Viewpoint: The Importance of Karma

Printed in the Summer 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Hebert, Barbara ,"Viewpoint: The Importance of Karma" Quest 107:3, pg 12-13

Barbara Hebert, National President

Barbara HebertWhen we consider tragedy and loss in light of the perennial wisdom, it is almost impossible to avoid a discussion regarding karma. During the production of this issue, I had a conversation with Quest editor Richard Smoley about the Theosophical perspective on karma. As is usual with Richard, his statements make one think deeply; not surprisingly, then, our conversation elicited opportunities for me to contemplate my own personal perspective.

Before the coming of the Theosophical Society, very few people in the West had ever heard the word karma, and it is likely that even fewer understood its meaning. In the past 130+ years, much has changed. Most individuals living in the West have heard the term, and many have some basic understanding of it. We find memes and cartoons regarding karma, including references to instant karma. We hear it referred to in various terms: the Law of Cause and Effect; the Law of Action and Reaction; Universal Law; the Law of Harmony; the Law of Self-Created Destiny; and so on. Numerous books, articles, and talks about it can be found in both the East and the West, from both spiritual and pragmatic perspectives; some have been shallow, others very deep. But not everyone agrees about what karma is.

Below are a few statements about karma with which many esotericists would agree:

  •  It is a universal principle that is inherent in the universe.
  •  It is impersonal and inexorable.
  •  Every action has a reaction.
  •  Karma is inextricably linked to reincarnation.

In all honesty, I am not sure that we have much more of an understanding of karma than these few points. We frequently speak as if we understand karma in more depth, but do we? Is there a knowing or understanding that comes from deep inside of ourselves, or are we just repeating what we have heard and read? These questions elicit a need for self-introspection, listening to the still voice within.

At the end of the Theosophical classic Light on the Path, Mabel Collins presents an “Essay on Karma.” In it she tells us that the operations of karma cannot be fully understood “until the disciple has reached the point at which they no longer affect” him or her. Given this statement, we can recognize that it is not possible to grasp the entire concept at this point in our spiritual evolution; however, if we contemplate karma deeply, we may have some small intuitive glimpse of its workings.

Even without a thorough understanding of the teaching, we can use the four statements above to help us in our daily lives. These assertions provide us with direction and understanding as we consider karma in relation to tragedy and loss.

The belief that karma is a principle inherent in the universe implies that there is order in the universe. It implies that there is some sort of cosmic intelligence that has created a structure, and that the incidents that occur are not random, chaotic, or happenstance. Karma is a principle or law, just as gravity is a principle or law. Gravity is neither good nor bad—it simply is. Karma is neither good nor bad—it simply is.

Taking these statements further, we can look at the second assertion: karma is impersonal and inexorable. This sounds somewhat ominous, doesn’t it? However, gravity is also impersonal and inexorable, and we don’t usually perceive it as ominous. Gravity doesn’t decide, “I’m going to make that person fall but not that person.” Gravity always works the same way, without fail. Karma works the same way.

In light of the third assertion—“for every action, there is a reaction”—we have H.P. Blavatsky’s words in The Key to Theosophy: “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” (emphasis Blavatsky’s).

HPB tells us that karma is universal harmony. She uses the metaphor of a tree to describe it, saying that when the limb of a tree is bent forcibly, it rebounds accordingly. As Theosophists, we know that our every thought, word, or act causes a wave of energy, which has a rebounding response. This is the way in which the universe maintains equilibrium. For every cause, there will be an effect.

The fourth statement—“karma is inextricably linked to reincarnation”—takes us into a different arena. Theosophical literature talks about the evolution of the soul. It says that through a series of incarnations, we continue to learn and grow spiritually until that point in time when we become totally human. As John Algeo, former president of the TSA, writes, “The purpose of our many lives is to further the evolutionary development of our minds and souls.” We are expanding our consciousness as we live each life, and the goal is to further this evolutionary development, to become fully human, and in doing so to recognize the unity of all beings. Expanding our consciousness often involves some degree of pain or disruption. Looking back on our lives, we may ask ourselves: when have I learned or grown the most? Inevitably the answer involves the passage through a very difficult time, frequently one of loss and tragedy.

