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THEOSOPHY WORLD -------------------------------------- July, 2010
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"Adversity," by E.A. Neresheimer
"The Freedom of the Will," by A. Student
"Self Knowledge," by Henry T. Edge
"Theosophy in Practice," by Iverson L. Harris Jr
"The Avatar," by Jefferson D. Malvern
"The Law of Karma," by H. Travers
> Yes, the teacher has said: Forgive when forgiveness means
> calling forth the strength in you. Love when there is a mean and
> selfish impulse upon you to hate, because loving means strength
> and grandeur within you. The way of the spirit is the way of
> light, of peace. Practice love and forgiveness, and the holy
> presence will be in you every moment of life: with you day and
> night, the living companion of your silent hours, and the
> Warrior Invincible, always fighting within you and for you in
> your hours of activity.
> -- G. de Purucker, IN THE TEMPLE, page 44.
By E.A. Neresheimer
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, October 1915, pages 273-76.]
Man is free to choose between many ways of action in all
circumstances; yet there is a plan of nature, conformable to
which he is obliged to move. Whichever course he adopts from
personal motive, whether good or bad, there will subsequently be
corresponding reaction upon him, a reaction known as karma, the
law of cause and effect.
Through want of compassion and lack of knowledge he oft chooses
wrongly, inconsiderately, selfishly; in consequence, the rebound
which follows as effect, though the thought or deed has long been
forgotten, is sometimes considered being personal adversity and
The theosophic premise is that the law embodies the highest
justice and intelligence, devoid of emotion and unerring in its
compensation. Among the many pleasing incidents experienced in
life, divers other things befall mankind: sickness, poverty,
disappointments, loss of loved ones, miscarriage of plans,
thwarted ambition, worry, discouragement, pain, misfortune, and
All these are, in a sense, states of mind largely susceptible of
gratifying amelioration by a proper mental attitude when one is
inclined to think seriously about the possible connection
involved between the occurrence of events and the orderly
progression of sequences obtaining throughout the great economy
of sentient life and nature.
Adverse conditions may remain quite what they are, but our mental
relation to them can be altered in a moment or by degrees; if we
succeed in so doing the aspect of an affliction will modify
itself in its effect upon us and often completely change.
Physical injury, loss of organ or limb, calamities and
misfortunes, strange to say, are seen to be borne contentedly
after a time, and are looked at from a viewpoint much different
from the first dreaded anticipation of them.
Who has not seen a maimed person more resigned to his fate than
we imagine we would be? In numerous cases wonderful
resourcefulness has been shown under stern trials. It is all an
experience of life, generally wholesome and disciplinary, pulling
up a person, so to speak, to a new view of himself; forcing
introspection and a seeking for causes, broadening sympathy for
others, and generally culminating in a state which is none the
less happy than the former.
Severe visitations come only to those already strong. No greater
burden is put on one than he can carry, and he could carry more
if he were to summon his natural powers. And behold what a
stroke of fortune it sometimes is in the unfoldment of unexpected
mentality and moral incentive! It is a veritable forthcoming of
latent, godly powers, besides the strengthening of Will, and the
finding of firmness, patience, and fortitude.
Do we not sometimes witness absurdly morbid states of mind on the
part of average persons, when they meet merely slight reverses,
such as are not worse than those borne by thousands who are happy
despite them? Taken by surprise they act as though dumbfounded
and stunned. Being so unprepared for small mutability, how can
they evoke resistances out of which great deeds are born?
Do not these NEED just such gentle impacts from the benign
illusion-destroyer -- Mother Nature? Others again firmly pull
themselves together in manly fashion, striving for a more
reasonable accommodation to the new circumstances. Nine out of
ten of them rise out of the trial stronger, and perchance
discover within themselves some unexpected reservoir of
consciousness and strength.
The soul is the doer of things, also the enjoyer and sufferer.
In the course of its descent from spiritual estate, it has fallen
under the seductions of matter, forsaking the while the domain of
its pristine divinity.
Time was, before the middle period of the Great Life-Cycle was
reached, when the evolutionary pilgrim was serenely carried on
the wave of nature's sole responsibility. The acme of
consolidation and perfection of physical form is reached;
henceforth man, the creature of the Path, must become the Path
itself. Matter and the vestures of the soul becoming more
refined on the return arc, the human entity has entered upon the
cycle of individual responsibility.
Nature will no longer be in our debt for the mere act of living.
She may no longer compensate with molding the fairest possible
forms out of a promiscuous mixture of good and evil; the true
relation of earthly beauty and eternal truth depending from this
time forward upon man's conscious efforts in one direction only,
that is to say, a life in harmony with the cosmic plan.
The Law is Compassion Absolute! Karma is its method.
Reincarnation is its Instrument.
It has been a long journey of the spirit downward in order to
obtain contact with matter in its many phases. Many have been
the experiences in this vast labyrinth of sentiency, waking and
sleeping, activity and rest, joy and sorrow, enlightenment and
darkness, heaven and hell, over and over again, for ages upon
In the cycles to come when man shall have spontaneously ranged
himself on the side of the Higher Law in his appointed
cooperative work with nature, the tyranny of personal desire
shall cease, the thralldom of illusion end, and man regain his
To guide mankind aright in its spiritual destiny, the teachings
of the eternal Esoteric Doctrine and Wisdom-Religion have once
more been and are being benignly enunciated by the messengers of
the gods -- the Leaders of Theosophy.
The forcible reactions provided by kindly nature, which bring
home to every individual his due share of retribution, are not
alone in rousing mankind from the lethargy of sensuous dreamland.
Without sign, guide, and example, men are reluctant to move, and
though the world has never been entirely without the Esoteric
Doctrine and Divine Teachers, yet humanity at Large heeded not,
but chose to tarry in bondage of matter.
The advancing cycle demands imperative change, and the Theosophic
Movement, founded forty years ago, is now spreading its
beneficent activities over the wide earth. Its Founders and
Leaders have built wisely, effectively, permanently. The
Teachers treading the consecrated Path of Compassion have been
and are at hand, for love of their fellow-men, sacrificing all
else in leading the way.
The human unit is an integral and absolutely indispensable part
of the scheme of the Universe. Strange to say, even this tenet
is quite a new one to most men and women of today. In
consequence they flounder from emotion into despair over troubles
actual or imagined, are in fear of death, of god and man, and
afraid of adversity, as if any of these things were of the
"least" or "utmost" importance.
It is quite another thing to have anchorage on at least a
fragment of truth and reality; one then knows that to our
ESSENTIAL nature, most of the objects of dread are but temporary,
disciplinary, often wholesome, from which one is expected to
learn priceless lessons necessary in development.
The certainty that nothing whatever can happen that could in the
least affect or destroy one's individual integrity as a permanent
unit and inseparable part of the universal economy should inspire
us with great confidence in our spiritual stability.
Be it said that the whole Universe would sooner fall to pieces
than that destruction should overtake one single unit. No! We
are of much more importance than that. And our troubles? On
another plane of consciousness, the plane of the soul, they are
non-existent, except in the sense of a mere incident, just as one
single letter might stand for an incident in a volume which
contained many, many subjects.
No great philosophy is needed to train our minds to dwell on the
inward life, whence, after no long time, a serene state is born
to us, and a widening of our outlook and consciousness, and in
consequence there arises a natural inner stimulus, even an urge
toward contemplation of the deeper resources of our being.
Hold to some lofty impersonal subject which appeals to us as an
unquestioned truth: Brotherhood is a fact in nature; the latent
Divinity of man; the unity of Cosmos; and similar verities of
great number and profound import suggested in Theosophic
teachings; rise with them in the morning, letting them penetrate
into us during the day, and retire with them, holding them as the
last thing before sleep. Never fail in the performance of the
least duty to the fullest extent of ability, resigning all
PERSONAL interest in it, being content in the mere correct
discharge of any act as DUTY.
Cease day-dreaming or letting the mind wander aimlessly into the
past, or into anticipation of the future, instead, live
consciously alert to the smallest thing connected with every
thought and act, at the same time being discriminately positive
as to what is proper and what not. Doing this with pronounced
intent, firmly fixed will and good cheer, will soon crowd out
"gloomy streaks," and having made a disciplined instrument of
one's mind, adversities will soon be found to have assumed an
entirely different aspect.
There is no universal prescription for meeting or brushing aside
things that happen; whatever occurs has to be met somehow, and
therefore our mental relations to the circumstances determine the
quality of the effect the happenings shall have upon us. If a
broad enough view is taken, we may extract from adversities a
salutary and valuable lesson.
It is unwise to complain, or to mope or pray for better fortune
instead of making effort to fathom their meaning. Nothing ever
occurs for which adequate causes are not in existence in man's
atmosphere, whether generated in the remote past or in the
present life. Through many links uniting a long chain of events,
these causes come to fruition as effects. The conditions which
bring them to a focus having not arrived.
The source of trouble must be looked for within ourselves and
consolation sought in the fact that the experience is a means to
progress. To calmly and courageously looking on new conditions
as opportunities for growth will promote individual self-reliance
and heighten our trust in Divine Justice.
THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL
By A Student
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, October 1916, pages 333-35.]
The problem of the freedom of the will appears to present to many
minds difficulties that are perhaps not altogether necessary; and
often we find the question dismissed in quite a dogmatic way as
being something that we can never know. Such a dogmatic
pronouncement, however, merely whets the curiosity of eager minds
and tempts them to explore.
Locke and other philosophers have argued that, if we carefully
examine the functions of the human understanding, and define what
lies within its power of comprehension and what lies without, we
shall thereby avoid all ground for an arrogant assumption of
omniscience or for an attitude of helpless resignation to the
We must neither try to formulate the problem in narrow clear-cut
lines, nor should we petulantly dismiss it as insoluble because
of our inability so to formulate it. But, recognizing that the
path of knowledge consists of infinite stages, we should expect
to be able to pass from stage to stage, and preserve the faith
that what lies beyond, though as yet unattained, is still
Again, many problems which cannot be solved theoretically are
solved in practice with the utmost facility: as, for example, the
celebrated problem of "What is motion?" -- which is solved
"ambulando" -- by the simple act of walking. Do we propose to
enunciate the doctrine that that which is indefinable does not
Even the most pessimistic philosopher must admit that man
possesses SOME power of choice; and even though it is argued
that, in exercising that power of choice, he is but yielding to
some yet more powerful impulse, nevertheless, the fact suffices
to prove a RELATIVE freedom of the will.
