Blavatsky on Karma

H.P. Blavatsky on the Law of Karma

“Every action, good or bad, is a prolific parent, saith the Wisdom of the Ages.”

~ H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, p. 141 ~

The following is an excerpt from p. 197-217 of “The Key to Theosophy” by H.P. Blavatsky. It comes from the eleventh chapter or section, titled “ON THE MYSTERIES OF RE-INCARNATION.” We have taken the liberty of putting some of the most important phrases and statements in bold font.

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Q. “You mean, then, that we have all lived on earth before, in many past incarnations, and shall go on so living?”

A. “I do. The life-cycle, or rather the cycle of conscious life, begins with the separation of the mortal animal-man into sexes, and will end with the close of the last generation of men, in the seventh round and seventh race of mankind. Considering we are only in the fourth round and fifth race, its duration is more easily imagined than expressed.”

Q. “And we keep on incarnating in new personalities all the time?”

A. “Most assuredly so; because this life-cycle or period of incarnation may be best compared to human life. As each such life is composed of days of activity separated by nights of sleep or inaction, so, in the incarnation-cycle, an active life is followed by a Devachanic rest.”

Q. “And it is this succession of births that is generally defined as re-incarnation?”

A. “Just so. It is only through these births that the perpetual progress of the countless millions of Egos toward final perfection and final rest (as long as was the period of activity) can be achieved.”

Q. “And what is it that regulates the duration, or special qualities of these incarnations?”

A.Karma, the universal law of retributive justice.”

Q. “Is it an intelligent law?”

A. “For the Materialist, who calls the law of periodicity which regulates the marshalling of the several bodies, and all the other laws in nature, blind forces and mechanical laws, no doubt Karma would be a law of chance and no more. For us, no adjective or qualification could describe that which is impersonal and no entity, but a universal operative law. If you question me about the causative intelligence in it, I must answer you I do not know. But if you ask me to define its effects and tell you what these are in our belief, I may say that the experience of thousands of ages has shown us that they are absolute and unerring equity, wisdom, and intelligence. For Karma in its effects is an unfailing redresser of human injustice, and of all the failures of nature; a stern adjuster of wrongs; a retributive law which rewards and punishes with equal impartiality. It is, in the strictest sense, “no respecter of persons,” though, on the other hand, it can neither be propitiated, nor turned aside by prayer. This is a belief common to Hindus and Buddhists, who both believe in Karma.”

Q. “In this Christian dogmas contradict both, and I doubt whether any Christian will accept the teaching.”

A. “No; and Inman gave the reason for it many years ago. As he puts it, while “the Christians will accept any nonsense, if promulgated by the Church as a matter of faith … the Buddhists hold that nothing which is contradicted by sound reason can be a true doctrine of Buddha.” They do not believe in any pardon for their sins, except after an adequate and just punishment for each evil deed or thought in a future incarnation, and a proportionate compensation to the parties injured.”

Q. “Where is it so stated?”

A. “In most of their sacred works. In the “Wheel of the Law” (p. 57) you may find the following Theosophical tenet:- “Buddhists believe that every act, word or thought has its consequence, which will appear sooner or later in the present or in the future state. Evil acts will produce evil consequences, good acts will produce good consequences: prosperity in this world, or birth in heaven (Devachan) … in the future state.”

