Man - as an Individual

Geoffrey Farthing

Detail from candlestick oppositorum
Susana Maxelon (private collection)

Part 1    In the Beginning

Part 2    The Law Itself

Part 3    Humanity as a Whole

Part 4    Man - as an Individual

Part 5    Reincarnation

Part 6    The Aspirant

Part 7    Epilogue

Appendix    Diagram of Cosmic Planes and Human Principle (referred to in Part 2)

4. Man - as an Individual

At the Introduction to Section 2 we saw how the evolution of spiritual humanity is according to the aggregate of the progress made by individuals. Everything during its period of existence is subject to the Law, as the grand directive agent, but each man becomes a special case by reason of his freedom to act against the Law. He is a responsible being whereas all things and creatures below him can only act according to their inherent nature. They make no decisions whereas man does, and, as we shall see, the intention or motive behind any act he performs affects its Karmic consequence.

But Karma will reconcile all our differences of opinion. A strict account of our actual work will be taken, and the "wages" earned will be recorded to our credit. But as strict an account will be taken of the work which anyone, by indulging in personal grievances, may have hindered his neighbours from doing. Think you it is a light thing to hinder the force of the Theosophical Society, as represented in the person of any of its leaders, from doing its appointed work? So surely as there is a Karmic power behind the Society will that power exact the account for its hindrance, and he is a rash and ignorant man who opposes his puny self to it in the execution of its appointed task.

Thus, then "UNION IS STRENGTH"; and for every reason private differences must be sunk in united work for our Great Cause. [C.W.XI, 166]

Again and again the idea of Unity, as it applies to Cosmos and mankind, is stressed. What affects the part affects the whole. Particularly is this the case with human beings who can make choices in their actions, and who are thus responsible for the consequences. The next extract is pertinent to this:

.. . Let not the fruit of good Karma be your motive; for your Karma, good or bad, being one and common property of all mankind, nothing good or bad can happen to you that is not shared by many others. Hence your motive, being selfish, can only generate a double effect, good and bad, and will either nullify your good action, or turn it to another man's profit. ... There is no happiness for one who is ever thinking of self and forgetting all other Selves.

The Universe groans under the weight of such action (Karma), and none other than self-sacrificial Karma relieves it.... How many of you have helped humanity to carry its smallest burden, that you should all regard yourselves as Theosophists. Oh, men of the West, who would play at being the Saviours of mankind before they even spare the life of a mosquito whose sting threatens them would you be partakers of Divine Wisdom or true Theosophists? Then do as the gods when incarnated do. Feel yourselves the vehicles of the whole humanity, mankind, as part of yourselves, and act accordingly... [C.W.XI, 168-9]

The principle of Unity is further illustrated in the next quotation in relation to our inner spiritual selves, our Egos:

No Ego differs from another Ego, in its primordial or original essence and nature. That which makes one mortal a great man and another a vulgar, silly person is,... the quality and makeup of the physical shell or casing, and the adequacy or inadequacy of brain and body to transmit and give expression to the light of the real, Inner man; and this aptness or inaptness is, in its turn, the result of Karma. [C.W.XII, 15]

In various places The Secret Doctrine outlines the occult constitution of man, delineating seven 'principles'. Each of these principles characteristically manifests aspects of life which have so far been developed by living entities during the cycles of existence preceding our present one. All things in the kingdoms of Nature become heir at their level to what has been achieved beforehand by other living entities. Man being at the top of the scale inherits most, and most of his seven postulated principles are quickened and developed thereby. Insofar as they are, his various subjective faculties are operating.

In several places the close association of a man's destiny with his astrological influences is stressed. The following quotation amplifies this:

...the science of Astrology only determines the nature of effects, by a knowledge of the law of magnetic affinities and attractions of the Planetary bodies, but that it is the Karma of the individual himself, which places him in that particular magnetic relation. [C.W.VI, 327]

Theosophy tells us that we cannot judge anyone by his apparent personality or by what he does; we cannot know his spiritual stature:

Do not be too severe on the merits or demerits of one who seeks admission among your ranks [of theosophists], as the truth about the actual state of the inner man can only be known to, and dealt with justly by, KARMA alone. [C.W.VII, 170]

As we have seen, motive is a factor in the workings of the Law. Where causes are created in ignorance or diminished responsibility, the effects will be suitably adjusted, for example:

A short analysis of the Karmic effects that would be produced by the exercise of such powers [hypnotism] may prove interesting to theosophists....