Blavatsky put this concept in a different way. In her pamphlet “Reincarnation and Karma,” found on the Theosophy World website, she talks about this growth:

The inner being must continually burst through its confining shell or encasement, and such a disruption must also be accompanied by pain, not physical but mental and intellectual.

And this is how it is in the course of our lives. The trouble that comes upon us is always just the one we feel to be the hardest that could possibly happen—it is always the one thing we feel we cannot possibly bear. If we look at it from a wider point of view, we shall see that we are trying to burst through our shell at its one vulnerable point; that our growth, to be real growth, . . . must progress evenly throughout, just as the body of a child grows, not first the head and then a hand, followed perhaps by a leg, but in all directions at once, regularly and imperceptibly. [Humanity’s] tendency is to cultivate each part separately, neglecting the others in the meantime—every crushing pain is caused by the expansion of some neglected part, which expansion is rendered more difficult by the effects of the cultivation bestowed elsewhere.

To put this discussion in a more practical light, let’s look at an example. Joe is trimming large limbs from the trees in his yard using a chain saw. He loses his balance and cuts his leg deeply. Does it matter if this incident is due to karma? No! It matters that Joe receive the medical attention needed to save his leg and possibly save his life. To take this metaphor a step further, let’s assume that Joe’s life is saved, but the muscles in his leg are so badly damaged that he may never be able to use it. Again, we may quickly assume that this terrible injury is due to karmic circumstances. We may wonder if in a previous lifetime Joe was in combat and severed the legs of his enemy, or if he took advantage of people who were physically challenged in some way, or if he lacked compassion for individuals who struggled, treating them unkindly or even viciously. We can wonder indefinitely, but does it matter? What matters is the situation in front of us.

It seems that the most important aspects of this situation are twofold. First, Joe needs to receive the appropriate therapy so that he may possibly regain some use of his leg. Second, Joe’s response (physically, emotionally, and cognitively) to the situation is critical. He can use the situation to grow and learn in ways that are unique to him and his evolutionary journey, in ways that increase his compassion and empathy for others. Joe can also choose to become angry and bitter over this devastating injury. It is Joe’s choice alone.

I’m not saying that Joe won’t have to deal with his feelings and thoughts—he definitely will; however, he can choose to work through the feelings and thoughts, which belong primarily to the personality. He can go beyond the personality and choose actions that will further his evolutionary journey.

We have all known individuals in situations similar to Joe’s. We may even think about historical personages such as Viktor Frankl, Anne Frank, Helen Keller, and Sojourner Truth. It’s a choice, and if we believe in the inextricability of karma and reincarnation, that choice determines the situations that may occur in future lifetimes.

So how does a knowledge of karma help us today when we face tragedy and loss? We may recognize that karma is intricately involved, but that is not the most important component. We must deal with the situation at hand both from the temporal and spiritual perspectives, allowing ourselves to further the evolution of humanity through a greater depth of understanding and compassion for all.

Members' Forum: For Such a Time as This

Printed in the Summer 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Heubel, Peggy ,"Members’ Forum: For Such a Time as This" Quest 107:3, pg 9

By Peggy Heubel

None can doubt these days that turmoil in one form or another exists worldwide; no country seems to have escaped some form of conflict, disorder, or hardship, internally or internationally. Diplomacy, negotiation, tact, and a true acknowledgment by individual, local, and world leaders of the need for peace and harmony (through genuine, not self-centered, compromise) no longer exist. Or if they do, they are drowned out by the more powerful, more ambitious domestic and international heads of governments, who are strengthened by a belief in the superiority of their own perspective and of their own country over all others.

Such incivility and nationalistic posturing reflect the same characteristics in the majority of human beings. Egoism and selfishness, with apparent obliviousness to our collective and communal oneness, is overtly strengthening—we see it everywhere. By comparison, in the relatively recent past, this was not as obvious as it is in today’s climate. We could say these traits were, at the time, covertly simmering just under the surface of awareness.