Having established this much, where are we to stop? If the
savage's will is freer than the bird's, and mine is freer than
yours, and yours than mine, what is to prevent there being other
grades of men, with wills more and more independent? Or why, if
we get so far in our reasoning, should we balk because we find
ourselves confronting an infinite series -- since we confront
such infinitudes wherever we go? Leaving aside, for the present,
the question of ABSOLUTE freedom let us be content for the moment
to have established the fact of RELATIVE freedom and the logical
assurance of indefinite gradations of such relative freedom; this
is at least enough for practical purposes.
Suppose that, at a moment when your "resolution is sicklied o'er
with the pale cast of thought," and you find yourself involved,
hopelessly, as it seems, in the eddies of conflicting desires and
fears, like a swimmer in a drift with no anchorage -- suppose a
magician were to place a hand upon your head and thereby
instantly change your whole consciousness, so that you would be
lifted out of yourself, and would seem now to stand aloof from
body and mind alike, viewing the erstwhile whirlwinds of thought
and emotion as a spectator contemplating from a distance a drama
wherein he is interested but not involved. You would then have
achieved an initiation into the knowledge of a new state of
If you later acquired the power to transport yourself at will to
this state at any time, it would grow familiar; and by degrees
you might discover that, while in it, you possessed a new power
to direct the actions of the bodily and mental machine, with all
the ease and freedom of an overseer who sits in a chair and
directs the operations of other people.
This picture is meant to show how there can be a real Self that
stands detached behind the shifting scenes of mind and emotion,
and directs our life -- with a wisdom and certainty impossible to
the bewildered and passion-torn mentality.
If a man is the slave of his impulses, it is possible to foretell
his actions, the question being merely one of complexity,
requiring skill for its solution. But how can we foretell the
actions of a man who can call in the aid of a power extraneous to
the ordinary mentality?
Good and evil are relative words whose value varies with
circumstances. What is good for a bird is not necessarily good
for a fish. For man, that is good which is conformable to his
nature; and the fact that he has a mixed nature will complicate
the problem of determining what is good. But any standard set up
by the lower nature must in the end give way to the standard of
the higher nature, because the latter is the essential and
enduring part of man.
The choice between what is good and evil for the real man can
only be made by the real man -- that is, by the Soul itself when
its vision is unclouded by the illusions of the lower mind. It
chooses in accordance with its own nature, as a flower chooses
the sun; and it is a ray from the Divine that which makes man
what he is. It is that in man which is unborn and uncreate, the
So for Theosophists the statement that the will is free is seen
to mean that the essential man is not bound by the imaginings and
desires of the lower man, but is free to choose that which is in
accordance with his own (Divine) nature. In eastern philosophy
the network of causes and effects which bind men's actions
together, even throughout successive incarnations, is called
karma; and it is taught that man is not bound by karma, if and
when he raises himself above its operation by recognizing the
The apparent difficulty of reconciling the free-will of man with
the omnipotence of God is of course due to the limitation of our
ideas both of man and of God. There have been narrow minds, so
bent on having everything cut-and-dried that they have considered
it necessary to deny man's free-will in order to allow God his
omnipotence; and others who, because God did not "act" in the way
they thought proper, have denied God any existence at all. But
most people have faith enough to realize that the full solution
of this problem must be one of those that lie beyond the reach of
our present normal comprehension; and that such difficulties may
be expected to be cleared up step by step as we advance in
Various kinds of philosophers, who have studied various systems
and schemes, have sought to interpret man and his fate in terms
of those systems and schemes; but all have been obliged to
recognize the existence of an indeterminate factor not amenable
to such analysis.
The phrenologist, while forecasting your character from the
conformation of your skull, yet advises you to cultivate certain
qualities in which you are deficient; and when you come again, he
finds that you have done so and that the shape of your skull is
accordingly changed. If he had been a consistent materialist, he
should have told you to alter the shape of your head by surgical
means, instead of using your will.
The materialistic biologist may try to prove that our disposition
and conduct are entirely at the mercy of physiological functions
such as come within his ken; and in so doing he puts himself
outside his own system as a kind of God presiding over a
There is a magician in man who is independent of all the inferior
powers. But indeed we know little of man's nature in these days;
it is as though we lived only in the ground floor of our abode
and were ignorant of the mansions above. Taking the sevenfold
analysis of man's nature, as presented by Theosophy, we find that
beyond the Lower Manas, which represents our normal mind at
present, stand Manas and Buddhi, functions which may be described
as unknown worlds to present-day philosophy. What we can glean
of ancient lore from symbol, mythos, and record, shows that
ancient races have not been so ignorant. And the record is
there, on stone and parchment.
By Henry T. Edge
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, October 1917, pages 341-45.]
The path of self-knowledge is still open to all men, now as ever.
The scientific spirit proclaims an emancipation of the mind from
superstition and imposed beliefs, and relies on knowledge
obtained by studying nature by means of our faculties. The same
spirit prevails in the quest for self-knowledge. But in this
case, both the field of investigation and the faculties used are
wider in range than those of physical science.
This last statement is not dogmatic, but an inference from the
generally accepted principles of evolution. Admitting, for
argument's sake, the truth of any given evolutionary theory which
holds that the human mind has reached its present level by
gradual development from lowlier types, we feel bound to infer
that evolution will accomplish still greater development of the
human mind in the future. Hence the future possibility of higher
faculties in man is scientifically valid.
It would be unscientific to suppose that all men will arrive at
these higher stages simultaneously; for, on the contrary,
everything favors the belief that some men will arrive before
others. The conclusion that there may be now, and may have been
in bygone times, men in advance of the normal evolution of the
race, is irresistible.
Theosophy teaches that the path of self-knowledge has been known
to mankind in the past; and an acceptance of this teaching gives
the key to much of the mystic literature of the past. Theosophy
does not teach this as a dogma, but adduces evidence in its
favor. (See ISIS UNVEILED and THE SECRET DOCTRINE by H.P.
Scientific inquiry, having been limited to the investigation of
external phenomena, has not satisfied the need for essential
knowledge; hence it has not been able to avert catastrophe. For
remedy we have to look elsewhere; nor, in the many lay-sermons
that are preached, do we find much appeal to ordinary religious
beliefs; on the contrary, these themselves are in the position of
inquirers rather than teachers. Common sense, intuitive
knowledge, are appealed to; in which appeal we discern the tacit
assumption that man does in fact possess the power to answer his
In nature we everywhere find desire accompanied by the power to
satisfy it; and man cannot be alone in possessing a desire -- the
desire for knowledge -- which he cannot satisfy. It becomes a
necessity for man, at a certain stage of his development, to have
knowledge concerning the meaning of his life.
He cannot get it from scientific observations and theories that
deal only with physical perceptions and conceptions; nor can he
get it from dogmatic statements which he cannot verify. He can
only get it for himself by the use of his own faculties and by
accepting such aid as may be obtainable from people knowing more
than he does. This latter aid must not rest on claims or
authority, but must be judged by its own merits. Anybody who can
make us see what we did not see before, or answer our questions,
is our teacher to that extent for the time being.
In obtaining self-knowledge, the first step is to desire it; and,
as these remarks are addressed only to those who do, this step
may be assumed. The next step is to convince oneself that
self-knowledge is within one's reach. The evolution of humanity
can be greatly helped by simply inducing people to look within
and recognize that divine-human nature which is as much a fact as
is the animal-human nature. The world is in its present
condition because so many people are looking on the ground,
wearing blinkers, refusing to recognize the divine part of their
nature, and trusting to laws which, while they suffice for
animals, are not sufficient for man.
We cannot ignore the laws of nature, but must perforce
accommodate ourselves to them. If we do not accommodate
ourselves intelligently, we shall have to do so blindly and be
buffeted about. It is just the same with those higher laws that
control the moral and spiritual life of man. The laws are there,
the facts are there, and they will exact from us a due
conformity, whether willing and intelligent or blind and
reluctant. Because we have permitted uncontrolled desires and
inadequate theories to lead us along paths that conflict with
these higher laws, compensation has been exacted in ways that
In the life of the individual, it is the same. His life is
controlled by a higher law, which he does not understand or
perhaps even recognize; and he takes refuge in resignation or
indifference or cynicism or some strange philosophy. But it is
possible for him to study the laws that control his life, and
thus to attain to a state of intelligent acquiescence in his lot.
The laws of our bodily health claim our observance; and if we try
to contravene them, they exact painful compensation. There are
laws of moral and spiritual health, felt through conscience and
the sense of honor, compassion, etc.
A man should be true to himself. He should have due self-respect
-- not a vain over-confidence in his personality, but faith in
his higher nature. He should feel that there are higher laws in
the universe as inviolable as those which science recognizes; and
that faithful conduct will bring its recompense in an inner peace
and light. The greater the number of citizens of this sort in
the world, the better will be the body politic. Such people, at
peace with their own hearts, would be a power among men.
The higher evolution of man is a reality; but it is not to be
looked for as something sensational. It means the stepping-out
from the customary sphere of mind into a larger sphere lighted by
a fuller knowledge. It is impossible to say at what point any
given individual might achieve this step.
Having achieved it, even in small measure only, he would at once
become an influence for good -- a man ready to give rather than
receive, one anxious to help rather than expecting to receive
help. He would not, perhaps, become a conspicuous figure, for he
would have achieved humbleness along with his strength; and he
would neither desire nor receive the praise of others.
It is declared in all wise teachings that selfishness is the
great obstacle to knowledge; and experience demonstrates the
truth of the saying. The selfish man dwells in an
ever-contracting sphere. And there are many forms of
selfishness. Life is not meant for the glorification of any
man's personality; but it takes us long to find this out; yet
everybody must find it out some time.
When we do find it out, we have verified a law of nature. The
man who has found it out ceases to make self-satisfaction the aim
of his actions. He realizes that he has no permanent existence,
save as part of a whole, and his effort henceforth is to perform
his proper function in that capacity.
