Applying the ideas of Karma and Reincarnation.
THE first, and probably the most important, aspect of Theosophical living is long-term character development through many lives. This involves the application of the ideas of reincarnation and Karma - the cyclic retributive and compensatory aspects of the Law in action. These ideas are to be found in Eastern religions but only partially and exoterically. When extended and explained by Theosophical teachings they become more reasonable and, therefore, more acceptable to the Western mind. Theosophy fills in many gaps in the exoteric religious teachings; for example, it explains how experience is carried through from the after - death States to the new personality, from one life to another.
The second aspect which distinguishes Theosophical living is the impact which a knowledge of the inner worlds can have upon us. This is important as it relates to our worlds of thought and feeling. By a knowledge of these realms and of their relationship to us, we learn that we affect them and they us. They are fashioned largely from the sum-total of all the thinking and feeling of the human race to date. This is the Kãma-Manasic realm a region of the Astral Light, and it is one with which we are all intimately concerned. The contents of those inner worlds most nearly associated with us, with which we have a special affinity both individually and collectively, reflexively affect us in turn. The lower levels of the Astral Light influence us most strongly; the higher, more spiritual, realms are more rarely contacted by us and in the ordinary way affect us less.
This matter of mutual reaction between us and the lower inner worlds raises a third aspect of living Theosophically, that of responsibility. It does not take the student of The Secret Doctrine long to realize that the whole theme of that great work is Man - Man's origins, the world as the stage for his activities whereon is carried out the drama of his evolution. All this and its relation to Cosmos is outlined therein. The great stories and myths, when they are read in the light of the keys given in The Secret Doctrine and elsewhere, relate obviously to Man. Therefore, Man's responsibility, not only for his own condition but for the development of the other kingdoms of nature, and for the state or condition of the inner realms, is another special Theosophical contribution to thought and understanding and it can constitute an important guide to our way of life and to the formulation of our motives.
The matter of our responsibility for the other kingdoms of nature at the ordinary physical level is topical and its importance is becoming more-widely realized. If we are not to suffer as a result of serious pollution and waste, and if our wild animals are not to be harassed to extinction, effective action becomes urgent. We must learn to live in brotherhood and harmony both with our fellow-men and with nature.
A recognition, then, of Man's influence, by his action, his thoughts and feeling, on his surroundings, particularly his inner surroundings - the inner realms which, in turn, react on him - is one of the strongest incentives to Theosophical living. From it arises the firm restraint that a Theosophist imposes on himself. He learns that he must control his thoughts as much as, if not more than, he controls his actions, because of their effect on the psychic atmosphere in which not only he, but all of us live. By wrong thinking and feeling we foul our psychic atmosphere; we also pick up and are affected by the conditioning of that atmosphere by other people. Thus, thoughts and feelings react upon all human activities and relationships. Ought we not, as Theosophists, take very special note of this and remember that only living human beings can improve that psychic atmosphere?
The dead occupy these inner realms, but, in the ordinary way, they cannot affect them for good or ill. We are beginning to care for our own immediate physical surroundings, but generally we are not much concerned for those of others. We do not mind dumping our old mattresses, cars, perambulators and washing-machines in someone else's lanes or washing out our oil-tanks in the ocean, far from our own shores. We do this as long as we can 'get away' with it, but what happens when everybody does the same? The surroundings of our dwelling places become despoiled, our beaches fouled with oil, our rivers and lakes polluted, the air we breathe tainted. are only now waking up to our responsibility for keeping our physical world clean, beautiful, ecologically healthy and hygienically productive. But what about our psychic atmosphere? H.P. Blavatsky tells us that the Astral Light is full of 'elementals' or nature spirits, and that these can enliven our thought-forms and give them power. The conditioned psychic atmosphere of a country can affect the population for centuries. This, in large measure, accounts for national characteristics. From all this emerges the importance of constantly remembering that living Theosophically relates to practical living and that our moment-to-moment, day-to-day, activities, both objective and subjective, are obviously and closely interrelated.
The whole purpose of living is growth and development through experience. But not everyone in the same circumstance receives the same impressions nor makes the same response. Some are not fully awake nor responsive enough and much of what they experience does not register in their awareness. We gain experience according to our ability to record it in consciousness and this response grows with our development.