We could perhaps understand if only one or two countries or a few handfuls of individuals here and there were exhibiting such negative qualities, but when we see general displays throughout all levels of society, how are we to understand what may be behind it? Seeing this is like watching as a viral illness grows to global proportions—and relatively suddenly.

Theosophists are familiar with the concepts of cyclic periodicity and understand that events recur after a relatively fixed and determined period of time, with the karma of every nation as an example. If periodicity is due to natural law, then the phenomenon now rampant on a global scale is a natural (and inescapable) part of human life.

For those of us who support the idea of universal brotherhood as another fact of natural law, with all its attendant ramifications (working toward a life of peace, harmlessness, respect, active compassion, and altruism to all), are we then to stand by, passively observe, and think all this will pass on to yet another cycle—one more aligned toward trying to live a life of practical brotherhood?

True Theosophists would never hold such an attitude, which is equivalent to watching someone about to walk off a cliff and doing nothing about it. A real Theosophist knows we have an obligation to act for universal good. We have personal obligations not only toward other individuals but to ourselves. In The Golden Stairs, we find two phrases that are applicable toward dealing with one of the most serious periods in human history: “a brave declaration of principles” and “a valiant defense of those who are unjustly attacked.”

As Theosophists, let us declare our beliefs; let us actively support brotherhood amongst all; let us, with courage and fearlessness, defend those who are weaker than us—who, out of fear, can’t speak for themselves. We have a voice; let us use it. Let us turn the tide that threatens to drown the entire world.

Peggy Heubel is president of the Theosophical Society of the East Bay in northern California. She is also a member of the Theosophical camp Far Horizons, a mentor for the TS’s Prisoner Correspondence Program, and a member of the board of the Theosophical Order of Service.

Answering Back: How to Reply to Slanders against Theosophy

Printed in the Summer 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Otto, Steven ,"Answering Back: How to Reply to Slanders against Theosophy" Quest 107:3, pg 28-31

By Steven Otto

steven ottoThis is a plea that we Theosophists take more care of our reputation. We should fight more against the lies about Theosophy and its protagonists.

Theosophy is committed above all to altruism and philanthropy, as well as reconciliation and the brotherhood of all nations and religions. H.P. Blavatsky was one of the most humane and most progressive individuals of the nineteenth century, and she is known not only as the founder of the modern Theosophical movement but of the modern esoteric movement as well. Numerous Theosophical associations and websites and uncounted Theosophists worldwide attest to these facts.

But in Germany today, Theosophist sometimes means racist and Nazi—even liar, conspirator, Satanist, supporter of genocide, sorcerer, necromancer, and anti-Semite. I think no more proof is needed that we live in the Kali Yuga.

Recently the website of the well-known German public-service broadcasting network Bayerischer Rundfunk published this under the category “right-extremism”:

At the end of the nineteenth century, numerous occult groups arose as well as their publications advocating racism, nationalism, anti-Semitism, and technological progress in a crude mixture of conspiracy-theory fantasies. These include, for example, the racial theoretical publications, such as The Secret Doctrine of the Russian occultist Helena Blavatsky.

This article is about hideous Nazi theories and criminals. An isolated case? Unfortunately not. And what is just as bad, the authors can refer to specialized works or “scholarly” literature! So let’s have a look at the allegations a little more closely:

The racism allegations are of course unjustified. Although HPB writes of races, for example, Root Races, this term means nothing else than humankind; according to the teachings, the present Fifth Root Race includes all people currently living. The term Root Race therefore has nothing to do with racism. It is true that in some cases HPB refers to the anthropology current in the nineteenth century, when it was unfortunately normal to speak of bastard races, lower races, and savages. Almost all anthropologists of the time did so, for example Edward B. Tylor, Louis Agassiz, and J.L.A. de Quatrefages—as, in the previous century, did Immanuel Kant—but they not known as racists. Practically the entire society of that time, as well as the media, also spoke in this manner.

