1. Isn’t the Karma concept a form of fatalism?
Many people seem to have this idea but it is a very strange and mistaken idea and a serious misunderstanding of the subject.
Karma is not fatalism but is quite the opposite! The Law of Karma can be described as the law of self-created destiny, for it is the law of cause and effect, action and reaction, sequence and consequence. If I put my hand in the fire, my hand will get burnt. But it will not be “fate” and nor will it be “God” that caused my hand to become burnt. The burning of the hand is simply the inevitable and natural effect of the cause that I will have set in motion.
No-one can deny the omnipresent existence of the law of cause and effect on the physical, objective plane of life. It is plainly – and often painfully – there for all to see. This teaching about Karma simply carries this same law of cause and effect onto all levels of being, subjective as well as objective.
Since it often takes time for the right opportunities and circumstances to arise in which a Karmic effect can come to proper or full fruition, it is often not until the next lifetime or even several lifetimes in the future that a soul encounters and experiences the force of those particular Karmic results.
This is one of the main reasons why reincarnation occurs. Karma and reincarnation are inextricably linked. The soul must receive its just deserts, whether bad, good, or a mixture of both. This is the way, the means, and the method whereby the Universe maintains its harmony, balance, and equilibrium.
It is because of this knowledge that LAW rules and reigns throughout all of Nature that the great Masters and the Teachers of Theosophy declare that contrary to all appearances there is never actually any injustice anywhere. In “The Voice of the Silence” we are advised to “Chafe not at Karma … Rigid Justice rules the world.” In the past we created our present and in the present we are creating our future. Now, does this still sound like fatalism?
2. But is it not the very epitome of injustice that a person should have to suffer in one incarnation for actions committed in a previous incarnation, of which they have no memory or recollection whatsoever?
When considering the question of reincarnation, we must always keep in mind the distinction between what Theosophy calls the present personality and the permanent individuality. The permanent individuality is the soul, the Ego, the “I” which reincarnates in, through, and as, a successive line of earthly personas or identities.
While it’s generally true that the personality does not recall those particular past actions which have created its present state, the permanent reincarnating individuality – which we may call the soul – does recall and fully knows and appreciates the perfect justice of it all.
The nature of the relationship and connection between individuality and personality is actually too complex and metaphysical to be gone into here and now but it should also be pointed out that if it is unjust and unfair for someone to suffer from the Karmic effects of actions they don’t remember performing, it would be equally unjust that they should experience any happiness or pleasure in life whatsoever, since the right to these experiences is just as much earned by the Karma from past lives as the suffering and the unhappiness. You can’t have it both ways.
Besides, there is hardly anyone whose life has truly been a constant, non-stop barrage of total uninterrupted suffering and misery, without even the faintest glimpse of happiness or joy at any time. Almost all of us experience at least some good along with the bad and for this we may thank our Karma!
3. Presumably it was God who created the Law of Karma?
Now why would God need to do such a thing? Is he too lazy or otherwise occupied to sort things out directly himself, thus having to create and set up a Law to do it all for him? Such a notion hardly casts God in a particularly positive light, nor does it serve to magnify his supposed omnipotence.
Fortunately for Theosophists, we do not believe in God and this also means we do not believe the Law of Karma was ever “created” at all. There is no Divine Being behind this Law of Universal Balance, Harmony, and Equilibrium. It is simply LAW, uncreated, eternal, and immutable, the Law inherent in the Universe.
This is one of several reasons why Theosophists also do not believe in the efficacy of prayer. One cannot believe in both prayer and Karma, since the two cancel each other out. If we believe that things can be altered and that destiny can be changed by our prayers, then we obviously do not believe in Karmic Law as “the Ultimate Law of the Universe” (H.P. Blavatsky’s phrase) since a Law is a Law and cannot be evaded or overpowered. If it could be, then it is not a Law after all and is not even worthy of being believed in.
Nearly 2,000 years of Christian conditioning has made it difficult for many of us here in the West to accept or conceive how a Law could exist without having been created by some type of Being, or at least willed into existence by someone or other. But this is a perfectly natural concept in Eastern philosophy and it is the viewpoint to which Theosophy holds.
The Master K.H. once wrote these words to an English Theosophist who was having trouble grasping this idea and who was insistent that there must be a God behind it all: “If you ask me “Whence then the immutable laws? – laws cannot make themselves” – then in my turn I will ask you – and whence their supposed Creator? – a creator cannot create or make himself. … But do you think that you are right when saying that “the laws arise.” Immutable laws cannot arise, since they are eternal and uncreated, propelled in the Eternity and that God himself if such a thing existed, could never have the power of stopping them. … I do not protest at all as you seem to think against your theism, or a belief in an abstract ideal of some kind, but I cannot help asking you, how do you or how can you know that your God is all wise, omnipotent and love-ful when everything in nature, physical and moral, proves such a being, if he does exist, to be quite the reverse of all you say of him? Strange delusion and one which seems to overpower your very intellect.”