This introduces the idea of Karma as consequence. It is obvious that, essentially, we are our own Karma - we are what we have made ourselves. This applies to us not only as individuals but as groups and, indeed, extends to the whole human family. In all justice, we are responsible for our own sufferings and limitations.
The scriptures of the world, as well as Theosophical writings, tell us how to live so as to eradicate those effects of the karmic law which make for suffering. In the end, these precepts converge into one, that of trying to live impersonally. While we live in this world, we obviously have personal affairs but we are exhorted not to be so concerned with them and we are told that they should not occupy an undue amount of our attention. We must, of course, fulfil whatever responsibilities we may have incurred to our family, to other people, or to our profession; even these, however, can be carried out altruistically, with our attention directed away from 'self'.
This attempt to eradicate the undesirable effects of Karma involves also the practice of virtue. The practice of virtue, however, in itself does not necessarily make us virtuous. It is of prime importance that we should become truly virtuous so that the practice becomes automatic. An honest man is simply honest; a patient man is simply patient. One who must consciously refrain from dishonesty or impatience is not necessarily either honest or patient in himself. This does not mean that when we are young and making our way in life, we should disregard the precepts which would have us be honest and patient, but as long as we have to consciously practise virtue, we are not yet naturally virtuous.
Now, what makes us virtuous? Here Theosophy makes another of its special contributions. It teaches that every earthly man, every personality, is overshadowed by a Higher Self, an Egoic spiritual individuality. In so far as this Higher Self is able to impress the man's consciousness, it becomes his conscience. This is the inner voice which can strongly influence our behaviour. In the early stages it teaches by shame, evoking remorse for wrongdoing. As we grow, we learn; the pangs of remorse become stronger and we begin to heed them and to make an effort to avoid the weak or wrong act in the future.
The doctrine of the Higher Self tells us that the proper attributes of man are already naturally present in the Higher Self. An aspect of virtue is unselfish ness. It is a transcendence of our lower nature or personality. Unselfishness or self-forgetfulness is born of love. An outward-turned consciousness relates us closely to our surroundings and to all that is in them. From this comes caring - a form of love. Much, if not all, virtue springs from caring. We care for our loved ones and for our treasured things. As we develop, this caring broadens; it becomes deeper and more wide-ranging until eventually it grows into true altruism which is the epitome of virtue.
The proper evolutionary development of man is along these lines and, if the world would advance, it must make an effort in the same direction. Here, as Theosophists, we have a special role. We have been brought into contact with the teaching and have the opportunity of applying the knowledge. The contribution we can make to world thought and, therefore, to its well-being is enormous if we will take this opportunity seriously.
All life needs a form through which to live and act. Only living things can live, and only man can live in a consciously self-directed way. Only a Theosophist can live consciously according to the evolutionary law theosophically defined. A Theosophist, therefore, is, or has the chance to be, a special human being.
In general, a human being is a unique creature because of his mind. It is important, therefore, that man learns to control his mind. It is his mind that stands between him and his higher Self - the original source of his being - wherein all is right. Mind can stand between the two either as a barrier or as a bridge.
A Theosophist not only has the freedom to live as he chooses but he must also develop the ability to see, or sense, the universal trend or pattern to which he wishes to conform, and he must be able to feel - to be in sympathy with - the qualities and rhythms of the universal life. It must be emphasized again that these qualities and rhythms are not vague ideas or beliefs; they are the real facts of life. We, as living creatures and part of the whole process of Nature, must come to know and harmonize consciously with these deep qualities and powers. Animals do it unconsciously by reacting instinctively as creatures of circumstance. We must do this by awakening in ourselves these properties or qualities which correspond to or reflect those in Nature, especially those in the higher or spiritual worlds. Ultimately, this growth becomes the process of true initiation, consciousness beginning to function at higher levels.