Blavatsky often makes one point very clearly, and that was absolutely contrary to the prevailing opinion of her century: “In reality there are no ‘inferior races,’ for all are one in our common humanity” (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 8:406). This view is also evident in The Secret Doctrine: “Thus the reason given [the karmic cycles] for dividing humanity into superior and inferior races falls to the ground and becomes a fallacy” (Secret Doctrine, 2:425).

Today this point of view is common, but it was revolutionary in the nineteenth century, yet it was asserted by Mme. Blavatsky and by Theosophy.

Some scholarly literature comes closer to the truth. George L. Mosse, an acknowledged expert on racism who is of Jewish descent, writes: “Theosophy itself was not racist” (Mosse, 119).

Of course not! But even nowadays this is often ignored.

The Nazi accusation, a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, is no less stupid. It is repeatedly purported that the Nazis had an esoteric ideology and that Theosophy would have contributed ideas to their inhuman teachings.

Certainly you can read about Aryans in The Secret Doctrine, and the swastika is a part of the Theosophical Society’s symbol. Both of these concepts were abused abominably by the Nazis. The swastika, of course, is a spiritual symbol that has been used among many nations worldwide. Theosophical teachings use the term Aryan in the sense of religion (Zoroastrianism), linguistics (Indo-Aryan languages), and also in an ethnic sense, as well as in the meaning of the fifth root race, or present-day humankind. But the Nazis’ hideous notion of the Aryans as a Germanic “master race” has nothing to do with Theosophy; it has been traced back to the French diplomat Arthur de Gobineau. In his Occult Roots of Nazism, historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke makes this point: “The central importance of ‘Aryan’ racism in Ariosophy, albeit compounded by occult notions deriving from theosophy, may be traced to the racial concerns of Social Darwinism in Germany.” (Goodrick-Clarke, 14).

The inhuman “philosophy” of Ariosophy (a quasi-esoteric teaching current in Germany around the turn of the twentieth century focusing on the alleged Aryan race) would be the only connection between Nazism and Theosophy. But there is not even a direct and proven connection between Ariosophy and Nazism. Even if there were, Ariosophy abused Theosophical terms but did not hold to the Theosophical doctrine. This is the internationally recognized result of research. Furthermore, research also debunks the malignant idea that the Nazis were esotericists. We must keep in mind that during the Nazi era, all Theosophical associations were forbidden in Germany. Additionally, Theosophy teaches the higher development of mankind by the mixing of nations or peoples, not by isolating and eradicating some of them, as the Nazis did.

The accusation of Satanism comes from the false assumption that Theosophy worships the devil of the Christian church. These people forget that the church’s view of the devil is aberrant in view of the history of philosophy. Lucifer, supposedly equated with the devil, is the Latin name for the morning star. In Revelation 22:16 Jesus even speaks of himself as the “bright morning star” (stella splendida et matutina in the Latin Vulgate). This helps clarify the true Theosophical understanding of the metaphor of Lucifer, because Theosophy understands this in the sense of a light bringer, like the esoteric view of the Greek Prometheus, and not in the strange (and in ancient times unusual) sense, employed by the church, of eternal evil personified.

The ever unknowable and incognizable Karana alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart—invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through “the still small voice” of our spiritual consciousness. Those who worship before it, ought to do so in the silence and the sanctified solitude of their Souls; making their spirit the sole mediator between them and the Universal Spirit, their good actions the only priests, and their sinful intentions the only visible and objective sacrificial victims to the Presence. (Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine 1:280) 

That, like the Theosophical teachings as a whole, sounds evil only to the ears of the devil.

As for the alleged Theosophical justification of genocide (which can be found even in so-called scholarly literature), this is mainly based on a false and malicious understanding of karma. If someone teaches the doctrine of karma in a fatalistic sense to excuse his own negative actions against other persons, or to say that it is unnecessary to help others in distress because it is their immutable fate, he is teaching neither the original doctrine of karma nor the Theosophical views of Mme. Blavatsky. When the doctrine of karma was taught properly, as she did, it always stressed personal responsibility and charity—things that false views of karma would never allow. Nor could the true doctrine of karma ever be used to justify genocide.