Q. “Christians believe the same thing, don’t they?”

A. “Oh, no; they believe in the pardon and the remission of all sins. They are promised that if they only believe in the blood of Christ (an innocent victim!), in the blood offered by Him for the expiation of the sins of the whole of mankind, it will atone for every mortal sin. And we believe neither in vicarious atonement, nor in the possibility of the remission of the smallest sin by any god, not even by a “personal Absolute” or “Infinite,” if such a thing could have any existence. What we believe in, is strict and impartial justice. Our idea of the unknown Universal Deity, represented by Karma, is that it is a Power which cannot fail, and can, therefore, have neither wrath nor mercy, only absolute Equity, which leaves every cause, great or small, to work out its inevitable effects. The saying of Jesus: “With what measure you mete it shall be measured to you again” (Matth. vii., 2), neither by expression nor implication points to any hope of future mercy or salvation by proxy. This is why, recognising as we do in our philosophy the justice of this statement, we cannot recommend too strongly mercy, charity, and forgiveness of mutual offences. Resist not evil, and render good for evil, are Buddhist precepts, and were first preached in view of the implacability of Karmic law. For man to take the law into his own hands is anyhow a sacrilegious presumption. Human Law may use restrictive not punitive measures; but a man who, believing in Karma, still revenges himself and refuses to forgive every injury, thereby rendering good for evil, is a criminal and only hurts himself. As Karma is sure to punish the man who wronged him, by seeking to inflict an additional punishment on his enemy, he, who instead of leaving that punishment to the great Law adds to it his own mite, only begets thereby a cause for the future reward of his own enemy and a future punishment for himself. The unfailing Regulator affects in each incarnation the quality of its successor; and the sum of the merit or demerit in preceding ones determines it.

Q. “Are we then to infer a man’s past from his present?”

A. “Only so far as to believe that his present life is what it justly should be, to atone for the sins of the past life. Of course – seers and great adepts excepted – we cannot as average mortals know what those sins were. From our paucity of data, it is impossible for us even to determine what an old man’s youth must have been; neither can we, for like reasons, draw final conclusions merely from what we see in the life of some man, as to what his past life may have been.”

Q. “But what is Karma?”

A. “As I have said, we consider it as the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the source, origin and fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature. Karma is the unerring law which adjusts effect to cause, on the physical, mental and spiritual planes of being. As no cause remains without its due effect from greatest to least, from a cosmic disturbance down to the movement of your hand, and as like produces like, Karma is that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently and equitably each effect to its cause, tracing the latter back to its producer. Though itself unknowable, its action is perceivable.”

Q. “Then it is the “Absolute,” the “Unknowable” again, and is not of much value as an explanation of the problems of life?”

A. “On the contrary. For, though we do not know what Karma is per se, and in its essence, we do know how it works, and we can define and describe its mode of action with accuracy. We only do not know its ultimate Cause, just as modern philosophy universally admits that the ultimate Cause of anything is “unknowable.” …

Q. “Well, then, tell me generally how you describe this law of Karma?”

A. “We describe Karma as that Law of re-adjustment which ever tends to restore disturbed equilibrium in the physical, and broken harmony in the moral world. We say that Karma does not act in this or that particular way always; but that it always does act so as to restore Harmony and preserve the balance of equilibrium, in virtue of which the Universe exists.”

Q. “Give me an illustration.”

A. “Later on I will give you a full illustration. Think now of a pond. A stone falls into the water and creates disturbing waves. These waves oscillate backwards and forwards till at last, owing to the operation of what physicists call the law of the dissipation of energy, they are brought to rest, and the water returns to its condition of calm tranquillity. Similarly all action, on every plane, produces disturbance in the balanced harmony of the Universe, and the vibrations so produced will continue to roll backwards and forwards, if its area is limited, till equilibrium is restored. But since each such disturbance starts from some particular point, it is clear that equilibrium and harmony can only be restored by the reconverging to that same point of all the forces which were set in motion from it. And here you have proof that the consequences of a man’s deeds, thoughts, etc. must all react upon himself with the same force with which they were set in motion.”

Q. “But I see nothing of a moral character about this law. It looks to me like the simple physical law that action and re-action are equal and opposite.”

A. “I am not surprised to hear you say that. Europeans have got so much into the ingrained habit of considering right and wrong, good and evil, as matters of an arbitrary code of law laid down either by men, or imposed upon them by a Personal God. We Theosophists, however, say that “Good” and “Harmony,” and “Evil” and “Dis-harmony,” are synonymous. Further we maintain that all pain and suffering are results of want of Harmony, and that the one terrible and only cause of the disturbance of Harmony is selfishness in some form or another. Hence Karma gives back to every man the actual consequences of his own actions, without any regard to their moral character; but since he receives his due for all, it is obvious that he will be made to atone for all sufferings which he has caused, just as he will reap in joy and gladness the fruits of all the happiness and harmony he had helped to produce.” …

“And now I advise you to compare our Theosophic views upon Karma, the law of Retribution, and say whether they are not both more philosophical and just than this cruel and idiotic dogma which makes of “God” a senseless fiend; the tenet, namely, that the “elect only” will be saved, and the rest doomed to eternal perdition!”

