We see all around us a good deal of suffering and pain in the lives of people. We hear of great disasters, accidents and catastrophes taking place every now and then in the world. The virtuous may be seen to be suffering while the wrong-doers living happily. One naturally feels resentful against such apparent injustice in life and wants to know why things happen like this. Will it not be worthwhile to examine this problem in the light of Theosophy?
One of the tenets of Theosophy is that there is a Divine Plan. It is mentioned by Divine Laws which are fundamental in their nature and scope and continue to operate as long as the Universe remains in manifestation. They are operative not only in the physical world but also in the realms of thought and feeling. One such law is the Law of Karma. It is also called the Law of Cause and Effect, or the Law of Harmony or the Law of Adjustment. H.P. Blavatsky calls it the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the source, origin and fount of all other laws. According to her, the Law of Karma is “that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently and equitably each cause to its effect.” In other words, there is no effect without a cause and every cause must produce its effect. Causes being present, results must invariably follow. The Law operates eternally, invariably and inviolably. All the advance in science has been possible only because of the inviolability of the laws. Because of the changelessness of the Law we can always be certain of the results of our action. If we do not like the result, we have the freedom to change the causes which produce the result. The Law is, thus, an enabling and not a compelling force. But knowledge is necessary to work with surety in the realm of law.
Harmony is the natural sequence of the unfoldment of the Divine Plan. If it is disturbed, an adjustment has necessarily to be made in order that the disturbed harmony or equilibrium is restored. If man, by his thoughts, desires and actions, disturbs the harmony in the universe, he has to restore it through a process of re-adjustment. The Law neither rewards nor punishes. It is we who reward or punish ourselves according to whether we work in accordance with the Law or not. The Law simply adjusts the effects according to causes generated by man. Man has, therefore, to know for himself that he is living in a universe which is governed by definite laws and to violate them is to invite pain and suffering. However, this knowledge is obtained by him through numerous experiences in life, which are very often painful.
The Law of Karma operates whether we are conscious of it or not. It is by the functioning of the Law that our destiny is shaped. People generally hold “fate” responsible for many happenings in life, particularly the unhappy ones. But all is the result of a Law, seen or unseen, known or not understood. The appearance of an unpleasant result is only an indication that a mistake has been made, the Law has been violated and there is a need for change of direction and for acting in harmony with the Law. What appears as a piece of good or bad fortune is only the result of the causes we have consciously or unconsciously generated, perhaps recently or in the distant past. It is no doubt true that our accumulated Karma helps or hinders our progress but we are still free to choose within the limits of our own making. We are free in making the conditions but once we have made them we are bound to the results following from them. A belief in fatalism or predestination would imply that we are so bound by circumstances or by some power outside ourselves that no effort can free us. But under the operation of the Law, he who generates the causes can modify or neutralize them.
Our destiny is not something imposed upon us but we are all the time weaving the pattern of our destiny, of our fate, of our future by the threads of our thoughts, desires and actions. We live normally in three worlds – physical, emotional and mental – and have bodies appropriate to each. As we act during our daily life, we create “karma” or causes in these three worlds by our thoughts, desires and actions, and shape our destiny.
Thought is a great creative power which can be used for good or ill. Man is created by thought, made and is also conditioned by it. It is by the use of our thought power that we can increase our capacities and mould our character. Our character is only the sum total of our habits which are formed entirely by our thoughts. It is an old saying that a man becomes that which he thinks. It is true that we may be born with a character which influences greatly our present life. But by thought, by action based on it and by the use of moulding power of thought, we can change our inborn character, eliminate its weaknesses, eradicate its faults, strengthen its good qualities and enlarge its capacities and character through our thoughts.
Desire is a magnetic force which brings to us what we truly desire. If it is whole-hearted, intense and steady desire, it will have its fulfilment now or some time in future. Opportunities come to those who have ardently desired them in the past because desires create opportunities. It is no doubt a fact that we are born with a desire nature which may be good, bad or indifferent, but we can deliberately work to change our desires by the use of our thought power. However, perseverance will be needed in this work because we may some times fail to briddle the horses of the senses with the reins of the mind, but success is certain if we persevere.