Several years later, the same Adept worked alongside H.P. Blavatsky and another Adept or Master of Wisdom in the writing of “The Secret Doctrine” in which we may read that “It is idle to speak of “laws arising when Deity prepares to create” for (a) laws or rather LAW is eternal and uncreated; and (b) that Deity is Law, and vice versa. … the one eternal LAW …”
The Masters say that what they believe in is “the One Life, the One Law, the One Element.” These are absolutely inseparable from one another. In their inseparable and eternal union, they are “The Only One,” other than which there nothing ever has been (to paraphrase from the Rig Veda). The One Life being Pure Eternal Spirit and the One Element being Pure Eternal Matter (primordial root-matter or Mulaprakriti in Sanskrit), the One Law which is vitally and eternally interconnected with the “Two-in-One” is the immutable Law of Karma.
4. Do the Masters have Karma?
Are the Masters currently engaged in any type of action? Have they performed any actions since they reached the stage of inner evolution and initiation that resulted in them becoming a Master, Mahatma, or Adept? If so – and it obviously is so – then they must have Karma, since in Sanskrit this word literally means “action” and also implies the inevitable corresponding re-action to the action.
Everyone who is alive and conscious is continually setting causes in motion every moment, of some form or another, even in the form of every thought we think, and for every cause set in motion there has to be the corresponding correlative effect coming back “in due season” to the cause-maker. If this was to ever not happen, the whole Universe would simply cease to be, since its continuity and ongoing manifested existence is dependent upon this incessant law of balance and equilibrium.
An innate sense of oversentimental religious devotion causes many individuals to elevate the Masters to the level of infallible and all-powerful gods on Earth and to thus imply that they are completely free from all Karma, past, present, and future. But the Masters themselves have made it quite clear that this is not the case.
A reading of passages from the Masters’ own letters shows, in their own words and specific statements, that they are just as much under the sway of the Law of Karma as you or I, the only real difference being that they know and understand Karmic Law far better than we do and are able to live in such a way as to avoid creating unnecessary or unwise Karma for themselves and others.
The Bhagavad Gita famously declares that “all beings up to Brahmā” are under the sway of Karma. Wherever there is action there is Karma and the Universe is one vast body of incessant, all-pervading action and activity.
In “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” Madame Blavatsky says, “Let us not forget that there is a limit to the freedom of action of every differentiated being in the whole universe. Karma, being the absolute adjusting law, whether in heaven or on earth, says to the proud waves: “So far shalt thou go and no farther.” If it says this to the waves, it says it to the angels, and anything you like. It is Karma, and they cannot go against Karma. It is the whole thing.”
5. So in that case we do not have free will and are severely limited by this thing called Karma?
We always have free will and freedom of choice in all circumstances but we are rarely able to bring it to the degree of fulfillment and expression that we would like. So yes, each one of us is limited but it is important to remember that this is always self-imposed limitation. Karmic limitation is self-imposed limitation and there is not a single one amongst us who is not limited to at least some degree in his or her present lifetime by the actions of preceding lifetimes.
It is not this impersonal Law known as Karma itself which limits us but our own actions, the seeds which we ourselves have sown. What we sow we will reap and what we reap we have sown. This is why HPB states in “The Key to Theosophy” that it is true that we all have “a lot in life”…but this “lot” (or allotment of the whole mass of circumstances and situations) is of our own making.
Though we cannot undo what has already been done, we can begin to shape and fashion a better future for ourselves through what we do right here and right now. This is why Theosophy describes Karma as “the doctrine of responsibility” and Reincarnation as “the doctrine of hope.”
Referring to Karma in “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” HPB remarks that “It does not act. It is our actions that act, and that awaken all kinds of influences. Look here, if you say that Karma acts and you say it has intelligence, immediately you suggest the idea of a personal god. It is not so, because Karma does not see and Karma does not watch, and does not repent as the Lord God repented. Karma is a universal law, immutable and changeless.”
6. Is it true that our thoughts create Karma as well as our actions?
Most definitely and as HPB says in “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge”, “Esoterically, thought is more responsible and punishable than act. But exoterically it is the reverse. Therefore, in ordinary human law, an assault is more severely punished than the thought or intention, i.e., the threat, whereas Karmically it is the contrary.”
But why should this be the case? It is because “thought is the real plane of action” – as William Q. Judge and Robert Crosbie have often said – and that our physical and bodily actions are simply the eventual outworking on the physical plane of the real action, which has already been formed and formulated on the mental plane.
So even if we end up not putting the act into physical or objective expression, we have still given birth to it, so to speak, on the inner and subjective level, which is far more real and enduring, not to mention more potent. This is no doubt why Jesus said that he who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.
With every single thought we think – whether it is with the intent of a future objective action or not – we are emitting Karmic energy and setting causes in motion which, like all causes, will eventually have to have their due corresponding effect. We may quote here from the sayings of Buddha in the first two verses of the Dhammapada: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: all that we are is founded on our thoughts and formed of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain pursues him, as the wheel of the wagon follows the hoof of the ox that draws it. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: all that we are is founded on our thoughts and formed of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness pursues him like his own shadow that never leaves him.”