Theosophists are sometimes called proponents of sorcery and necromancy. This is wrong too, because Theosophical teachings strictly discourage the use of practical magic. HPB’s teachings say that even meditation is only a good thing if it helps one toward a more virtuous life. Certainly HPB played a role in early spiritualism, but she used it as a vehicle for introducing esotericism in the West, and she expressed a negative opinion of practical spiritualism after 1875 at the latest.

No less absurd, but just as common, is the accusation that Theosophy is involved in a global conspiracy that wants to irrevocably enslave humanity (keywords: “New World Order”; “conspiracy theory”). According to these views, this world conspiracy uses power, money, and sensual pleasures, along with fear, to subordinate people to it, consciously or unconsciously. But a true Theosophist, who lives a life of reason, virtue, and altruism, and who believes in the immortality of the human soul, would not put any faith in material possessions or sensual pleasures and would fear nothing, even physical death. Nor could such a person deceive or manipulate or suppress in any way. Therefore it would be a source of the greatest danger for the “dark forces” and the “world conspiracy” (even if they exist) if all men were real Theosophists.

Theosophy is also accused of anti-Semitism. It is true that HPB criticizes the Jewish religion, as she criticized other religions, and that in some very few cases she applied this criticism to the members of this religion. This should not be, because Theosophy also teaches that we should not judge other people. It is important to make this differentiation. I can, for example, condemn superstition. But that does not, or should not, mean that I condemn people who are superstitious, because they are more than mere superstition; they are human beings, and brothers and sisters in spirit. Anti-Semitism will have nothing to do with all that.

There is no anti-Semitism in Theosophical teachings. On the contrary, HPB spoke out against Jew baiting, for example as follows: “Quite clear and unmistakable this. The unfortunate, despoiled Israelites are plainly charged with abducting Christian children to behead and make oracular heads with them, for purposes of sorcery! Where will bigotry and intolerance with their odium theologicum land next, I wonder?” (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 7:222)

Indeed Albert Einstein, a Jew, was a student of The Secret Doctrine. In a 1935 conversation, Einstein said, “It’s a very strange book, and I’ve even told Prof. [Werner] Heisenberg, my fellow physicist, to get a copy and keep it on his desk. I urged him to dip into it when he’s handicapped by some problem” (Algeo, 327).

The basis of Theosophical teachings is often doubted. This is easy, because their roots are mystical, but the existence of the books of Kiu-Te, sources for The Secret Doctrine, has long been proven. There is also a significant evidence for the existence of the Book of Dzyan (see the work of David and Nancy Reigle).

The allegations of lies and fraud today have all been refuted. The allegations of the Coulomb, Coleman, and Cous affairs, and of the Hodgson Report, which claimed that HPB was a fraud, have been shown to be wrong, even if it has sometimes taken over 100 years to prove it. One who doubts should read the important work of Vernon Harrison or Sylvia Cranston’s biography of HPB. Nevertheless, these false accusations, like those of HPB’s illegitimate children (!), are still widespread today.

The enemies of Theosophy are still very active and very well organized. In 1986, the Society for Psychical Research retracted the Hodgson Report. But even today one cannot clearly read this fact on Wikipedia (in both the English and German versions). That these facts are missing from Wikipedia is not a coincidence, as I discovered during my own involvement with Wikipedia (I’m banned from the German section). We all should keep an eye on Wikipedia on behalf of Theosophy, and we should exert considerable pressure against falsehood, because Wikipedia is very widely visited. This is true of other sites as well. If you need help with this, feel free to contact me.

A lot has happened in the last thirty years. Public opinion of Theosophy has improved a lot. We can achieve further clarification only if Theosophists respond, whether with letters to the editor and comments to current websites, or on their own websites and social-media pages, against the lies. We should also involve ourselves in Wikipedia and learn its rules; then we may be able to change it. This is an important task, especially for the official representatives of Theosophy, including the Theosophical Society and related organizations.

We should keep the following quote from HPB in mind: “He who hears an innocent person slandered, whether a brother Theosophist or not, and does not undertake his defence as he would undertake his own—is no Theosophist” (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 8:171).

