When Madame Blavatsky launched the present Theosophical Movement in the last quarter of the last century, the term Karma was hardly known in the West, though belief in the operation of the just and merciful Law of Retribution, spoken of by Jesus and those before and after him, had always existed. In the East, and especially in India, though the doctrine was known, it was very much misunderstood and misrepresented. Many of the misconceptions have, however, been removed by the teachings of Theosophy. Many modern writers in the West are now freely using the terms "Karma" and "Reincarnation" in their writings, and the dictionaries have also included them—all of which goes to prove the impact of the present Theosophical Movement on the minds of the people.
What is Karma? It was a question that Arjuna put to Krishna in the beginning of the Eighth Discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita; and Krishna answers that "Karma is the emanation which causes the existence and reproduction of creatures." A footnote explains: "Karma here is, so to say, the action of the Supreme which is seen in manifestation throughout the evolution of the objective worlds." This concept is closely related to the fact of Universal Unity and Causation. It is the operation of the Law which, in opedience to the Ideation of the Universal Mind, brings into existence all the various states of being in this phenomenal world. It is this Law which causes the Day and Night of Brahma, each lasting a thousand revolutions of the Yugas, creating periods of activity and rest for all beings, worlds and systems of worlds.
Theosophy teaches that God and Law are not separate but that the latter is the eternal action or motion of God or the One Life. This motion proceeds, not in a straight line, but in a spiral, so that each revolution of the wheel of the Law brings all evolving beings, not to the same spot, but to a higher level, thus making possible the progressive march of evolution through cyclic repetitions. The common phenomena of day and night, the ebb and flow of the tide, the phases of the moon, etc., can be observed by all. Theosophy goes one step further and points out how the Law equally operates in the inner realm of man and of nature, resulting in the cycles of health and disease, moods of elation and depression, the rise and fall of civilizations, periods of mental and moral light and darkness, in terms of man's own behaviour. And this aspect of the Law of Karma would enable an individual to overcome his past wrong tendencies and strengthen his capacities and virtues so as to steer the course of his life wisely, avoiding many a pitfall on the way. This is how Karma becomes the doctrine of responsibility.
It is necessary, therefore, to recognize that Karma is not only action and reaction, cause and effect, that effect becoming a cause again; but in the human kingdom it is precisely the Law of Responsibility, and therefore the Law of Ethical Causation and Moral Retribution. It is this aspect of the Law which, if used in a practical manner, can make for the social amelioration of mankind, bringing peace and happiness to all.
How can it be done? Man has to assume the firm position that: (1) He is a soul, a ray of Life and Light Divine, and that therefore he has to think and act and live in co-operation with the Divine Law, not hindering but helping its course. (2) He is a miniature copy of the whole universe and therefore has within him all the powers and forces and energies that exist anywhere in nature. He is an heir to the forces above him and akin to those below him. In terms of the law of consubstantiality he can become a focal point, a magnet, and attract to himself the forces of Light or of darkness. (3) The responsibility of man lies in the choices he makes every moment and the will he uses to realize and fulfil what he wants.
The majority of individuals live as irresponsible beings because they drift with the current and are not vigilant and deliberate in their behaviour. Bound down by a hundred cords of desire they dissipate their energies in a hundred directions, work against the Law, go astray, and thus meet with sorrow, suffering and frustration. The Law being just and merciful does not reward or punish, but only restores harmony and equilibrium when these are broken through man's folly. In the process of restoration, lasting for a long or short period, one passes through pain and difficulty. Herein lies man's responsibility. If he learns his lesson of pain with a correct philosophical attitude, if he wills to abstain from his past mistakes, the pain will be a stepping-stone to further progress and inner unfoldment. But if he grumbles and murmurs, blames others for his misfortune, and continues to indulge in his wrong actions, then he has not learnt the lesson, and further sorrow and misery will be his lot. Therefore, as responsible human beings it is necessary to act deliberately from within on the basis of spiritual principles instead of ever following impulses from without. Every thought, word and act in our daily life should be deliberate so as not to cause a disturbance in the harmonious movement of the Law.
We have all lived in the past and have accumulated a huge store of Karma, good, bad and indifferent; and so difficulties and troubles may crop up any time when suitable environment is provided for the reaping of any effect. Then the responsibility lies in preserving the right attitude and setting into motion such forces as will mitigate the effects to a certain extent at least. Each individual draws to himself Karma in terms of his moral stamina; therefore everyone is able to cope with whatever comes to him.
Mr. Judge, in his very practical article "Advantages and Disadvantages in Life," gives an excellent definition of good Karma which should be always remembered and practised: "Good Karma is that which the Ego desires and requires; bad, that which the Ego neither desires nor requires."
If every individual were to live up to this instruction, and before engaging in any particular action were to ask himself if it was desired and required by the Ego, all the troubles and problems of life would vanish. Action here means not only deeds on the objective plane but also thoughts, because Karma starts on the plane of mind. It is the mind which encourages the desires one way or the other; hence the necessity to generate thoughts which are consubstantial with the desires and requirements of the Ego, and speech and action will follow naturally. At present, it is generally the sense-inclinations that arouse the desires and lead the mind towards the material pole. It is necessary, therefore, to train and control the mind as desired and required by the Ego so that it becomes a valuable instrument through which the Ego can accomplish its work. The Voice of the Silence teaches us to blend the mind and soul. A controlled mind will be able to subdue the desires, and the whole personality will become a proper channel for the reflection of the Divine Light. That is what is desired and required by the Ego. Unity and harmony, love and sympathy and kindness, truth and devotion and nobility and all higher aspirations are desired and required by the Ego. The Ego needs nourishment to unfold and expand in serving his fellow beings. The highest aspect of the Law of Karma is the Law of Love eternal.
Karma is often taken to mean fate, preordained by "God," against which nothing can be done. Thus, the responsibility of man is absolutely lost sight of, and no effort is put forth in the right direction. This leads to passive submission, not active energization. Theosophy teaches that fate or destiny is self-created, the result of past choices and actions, the sins of omission and commission, and therefore man himself is the maker of his destiny. With that past destiny anyone can re-create himself because there is free will in him. The Third Fundamental Proposition of The Secret Doctrine teaches that there are no privileges or special gifts in man save those he wins for himself through his own self-energization. Did not Bhishma state: "Exertion is greater than destiny"? Exertion is necessary to overcome one's destiny, but exertion only on the basis of the Eternal Verities. The Wise and Regenerated Ones, the true Embodiments of the Law, have always taught mankind how to become free from the bondage of birth and death. It is only when one has cleared the storehouse of personal Karma that he can be a free being, no longer bound down to earthly existence. This can be accomplished by following the advice given in Light on the Path:
Desire to sow no seed for your own harvesting; desire only to sow that seed the fruit of which shall feed the world.