But the point is that, along with this liberation from the
delusion of selfishness, comes knowledge. Just as the selfish
man makes his life narrower and narrower, so the unselfish man
continually widens his sphere. This is matter of common
experience, but Theosophy contemplates a great extension of the
principle. It sets no limits to the possibilities of human
attainment in knowledge by the road of emancipation from the
thralldom of selfishness.
Knowledge is not a mere accumulation, which a man carries about
with him in his memory; it is the ability to know what is
desired. The difference between knowledge and mere learning is
the same as the difference between the man who HAS and the man
who CAN. Hence it is not surprising that the path of knowledge
consists largely of unloading previous accumulations.
> Be humble, if thou wouldst attain knowledge: be humbler still,
> when knowledge thou hast attained.
The reason why we have so much so-called knowledge that is futile
and leads to nothing is that it is not accompanied by discipline.
In other words, it is not accompanied by realization; it is left
in the theoretical and unapplied stage.
The word 'genius' is often applied to individuals who have
developed themselves in a lop-sided manner, by trying to attain
knowledge without having made any progress in overcoming the
obstacles in their own character.
When we attempt to apply our knowledge to the overcoming of these
obstacles, the struggle begins. A man's enemies are they of his
own household. The most difficult obstacles are the little
personal faults that are so near, the little failings of temper
and self-restraint, the self-love or anger or sloth, to which we
so often yield.
So long as these remain rooted in the soil, our efforts in larger
fields are rendered futile. With these removed, we are not only
free from them ourselves, but able to overcome them in the world
at large, so that we become a power for good; and the forces
which once were turned against us are now our servants.
It has often been said that Occultism consists in dealing rightly
with the present moment. Great things are mastered in their
small beginnings. The application of this maxim is in boldly
confronting the weaknesses in our nature, in the faith that their
conquest will lead us to the next step on our path.
Many people are learning by suffering. The French mystic,
Eliphas Levi, says:
> To suffer is to labor. A great misfortune properly endured is a
> progress accomplished. Those who suffer much live more truly
> than those who undergo no trials.
What a great consolation! Though we may find it hard to realize
this while we are actually in the throes, yet in the calm moments
that intervene we can draw strength from the thought. If we have
no philosophy, suffering seems a cruel and useless thing, and a
horrible sardonic despair may seize us. But if we can manage to
realize that the pain comes because we are climbing a hill in our
life's journey, then we become reconciled with our lot.
Pleasure and pain are great teachers. The more we develop
(throughout successive reincarnations), the more sensitive do we
become to pain and pleasure. At last the vibration from one to
the other becomes too keen for endurance, and we seek a position
of independence and poise, free from the disturbing action of the
oscillations. It is said that the first step on the path of
knowledge consists in finding our feet, getting our balance.
It is certain that a man takes a great step forward when he first
succeeds in grasping the truth of reincarnation and karma and in
viewing his life as that of an immortal Soul enacting one of a
series of scenes in the great drama. He takes a step, because he
has established a link between his intellect and that fuller
knowledge that is within him. The formation of this link will
enable the Soul to shed more of its light into the mind. The
recognition of these truths constitutes, in fact, a sort of
initiation, and life can never after be quite the same as before.
Henceforth he will learn more deeply and more quickly from the
experiences of life.
In the case of many people, merely to direct their attention to
the truths of Theosophy is enough to give them an inner
conviction; and this even though the mind, trammeled by its
habits of thought, may at first oppose. Hence the diffusion of
knowledge of Theosophy is the means of starting many on the road
It is dissatisfaction with the ordinary life that leads people to
search for that which lies beyond -- for a fuller
self-realization. At first they are likely to make the mistake
of seeking satisfaction in a mere intensification of sensation,
in a mere enlargement of the ordinary experiences. But this only
increases the source of discontent. With keener pleasure comes
sharper pain. Thus they are driven to seek peace in a different
path, and to make something else than personal satisfaction the
object of life.
Since the higher evolution of man is contemplated by the
scientific ideas as to evolution, it is but reasonable that we
should stand ready for it. Already we have forced on our
material civilization to a point where former standards of
behavior no longer suffice to control the forces at our disposal.
Unless we are to be torn to pieces by the powers we have invoked,
and civilization is to go down in a catastrophe, the moral nature
of man must be developed in equal measure. One way in which this
is already happening is in the substitution of an international
for a national commonweal.
Besides going wider, we must go deeper -- deeper into our own
nature -- there to discover greater powers of self-control,
heretofore latent. But let it be borne in mind that the future
is an unfolding of what has existed in germ in the past; that --
> Man was and will rebecome God.
> -- H.P. Blavatsky
Man can become a God because he has been that (in potentiality)
from the beginning. We must contemplate the future unfoldment of
our latent divinity, both as individuals and as a race; for
anticipation precedes realization. Each man finds the way for
himself, but can obtain help and encouragement from teachers and
teachings, in so far as these point to facts and do not
dogmatize. And it is Self-knowledge that is the kind of
knowledge to be sought. Man, know thyself, for otherwise thou
canst really know nothing else. This is an ancient maxim.
THEOSOPHY IN PRACTICE
By Iverson L. Harris Jr
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, January, 1917, pages 52-62.]
An inquirer once asked what were the PRINCIPAL teachings of
Theosophy which gave its students such boundless confidence in
it; and the answer was what Shakespeare's beautiful Rosalind said
to Orlando in reply to a very different question: "There were
none principal; they were all like one another, as halfpence."
It is impossible to say that one measure of a Beethoven symphony
is more important than another; so is it impossible to say that
any Theosophical doctrine is more essential than another. Each
measure in the symphony is necessary for the whole, and each
tenet of Theosophy is but one link in the great thought-chain
which the disciple does not completely fashion until he has
attained to self-knowledge.
But just as in the great Master's "Pastoral Symphony" there is
one beautiful theme that forever suggests the whole, and reminds
one always of moving lightly along a placid stream with the blue
sky overhead, green trees on either shore, and Nature's feathered
songsters singing to the accompaniment of the lapping wavelets,
so there is one theme in the great Theosophic Symphony which is
perpetually echoing in the disciple's mind as he moves along the
stream of life. And this is the teaching of the duality of human
For an adequate comprehension of this teaching, it is necessary
to understand the Theosophical doctrine of the seven principles
of man, which may be found clearly and simply explained on page
89 of the Point Loma Edition of The Key to Theosophy, by H.P.
Briefly, Theosophy teaches that man is made up of two natures,
variously described as the higher and the lower, the god and the
beast, the immortal and the mortal, the angel and the demon, the
incorruptible and the corruptible, the spiritual and the animal,
The higher nature is divided into three principles and the lower
into four; and between this higher triad and the lower quaternary
does our center of consciousness forever hover -- now aspiring
towards the god-like qualities of the higher nature, and now
yielding to the seductions of the animal soul.
Thus the mind of man is at one time the mirror that reflects the
"Image of God," and at another time the "playground of the
senses," which delude, corrupt, and may eventually destroy that
which makes us different from merely ratiocinating animals.
Once gain a clear understanding of this teaching of the duality
of human nature, and season your understanding with a knowledge
of the doctrines of karma and reincarnation, etc., and all the
contradictions in human nature seen in the history of great and
small men of the past, and in the lives of your contemporaries,
and best of all in your own life, will disappear.
In THE BHAGAVAD-GITA or "Book of Devotion," as translated by
William Q. Judge, the second great Theosophical Teacher of
modern times, and dedicated by him "to those who truly love their
fellowmen," we find that Chapter XVI treats of "Devotion through
Discrimination between Godlike and Demoniacal Natures."
Here we read:
> Fearlessness, sincerity, assiduity in devotion, generosity,
> self-restraint, piety, and alms-giving, study, mortification and
> rectitude; harmlessness, veracity, and freedom from anger,
> resignation, equanimity, and not speaking of the faults of
> others, universal compassion, modesty and mildness; patience,
> power, fortitude and purity, discretion, dignity,
> unrevengefulness and freedom from conceit -- these are the marks
> of him whose virtues are of a godlike character . . . Those
> . . . who are born with demoniacal dispositions are marked by
> hypocrisy, pride, anger, presumption, harshness of speech, and
> ignorance . . . There are two kinds of natures in beings in
> this world, that which is godlike, and the other which is
> demoniacal; the godlike hath been fully declared, hear now from
> me . . . what the demoniacal is.
> Those who are born with the demoniacal disposition . . . know
> not purity or right behavior, they possess no truthfulness. They
> deny that the universe has any truth in it, saying it is not
> governed by law, declaring that it hath no Spirit; they say
> creatures are produced alone through the union of the sexes, and
> that all is for enjoyment only.
> Maintaining this view, their souls being ruined, their minds
> contracted, with natures perverted, enemies of the world, they
> are born to destroy. They indulge insatiable desires, are full
> of hypocrisy, fast-fixed in false beliefs through their
> delusions. They indulge in unlimited reflections which end only
> in annihilation, convinced until death that the enjoyment of the
> objects of their desires is the supreme good.
> Fast-bound by the hundred chords of desire, prone to lust and
> anger, they seek by injustice and the accumulation of wealth for
> the gratification of their own lusts and appetites. "This today
> hath been acquired by me, and that object of my heart I shall
> obtain; this wealth I have, and that also shall be mine. This
> foe have I already slain, and others will I forthwith vanquish; I
> am the lord, I am powerful, and I am happy. I am rich and with
> precedence among men; where is there another like unto me? I
> shall make sacrifices, give alms, and enjoy."
> In this manner, do those speak who are deluded. Confounded by
> all manner of desires, entangled in the net of delusion, firmly
> attached to the gratification of their desires, they descend into
> hell. Esteeming themselves very highly, self-willed, full of
> pride and ever in pursuit of riches, they perform worship with
> hypocrisy . . . only for outward show.
In studying the present condition of the world, especially of
Europe, after "discriminating between the godlike and demoniacal
natures," one is made painfully conscious of the fact that there
has not been much evidence of the godlike nature in this titanic
struggle. Indeed, is there much evidence of the godlike nature
anywhere? Not MUCH -- but heaven be praised, there is still SOME!
Else had the world been little better than a shambles or foul
dumping-ground for the fallen angels who were not fit to inhabit
more celestial regions.