Let us act accordingly whenever we see lies about Theosophy, HPB, or other Theosophists.


Emphasis in quotes is in the original text.

Algeo, John. “Theosophy and the Zeitgeist.” In The American Theosophist 75, no. 10 (Nov. 1987), 322–32.

Blavatsky, H.P. Collected Writings. Fifteen volumes. Edited by Boris de Zirkoff. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1960–91.


The Secret Doctrine. Three volumes. Wheaton: Quest, 1993.

Cranston, Sylvia, and Carey Williams. HPB: Life and Works of Helena Blavatsky, the Founder of Modern Theosophy. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1993.

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Occult Roots of Nazism. New York: New York University Press, 2004.

Harrison, Vernon. H.P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885. Pasadena, Calif.: Theosophical University Press, 1997.

Mosse, George L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of Racism in Europe. New York: Howard Fertig, 1978.

Reigle, David. The Books of Kiu-Te or the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras: A Preliminary Analysis. San Diego, Calif.: Wizards Bookshelf, 1983.

Reigle, David, and Nancy Reigle. Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1999.

Steven Otto was born in 1976 in Saxony, East Germany. He studied computer science in media from 2001 to 2005 and is head of the digital-media department in a Munich publishing house. He has been an independent scholar of HPB’s Theosophy for over ten years. He is also an author, blogger, and publisher of a quarterly, international, noncommercial Theosophical newsletter, Soehne des Feuers, on his website, A shorter version of this article originally appeared on this site: Contact:


From the Editor's Desk

Printed in the Summer 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard ,"From the Editor’s Desk" Quest 107:3, pg 2

Richard SmoleySome explain tragedy and loss with the law of karma. Certainly karma seems to be at play in most, nearly all, situations. Most people most of the time get what they deserve.

But not always. There is always some inexplicable remainder, something left over from the relentless addition and subtraction of entries in the ledger of goods and evils.

The doctrine of karma applies in most cases, but it is problematic as an expression of cosmic justice. Consider this case: in one century, a man works as an inquisitor in Spain. He hunts down Jews and tortures them without mercy. A few centuries later, the man is born as a Jew who is sent to Auschwitz, where he suffers torments as abominable as those he inflicted. All is well and good: the inexorable law of karma has been satisfied.

If we are talking about lessons in cosmic justice, however, what has the man learned? He is less likely to believe in it than he did before, because he has no memory of his past life. It is like something out of Kafka: you must have done something wrong, but nobody will tell you what it is. Does the man learn a lesson at a higher level, that of the causal body or whatever? Conceivably, but if you look at human history, you could doubt that people have been learning terribly many moral lessons.

The doctrine of karma does not address one deeper issue, maybe the deepest one of all: the profound sense that something is wrong in the universe. Indeed man is the animal that believes something is wrong. This appears to be universal. If you dislike the Christian notion of the Fall, you can turn to the Buddhist dukkha, or suffering, or the Hindu avidya, obliviousness. Primitive peoples have legends that the gods have abandoned humanity. The Secret Doctrine connects the Fall with the coming of the Fourth Root Race (Secret Doctrine 2:192). If you are a secularist, you can blame aggressive drives, capitalist greed, or bad parenting, but you will blame something.

I think this notion of a fallen universe runs too deep in the human mind to be utterly false. For me, the best answer comes from an esoteric understanding of Genesis: the primordial man and woman wished to know good and evil, so they were sentenced to a realm where it hurts to have babies (“In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”) and you have to work hard for a living (“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread”). This is reality as we know it. I have never met and never will meet the vast majority of people who will read these words, but I will make an infallible statement about all of you: you have experienced some good and some evil in your lives. You have known good and evil. So have I.

Some argue that this Fall, this descent into the world we know, was a felix culpa, a “fortunate fault,” a necessary step in the soul’s evolution. As difficult as it is, it is something that we have to go through, and we will be better off for it over eons and eons.

