Karma has been described as the ultimate universal law. An understanding of the true nature of this law will reveal its perfection. The word law is used in different ways. It is used to describe the rules by which civilised societies regulate the behaviours of their citizens for the common good of society, the civil law. Similarly it is used to describe the rules of behaviour between individuals, the moral law. Both these types of law vary from society to society in some degree depending on religious and cultural factors.
An article originally published November 1972 edition of the American Theosophist (p315). This web edition published 2014 and compiled from Geoffrey Farthings original typed notes.
Conversely scientific laws are quite different. They are changeless. Man's perception of them may change as he studies them and attempts to define them but they are invariable. The law of karma is in this category a perception of this gives us a glimpse of its perfection. The whole of modem science and engineering is based on the immutability and repeatability of the natural laws of nature in physics, biology and chemistry.
It is this concept of the changelessness of the laws of Nature that is so important in respect of the Universal Law which we understand in Theosophy. This law has many aspects to it. One is the law of Cause and Effect which is usually known as the law of Karma. The implications of this law are extremely far-reaching and the existence of this law dominates whole areas of our lives. In particular it applies to Man's seven principles so that we can observe its action at the physical level in the activity of the physical sciences where its reliability, universality and changelessness is virtually taken for granted. One also needs to realize how reliable and predictable it is at the emotional level, how much the mind relies upon it and how deeply it impinges upon us in our individuality at the Buddhic level.
In The Key to Theosophy p76 H.P. Blavatsky (H.P.B.) says
.... we consider it as the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the source, origin, and fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature. Karma is the unerring law which adjusts effect to cause, on the physical, mental, and spiritual planes of being. As no cause remains without its due effect from greatest to least, from a cosmic disturbance down to the movement of your hand, and as like produces like, Karma is that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently and equitably each effect to its cause, tracing the latter back to its producer. Though itself unknowable, its action is perceivable.
It emerges in many forms in life and nature and consequently has many names or definitions such as the law of alternation (second fundamental proposition); the law of causation (every effect has its cause); the law of balance and harmony; the law of evolution; the law of innate intelligence. It has also been described as the law of coming into being, the law of motion, the law of orderly change, the law of essential unity and so on. The implications in religion and politics are immense. So suddenly the great preoccupation of various world religions with punishment and judgement has become an automatic process! Man effectively punishes himself by ignoring the natural laws of compassion and unselfishness. Rather than fearing a vengeful, wrathful god he needs to fear himself. Maybe this is why the Master KH refers to "this terrible law" in the The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.
It is difficult to appreciate the profound effect that this can produce on a person's self-assessment or to realise how deeply this law penetrates to the very heart of the performance of our wills in determining the course of our actions and thereby creating their inevitable consequences. The Mahatma K. H. explains this aspect of the law of karma when he declares "motive is everything" and H.P.B. illustrates the point to perfection in The Voice of the Silence where we read:
Inaction in a deed of mercy is as action in a deadly sin.
While it is true that everything that happens to us has a cause, it is clear that not all the things that happen to us are a result of our individual thoughts and actions - that as H.P.B. says, would be fatalistic. However, Karma acts on many different levels: on our personal level, at the level of our family where things that are done by one member affect the whole family, at local community level or when some tragedy occurs to one family and the whole community reacts to support them. This sense of collective Karma is there nationally in our social and work groups and even at world level: global warming and rising sea levels to take one example. The whole world has its corporate Karma. It is in this sense that Karma operates throughout a hierarchical structure.
In The Key to Theosophy, H.P.B. says:
It is the Law of readjustment which ever tends to restore disturbed equilibrium in the physical and broken harmony in the moral world.
Here we have moved on to consider Karma's action on the subjective plane: in the broken harmony, she says, in the moral world. In The Dhammapada we read:
If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.
Jesus said (Matthew 7 v 2):
For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
St Paul says (Galatians 6 v 7):
Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap
W. Q. Judge wrote in his magazine The Path:
Karma operates on all things and beings from the minutest conceivable atom to Brahma. Proceeding in the three worlds of men, gods and the elemental Beings, no spot in the manifested universe is exempt from its sway.