We are taught that the divine nature in man, if given half a
chance to manifest as lord of the body and mind (and it is a
question of personal choice in each individual), can redeem this
old world of ours. Our Leaders have repeated over and over again
that in the application of Theosophical principles to the daily
life of humanity lies the solution of all the problems that
confront us. And this assertion every earnest student of
Theosophy is ready to echo, for the reason that he has found it
so in his own life and in his own circle -- however limited that
circle may outwardly appear.
Having been a student of Katherine Tingley's from childhood, the
writer feels perfectly confident that, in the universal
application of the teachings of Theosophy, as demonstrated by
Katherine Tingley in her Raja-Yoga School and College, lies the
only PERMANENT cure for all disharmony and misery in the world --
national or international, personal or general. Any system of
compromise or force will never PERMANENTLY stop bloodshed and
strife. Any system which is not built on the sure foundation of
spiritual knowledge and a reliance on the divine nature in man
will at best be but a temporary palliative; it cannot permanently
cure. It will be dealing with EFFECTS and not with CAUSES. Thus
have we been taught by Katherine Tingley.
The world is in chains in the truest sense. Tom Paine said:
> What are the iron chains that HANDS have wrought?
> The hardest chain to break is made of THOUGHT.
How shall we break these chains? Learn to think rightly. Who
will teach us? Carlyle says somewhere in his lecture on "The Hero
as King," that if Cromwell had been supported by millions instead
of only by tens and hundreds, all England might have become a
Christian land! The sincere Theosophist is firmly convinced that
if Katherine Tingley were supported by millions and millions, as
she is by hundreds and thousands, there could be no war in Europe
today, and the terrible incubus of so-called "preparedness," of
distrust and brutality, would be lifted. How do we know this?
Because she does not waste her precious time meddling with
EFFECTS and REMEDIES: she gets down to fundamental CAUSES, and
applies the old adage that "An ounce of prevention is worth a
pound of cure."
What is the principal cause of the present conflict and
separateness in the human family? One of the Greek Sages said
that nothing but the body and its desires was the cause of all
disharmony in the world. The present war in Europe the result of
bodily desires? -- Not DIRECTLY, perhaps; but INDIRECTLY, most
certainly. Listen to this from THE BHAGAVAD-GITA, and trace the
connection between the body and its desires and all the wrong in
> ARJUNA: By what . . . is man propelled to commit offenses;
> seemingly against his will and as if constrained by some secret
> KRISHNA: It is lust which instigates him. It is passion . . .
> insatiable, and full of sin. Know this to be the enemy of man on
> earth . . . By this -- the constant enemy of the wise man,
> formed from desire which rageth like fire and is never to be
> appeased -- is discriminative knowledge surrounded. Its empire
> is over the senses and organs, the thinking principle and the
> discriminating faculty also; by means of these it cloudeth
> discrimination and deludeth the Lord of the body. Therefore
> . . . thou shouldst conquer this sin which is the destroyer of
> knowledge and of spiritual discernment.
Thus it is evident that, while the desires of the body may not be
the IMMEDIATE promptings which lead to all strife and conflict,
yet it is the gratification of these desires in one form or
another which "cloudeth discrimination and deludeth the Lord of
the body," and which is "the destroyer of knowledge and of
spiritual discernment." And without knowledge and spiritual
discernment, how can we hope to avoid strife and conflict? Thus
the old Greek Sage was quite right.
H.P. Blavatsky, our first Teacher, wrote: "The one terrible and
only cause of the disturbance of harmony is selfishness." This in
no sense contradicts the words of the Greek Sage. It is more
explanatory than antithetical. It is only the lower nature of
man which is selfish. The higher nature is always unselfish,
compassionate, and just; for it is always conscious of being at
one with the spiritual side, the higher nature, of every other
It should be remembered that the brain-mind of man, unless
illuminated by the light of the Higher Self, is, according to
Theosophy, just as much a part of the lower, animal, personal
self as are the purely animal functions such as eating and
sleeping, breathing and reproduction, living and dying. Hence
the great error of our modern educational methods in placing
intellectual achievements on a pedestal as the final goal. "Even
ignorance," we are taught in Theosophy, "is better than
head-learning with no soul-wisdom to illuminate and guide it."
The selfish man never can hope to attain soul-wisdom, which
really means self-knowledge; for "self-knowledge is of loving
deeds the child." Neither can the selfish man ever hope to become
the Lord of his own body; for his very selfishness is a part of
that body, and "self-preservation is the first law of nature" --
or of the lower aspect of nature, we should prefer to say.
It is always well to turn to original sources for information;
and so to illustrate this point further, I will quote again from
H.P. Blavatsky's writings:
> Every human organ and each cell in the latter has a keyboard of
> its own, like that of a piano, only that it registers and emits
> sensations instead of sounds. Every key contains the
> potentiality of good or bad, of producing harmony or disharmony.
> This depends on the impulse given and the combinations produced
> . . . If the impulse comes from the "Wisdom above," the Force
> applied being noetic or spiritual, the results will be actions
> worthy of the divine propeller; if from the "terrestrial,
> devilish wisdom" (psychic power), man's activities will be
> selfish, based solely on the exigencies of his physical, hence
> animal, nature. The above may sound to the average reader as
> pure nonsense; but every Theosophist must understand when told
> that . . . the cells of his body answer to both physical and
> spiritual impulses.
> Verily that body, so desecrated by Materialism and man himself,
> is the temple of the Holy Grail, the Adytum of the grandest, nay,
> of all, the mysteries of nature in our solar universe. That body
> is an Aeolian harp, chorded with two sets of strings, one made of
> pure silver, the other of catgut. When the breath from the
> divine Fiat brushes softly over the former, man becomes like unto
> HIS God -- but the other set feels it not. It needs the breeze
> of a strong terrestrial wind, impregnated with animal effluvia,
> to set its animal chords vibrating.
> It is the function of the physical, lower mind to act upon the
> physical organs and their cells; but, it is the higher mind ALONE
> which can influence the atoms interacting in those cells, which
> interaction is alone capable of exciting the brain . . . to a
> mental representation of spiritual ideas far beyond any objects
> on this material plane.
This dual aspect of man will explain the shocking contradictions
in the lives of some of the world's greatest geniuses; and we
believe that the main distinction between a mere genius and a
true spiritual Teacher is that the mind of the latter responds
ONLY to the "breath of the divine Fiat," whereas the mere genius
SOMETIMES responds to the "strong terrestrial wind, impregnated
with animal effluvia." Many men -- alas! -- seem rarely to
respond to anything else!
We do not believe that it was the "breath of the divine Fiat
. . . brushing softly over the strings of pure silver" of Poe's
Aeolian harp, when he wrote THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE,
ANNABEL LEE, or THE RAVEN. Music there is, to be sure; but it is
of the catgut variety.
The divine breath is not to be found in charnel houses or "tombs
by the sea." It is always present in the sunshine, on the
mountain heights, or under Heaven's lightning, if you will; but
it has naught to do with ravens and trained gorilla cut-throats.
Most of Poe's word-pictures seem to be the echoes in a great
intellect of the animal chords vibrating in anything but a
wholesome manner. The same may be found in Dean Swift, as in
that terrible MODEST PROPOSAL of his; and it is running all
Poor Byron! Is there a more pitiful spectacle in all literature?
Cursed with a terrible heredity, revolting against cant, hut
without the self-control necessary to the true reformer, he
plunged into excesses that were almost as disgusting as the
hypocrisy which he abhorred. And yet the Divine did speak in him
at times, as when he wrote:
> What signifies SELF? . . . The mere selfish calculation ought
> never to be made on such occasions; and, at present, it shall not
> be computed by me . . . I should almost regret that my own
> affairs went well, when those of nations are in peril.
And then, what a self-revelation is here, what an acknowledgment
of the duality of human nature!
> Like the Chaldaean, he could watch the stars,
> Till he had peopled them with beings bright
> As their own beams; and earth, and earth-born jars,
> And human frailties were forgotten quite:
> Could he have kept his spirit to that flight
> He had been happy; but this clay will sink
> Its spark immortal, envying it the light
> To which it mounts, as if to break the link
> That keeps us from yon heaven which woos us to its brink.
What if poor Byron had had a Teacher like Katherine Tingley, whom
he could forever love and honor, and who, with the tenderness of
a mother and the wisdom of a Seer could have saved him from
breaking "the link that keeps us from yon heaven which woos us to
its brink." Does he not feel the need of such a Teacher, when he
cries in bitterness, but at the same time with the courage of the
> And thus, untaught in youth my heart to tame,
> My springs of life were poison'd. 'Tis too late!
> Yet I am changed; though still enough the same
> In strength to bear what time can not abate,
> And feed on bitter fruits without accusing Fate.
Byron's life is to me one of the greatest lessons in the duality
of human nature I have ever studied. Untaught in his youth his
heart to tame, the springs of his life were poisoned, till it was
too late! And he failed -- or at best only partially succeeded in
fulfilling his mission. Hypocrisy in his own country spurned him
on account of his excesses -- and yet read his pictures of vice
in DON JUAN with as much relish as they ate their juicy
roast-beef! And Byron spat on hypocrisy, but neglected to purify
himself. So of course he failed!
What might not a Teacher like Katherine Tingley have done for
such a character as Byron, with a nature which was so strong in
both directions? We can only speculate; but inasmuch as we are
all miniature Byrons, we can tell what she has done for us. I
believe the first lesson she would have taught him, would have
been something that is as old as the ages -- as indeed is
Theosophy itself -- but which in the light of the present
discussion becomes something more than a mere figure of speech;
to wit, that the body is the temple of the living Christ; or, as
Novalis expresses it, "Every created man is a revelation in the
It is by teaching men so to live that they continually regard the
body as the temple of the living Christ, that Katherine Tingley
lays the foundation for a regenerated humanity. And with the
student who has sincerely striven to profit by her teachings,
this is not a mere theory -- it is an ever-present consciousness;
and one who so regards his body would no more think of allowing
his appetites and selfish desires to run riot in his adytum, than
the priestess of the temple of Apollo would permit her sanctuary
to be desecrated by the degenerate bacchanalia or the wild
frenzies of the Maenads.
In this connection I am reminded of a warning given by H.P.