But are these explanations really enough to account for all the torment, all the injustice that human beings have endured? I wonder. We have to go back to the sense, imbued in practically all of us, that something somewhere is terribly wrong. In human life, we are satisfied when we see justice done. But we frequently do not see justice done, in the short or the long term.

If we have collectively chosen (for better or worse) to know good and evil, we now have some light on the matter. What is evil? Injustice. If everyone received exactly what they deserved all the time, that would be justice. There would be no injustice, and hence no evil, in the universe. In that case, we would probably never have gotten the impression that there is.

There are, then, two possibilities. One is the comforting notion that all is just: the universe balances everything out for the good of all in all. The difficulties that we suffer are merely hard lessons that constitute the evolution of the monad across the eternities. The other says that even if this is ultimately true, the human race has been derailed from its course—that we are not where we should be and we all know this in our bones. When and how this detour happened is an unfathomable topic in its own right.

I do not believe that there is anyone breathing on this earth who could say definitively which of these two possibilities is true. Both could be true. In any event, we are haunted by the feeling expressed in Vergil’s Aeneid: sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt: “There are tears for things, and mortality touches the mind.”

Richard Smoley

Dimensions of Karma

 Printed in the Summer 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Crawford, Don ,"Dimensions of Karma" Quest 107:3, pg 26-27

By Don Crawford 

The word karma, from the Sanskrit, is a term rather difficult for the Western-trained mind to clearly grasp in its full dimensions. The classic Christian expression of this concept is contained in the apostle Paul’s words: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Other terms that express similar concepts are “destiny,” “just desserts,” and even “comeuppance.” The essence of the idea of karma is that whatever comes to the individual, physically, emotionally, or mentally, is due on the basis of past behavior or decision.

The idea of karma is supported by the belief that each individual creates his or her own life (or lives), now and in the future. The Divine has given each person irrevocable free will—the right to make choices from minute to minute. Each choice in turn carries its own consequence, just as the seed of a fruit invariably produces its own kind. Therefore the consequences of actions eventually and inescapably come home to their creator.

Occultists speak of karma as divine justice, and view it as part of the divine plan. As one of the Masters of the Wisdom expresses it, “Make and keep me every anchored in the justice of thy Plan. I am the epitome of perfection, living the life of God in Man.”

Our understanding of this cosmic cause-and-effect law of nature is complicated by its timing. Where the effect swiftly follows its cause, as when we stub our toe and instantly feel pain, the relationship is readily apparent. It takes a little more stretching of belief to accept cause-effect relationships with prolonged or delayed results, for example, after many years have elapsed, or several lifetimes.

Nevertheless, the idea that the conditions we harvest in our adult years were to a large extent sown during our earlier years is readily accepted, even by developmental psychologists. Is it that much of a leap to suggest that the harvests we accrue in one lifetime might be the results of the sowings of previous lifetimes? Admittedly, it does take more stretching of our capacity for belief, but this is relative to the degree of our open-mindedness.

Karma is also known to the occultists as the major law of manifestation. Nothing comes from nothing. For every effect there must be a progenitor—a cause. Everything in manifestation is in constant motion, and this motion creates imbalances. This is the basic cause of karma and reincarnation. From life to life, we learn how to reduce the number of imbalances we create through wrongful choices and decisions until we have reduced these almost to the point of nonexistence. At this stage, we have learned to live with poise, balance, and inner harmony regardless of external circumstances. When we learn to live in harmony within ourselves and balance in our relationships with others, we live within much more than we live without, and our incarnations on this planet come to an end.

For those who accept reincarnation as fact, it becomes readily apparent that at any given time we are simultaneously reaping and sowing karma. Every day we make decisions that will eventuate in consequences, while at the same time we are reaping the consequences of previous decisions.

Making decisions is in fact the most obvious process in living life. We could hardly get up in the morning, go to work, cook a meal, or watch TV unless we decided to do so. Prolonged and consistent choices readily become habits. It is obvious that many things come to us not of our liking—as when we drink too much the night before and wake up with a proverbial headache in the morning, and we utter the oath “Never again!” But only those who are immature and irresponsible would deny the role of their own decisions in the outcome. It could be intimated from this that when it comes to recognizing our own karma, we tend toward the immature and irresponsible. But we are also influenced by the timetable factor, that is, the gap in time that sometimes occur between decisions and consequences. Freud’s concept of projection also comes to mind here—accusing others of what we see in ourselves.