In The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p 86, K.H. talks about the Elementals:
Then Karma has reached them and they will have to accept, to the last drop in the bitter cup of retribution.
The changelessness, the total unbendability, the total inflexibility of this law of Karma cannot be overemphasized. It is a law that is as firm and dependable and secure as all the laws we discover in our natural sciences. We do not expect to go into the Chemistry laboratory one day and find that the experiment we have done the day before cannot be repeated because we believe the natural law is unchanging, it is reliable, it will not be a law for Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays and not the other days of the week, but will be for every day, for every month of the year. H.P.B. is telling us again and again with the support of K. H. in the The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett that the law of Karma is just as reliable as that. You cannot escape it by finding any loophole.
K.H. calls it the law of Compensation in the The The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p 258:
We are taught from the first that each man is personally responsible to it for every word of his voluntary production.
THE LAW AND THE EVIDENCE
And there is no possible dispute about the evidence. Again and again in civil law there is dispute about the evidence. How many people avoid punishment for the crimes they have committed because the evidence is disputed or insecure? How many people go to prison when they do not deserve to because the law has been tricked with false evidence? But with Karma there is none of that. We read in The Secret Doctrine (vol I, p 103):
Everything is recorded in perfect detail by the Lipikas in the Astral Light.
Karma has also been called by H.P.B. as "the law of Retribution". How does it work? It works through the records. She writes:
Then the Second Seven, who are the Lipikas, from the word lipi, "writing", means literally the "Scribes". Mystically, these Divine Beings are connected with Karma, the Law of Retribution, for they are the Recorders or Annalists who impress on the (to us) invisible tablets of the Astral Light - "the great picture-gallery of eternity" - a faithful record of every act, and even thought, of man, of all that was, is or ever will be, in the phenomenal Universe. As said in Isis Unveiled (1,343), this divine and unseen canvas is the BOOK OF LIFE ...
Nevertheless, the Lipikas are not deities connected with Death, but with Life Eternal. Connected as the Lipikas are with the destiny of every man and the birth of every child, whose life is already traced in the Astral Light - not fatalistically, but only because the future, like the PAST, is ever alive in the PRESENT ... [The Secret Doctrine Vol.I, p103]
The present is determined by our Karma from the PAST and our Karma now determines the Future. And so the law acts automatically; it is unchangeable, invariable and it acts just as the narural laws do. If one sets up the right conditions one gets the same result every time and it cannot be over emphasized that the law of Karma works this way. It is based on totally reliable evidence, the evidence recorded in the Astral Light.
Jesus is able to say in John 12, v 47-48:
If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him ... The word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
There is no question of someone or even God making a judgement, the whole thing is an automatic process: the law of Karma is there, the indisputable evidence is there, and that is it. The result is completely predictable and repeatable.
In Matthew 12, vv 33 - 37, Jesus said:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
I tell you on the day of judgement men will render account for every careless word they utter: for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.
In The Bhagavad Gita, ch. 17 vv 11 - 17 we see that Perfection is through harmony and the importance of motive:
(11) A sacrifice is pure when it is an offering of adoration in harmony with the holy LAW, with no expectation of a reward, and with the heart saying "it is my duty".
(12) But a sacrifice that is done for the sake of a reward, or for the sake of vainglory is an impure sacrifice of Rajas.
(13) A sacrifice done against the holy law, without faith, and sacred words, and the gifts of food, and the due offering, is a sacrifice of darkness.
(14) Reverence for the gods of light, for the twice-born, for the teachers of the Spirit and for the wise; and also purity, righteousness, chastity and non-violence: this is the harmony of the body.
(15) Words which give peace, words which are good and beautiful and true, and also the reading of sacred books: this is the harmony of words.
(16) Quietness of mind, silence, self-harmony, loving kindness, and a pure heart: this is the harmony of the mind.
(17) This threefold harmony is called pure when it is practised with supreme faith, with no desire for a reward and with oneness of soul.
