BN-Basic Course Syllabus
The Ancient Wisdom Religion
IV Karma & Reincarnation -The Reciprocal Laws Of Development
- Implications & Applications - Taking The Law Into Your Own Hands
(HPB, Articles, "Our Cycle & the Next")
Theosophy prevailing in the struggle, its all-embracing philosophy strikes deep root into the minds and hearts of men, if its doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma, in other words, of Hope and Responsibility, find a home in the lives of the new generations, then, indeed, will dawn the day of joy and gladness for all who now suffer and are outcast. For real Theosophy IS ALTRUISM, and we cannot repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to Truth. If once men do but realize that in these alone can true happiness be found, and never in wealth, possessions, or any selfish gratification, then the dark clouds will roll away, and a new humanity will be born upon earth. Then, the GOLDEN AGE will be there, indeed. But if not, then the storm will burst, and our boasted western civilization and enlightenment will sink in such a sea of horror that its parallel History has never yet recorded.
(HPB, Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, P. 634)
The ONE LIFE is closely related to the one law which governs the World of Being -- KARMA. Exoterically, this is simply and literally "action," or rather an "effect-producing cause." Esoterically it is quite a different thing in its far-fetching moral effects. It is the unerring LAW OF RETRIBUTION. To say to those ignorant of the real significance, characteristics and awful importance of this eternal immutable law, that no theological definition of a personal deity can give an idea of this impersonal, yet ever present and active Principle, is to speak in vain. Nor can it be called Providence. For Providence, with the Theists (the Christian Protestants, at any rate), rejoices in a personal male gender, while with the Roman Catholics it is a female potency, "Divine Providence tempers His blessings to secure their better effects," Wogan tells us. Indeed "He" tempers them, which Karma -- a sexless principle -- does not.
(Wm. Q. Judge, Articles, "Men Karmic Agents")
A statement of the law of Karma of course makes not only men karmic agents but also every other being in the Cosmos, inasmuch as they are all under the law of action and reaction, and, with the same law, go to make Cosmos what it is. Taken as a unit in the general mass of men, each man is a Karmic agent in the above sense, just as each horse and dog, or the rain and the sun are. So in our daily actions, even the smallest, whether we are conscious or not of the effect, we are such agents. A single word of ours may have an influence for a lifetime upon another. It may cause once more the fire of passion to blaze up, or bring about a great change for good. We may be the means of another's being late for an appointment and thus save him from calamity or the reverse, and so on infinitely. But all this is very different from the technical sense I have referred to, and which might be taken to be the sense of the title of the article thus specially removed from the general class.
The special sense is in this: a "Karmic Agent" is one who concentrates more rapidly than is usual the lines of influence that bring about events sometimes in a strange and subtle way. Of these there are two classes; the first, those among the mass who, from the lives they have led in the past, arrive in this one gifted--or cursed with the power unknown to themselves. The second, those who by training have the power, or rather have become concentrators of the forces, and know it to be the case. Of these are the Adepts, both great and small.
(Wm. Q. Judge, Articles, "Karma")
The first great result of Karmic action is the incarnation in physical life. The birth-seeking entity consisting of desires and tendencies, presses forward towards incarnation. It is governed in the selection of its scene of manifestation by the law of economy. Whatever is the ruling tendency, that is to say, whatever group of affinities is strongest, those affinities will lead it to the point of manifestation at which there is the least opposition. It incarnates in those surroundings most in harmony with its Karmic tendencies and all the effects of actions contained in the Karma so manifesting will be experienced by the individual. This governs the station of life, the sex, the conditions of the irresponsible years of childhood, the constitution with the various diseases inherent in it, and in fact all those determining forces of physical existence which are ordinarily classed under the terms, "heredity," and "national characteristics."
It is really the law of economy which is the truth underlying these terms and which explains them. Take for instance a nation with certain special characteristics. These are the plane of expansion for any entity whose greatest number of affinities are in harmon with those characteristics. The incoming entity following the law of least resistance becomes incarnated in that nation, and all Karmic effects following such characteristics will accrue to the individual. This will explain what is the meaning of such expressions as the "Karma of nations," and what is true of the nation will also apply to family and caste.
(HPB, Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, Pgs. 639 & 643-644)
Yes; "our destiny is written in the stars!" Only, the closer the union between the mortal reflection MAN and his celestial PROTOTYPE, the less dangerous the external conditions and subsequent reincarnations -- which neither Buddhas nor Christs can escape. This is not superstition, least of all is it Fatalism. The latter implies a blind course of some still blinder power, and man is a free agent during his stay on earth. He cannot escape his ruling Destiny, but he has the choice of two paths that lead him in that direction, and he can reach the goal of misery -- if such is decreed to him, either in the snowy white robes of the Martyr, or in the soiled garments of a volunteer in the iniquitous course; for, there are external and internal conditions which affect the determination of our will upon our actions, and it is in our power to follow either of the two. Those who believe in Karma have to believe in destiny, which, from birth to death, every man is weaving thread by thread around himself, as a spider does his cobweb; and this destiny is guided either by the heavenly voice of the invisible prototype outside of us, or by our more intimate astral, or inner man, who is but too often the evil genius of the embodied entity called man. Both these lead on the outward man, but one of them must prevail; and from the very beginning of the invisible affray the stern and implacable law of compensation steps in and takes its course, faithfully following the fluctuations. When the last strand is woven, and man is seemingly enwrapped in the net-work of his own doing, then he finds himself completely under the empire of this self-made destiny. It then either fixes him like the inert shell against the immovable rock, or carries him away like a feather in a whirlwind raised by his own actions, and this is -- KARMA.