Another occult concept associated with karma is that of the transformation of energies. This holds that karma can be modified or mitigated if deemed undesirable. Dostoevsky wrote brilliantly about this idea in his classic Crime and Punishment. The hero, Raskolnikov, murders an old pawnbroker and her sister, believing himself to be above the laws of man. The clever detective, Porfiry Petrovich, knows that Raskolnikov did it but is unable to prove it, thus freeing him from any manmade punishment.

Dostoevsky places the karma, and rightly so, directly upon the consciousness of the creator of the dastardly act. Eventually, Raskolnikov confesses to the unprovable crime so that he can make amends for his transgression against nature and man. This is a classic example of the law of the transformation of energies. Raskolnikov chooses to expend a large portion of his available energies in atoning for his crime, and accepts exile in Siberia. We can all atone for our past deeds if we so choose: it is one way of balancing the books of negative behavior and consequent karma.

The concepts of reincarnation and karma lend themselves to the analogy of a school: in fact, there is an old mystical expression that says, “Life is a school for souls.” The rounds of different lifetimes are the various “grades” to be mastered, and reincarnation is the vehicle for returning the “pupil,” or the soul, to the school so that it can learn the required wisdom needed to move on to other domains after mastering this material plane of existence.

It has been claimed that each new life begins at exactly the point where the old one ended. Knowing this, the individual has the choice of either accelerating or retarding his or her “graduation.” But in a sense, even being aware of having this choice is a matter of karma , requiring one to have previously planted the seeds for this discovery. It is a matter of growth and consciousness expansion, which comes about through the digesting of life’s experiences, over and over, until one “gets it.”

The teachings of the Buddha were geared toward showing the chela, or disciple, how to put a quick end to the rounds required to attain liberation, or nirvana. He called the core of his teachings the Noble Eightfold Path, including, among others, right values, right thinking, right actions, right speech, and right occupation. “Right occupation” basically means work without doing harm to another. Harm to others, or himsa, is a major hindrance to spiritual growth. Ahimsa, or harmlessness, is a major contributor toward spiritual growth,

According to the Buddha, once all the individual’s karma has been worked out or transformed, meaning that all past sowings have been harvested and no new sowings remain, except those that help the individual to undergo the needed initiations, then that individual’s books are balanced, and the soul of that individual can go on to its just reward—in Buddhist terms, nirvana. Christians speak of  this as “return to the house of the Father,” or simply going to heaven. In the terms of ancient Gnosticism, learning all the worldly lessons is rewarded by ascension, whereby the individualized soul rises and reunites with the body of the One, the Universal, Absolute, or the Divinity, at least for a time.

Ascension comes about as the result of having attained mastery over each hierarchical initiation, related to the energy levels of the human organism. Initiations are analogous to the grades or rounds in our school above, and ascension represents the mastery of the school’s life lessons, and the return of the soul to the “house of the Father.” This is, in essence, the occult interpretation of the biblical story of the prodigal son.

The parallels drawn here are based on the idea that there is a common Ancient or Ageless Wisdom underlying all the world’s religions. If we could accept this common core and acknowledge the universal intelligence behind all of nature’s phenomena, perhaps, instead of focusing on superficial differences, which tend to alienate one faith or culture from another, we could find common ground on which to build a lasting brotherhood ( and sisterhood) and discover the unity of all that IS.

Don Crawford received his M.S.W. degree from UC Berkeley during the heyday of the sixties. During his forty-year clinical experience, he studied human behavior from a variety of positions. When he discovered Theosophy, he knew it to be the only philosophy he could accept and absorb. He has written a book entitled The Sage Institute, available for sale on Amazon. He is retired and continues to write for about the evolution of the human race. He has been published in both national and international journals.


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