We sometimes regard initiation as a process so remote from our present state of development and something so special in the way of knowledge and power that we, here and now, need not do anything about it. We think it is only of concern to those far on the path of attainment. I suggest that this is not the case. We have to do something about it now, in this life, at this time, if we are zo become mature human-beings able, eventually, to act consciously and responsibly. Now is the only time in which we can do anything; there is no escape from this. It has often been said that mankind can be saved, improved, regenerated only by the efforts of its own individual members, and, in the end, that means you and me. In this matter, Theosophists can have no excuse. Others might say that they do not have the knowledge, but we cannot. We often make excuses for ourselves on the grounds of our inadequacy. This is not justified because, for one thing, man has the roots of his being in all-sufficient Deity or Oneness. This means that each of us has all that he needs in the depths of his being. Everything that we need of knowledge and power is available for this work of self - regeneration. And each man's share of this inner Divinity is equal; we may not manifest it equally, but none is more endowed with it than his neighbour. Obviously, our ability to manifest these divine qualities unfolds gradually but they are working in us and are expressed, more or less, by us all. We all possess, in some measure, the limitless powers of the Self; if we did not, we would be animals or soulless automatons. Surely this realization is of the utmost significance and importance. It is the complete antithesis of the Christian Church's teaching that of ourselves we can do nothing. We are not essentially weak, miserable sinners; we are divine beings - gods - in our own right!
It is clear, then, that the fundamental necessity for each of us is to make real to ourselves our identity with our Higher Self, to establish ourselves there in consciousness. Most of us can accept the idea of the actuality - the presence - of our Higher Self, and most of us can accept that we must already, in some measure, be in contact with that Self for it is the very source of our life and consciousness. In the light of this, ought we not to be able to strengthen and make closer this already existing contact? Is not the process of consciously establishing this identity what we mean by Self-realization? We have heard much about how this can be done; first, through the controlled use of the mind and, second, by putting our intruding personalities into their proper place. Our personalities have their own proper function at their own level but, in terms of our own essential being in conscious ness, they are something for us to use, not something with which we should be completely identified. Control of our lower principles, particularly the thinking principle or the lower mind, is one of the most important elements in our self-training. The most significant of our limitations and conditionings are in the mind. These limitations and conditionings are largely our ideas of, or about, ourselves and they are the source of much of our suffering. We realize how powerful these ideas are from those occasions when we hear - possibly accidentally - a true criticism of ourselves. Everything in us flares up in denial and self-defence. But if we were really earnest in our quest for self-knowledge and self-improvement, we would welcome honest, objective criticism.
In this and other ways, our Theosophy must become practical. We are given some pertinent advice: to think less about ourselves and more about the world and its creatures, its people, our fellow men; to learn to be more impersonal and universal. Let us really do something about this mind of ours. For example, we can learn to dispassionately regard our surroundings, our companions and the events of the day, without letting them provoke trains of negative thought. We can learn to look at things, and especially at people, uncritically, and to see them as they are in themselves. Let them impinge, on our consciousness as they are, so that we become aware of their actual qualities without addition or subtraction by prejudiced thoughts, preconceptions or judgements which, usually and automatically, condition our immediate, and often quite unconscious, reaction to them.
Living in this impersonal, uncritical frame of mind can be wonderfully liberating. Truth cannot register through a screen of things, ideas and emotional reactions. There is a simplicity about the consciousness operating in a controlled mind which, because it is seldom experienced, is little recognized or appreciated. This is the state of simply being and not thinking. It is really in this state of simply being ourselves that we come to that inner place of peace and quietness where lies the certain knowledge of the Self.
Another useful part of self-training is to be positive in applying negatives. When we are bringing ourselves under control, in whatever direction - whether stopping smoking or getting up early - which usually means a denial of the likes or dislikes of the personality, we might feel that this denial is negative. We can, however, get the feeling of positively not smoking. We get the feeling of doing something even if that something is forbearance, restraint or denial.
All this comes under the heading of purification in the stages of purification, illumination and union on the path of Self-realization. The immediate step for most of us is obviously purification in our daily lives. Perhaps, however, before we begin, we ought to know something of the way nature works and of our own part in her operations.
Living theosophically relates to life and the qualities of life in all respects. It is essentially the knowledge of these things - it is not a matter of opinion. Real Theosophy does not come from book learning, although this may be how we are first introduced to it. Living Theosophy is that which can be transformed by thought and conduct into the very elements of our being.
Lastly, we must have regard to the aspirant who seeks to build into himself the necessary attributes and powers to live the theosophical life. This is where the exercise becomes applicable to each of us. First, we must acquire the necessary knowledge from study and the observation of life and ourselves. Then each student must apply this knowledge ill meaningful terms to himself, so that Theosophy becomes for him, not just a dream or an interesting pastime, but as real as living itself.
The above article first appeared in 'The Theosophist' Magazine,