Blavatsky to her students as to the delusions that often beset
the path of those who seek spiritual knowledge half-heartedly.
> There are those whose reasoning powers have been so distorted by
> foreign influences that they imagine that animal passions can be
> so sublimated and elevated that their fury, force, and fire can,
> so to speak, be turned inwards; that they can be stored and shut
> up in one's breast, until their energy is, not expanded, but
> turned toward higher and more holy purposes; namely, until their
> collective and unexpended strength enables their possessor to
> enter the true Sanctuary of the Soul and stand therein in the
> presence of the HIGHER SELF!
> For this purpose they will not struggle with their passions nor
> slay them. They will simply, by a strong effort of will, put
> down the fierce flames and keep them at bay within their natures,
> allowing the fire to smolder under a thin layer of ashes. They
> submit joyfully to the torture of the Spartan boy who allowed the
> fox to devour his entrails rather than part with it. Oh, poor,
> blind visionaries!
> As well hope that a band of drunken chimney-sweeps, hot and
> greasy from their work, may be shut up in a Sanctuary hung with
> pure white linen, and that instead of soiling and turning it by
> their presence into a heap of dirty shreds, they will become
> masters in and of the sacred recess, and finally emerge from it
> as immaculate as that recess.
Many people imagine that it is difficult to be a good
Theosophist. They have a strange distorted notion that one must
"give up" so much! The only things that I know of that a true
Theosophist must give up, are those things which he is better off
without. He must give up the "flesh-pots of Egypt," of course;
but in giving them up he gets in return, without seeking it, what
the whole world is looking for and rarely finds -- health, peace,
Theosophy requires nothing of any man except that he be what a
man who is conscious of his divinity, of being something more
than a thinking animal, OUGHT to be. And any man who fails to be
a Theosophist -- even though he never heard of the name -- pays
the penalty for his transgression by that very transgression; for
"as ye sow, so must ye also reap."
William Q. Judge tells us:
> The true road is plain and easy to find; it is so easy that very
> many would-be students miss it, because they cannot believe it to
> be so simple.
And H.P. Blavatsky says:
> It is easy to become a Theosophist. Any person of average
> intellectual capacities, and a leaning toward the metaphysical;
> of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his
> neighbor than in receiving help himself; one who is ever ready to
> sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of other people; and who
> loves Truth, Goodness, and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the
> benefit they may confer -- is a Theosophist.
And yet Theosophists are comparatively few; for the reason that
none save him who endeavors to square his life to the above
definition can properly be called a Theosophist. The strength of
the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society lies not in
the number of its members, but in their earnestness and
sincerity; for our three great Teachers have ever insisted that
we do not make the great mistake of the majority of mankind in
regarding moral precepts and practice as the least important
element in their religion. Theosophy itself is synonymous with
everlasting truth, and therefore imperishable; and "Theosophist
is, who Theosophy does," said H.P. Blavatsky.
Theosophy teaches that it is in the mind that the great battle of
life must be fought by every sincere disciple. The old axiom
that "Two things cannot occupy the same place at the same time"
is in constant use by our teachers in urging us to keep our minds
ever filled with images of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Hence it is that good music and high-class drama are such
important factors in the Raja-Yoga education, as indeed are all
They are something more than the means of relaxation or than mere
accomplishments. They serve to keep the mind filled with those
thoughts and aspirations which give the higher nature a freer
hand, if one may use such an expression, to rule this little
kingdom of ours. One cannot very well imagine that a man whose
mind was largely occupied with debating whether he would have
pig's feet or tenderloin for dinner could very well appreciate
this beautiful fragment from LYCIDAS:
> Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
> The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
> The white pink, and the pansy freak'd with jet,
> The glowing violet,
> The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,
> With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
> And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
> Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
> And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
> To strew the laureat herse where Lycid lies.
And yet, how many people are there whose minds are continuously
occupied with those things in life which tend to lift us from
animalism and sordidness into spirituality and noble ideals? Not
very many, I fear.
Though they would perhaps be ashamed to admit it, it is none the
less true that a goodly percentage of humanity have not advanced
very far in their notions of worldly happiness from that
described in the medieval legends as existing in the land of
Cockayne, where the houses were made of cake and the shingles of
pie-crust; where roasted geese turned themselves on the streets
for the gourmands and buttered larks fell from the heavens with
garlic in their bills to season themselves for the epicures! I
suppose to bring it up to date to suit the taste of an American,
we would have to add that the beds were made of peanuts and
popcorn, and the stairways of chewing-gum!
We still have to be reminded sometimes that we eat to live, and
not live to eat. I am ashamed to confess it, but I can well
remember when, as a child, I was invited to a party, and because
there was no icecream and cake, when I got home I told my mother,
when she asked me if I had enjoyed the party: "Why, Mama, they
didn't have any party!"
I have been a Raja-Yoga student for fifteen years since then, and
I hope I have learned better! And yet we must eat; there is no
doubt about that. Indeed, I might say that perhaps the dietary
system in vogue at the Point Loma institution is one of the
greatest secrets of the remarkable standard of health -- both
mental and physical -- which prevails in Lomaland.
In September 1913 Madame Tingley returned from a trip to Europe,
whither she had gone to direct the International Theosophical
Peace Congress at Visingso, Sweden, and to take part in the
Twentieth World's Peace Congress at The Hague. Accompanying her
were a group of students from the Raja-Yoga College and Academy.
At Boston Madame Tingley consented to give an interview to Miss
Gertrude Stevenson, a staff reporter of the Boston TRAVELER and
HERALD. This little lady, like all pure-minded and honest
people, loved Madame Tingley at first sight, and let her heart
out in a very appreciative account of her interview in the papers
she represented. In the Boston TRAVELER of September 15, 1913,
appeared this interview, from which I quote the following:
> If the twenty-eight pupils who are Mrs. Tingley's companions are
> typical of the Raja-Yoga students, the Theosophical Leader has
> much to her credit. Never have I seen a finer group of young men
> and women in my life. Their carriage, their glowing health,
> their straightforward, direct gaze, and their serene countenances
> can hardly be duplicated in any college group in the country. At
> the same time they are as husky, red-blooded specimens of
> humanity as any student of eugenics could require.
A day or two later, quite by accident, Miss Stevenson met this
same group of Raja-Yoga students on the train. Among other
things, she said: "In talking with Madame Tingley the other day,
she said that she had a special system of dieting. Can you give
me any further details on this matter? You know everybody is
interested in 'eats.'"
She was informed that Madame Tingley did not dogmatize on what we
should eat and what we should not eat, more than she did on other
subjects; that in the Raja-Yoga College no eating was allowed
between meals, and the students soon found that they did not care
to eat between meals: that the meals were served regularly and
consisted of the most wholesome and nutritious food, cooked by
volunteer workers under the most sanitary conditions, under the
supervision of the head physician of the institution.
In fact we eat, in the right quantity, that food which is
described in THE BHAGAVAD-GITA as attractive to the wise man; to
> The food which increases the length of days, vigor and strength,
> which keeps one free from sickness, of tranquil mind, and
> contented, and which is savory, nourishing, of permanent benefit
> and congenial to the body.
"Do the Theosophists at Point Loma eat meat?" is a question often
asked by interested inquirers. Some do and some do not -- it is
a matter of individual choice and evolution. But there are many
Theosophists who feel that it is unethical to kill animals for
food, especially when it is not absolutely essential to the
restoration of health. And these Theosophists find it difficult
to believe that anything which is unethical can, in the long run,
We do not go to extremes in this matter and make a dogma of it.
We believe that if we do our full duty by our fellowmen and
strive to follow the golden rule, matters of diet and outward
practices are of secondary Importance; or, perhaps we should say,
are more a means than an end in themselves.
There are many Theosophists who believe that we become like what
we feed upon, and who also know from personal experience that the
eating of flesh or of rich foods of any kind, tends to strengthen
the animal propensities and makes the path of self-conquest more
Many a man who spends sleepless nights and is cross and
disagreeable the following day, blind to the beauties of nature,
and indifferent to the nobler promptings of his heart might trace
back his insomnia and his bearishness to the well-garnished
beefsteak and the heavy puddings he ate for supper the night
If we feed ourselves like hogs, the chances are that we shall
grow porcine in our tendencies; if we bolt our food like dogs, we
are apt to be currish in other ways; if we are excessive
meat-eaters, we need not be surprised to find ourselves growing
more and more like the carnivora in other respects.
There seems to be nothing very illogical in believing this to be
so, though it is not well to dogmatize on such matters; for there
are no doubt times when a good physician -- even a good
theosophical physician -- will recommend a meat diet as essential
to the restoration of health; and, until we have evolved to a
condition far superior to that in which most of us now find
ourselves, let us by all means do as good doctors tell us to do.
By Jefferson D. Malvern
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, August 1916, pages 142-50.]
King Carvan, son of Irith, had been journeying all day: on
horseback across the plain and through the forest, and now on
foot up the pass that lies between Mount Wandelosse and the
Beacon. By nightfall he would have been king for a night and a
day; and already he was taking such a step, venturing into such
regions as, in plain truth, had not been tempted before, except
by Cian and Conan, his brothers, during the history of ten
thousand years, or since the passing of Wandelosse the Mighty.
For these Mountains of the Sun were inviolate, impassable, and
terror-haunted. They bounded the empire eastward, and had done
so since the empire began. No king had been as foolhardy and
ambitious as to lead armies into their fastnesses; no discoverer
so enamored of the wild as to look on them with longing eyes.
One knew only that beyond Mount Wandelosse, beyond the Beacon,
there were vast slopes and precipices upsweeping: lonely green
places, and then places craggy with granite where no greenness
was; and so on and up by wave on wave of mountain, to peaks
covered with eternal snow, and peaks vaster and more terrific
beyond; haunts where the wolf-packs howled, heights where the
eagles soared; desolations where presences abode that were more
terrible than either; -- more beneficent, perhaps, but more
terrible certainly; for one can make some sort of fight against
natural things, even against a wolf-pack; but gods, whether they
be hostile or loving -- there is no opposing them.
Human feet had, indeed, trodden this pass and these two nearest
peaks; or so legend would have it, and none disbelieved. But
that was ten thousand years ago: in a titanic and traditional
time, long before history was written.