The third strand of our thread of life by which we weave our destiny is action which creates our physical environment. If our words and actions help, cheer or comfort others, then help and cheer will follow back to us. But if by them we create confusion and unhappiness, put stumbling blocks in the way of others, sorrow or loss, depression and discouragement will follow as a result. So if we want to have a good physical environment in future lives let us now help others with our words and actions.
We are constantly generating these three types of forces. These determine not only our mode of life now, with its success or failure, and the state of consciousness after death, but also our environment and relationships with others in succeeding lives. Obviously, the balance of justice cannot be struck within the limits of one life. We have to remember the basic teaching that life is one and continuous and is not limited to the span of one brief human life. We, as Jivatmas or souls, have been performing actions and incurring responsibilities long before our present birth. Death of the physical body will not destroy the causes set in motion by us, just as our moving to a new town will not cancel the debts incurred by us in the old one. The cycles of reincarnation, therefore, provide the necessary extension of time for the operation of the Law of Karma and also for the development of our power, knowledge and skill in action and the unfoldment of our divine nature.
In life we often see that the result of an action is not seen immediately. We may come across cases in which we see the result but not the preceding cause, or a cause may be seen but not its result. But we must remember that our actions are like seeds which may lie dormant, seemingly dead, but eventually they sprout, mature and bring the harvest. Thus the effect of any cause may or may not been seen immediately, but appear they must, whether now or some time in the future. According to the Law, all that we do must ultimately bring some result. The Law is utterly just and no injustice is ever possible in its administration. “The Light of Asia” expresses this idea thus:
It knows no wrath nor pardon; utter-true
Its measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;
Times are nought, tomorrow it will judge,
Or after many days:
In each new life, we bring with us a portion of the results of our Karma in past lives. It is that part of the total or accumulated, called sanchita, Karma which becomes ripe to produce its result, and is called Prarabhda. The results of the past may appear as limitations or obstacles in the present life, but we are responsible for them because these are the results of our own actions in the past.
It is true that we cannot now help that which we have brought with us from the past. But we are free in the present and can modify the conditions limiting us and the more we know the working of the Law, the more effectively can we modify them. We can also use the distressful conditions to learn the necessary and useful lessons and pay off our old Karmic debts. Dr. Annie Besant has beautifully stated; “People often talk of Karma as though it were a kind of great lump which is flung down on a man’s head at birth, against which he can do nothing. Sometimes this occurs, but in the vast majority of cases the Karma that you are making every day is modifying all the results of the Karma of the past. It is a continuous creation.” So however much we may be hampered today by the results of our yesterdays, we are all masters of our tomorrows. This very idea is very aptly expressed in The Three Great Truths: “Each man is his own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to himself, the decreer of his life, his reward, his punishment.”
Another fact of importance is that we are brought by the Law into touch with people whom we have known in the past, to some of whom we owe debts, and some others who owe debts to us. All personal links, whether of love or of hate, grow out of past. In each life we strengthen these ties which bind us together. We can well be certain that not only those whom we love, but also those whom we hate or dislike, will be with us again in future. If we wish to avoid in future those whom we dislike, there is only one way: to change the force of hate into a force of love. Has not Lord Buddha said: “Hatred ceaseth never by hatred, hatred ceaseth only by love.” In truth, in this world of law, we receive only what we give. So if we wish to receive love, help, sympathy etc. from others, let us give gladly and freely these to those with us and around us. It is in that way only that we can sow the seeds now to reap a rich harvest in the future.
So what is important is the knowledge and understanding of the Law. In a world of law we can move with freedom and safety according to our knowledge of this changeless and inviolable law. This knowledge will greatly help us to face any misfortune or unpleasant happening with courage and serenity, having no feeling of resentment or ill-will against those who seem to be responsible for our unhappiness for what comes to us is only the result of our own doings. Ignorant, we are helpless, at the mercy of nature’s hurtling forces; wise, we are master and her forces serve us obediently. Essentially it is a Law of opportunity and should, therefore, give us hope and encouragement and not crush us with despondency. So let us study Karma, apply our knowledge to the guidance of our lives and bring an end to our sorrow and suffering and attain a state of deep peace and unending joy.