How much more forcibly this law of simple retributive justice must act on the psychic plane; and what, therefore, may be the responsibility incurred by using such psychological powers, in the face of Karma and its punitive laws, may be easily inferred. Is it not evident that, if even human justice recognizes the impossibility of punishing an irrational idiot, a child, a minor, etc., taking into account even hereditary causes and bad family influences - that the divine Law of Retribution, which we call KARMA, must visit with hundredfold severity one who deprives reasonable, thinking men of their free will and powers of ratiocination?... What adept or even moderately informed chela would ever risk an endless future by interfering with, and therefore taking upon himself, the Karmic debit of all those whom he would so psychologize as to make of them merely the tools of his own sweet will! [C.W.XI, 55-6]

There is a footnote here (C.W.XI, 138) to the effect that all Monads on their way to becoming human pass through animal stages but this in cycles of evolution on globes other than our present one.

Concerning the Karma of a child who dies before reaching the age of seven and the spiritualistic belief that the child having died can visit them from the Summerland, we have:

We [Theosophists] must not hurt their feelings by insisting that every child who dies before the age of reason - when only it becomes a responsible creature - reincarnates immediately after its death - since, having had no personal merit or demerit in any of its actions, it can have no claim on Devachanic reward and bliss. Also that as it is irresponsible till the age of say, seven, the full weight of the Karmic effects generated during its short life falls directly upon those who reared and guided it. They will hear of no such philosophical truths, based on eternal justice and Karmic action. [C.W.XI, 140]

As with so many things in Occultism we have always to bear in mind that we are not just dealing with the objective plane. Theosophy teaches us of the realms superior to or behind that.

... crimes and sins committed on a plane of objectivity and in a world of matter, cannot receive punishment in a world of pure subjectivity.... We believe in an immutable law of absolute Love, Justice, and Mercy. [Key, 138]

From this it is obvious that love, justice and mercy permeate the whole of existence.

There are many telling passages in the literature which, when brought to our attention, can give us a proper understanding of the ill or good fortunes that attend us through life. One of these is in the first book written by H.P.B. in 1877, Isis Unveiled. It indicates that, even at the commencement of her writings, she was fully versed in many occult subjects.

From the remotest antiquity mankind as a whole has always been convinced of the existence of a personal spiritual entity within the personal physical man. This inner entity was more or less divine, according to its proximity to the crown - Christos. The closer the union the more serene man's destiny, the less dangerous the external conditions. This belief is neither bigotry nor superstition, only an ever-present, instinctive feeling of the proximity of another spiritual and invisible world. Which, though it be subjective to the senses of the outward man, is perfectly objective to the inner ego. Furthermore, they believed that there are external and internal conditions which affect the determination of our will upon our actions. They reject fatalism, for fatalism implies a blind course of some still blinder power. But they believed in destiny (or Karma), 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 that presence termed by some the guardian angel, or our more intimate astral inner man, who is but too often the evil genius of the man of flesh (or the personality). 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 (and retribution) steps in and takes its course, following faithfully the fluctuations (of the conflict). When the last strand is woven, and man is seemingly enwrapped in the network 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 like a feather carries him away in a whirlwind raised by his own actions. [I.U.II, 593]

Such is the destiny of the MAN - the true Ego, not the Automaton, the shell that goes by that name. It is for him to become the conqueror over matter.
[Key 182]

The concern of most of us is what determines the overall patten of our lives, sometimes quite contrarily to what we have planned or might wish. Something seems to determine whether the wheel of fortune turns in our favour or against us. The next paragraph is very explanatory on this matter:

And we believe neither in vicarious atonement, nor in the possibility of the remission of the smallest sin by any god, not even by a "personal Absolute" or "Infinite", if such a thing could have any existence. What we believe in is strict and impartial justice. Our idea of the unknown Universal Deity, represented by Karma, is that it is a Power which cannot fail, and can therefore, have neither wrath nor mercy, only absolute Equity, which leaves every cause, great or small, to work out its inevitable effects. The saying of Jesus: "With what measure you mete it shall be measured to you again" (Matt., vii, 2), neither by expression nor implication points to any hope of future mercy or salvation by proxy.... we cannot recommend too strongly mercy, charity, and forgiveness of mutual offences. Resist not evil, and render good for evil,... were first preached in view of the implacability of Karmic law. For man to take the law into his own hands is anyhow a sacrilegious presumption. Human Law may use restrictive, not punitive measure; but a man who, believing in Karma, still revenges himself and refuses to forgive every injury, thereby rendering good for evil, is a criminal and only hurts himself. As Karma is sure to punish a man who wronged him, by seeking to inflict an additional punishment on his enemy, he, who instead of leaving that punishment to the great Law adds to it his own mite, only begets thereby a cause for the future reward of his own enemy and a future punishment for himself. The unfailing Regulator affects in each incarnation the quality of its successor; and the sum of the merit or demerit in preceding ones determines it. [Key,199-200]

After many examples of the workings of Karma in practice in society H.P.B. quotes E.D. Walker in his Reincarnation as follows:

Briefly, the doctrine of Karma is that we have made ourselves what we are by former actions, and are building our future eternity by present actions. There is no destiny but what we ourselves determine. There is no salvation or condemnation except what we ourselves bring about . . . Because it offers no shelter for culpable actions and necessitates a sterling manliness, it is less welcome to weak natures than the easy religious tenets of vicarious atonement, intercessions, forgiveness and death-bed conversions . . . In the domain of eternal justice the offence and the punishment are inseparably connected as the same event, because there is no real distinction between the action and its outcome . . . It is Karma, or our old acts, that draws us back into earthly life. The spirit's abode changes according to its Karma, and this Karma forbids any long continuance in one condition, because it is always changing. So long as action is governed by material and selfish motives just so long must the effect of that action be manifested in physical rebirths. Only the perfectly selfless man can elude the gravitation of material life. Few have attained this, but it is the goal of mankind.
[Key, 209-10]

A very good summary of the law of Karma as it applies to us individually is quoted by H.P.B. in The Key; it is by the wife of Mr A.P. Sinnett to whom the famous Mahatma Letters were addressed:

Every individual is making Karma either good or bad in each action and thought of his daily round, and is at the same time working out in this life the Karma brought about by the acts and desires of the last. When we see people afflicted by congenital ailments, it may be safely assumed that these ailments are the inevitable results of causes started by themselves in a previous birth. It may be argued that, as these afflictions are hereditary, they can have nothing to do with a past incarnation; but it must be remembered that the Ego, the real man, the individuality, has no spiritual origin in the parentage by which it is re-embodied, but is drawn by the affinities which its previous mode of life attracted round it into the current that carries it, when the time comes for rebirth, to the home best fitted for the development of those tendencies . . . This doctrine of Karma when properly understood is well calculated to guide and assist those who realize its truth to a higher and better mode of life, for it must not be forgotten that not only our actions but our thoughts also are most assuredly followed by a crowd of circumstances that will influence for good or for evil our own future, and what is still more important, the future of many of our fellow-creatures. If sins of omission and commission could in any case be only self-regarding, the effect on the sinner's Karma would be a matter of minor consequence. The fact that every thought and act through life carries with it for good or evil a corresponding influence on other members of the human family renders a strict sense of justice, morality, and unselfishness so necessary to future happiness and progress. A crime once committed, an evil though sent out from the mind, are past recall - no amount of repentance can wipe out their results in the future . . . Repentance, if sincere, will deter a man from repeating errors; it cannot save him or others from the effects of those already produced, which will most unerringly overtake him either in this life or in the next rebirth. [Key, 212]

From this extract we see the consequences of our actions not only affecting the perpetrators but many others as well.

ENQ. Can anyone, even an Adept or Seer, follow out this Karmic process of readjustment in detail?

THEO. Certainly: "Those who know" can do so by the exercise of powers which are latent even in all men. [Key, 215]

The rest of this chapter (Key XI) to the middle of p 218 gives further examples of the workings of Karma in our lives.

Scattered throughout the many references to Law and Karma there are passages illustrative of its workings:

The case would be quite different if the same evil acts (perpetrated by primitive hunters for food) had been done by an educated and civilised person from a mere love of sport. The savage being reborn would simply take a low place in the scale, by reason of his imperfect moral development, while the Karma of the other would be tainted with moral delinquency. [MLC 68, 192)

Collective Karma, i.e., of group, nation or race, is often referred to. Each individual as well as his 'personal' Karma cannot escape his collective Karma as well.

It is a true manhood when one boldly accepts one's share of the collective Karma of the group one works with, and does not permit oneself to be embittered, and to see others in blacker colours than reality, or to throw all blame upon some one "black sheep", a victim, specially selected. [MLC 131, 437]

Sometimes the question is raised of social status, a person's position not only within a particular society, e.g., affluent, civilized, cultured or backward, primitive and poor as far as worldly amenities go, in relation to Karma. We have the following:

The social status of a being is, of course, a result of Karma; the law being that "like attracts like". The renascent being is drawn into the gestative current with which the preponderating attractions coming over from the last birth make him assimilate. [MLC 104, 362]

Nor has wealth nor poverty, high or low birth any influence upon it, for this is all a result of their Karma. Neither has - what you call - civilization much to do with the progress. It is the inner man, the spirituality, the illumination of the physical brain by the light of the spiritual or divine intelligence that is the test. [MLC, 62, 160]


1. I.U. ISIS UNVEILED, Vols I and II, all editions same pagination. H. P. Blavatsky.

2. S.D. THE SECRET DOCTRINE, Vols I, II and III, Original Edition and C.W. series [Vol III is 1897 ed. or in C.W.XII] H. P. Blavatsky.

3. C.W. THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF H.P. BLAVATSKY, 14 Vols, edited by Boris de Zirkoff

4. Key THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY, Original Edition. H. P. Blavatsky.

[Same content but different pagination in 2nd and 3rd Editions]


Page 5 Reincarnation

First published 2001 by The Theosophical Publishing House, London.
Available from: The Theosophical Society in England, 50 Gloucester Place, London W1U 8EA

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