Wandelosse the Mighty, Father of Gods and men, it was said, after
he had led the people into that land, and after he had built the
great city, Karaltwen, and reigned in it a hundred years, had
caused a chamber to be hewn out upon the very peak of his
mountain, and a cairn to be raised over it; and having bidden his
people farewell, had gone up there alone; to sleep, perchance, or
to watch there through certain ages; not to die. And he would
come again, it was said, singing his ancient song for victory, if
ever the national need were supreme, and called for him -- and if
the king then reigning should know how to invoke his aid.
Such need had never arisen, until now. The history of Karaltwen
recorded no grand disaster of plague or dearth; and had there
been invasion at any time, it was easily repelled. This was not
an ambitious or a restless people, to bring trouble on others,
and so presently on themselves.
A decade ago, and their ships were on the seven seas, their
scholars honored at a hundred courts; their rich dwelling in
piety and peace, and even their poorest sleek with content. Ten
years ago; and it seemed a Golden Age aeons distant. For there
had been nine years of plague, pestilence, and famine since, and
one of battle, murder, and sudden death; and now let the Gods
ward off destruction if they would, for it was beyond the power
With one in every three dead of the Yellow Death, and the rest
feeble with hunger, what fight could be made when the blonde
giants came out of the north, killing, plundering, and burning
everywhere? What wonder if the invading horde swept away such
puny armies as could be raised to oppose them, and was already
within striking distance of the sacred city?
It was at that point that the druids came to the king -- not
Carvan, but Cian -- and bade him ride forth on to the mountain to
invoke the help of Wandelosse the Mighty. It was then, for the
first time in all history, that the archdruid gave up the secret
of invocation that had been handed down to him, whispering it in
the ear of King Cian as he mounted his horse to ride forth.
Cian the Politic -- who had schemed so long and so wisely for the
well-being of his people; whose reign, until the years of
disaster, had been so wisely ordered, so wonderfully prosperous
-- had sat in his saddle for a minute, two, in thought; then
called for his chief minister, and for Conan his brother and
heir; had taken the golden torque of his sovereignty from his
neck, and given it to Conan, saying: "You are to wear it, unless
I return by tomorrow evening." He had not returned; and on the
morrow, in the evening, Conan the Bold had been proclaimed king.
In the morning, Conan too received the secret and rode forth
wearing the torque. He returned in the evening of the second
day, solemn, even anxious of visage; and with little to say but
that he would go against the invaders in the morning. He had
gone against them, and fallen; and left as heir to his kingdom
none but this Carvan, the youngest of the brothers: Carvan the
Fool, or the Bard, as some few called him -- of whom no one would
expect much in such troublous times as these.
For Carvan had never looked to be king; would rather have dreaded
the possibility, had it occurred to him. One or other of his
brothers would marry and have children, and he would be left in
peace, he thought, to dream in the forest, to watch the changes
of the sky above the mountains, and fathom with childlike-soaring
mind the life of the Gods who haunted them.
A gentle dreamer was Carvan, for whom the wildwood flowers were
more than all the glories of king-craft; and the children of the
poor dearer than cargoed ships on the sea, or fields golden with
increase, or treaties of alliance with powerful kings.
It may be supposed, then, that there was consternation everywhere
when news came of Conan's heroic death; what kind of help should
be from Carvan the Fool? -- Whose good deeds, even, betrayed the
lack of an organizing mind; since he had not the wit to set
others doing them, but must needs get about them secretly
It was whispered hopelessly in street and palace; and but for the
archdruid, I think, the true succession would have been passed
over; and some minister with a head for statecraft, or captain
fitted for war, would have been chosen.
Hoova was old and gifted with wisdom more than worldly, and by
virtue of his office had the last word. He knew Carvan well, and
the ways of the Immortals better, and was as adamant: this was
not the time, he said, to offend the Gods by turning from the
line of Wandelosse the Mighty. So in his turn Carvan had heard
the secret, and ridden forth from a despairing sullen capital, up
towards the mountains of the Gods.
Over the cultivated lands, and into the forest that he loved: the
shadow-world of green umbrage, shot with golden light-flecks
above, and beautiful below with the dark light of a myriad
bluebells in bloom. He heard the blackbird singing; he heard the
noonday chanting of the thrush, and the sweet wandering shout of
Why should he think of war and disaster, when the lyricism of
these proclaimed the nearness of dear and sacred Beings; when
immortality rippled over the green fern leagues, and every acorn
brooded upon druid secrets of the Gods? In your hands, 0 Mighty
Ones! Your keeping, 0 Everlasting Law! And he too, was he not a
quivering center of sentience, of divinity, in the midst of this
ocean of delight: a soul to perceive, to know, to adore?
So he came to the foot of the pass and the beginning of the
hallowed region, and went forward in exceeding great joy. Here
no foot had ever trodden, save those of his two brothers, and of
the great God himself, in all the ages of the race. He drew deep
breaths as he went; the mountain air was pure joy tingling
through his being.
It was, after all, no sorrow or burden, as he had thought, but a
privilege, to be king -- in these miserable times at least: since
not otherwise might one make the momentous and sublime journey,
nor confront the Immortals in their darling haunts.
He remembered how Cian's face had changed when Hoova whispered
the secret to him; seeming to age suddenly, and the determination
with which he had struggled hoping against hope, through the last
ten years, going out from it in a resigned heroic despair. He
remembered how Conan's warlike features had lighted with a gleam
of fierce, desperate joy; and how he, too, had ridden forth a
How terrible the secret must have been, he had thought, to work
changes so great on such men as Cian and Conan! And yet, how
simple a thing it was, when he in his turn heard it! What had
they elected to give, he wondered.
An intuition told him: Cian belike had offered his kinghood, so
infinitely dear to him: the daily planning and scheming and
governance of things, which was the work and inward nourishment
of his being. That was why Cian had not returned: he would not
take back the gift he had offered, even though it was unaccepted.
And Conan the Brave would have offered his life itself; and so
had deliberately lost it yesterday on the battlefield.
Tears filled Carvan's eyes, of pride in his brothers, and grief
for their sorrow. Dear, heroic Conan! Kind, wise, all-ordering
Cian! Why had their great gifts, their supreme sacrifice, availed
As for himself, the problem presented itself to him not as what
should he sacrifice but as what did he value most? Let him find
out that, and the rest would take care of itself; to know it was
what mattered; to sacrifice it would be the natural thing, and of
The kinghood had not been enough, as from Cian who loved it; it
would be an insult to the God if offered by himself, who held it
at a straw's price -- indeed, but for this one privilege it
conferred on him, rather as a distasteful thing and a burden.
Better to follow Conan, and offer his life -- and with what joy
-- to save the women in the little homes of the land, the men
toiling in the fields, and the children of the poor from slavery
and sorrow and dishonor! But death for Conan had meant an end, at
least for ages, to facing the perils that he loved; it was the
greatest sacrifice Conan knew how to make, and yet had not
availed. Whereas for him it would mean to ride untrammeled on
the winds above the tops of the forest below there; to go
unforbidden where he would among these august mountains of the
Ah Death, that many feared, how lovely a thing wast thou: that
freed the soul of mortality and partial knowledge; that
discovered to it the secrets of the pine tree and the larch tree,
of golden sunlight and purple shadow, of the immense blue
empyrean where the winds and lightning sported! To have the
myriad-changing and adorable universe for throne and couch and
playground and workshop; to claim kindred with the Mighty Ones
among the mountains, who watch and toil and revel and are not
afflicted, and neither change nor pass nor die!
Carvan the Bard knew that if he gave his life, the gift would be
useless. It was something, indeed, that he was very happy to
possess; but it was something he would be still happier without.
And the arch-druid had said: that which most thou valuest.
He was high up in the pass now, on a road that in winter would be
a roaring torrent, but now made traveling sometimes difficult,
but nowhere impossible. The heat of the day was over, and on the
tops of the pines and the larches the sunlight fell with a golden
and mellow glow. The silence of the place was altogether
wonderful and lovely.
On either hand steep, tree-covered banks soared up as high above
him, almost, as a lark will fly from her nest; so that only
occasionally, when the valley widened or the precipice was broken
on this side or that, was there seeing the giant shoulder of the
Beacon, purple in heather, on his left, or the giant peak of
Wandelosse on his right. Now the shadow of an eagle, or a hawk,
sailing far in the blue; now a glimpse of a wild goat poised
aloft there on the crag head; here the hum of wild bees, the
flitting of many-colored butterflies' wings, or the sudden
scatter of a rabbit, and silence, and golden light, and the
sacred spirit of the mountains. What was the thing he valued
The sun was near setting by the time he left the pass, and came
out into the larchwoods of a high upland valley. There, as he
knew, he must turn to the right, and upward through the trees;
then to the right again, or westward, and out over the wild
northern slopes of Wandelosse to reach the path which, according
to tradition, the Father of the Race had traversed of old.
Through the fairy gloom of the trees he went, and over the carpet
of brown needles. As the green darkness above him was broken,
now and again, by a golden shaft flashing on the blue
iridescence, more luminous than jewels, of a jay's wing: so his
mood, that had passed into quiet awe and wonder, would be kindled
momentarily by thought-flashes almost agonizing in their beauty.
In the murmur of the wind in the branches, he heard the voice of
the eternal silence; and his soul within him glowed lofty,
august, and eternal as that.
In the twilight he came out from the woods, through little trees
that stood apart in the midst of the greenest of grasses,
over-silvered now; and beheld immense skies westward still
glorious with the shadowy flame of the sunset's afterglow.
Now indeed he was in the Holiest of Holies, and his whole being
cried out and quivered in ecstatic joy. He stood on the open
slope of the mountain of the Immortals, drew near to the dear and
awful presence of the Father of Gods and men. He went on, the
path clearly and marvelously marked before him, westward still
and upward, the soul in him pulsating with superhuman gladness:
come to its own, knowing itself, one with the Gods, with eternal
and boundless life.
Himself, and not himself: an eternal glory of which he, Carvan,
was but the evanescent shadow.
He knew what thing he valued most. It was his soul, the Soul.
The slope of Wandelosse rises very gradually at this point.