Nor would the ways of Karma be inscrutable were men to work in union and harmony, instead of disunion and strife. For our ignorance of those ways -- which one portion of mankind calls the ways of Providence, dark and intricate; while another sees in them the action of blind Fatalism; and a third, simple chance, with neither gods nor devils to guide them -- would surely disappear, if we would but attribute all these to their correct cause. With right knowledge, or at any rate with a confident conviction that our neighbours will no more work to hurt us than we would think of harming them, the two-thirds of the World's evil would vanish into thin air. Were no man to hurt his brother, Karma-Nemesis would have neither cause to work for, nor weapons to act through. It is the constant presence in our midst of every element of strife and opposition, and the division of races, nations, tribes, societies and individuals into Cains and Abels, wolves and lambs, that is the chief cause of the "ways of Providence." We cut these numerous windings in our destinies daily with our own hands, while we imagine that we are pursuing a track on the royal high road of respectability and duty, and then complain of those ways being so intricate and so dark. We stand bewildered before the mystery of our own making, and the riddles of life that we will not solve, and then accuse the great Sphinx of devouring us. But verily there is not an accident in our lives, not a misshapen day, or a misfortune, that could not be traced back to our own doings in this or in another life.
(Wm. Q. Judge, Ocean Of Theosophy, Ch. 10.)
........... while heredity has something to do with the difference in character as to force and morale, swaying the soul and mind a little and furnishing also the appropriate place for receiving reward and punishment, it is not the cause for the essential nature shown by every one.
But all these differences, such as those shown by babes from birth, by adults as character comes forth more and more, and by nations in their history, are due to long
experience gained during many lives on earth, are the outcome of the soul's own evolution. A survey of one short human life gives no ground for the production of his inner nature. It is needful that each soul should have all possible experience, and one life cannot give this even under the best conditions. It would be folly for the Almighty to put us here for such a short time, only to remove us just when we had begun to see the object of life and the possibilities in it. The mere selfish desire of a person to escape the trials and discipline of life is not enough to set nature's laws aside, so the soul must be reborn until it has ceased to set in motion the cause of rebirth, after having developed character up to its possible limit as indicated by all the varieties of human nature, when every experience has been passed through, and not until all of truth that can be known has been acquired. The vast disparity among men in respect to capacity compels us, if we wish to ascribe justice to Nature or to God, to admit reincarnation and to trace the origin of the disparity back to the past lives of the Ego.
(HPB, The Key To Theosophy, Section 8, "On Reincarnation or Rebirth")
Memory is simply an innate power in thinking beings, and even in animals, of reproducing past impressions by an association of ideas principally suggested by objective things or by some action on our external sensory organs. Memory is a faculty depending entirely on the more or less healthy and normal functioning of our physical brain; and remembrance and recollection are the attributes and handmaidens of that memory. But reminiscence is an entirely different thing. "Reminiscence" is defined by the modern psychologist as something intermediate between remembrance and recollection, or "a conscious process of recalling past occurrences, but without that full and varied reference to particular things which characterises recollection." Locke, speaking of recollection and remembrance, says: "When an idea again recurs without the operation of the like object on the external sensory, it is remembrance; if it be sought after by the mind, and with pain and endeavour found and brought again into view, it is recollection." But even Locke leaves reminiscence without any clear definition, because it is no faculty or attribute of our physical memory, but an intuitional perception apart from and outside our physical brain; a perception which, covering as it does (being called into action by the ever-present knowledge of our spiritual Ego) all those visions in man which are regarded as abnormal -- from the pictures suggested by genius to the ravings of fever and even madness -- are classed by science as having no existence outside of our fancy. Occultism and Theosophy, however, regard reminiscence in an entirely different light. For us, while memory is physical and evanescent and depends on the physiological conditions of the brain -- a fundamental proposition with all teachers of mnemonics, who have the researches of modern scientific psychologists to back them -- we call reminiscence the memory of the soul. And it is this memory which gives the assurance to almost every human being, whether he understands it or not, of his having lived before and having to live again. Indeed, as Wordsworth has it:
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath elsewhere had its setting,
And cometh from afar."
(Wm. Q. Judge, Articles, "Practical Theosophy")
The ethics of life propounded by Jesus are not different from those found in theosophy, but the latter holds in its doctrines a compelling power which is absent from Christianity and from those systems which require a man to be good for virtue's sake alone. It is not easy to practice virtue for the simple reason that we ought to do so, since the desire for reward is inherent in humanity, and is a reflection of the evolutionary law which draws the universe ever upward to higher points of development. A man reads the command of Jesus to turn the other cheek to the smiter, to resist not evil, to forgive without stint, and to take no thought for the morrow, and then - pauses. His next thought is that such a canon is wholly utopian, and would if followed subvert society. In this he is sustained by eminent authority as well as by example, for a great Bishop has declared that no state can exist under such a system.
Theosophic doctrine, however, on either the selfish or spiritual line of life, convinces that the moral law must be obeyed. If we regard only the selfish side, we find when people are convinced that evil done in this life will be met with sure punishment in another reincarnation, they hesitate to continue the old careless life when they lived for themselves alone.
(HPB, The Key To Theosophy, p.227)
. . . the need for re-births. . ., the final goal cannot be reached in any way but through life experiences, and because the bulk of these consist in pain and suffering. It is only through the latter that we can learn. Joys and pleasures teach us nothing; they are evanescent, and can only bring in the long run satiety.
References for further reading
HPB, The Key to Theosophy, Section VIII, :On Re-Incarnation or Rebirth"
HPB Articles: "Our Cycle & the Next"
Wm. Q. Judge, The Ocean Of Theosophy, Ch's VIII, IX & X
Wm. Q. Judge Articles: "Karma"
Wm. Q. Judge Articles: "Men Karmic Agents"
Wm. Q. Judge Articles: "Practical Theosophy"