Q. “Yes, I see what you mean generally; but I wish you could give some concrete example of the action of Karma?”

A. “That I cannot do. We can only feel sure, as I said before, that our present lives and circumstances are the direct results of our own deeds and thoughts in lives that are past. But we, who are not Seers or Initiates, cannot know anything about the details of the working of the law of Karma.”

Q. “Can anyone, even an Adept or Seer, follow out this Karmic process of re-adjustment in detail?”

A. “Certainly: “Those who know” can do so by the exercise of powers which are latent even in all men.”

Q. “Does this hold equally of ourselves as of others?”

A. “Equally. As just said, the same limited vision exists for all, save those who have reached in the present incarnation the acme of spiritual vision and clairvoyance. We can only perceive that, if things with us ought to have been different, they would have been different; that we are what we have made ourselves, and have only what we have earned for ourselves.”

Q. “I am afraid such a conception would only embitter us.”

A. “I believe it is precisely the reverse. It is disbelief in the just law of retribution that is more likely to awaken every combative feeling in man. A child, as much as a man, resents a punishment, or even a reproof he believes to be unmerited, far more than he does a severer punishment, if he feels that it is merited. Belief in Karma is the highest reason for reconcilement to one’s lot in this life, and the very strongest incentive towards effort to better the succeeding re-birth. Both of these, indeed, would be destroyed if we supposed that our lot was the result of anything but strict Law, or that destiny was in any other hands than our own.”

Q. “You have just asserted that this system of Re-incarnation under Karmic law commended itself to reason, justice, and the moral sense. But, if so, is it not at some sacrifice of the gentler qualities of sympathy and pity, and thus a hardening of the finer instincts of human nature?”

A. “Only apparently, not really. No man can receive more or less than his deserts without a corresponding injustice or partiality to others; and a law which could be averted through compassion would bring about more misery than it saved, more irritation and curses than thanks. Remember also, that we do not administer the law, if we do create causes for its effects; it administers itself; and again, that the most copious provision for the manifestation of just compassion and mercy is shown in the state of Devachan.”

Q. “You speak of Adepts as being an exception to the rule of our general ignorance. Do they really know more than we do of Re-incarnation and after states?”

A. “They do, indeed. By the training of faculties we all possess, but which they alone have developed to perfection, they have entered in spirit these various planes and states we have been discussing. For long ages, one generation of Adepts after another has studied the mysteries of being, of life, death, and re-birth, and all have taught in their turn some of the facts so learned.”

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The Law of Karma is an extremely vast and subtle subject, although one of the most important of all. We recommend reading “The Key to Theosophy” in its entirety in order to discover and understand more, along with all the rest of HPB’s writings, since she talks everywhere about Karma, including two very important sections in “The Secret Doctrine,” namely Vol. 1, p. 634-647, and Vol. 2, p. 302-306. It is useful to keep in mind that when she calls it the “Law of Retribution” she is not referring to any type of “divine retribution” such as that taught in Christianity but is using “retribution” in its true and literal sense of meaning “re-payment,” which can either be bad or good, depending on the nature of the causes which have been set in motion, the type of seed which has been sown.

There are numerous articles on this website which explore the topic further, including A Right Understanding of Karma, Questions about Karma, Is Karma Merciful and Compassionate?, There is No Injustice, Aphorisms on Karma, The Skandhas, Blavatsky on Vicarious Atonement, A Right Understanding of Reincarnation, The Sevenfold Nature of Man, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, and The “Karmic Visions” of H.P. Blavatsky.

~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~

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