There are a thousand yards or more of almost level thicket and
bogland between the lip of the chasm, up which he had come, and
the upward sweep of heather and granite that ends in the peak and
Here and there are alders many, and sloe-bushes, and tangles of
bramble with crimson sprawling limbs; dog-roses to make autumn
wistful with their scarlet and orange-colored hips; whitethorn to
breathe out sweetness upon May, and to bear haws of dark flame in
the midst of October's delicate yellowness and mists.
From here you can see, often, the shoulder of the Beacon beyond
the pass, when the peak of Wandelosse itself is quite hidden from
you, either by the near thicket, or by intervening knolls and
juttings on the vast mountainside itself.
Through this thicket he pressed on, the way growing more and more
difficult as he went; then out on to the western slope, and on
and up, until long after night had come up over the wild regions
eastward, and the sky was wholly strewn with mirific hosts of
stars. Oh, beautiful over the mountains beautiful beyond telling
in God's sacred place.
No, not the life, but the Soul. What would it be, to be without
that -- to be, and be soulless? Well, that beauty existed: there
was the sky, the wind, the mountains.
"Son, what gift art thou prepared to give?"
"Father, I give thee what I can. Not my kinghood, since it is
nothing either to me or to thee. Not my life, for I value it at
nothing. Take thou my Soul."
The shadowy flame form towered up over the peak above, awful in
its golden and violet beauty, into the starry vastness . . .
And Carvan the son of Irith sank down on the mountainside --
It was the next evening, as history relates, that Carvan the
Mighty rode into Karaltwen. Somehow, the city went mad with joy
as soon as the watchman heard his horse's hoofs, and proclaimed
the news of his coming. Men swore that he had added a foot to
his stature since he went out, and that his face and form shone
with the light of godhood.
Out he rode again the same night; out with the strangest army
that ever followed leader through the city gates: just the rabble
that met him in the streets and that followed because the glory
and beauty of him impelled them to follow.
How they came by arms at all it were a mystery to tell. A
hundred, two hundred, perhaps five hundred there were of them:
the ragtag and bobtail of the place: the poor and the maimed and
the halt and the blind; they heard him singing the Song of
Wandelosse the Mighty, the war song of all immortal war-songs,
And he fell upon the foe at the dawn of the morning, and singing,
made slaughter of them; he himself, they say, slaying his
thousands as he sang; even as none had fought and slain and sung
since Wandelosse the Mighty.
The rabble that followed him, made giants by his virtue, heroes
by his heroic song, were better than the tens of thousands of
veterans that were against them; and they broke the blonde
invaders, and scattered them; and followed them up, and broke
them again and again, until in all the land there was none left
of them alive.
Ever as he led his men in victory, Carvan the Mighty sang the
Song of Wandelosse, the song that had been forgotten through the
ages; and his men, hearing him, became not as men, but as Gods
battling; and it seemed to all the people that a God was their
king, and that the Father of Gods and men had come into the flesh
to lead them.
Sweet prosperity followed upon triumph, and gentle peace and
wisdom upon war; and once more it was even as it had been,
according to the songs and traditions of the bards, when
Wandelosse the Mighty reigned, in the ancient days and in the
dawn of time.
THE LAW OF KARMA
By H. Travers
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, August 1915, pages 101-9.]
One of the chief Theosophical teachings is that of the law of
karma, the law in accordance with which every man reaps that
which he has sown. Every experience which we meet is a
consequence of causes which we ourselves set in motion at some
time in the past; and our present acts and thoughts will give
rise to other consequences in the future. This law thus secures
perfect equity of fortune for every man, and no circumstance is
either casual or arbitrarily inflicted.
The doctrine, however, cannot be understood without knowledge of
reincarnation; for the period of a single life on earth does not
comprise enough time to manifest all the workings of karma. It
is obvious that many of the experiences we are now meeting were
not caused by anything we did in this life; and in such cases,
the causes were set in motion in a previous life or lives.
In the expression, "law of karma," the word "law" is used to
denote a rule of nature; in the same sense, in fact, as that in
which the word is used in science. Thus the law of karma is as
much a natural fact as the law of gravitation. The existence of
this law is demonstrated to our mind by means of study and
observation. But our neglect of the fact of reincarnation has
naturally blinded our eyes.
It will be observed that this law is quite similar to certain
scientific generalizations such as the "conservation of energy,"
but that it is on a far larger scale than these scientific
Science, with its love of truth and method, its readiness to
generalize and bring things under a uniform rule, should welcome
the doctrine of karma. And it has already made considerable
steps in that direction; for it is owing to science that we
nowadays recognize the causes of so many things that once were
attributed to the "will of God" or to mere "fate."
We know now that epidemics are due to carelessness and dirt, and
that no God will save us from the natural consequences of our own
negligence in such concerns. May it not be the same with many
other of our experiences, perhaps even ALL our experiences?
Theosophy answers: Yes.
In some cases the workings of karma can readily be traced; as,
for instance, when a decrepit old age succeeds an intemperate
youth. In that case we can trace the connection between cause
and effect, link by link. Likewise, if a man incurs enmity by
his own ill-nature, we can trace the injuries he incurs at the
hands of other people to the injurious character of his own past
actions. And many other such cases can be easily imagined. But
in other cases the connection between cause and effect is not so
apparent. Yet all that is needed, in order that we may trace out
the connection, even in these cases, is more study and more
Accidents are not always easy to trace to their cause; yet we may
go a little way in the direction of a solution without much
trouble. We are normally protected from accidents by the alert
instinctive senses of our organism; but sometimes we get up in
the morning with our nerves so out of tune that these instincts
do not play their due part, and we consequently cut ourselves
with our razor, take the skin off our knuckles against the door,
and bring various other parts of our anatomy into conflicting
juxtaposition with sundry portions of inert matter. The matter
might even go to the length of throwing us under a streetcar; and
in these cases we have traced accident to carelessness, or rather
to a certain disordered condition set up in ourself by our own
This may supply a hint as to the workings of karma. May it not
be that the seeds which generate events are lurking somewhere in
our own being, ready to sprout into manifestation when occasion
offers suitable conditions?
A new-born child is like a seed, fraught with latent germs that
will unfold into character, and these seeds are the fruitage of
prior experience. But it is not only CHARACTER that is thus
carried over from life to life, but also DESTINY. This much an
astrologer might willingly admit, claiming, as he does, to be
able to read in the planetary configurations at birth not the
character alone but the destiny as well.
It is evident that, when we begin talking about such a thing as
the seed of an event, we are entering a domain where our
knowledge is defined mostly by its gaps. Nevertheless this is
not superstition or guesswork, but something that can be known
and worked out.
If any critic should say that the Theosophical explanation is
speculative, we might at least answer that so are all other
explanations, and that Theosophy, with its law of karma, is but
offering an explanation where none other exists to dispute the
field. But we do not have to stop short at mere speculation.
Let us take some simple case and examine the ordinary theories
about it. Supposing a man has a railroad accident; how would
current theories set about explaining that? We might imagine a
few devout people satisfying themselves with the reflection that
such was the will of Deity, and seeking no further. We might
imagine a very large number of people simply accepting the fact
without the slightest attempt at explanation. And we might
imagine that a scientist or philosopher, if questioned, would put
us off with the remark that the occurrence was "purely
fortuitous." In the last case we have gotten a fine phrase indeed
but nothing more. So the situation can be summed up by saying
that ordinary knowledge provides us with no explanation whatever,
leaving the field open to anyone who may have an explanation to
Here it must be admitted that even many Theosophists leave us
nearly as badly off as before when they tell us that the accident
was "our karma" -- an explanation which will strike many as being
merely a substitution of the word "karma" for the word "God."
One would like to go a little deeper than this if possible. But
first let us pause to consider some other things which we do not
know. Take that familiar illustration of "chance," the tossing
of a coin. What is the cause that determines whether it shall
fall heads or tails? Or, if you choose, take the cards and tell
me what determines the order of their dealing. It cannot be that
here we have effects without causes; and yet, if these are
effects, and if all effects have causes, these effects must have
causes. Then what are those causes? This is the field we have to
Perhaps the ancient art of divination, in its numerous forms,
some of them now being revived, might help us a little. Those
who tell fortunes by the fall of the cards, or by marks made
"casually" in the sand, or the grounds in a teacup, or the
movements of birds, must evidently think that these apparently
casual happenings are in some way connected with future events.
Perhaps there have been ancient magicians who did not merely
think this but KNEW it.
So-called casual events, then, such as those consulted in the
various kinds of divination and in observing and interpreting
omens, are mysteriously connected with other events; and by
interpreting the one, we may be able to forecast the other. This
conclusion may be arrived at either inductively by actual
observation and experience, or deductively by applying certain
known principles. The first is a question of experience, the
second a question of philosophy or science.
The conclusion that all events are interwoven with each other
seems inevitable to a scientific mind, and the contrary
conclusion is rejected as something offensive to our ideas of the
orderliness of the universe.
The fact that we do not happen to discern the connection between
one set of events and another should not militate against the
above foregone conclusion. For one thing, such ignorance is only
to be expected; for, unless our knowledge is complete, there must
be gaps in it. And here are some of the gaps; but the prospect
of filling them up is by no means hopeless; indeed it is certain
that we can fill some of them up, and there is no ground for
setting any limit to the extent of possible knowledge in that
It is useful to point out how far we have already advanced in the
casual interpretation of events through our later discoveries in
science. Science has connected together a vast mass of
phenomena, dependent on each other through the working of sundry
laws of nature that have been studied.
Such events, at one time called fortuitous, for want of a better
explanation, are now assigned to their proper causes. In other
cases, where we know that there is a causal relation, but cannot
perceive its mechanism, we postulate some "medium," such as the
"ether," to supply this place. The appearance of disturbances in
the luminous atmosphere of the sun is found to coincide with
magnetic storms on this earth; and to explain this we devise a
theory of the ether, electrons, and what not.
Astrologers are fond of pointing out that it is but a step
further to suppose a connection between the movements of the
planets and the happenings on earth; that magnetic storms are
probably but a particular effect of an alteration in some subtler
atmosphere of the earth, which alteration likewise affects men's
minds, thus causing waves of emotion and states of mind in the
To connect with each other events that seem widely dissimilar in
character and unrelated, we need a whole universe of new mediums
like the ether, unseen beings, unknown forces, and so forth; and
if we had this completer knowledge of the contents of the
universe, it might be quite easy to trace the connection between,
say, a malicious thought and a broken leg, or to find out just
what change in a man's internal economy is necessary in order to
make him lose all his money or go down in a sea-disaster.