Note: How motive is so important.
Yogi Ramacharaka writes in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism, p 102:
The Yogis divide the path of attainment into three sub-paths leading up to the main road. They call the three paths (1) Raja Yoga, (2) Karma Yoga, (3) Gnani Yoga; each of these forms of Yoga being a path leading to the great road, and each fit to be travelled by those who may prefer it - but all leading to the same place.
Raja Yoga is the path followed by those who feel inclined to develop the powers latent in Man - the gaining of the control of the mental faculties by the Will - the attainment of the mastery of the lower self - the development of the mind, to the end that the soul may be aided in its unfoldment.
Karma Yoga is the Yoga of work, the path of action.
Gnani Yoga is the Yoga of wisdom.
In addition there is Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of devotion or the Yoga of devotion - the path of religious feeling. Some writers treat this path as if it were distinct from the others - a separate path - but we prefer thinking and teaching that it is merely an incident of each of the three paths, as we cannot conceive of any student of Yoga divorcing his work from the love and devotion of the Absolute - to God. We fail to see how one may follow any of the several Yoga paths without being filled with love and reverence for the great centre of all life.
In Sylvia Cranston's incredible biography of H P B. - The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky - there is the account of one of her sometime friends Solovyov. He was one of those friends who turns when he becomes displeased. He was one of those men who thinks he can boss a woman around just because he is a man. You can imagine the sort of fireworks that were produced when he tried to boss around H.P.B. When he realized he could not get his own way, in Sylvia's words:
Solovyov then sought to make trouble for H.P.B. in her own family. It began with inoculating Vera [H.P.B.'s sister] with the idea that Theosophy was antagonistic to Christianity. H.P.B. advised Sinnett that Vera had written her "a thundering letter calling me a renegade, a sacrilegious Julian the Apostate, and a 'Judas' to Christ." Blavatsky replied: "It is evident that Solovyov is quite furious because he did not succeed in getting from me what he expected, and he has invented the excuse of anti-Christianity ... As for my anti-Christianity, you know what it is; I am an enemy of the ecclesiastical excesses of Protestants and Catholics; the ideal of Christ crucified shines for me every day clearer and purer ...
When I read those words I saw H.P.B. in quite a new light. I saw something of the motivation of all her self-giving and all her self sacrifice for the sake of the teachings. No wonder she said that Theosophy is pure altruism. No consideration of Karma can possibly be complete without considering the significance of the crucifixion of Jesus. Why did he deliberately allow his opponents to arrest him and put him on trial and hand over him to sadistic thugs to be tortured and killed? NOT to appease an angry god who delighted in the sweet smell of sacrifice and the shedding of blood! NOT to take the punishment for wrong doing which belonged to someone else! Why then? Christmas Humphries gives us a clue writing in The Search Within refers to The Web. He says:
Constantly picture the Universe as a living organism controlling a single substance and a single soul, and note how all things react upon a single world sense; all act by a single impulse, and all cooperate towards all that comes to pass; and mark the contexture [a mass of things woven together] and concatenation [union by linking together] of the web.
So we get the first glimmer here of the concept of the One Life and the brotherhood. Because of this inter-relatedness of all life, the action of anyone life affects the whole. The more violent or powerful the action the more likely is the whole web of life to be affected, distorted or improved. There are endless examples. The terrorism in the U.S.A. that destroyed the World Trade Centre has changed world politics. So this inter-relatedness of all life happens at the physical level. But what we are saying here with regard to the law of Karma is that it acts at the subjective level as well. So here with the view of Karma at the level of the individual life. What is this ideal of Christ crucified which H.P.B. says shines for her every day clearer and purer:
* The challenge to find a better way to deal with life in all its aspects?
* The courage to stand against injustice and evil, against wrong thinking and teachings which enslave and bind men and nations?
* To show the way of brotherhood and love?
I think the best way of pursuing our thoughts on this point is to come back to The Secret Doctrine:
Father-Mother spin a web whose upper end is fastened to Spirit (Purusha) - the light of the one Darkness - and the lower one to Matter (Prakriti) its (the Spirit's) shadowy end; and this web is the Universe spun out of the two substances made in one ...
