equally difficult for one who has been strongly conditioned to react in a certain way to parental or social demands. Both these situations will have built up in those subjected to them a structure of values that classifies certain actions as "good" and certain others as "bad."

It is here (in the matter of labeling actions) that Theosophy parts company with both the priests of religion and the advocates of "conditioned response." For Theosophy asserts that the man himself is wholly responsible both for motive and act -- there can be no special guarantors of his destiny as he tries to learn the lessons of the soul. The task of localizing the motivational level is made more difficult by realizing that motives are seldom unmixed, and by seeing how clever the lower mind is at providing "high" motives for what it wants to do. Thus, an honest questioning of motive is only one aspect of the search for a more inwardly-inspired existence. The man has become dissatisfied, let us suppose, with the trivia of life; he has observed the way most people go about attaining their goals, and has noted that these goals are usually limited to some gain in external status. He sees, too, that those who have attained their goals are afraid of losing what they have gained. They seem to be getting nowhere -- which is certainly the case. Our observer, then, has reached the point where he wishes to strive for something "real" -- even if he cannot yet define the real. He has come to the point which, as Mr. Judge says, all human beings must eventually reach, where he arouses the antagonistic forces within himself -- the higher forces striving to break the mold of habit, the lower working just as desperately to maintain the status quo.

The drama of this engagement is portrayed in the Bhagavad-Gita, offering an appeal which has a tremendous impact on Westerners. This is why Thoreau couldn't stop writing about the Gita -- because it spoke of the inevitability of arousing within the individual contradictory forces, and influencing him to make various choices. These choices have to be made; and once the forces are set in motion, there is no retreat from the battlefield; we will be forever disquieted until we have come to terms with ourselves. The redeeming discipline becomes one of trying to acquire some knowledge of the language of the soul, the language of occultism, the depth-meaning of Theosophy.

Although this is a task for lives, we can at least begin by adopting those perspectives that reflect something of this language as it is expressed in the doctrines of reincarnation and karma. Through reflection on these tenets, we learn to distinguish between that in us which seems to speak in the language of continuity and fluidity rather than in the language of fixation. And we learn to discriminate between a fixation upon the thing we want, the status we wish to attain, and that in us which is striving to relate, to extend meaning and purpose. Though exceedingly difficult, this is not an impossible task; but each person has to perform it for himself in his own particular situation. He has to ask himself, Is this action motivated by the higher or lower aspect of the self? and he has to demand an honest answer. Brooding on Krishna's injunction, "Let, then, the motive for action be in the action itself, and not in the event," he may gradually assume the stance natural to the student of Theosophy.

As to the second question, "Can we refrain from making new karma by withdrawing from the world?" -- actually, the person who withdraws from the prospect of involving himself in a chain of cause and effect is attempting the impossible. He may, of course, divorce himself from certain interpersonal relationships, but by isolating himself from others he becomes imprisoned in a rigid personality. Even if he thinks he is dominated by sattva in making this decision, his condition is not secure; for this quality has its own gradations, including those pertaining to tamas -- indifference or darkness. By refusing the interpersonal relationships that offer him a chance to broaden his sympathy and wear off the sharp corners of his personality structure, he becomes more and more narrow and rigid. If he persists in this unnatural situation, he eventually cuts himself off from all opportunities to fulfill himself -- contracting his sphere of activity, and finally reversing the process of "initiation." Thus, as evolution proceeds, he retrogresses in relation to others who remain in the mainstream of life.

This is the worst sort of karma -- much more terrible than any difficulty that arises from striving, however mistaken his goals or howsoever egotistical his view of self might have been in the striving. For correctives are offered by meeting the problems of life, and isolation gives no chance for this kind of adjustment. This particular course of "non-involvement" leads to what has been called "the death of the soul," for it is a progressive reversal of the natural course of life, a self-denial of the "rites of passage" by which we gradually teach our personalities to become living souls. This is acceptance of Fate, but a refusal of Destiny.

It is natural for the newcomer to Theosophical study to be at first egocentrically concerned with "karma." To begin with, the majority of inquirers have been brought up in one or another religious tradition with its emphasis upon reward (heaven) and punishment (hell) and on the idea that meritorious acts (especially "saving" another's soul) earn additional "stars in your crown." It is even possible that some of the theosophical explanations of karma seem at first to suggest this interpretation: the idea of making "good" karma, the storing up of karmic merit, etc. Continued study of the philosophy of karma, helps the student to realize that karma is not a mechanistic design or a diagrammatic chart drawn up at the beginning of his life, but a life process. Karma is the way Life works -- or, so far as the individual is concerned, the way he directs his life forces. He comes to see that events (the things that happen to him) are not "karma"; they are only knots in the karmic web, knots that he must unravel and trace back to the place he went wrong in weaving his pattern. This point reached, the student realizes that "his" karma is not anything that happens to him; it lies in focal points within his inner being -- magnetic centers that attract the material event. He begins to realize that "his" karma is within him -- the very Law of his being.

When H.P.B. stated "Theosophy is Psychology," she doubtless meant to suggest that the philosophy of Theosophy affords a basis and suggests an attitude for self-discovery, self-transmutation, and ultimate Self-knowledge.

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:


Accept the words of a fellow traveller, these: Keep up the aspiration and the search, but do not maintain the attitude of despair or the slightest repining. The darkness and the desolation are sure to be ours, but they are only illusionary. Is not the Self pure, bright, bodiless, and free, -- and art thou not that?

Then, too, remember that the influences of this present age are powerful. What despair and agony of doubt exist today in all places! In this time of upturning, the wise man waits. He bends himself, like the reed, to the blast, so that it may blow over his head. Rising, as you do, into the plane where these currents are rushing, while you try to travel higher still, you feel these inimical influences, although unknown to you. It is an age of iron. A forest of iron trees, black and forbidding, with branches of iron and brilliant leaves of steel. The winds blow through its arches and we hear a dreadful grinding and crashing sound that silences the still small voice of Love. And its inhabitants mistake this for the voice of God; they imitate it and add to its terrors. Faint not, be not self-condemned. 


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(September 1965)
[Article number (23) in this Department]

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