Another interesting question is: what is the form in which the
seeds of destiny are brought over from a past incarnation, attach
themselves to the growing child, and afterwards unfold into
character and events? But this is clearly a large and complex
question and one that we can hardly expect to answer except on
the basis of a greatly improved knowledge of nature's laws.
It would be possible here to throw out many suggestive hints, the
fruit of long reflection and study, but there is more than one
reason for refraining. For one thing, space lacks for giving the
information which a student ordinarily gleans for himself from a
study of Theosophical books and reflecting thereon. For another
thing, a logical pursuance of the trains of thought suggested
would lead one to the discussion of invisible beings, such as
Elementaries and Nature-Spirits, higher forms of matter, latent
powers in man, and various other things which have to be dealt
with in a guarded manner.
This of course explains why H.P. Blavatsky leaves so many chains
of thought uncompleted and confines herself so often to
suggestive hints and partial information. Hers was the delicate
task of saying enough to show people the reality of the supreme
Science, and yet not saying enough to disclose things better not
known to the world at large.
Enough has probably been said to show that this doctrine of karma
is not mere speculation, nor matter for unquestioning belief, but
a thing that can be studied and understood; and that there is a
profound scientific background to it.
The ethical value of the doctrine of karma is of course strongly
emphasized by Theosophical writers on the subject. To understand
that our destinies are regulated by unerring law, as merciful as
it is just, and not left to capricious fate or arbitrary will, is
to become reconciled to our destiny.
It is satisfying to realize that there is an unerring law that
deals to each man his exact meed of weal or woe. And a new hope
and purpose is given to life when we understand that, by our
present sowing, we are making our future harvest, and that not
the smallest effort can fail of fruitage.
It may be useful to say a few words about a certain too narrow
and commercial view of karma that is sometimes taken. It is only
a mind lacking in imagination and expansiveness that can depict
to itself a kind of Recording Angel (only with a Sanskrit name
this time) sitting up aloft, or possibly somewhere inside, with a
ledger wherein are entered the debit and credit accounts of the
highly important Mr. Me, and doling out from time to time, with
apparent arbitrariness, drafts of good luck or bad in accordance
with the state of the balance on the books. Such an idea amounts
to little more than exchanging the arbitrary providence for a
scrupulously honest financial providence with a love of fair-play
hut devoid of all emotion.
Whatever truth there may be in such a view, whatever watchful
intelligences may be concerned in the carrying out of universal
law, it is possible to overdo this aspect of the matter and to
belittle and commercialize the idea of karma. After all, our
distinctions between good and bad luck are very artificial; they
are regulated by our tastes and our wants and our preferences,
and such distinctions cannot be of much account in the eternal
scheme of things.
The welfare of the Soul surely counts for more than the nature of
the external circumstances, and we know that a character may be
starved amid abundance and may grow in grace amid adversity -- or
perchance the other way round.
It is not well, in speaking of karma, to lay too much stress on
the difference between weal and woe, or good and bad karma. If
there is an important difference, it lies in the nature of the
karma as regards the welfare of the Soul, good karma being that
which assists progress, and bad karma that which tends to destroy
the Soul-life in a man.
The pattern of an individual life must be very complex, when we
consider the elements that enter into it. An immortal Soul has
entered upon a period of earth-life, bringing with it a store of
seeds or mental deposits that will afterwards unfold as character
and destiny or perhaps be carried on to a still later period of
The nature of the Soul's karma has determined the kind of
heredity it will choose or be attracted towards, and the kind of
entourage it will be born into. But, as it is not within the
bounds of probability that the Soul will find conditions exactly
suited in every detail to its requirements -- or, in other words,
will secure a perfect fit -- there must be a certain amount of
ill-adjustment, a certain amount of undeserved experiences, both
good and ill. So the karma of the Soul, the characters of the
parents and ancestry, the country, surroundings, and other
circumstances are all woven together in the formation of a
If we look into our own motives, we find that they too are
complex, varying, and inconstant, likely to lead us along a
crooked path, somewhat like that of a cow being driven to market
and stopping by the wayside to investigate the pleasures and
pursuits offered by the pasturage on the borders. But the real
purpose of the life is known to the liver of the life, that is to
the Soul. We shall understand that purpose better the more
closely we can identify ourself with that Soul, or in other
words, realize our true Self.
Besides individual karma, there are of course various kinds of
collective karma, for example national karma and racial karma.
Nations as a whole, and races as a whole, can commit actions and
thus set in motion the laws of karma; and consequently they can
experience the natural results thereof.
Of this we have, in the present European troubles, a striking
instance. Individual men and women are involved in the karma of
their nations and in that of the whole race. If anyone should be
disposed for a moment to reflect on the equity of this
circumstance, let him remember that we must either cast our lot
with our fellows for good and for ill, or else make the fruitless
attempt to live in isolation from all society. On the small
scale we all accept such conditions, by the voluntary
associations which we form with each other, accepting, over and
above our individual deserts, such fortune as may befall the body
to which we belong.
Collective karma will of course move on a slower and heavier
scale. It may be easier, too, to trace its workings, for
humanity as a whole never dies and so there is no gap of death to
be bridged in this case. It is interesting to trace out the
causes of the present trouble in the mistakes of the past. And
among other things is impressed on us the important lesson that
those who merely sin by omission become involved in the
It is sometimes considered difficult to reconcile the idea of
karma with that of free will, but the difficulty is due to
confusion of thought. People may argue that causes and effects
will go on generating one another in an endless chain, leaving
the individual no chance of escape. Yet experience shows that
people do escape from such chains of circumstance.
The fact that one debauch generates the desire for another does
not mean that we cannot escape from the habit. There are
fortunately always means for escaping from habits. Just as a man
who is caught in a vortex may lift himself out of it, so that its
whirling no longer affect him, so may a man raise himself out of
these Karmic entanglements.
The principle is that he should plant his feet on higher and
firmer ground. We have the power of resisting impulses, thereby
tending to exhaust the effect of karma and refraining from
generating more of the same kind.
A free will is, for all practical purposes, a will that is free
to choose a higher law in place of a lower; and to that extent at
least, the human will is free. Any further discussion of the
question of free will is apt to carry the philosopher so far
ahead of present experience and needs that he loses himself in
the mists of abstract thought.
Our thoughts and emotions are creative powers that tend to
produce acts and physical results; so that our future destinies
are in our own hands. It is one of the ironies of life that our
desires often produce their fruits at a time when we have
abandoned those desires and desire something else. This accounts
for many misfits and much discontent.
It should be remembered that we have to face the facts of life,
whatever our religion or philosophy may be; so that, whether we
believe in karma or not, we shall incur good and evil fortune and
be obliged to live out our life in the body which we have and
with the various other endowments and circumstances that are
If the teaching as to karma helps us to understand life better
and to confront our destiny with more confidence and success,
then we should do well to study those teachings. For instance,
suppose you are born with a weak and nervous constitution, which
has hampered you all through life and is likely to continue doing
so; it is no use repining; you can only make the best of the
It helps you greatly to know how and why you have that particular
kind of a constitution and how to avoid generating any more karma
of the same sort. A study of your character convinces you that
you abused the laws of health at some time in the past, that your
will was weak and your proclivities strong; and you see that your
present weak physique has given you the opportunity of learning
patience, self-control, and sobriety.
Karma explains many things which seem hopeless puzzles without
it. What could seem more iniquitous than the fate of a drug
fiend who has acquired the habit through using narcotics to
deaden pain, and whose fearful fate seems all out of proportion
to any guilt he may have incurred? How are we to explain why one
man has such a fate and another not? And bear in mind that the
facts are so, whether explained or not. The sufferings are the
karma of past acts, and the difficulty of seeing this is due to
the fact that the consequence is so far removed from the cause.
Looking at the question from another side, we see that men are
committing acts which do not produce any consequences at present,
and that they die without ever reaping the consequences of those
Put the two cases together and they explain each other. The man
has gradually acquired a powerful tendency to self-indulgence,
and this is its culmination; in the drug habit we see
self-indulgence carried to its bitter end, and all its folly
revealed. But the karma of self-indulgence, a fault of long
standing, acquired in past lives, was suspended for a part of the
Why was this? Because other kinds of karma were operating, or
because the cyclic moment for the incidence of the
self-indulgence karma had not arrived. For all things work in
cycles; there are definite periods between the sowing of seeds
and their fruitage, and causes are separated from their effects
by various intervals, just as a ball thrown up will return sooner
or later according to the force with which it was thrown.
In considering karma we must try and free our minds from the
fashion of regarding ourselves as victims of fate or recipients
of chastisement and favor. We should rather take the position of
responsible beings engaged in the working out of practical
problems in experience.
A man who really repents of a wrong he has done to another is not
only willing but glad to suffer himself, in the hope of expiating
the wrong. A conscientious man is willing and eager to pay off
debts and settle old scores. And so with the Soul in its wisdom,
even though the deluded mind may not understand.
A strong resolve to live aright will very likely bring down some
old unsettled scores for the man to settle; and thus may be
explained the unexpected obstacles that confront one who has made
such a resolve. But if we invoke the law of justice, we must be
willing to abide by its decrees.
The karma of past acts cannot be avoided, but it can be allowed
to exhaust itself in such a way that no fresh karma of that kind
is generated. It is the thoughts that start the evil; the body
merely repeats the impressions that have been made upon it by the
mind. If the thoughts are guarded and purified, the
ill-consequences will gradually expend themselves. Meanwhile the
seeds of better conditions for the future can be sown.
It is a matter of observation that old people, or people soon to
die, continue to take an interest in life and to start new
enterprises; which would be folly if their actions came to an end
at death. The truth is that their actions are inspired by
knowledge greater than that of the present life; for the
knowledge of karma and reincarnation is intuitive.
The subject of karma is practically inexhaustible, and any
cursory treatment of it must necessarily be discursive; but a few
hints, though fragmentary, will serve to start many lines of
thought in the intelligent reader; in which case the purpose of
these notes is fulfilled.
Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application