7. Do we have the right to act as “Agents of Karma” for others?
If by this the idea of administering “punishment” to others in some way on the grounds that we think they deserve it under Karma, then the answer is unhesitatingly no!
We never have the right to do such a thing. Not only is it highly presumptuous to think that we can know or decide how best to administer the Law of Karma for others but any acts on our part which intentionally cause any type of suffering for others are the very worst type of act and are merely creating far worse Karma for ourselves.
The Bible verse which says “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord,” should always be borne in mind in this regard, providing that we read “Lord” as “Law.” And again, “Be not deceived, the [Law] is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Leave it all to the Law to work everything out in the right way. It always does.
8. Since the suffering of a suffering person is part of their Karma, are we interfering with Karma if we try to relieve their suffering?
It is impossible that we could ever “interfere” with Karma – whether somebody else’s or our own – for that would imply that we are more powerful than “the power which controls the universe,” which is how HPB speaks of the Law of Karma in “Isis Unveiled.” This would of course be an absurd notion.
Whatever is, IS Karma. Nothing can ever happen outside of Karma. A Master has written, “We cannot alter Karma my good friend.”
However, Theosophy places constant emphasis on the vital importance of compassion and living to help and serve humanity. “Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin,” says “The Voice of the Silence” which further tells us that “Self-knowledge is of loving deeds the child.” Dana – the “glorious virtue” of “charity and love immortal” – is the very first of the Paramitas which the student of Theosophy endeavours to perpetually practice and bring to perfection in his or her life.
So if we have the opportunity to help someone, we must help them and we will always be able to help them precisely to the extent that their Karma will permit. Endeavouring to help another person and to relieve their suffering never interferes with the working of Karma, for the help that we are able to give is part of that Karma itself.
9. Is it selfish to do good deeds with the motive of making good Karma for ourselves?
It is. We ought to do good for the sake of good itself and not for our own sake. Whatever we do with the intent of personal benefit is to that extent a selfish act.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna teaches about Karma Yoga, the Yoga of Selfless Action. In this, one performs all their actions in life without ever sparing a thought for the personal fruit or result of the action. In the Bodhicharyavatara (“The Way of the Bodhisattva”) it is truly stated that “All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.”
“All suffering is born of desire,” was the incessant theme of the Buddha. Selfishness is the great curse of humanity. There is of course some degree of distinction between purely selfish motives and mixed motives but is it not better to have entirely pure, selfless, and altruistic motives? We cannot help but do so if we truly believe in Universal Brotherhood and the Divine Oneness of all life.
10. Some people say that our life and destiny is governed by our astrology, rather than by Karma. What is the relation in our life, if any, between astrology and Karma?
Our various astrological or zodiacal configurations for each lifetime are themselves a manifestation and effect of our Karma. It is our Karma – which, remember, is our self-created destiny – that causes us to re-enter this world under the influence of certain specific astrological influences. Since there is really no such thing as accident or chance, it is not a mere coincidence that we may have happened to be born at a certain time in the astrological month of Gemini or Libra or Pisces or whatever.
But whatever effect may come to us through such things is a Karmic one, for the Law of Karma is above, beyond, and behind it all. It is also the case that the current publicly available knowledge and information regarding astrological matters is purely exoteric, frequently misleading, and unwittingly incomplete.
Theosophy maintains that it is in the Esoteric Science (Gupta Vidya) of the East alone that the full truth and system of astrology exists and that the Guardians of that Knowledge – the Masters, in other words – have no intention of making it available to the world anytime soon, as they see that humanity is not yet ready for it.
The fact that such profound misunderstanding and ignorance still exists everywhere in the world regarding Karma and reincarnation, not to mention such matters as the difference between soul and spirit and the sevenfold nature of man, despite Theosophists having been ceaselessly promulgating these things for over a century, is perfect proof and evidence that this is so. These are the more important things and their right understanding is in fact of vital importance for humanity at large at this stage in its development and evolution.
It is for this reason that various related articles on this site have been written, such as –
A Right Understanding of Karma
There is No Injustice
A Right Understanding of Reincarnation
Prayer, Karma, and Compassion
Being Sensible about Past Lives
Aphorisms on Karma
The Sevenfold Nature of Man
12 Things Theosophy Teaches
The Difference between Soul and Spirit
The “Karmic Visions” of H.P. Blavatsky
along with the present article. If any of these have been of help or interest to you, please consider sharing them with others (for example, on Facebook, by e-mail, Twitter, or any other means) so that as many people as possible can benefit from these truths. Who knows…it may be their Karma and yours to be helped by you in this way!
It is significant that no major premise or minor detail of the Theosophical teaching has ever been found to be erroneous, illogical, unphilosophical, or out of harmony with the Wisdom of the Ages. This alone should surely entitle it to a fair hearing.