[The Secret Doctrine Vol I, p83]
In order to explain this part of the Stanza H.P.B. refers to the Mandukya Upanishad:
... it is written, "As a spider throws out and retracts its web, as herbs spring up in the ground ... so is the Universe derived from the undecaying one" (I, i, 7). Brahma, as "the germ of unknown Darkness", is the material from which all evolves and develops "as the web from the spider, as foam from the water", etc. This is only graphic and true, if Brahma the "Creator" is ... to increase or expand. Brahma "expands" and becomes the Universe woven out of his own substance.
The same idea has been beautifully expressed by Goethe, who says:
Thus at the roaring loom of Time I ply,
And weave for God the garment thou see'st Him by
Once again the hermetic axiom - as above so below - is applicable. The spider's web is a beautiful analogy for the whole universe but it is even more significant when applied to the one life. It pictures for us the inter-relatedness of all life. At the human level it teaches us that "no man is an island" we are all part of the one web. Just as the whole web is distorted if one single strand is broken, so the perfect symmetry and harmony of human life is twisted and even destroyed by man's failures. I am sure you all remember having seen a spider's web twisted and distorted. It is said that the spider's web is stronger than one made of steel thread of the same diameter, but the strength of this web of human interrelatedness is derived form its bonding with love and compassion.
As we saw earlier in the lecture, the inter-relatedness of all life - the One Life - means that evil acts can destroy or damage the pattern, and equally good, altruistic acts can restore this pattern. So you can see how a great prophet like Buddha or Jesus, can correct the pattern of the web and thereby return it to perfection. All these patterns in the Astral Light are just a reflection, an emanation, from the One Law which describes everything and which is responsible for all existence, the out-pouring from the One.
St Paul sees our spiritual destiny within the hierarchy of spiritual beings as glorious within a web of pure love and brotherhood. The great spiritual leaders and reformers such as Colonel Olcott, Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce, Annie Besant, Mother Teresa, etc. etc. have all been motivated by this tremendous insight into the true nature of real existence which is so clearly derived from the concept of the One Life and which is enshrined so deeply within the ftrst object of our Society. An understanding of the full implications of the law of Karma provides a strong incentive and motive to people to strive towards perfection in the way they live their lives exhibiting what St Paul calls the "fruits of the spirit" in his letter to the Galatians. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control against such (he says) there is no law. Mirroring the 7 paramitas which are charity, harmony, patience, selflessness, energy for truth, meditation and wisdom.
This nucleus of a universal brotherhood without discrimination of any kind can only exist when this supreme aspect of the law is obeyed. Our escape from the wheel of birth and rebirth depends upon our becoming attuned to or resonating with the perfect pattern of the web which exists in the Astral Light. Whenever and wherever man is genuinely altruistic, some of the glorious splendour of this pattern emerges. As we on our own individual pilgrimages conform to this pattern, we lay the foundations for our own immortality. NOT based upon some future judgement at some terrible future day but based upon the inevitable, incontrovertible, unchanging Law which lies at the very heart of the One from whom all existence is derived.
Of all the powers latent in man this power to generate good or bad Karma throughout the hierarchy of lives is the most awesome and the most vital. Man's destiny both as an individual and collectively in the One Life is determined by this Ultimate Law of the Universe. Just one man with sufficient courage and conviction can change the destiny of a nation and indeed that of all mankind.
Such is the law which moves to righteousness
Which none at last can turn aside or stay
The heart of it is love, the end of it
Is Peace and Consummation sweet. Obey!
Echoes of the Orient I, 313
Colin Price worked as a research scientist and chartered electrical engineer for over 30 years. He served for a number of years as National President of the Theosophical Society in England, and took an active part in the work of the national and international Theosophical Society including twice leading the 'School of the Wisdom' at Adyar, India. Colin is a trustee of The Blavatsky Trust. The preceding is extracted from a lecture he gave at the International Convention of The Theosophical Society at Adyar in December 2006.