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

Theosophical Society - Richard Smoley is editor of Quest: Journal of the Theosophical Society in America and a frequent lecturer for the Theosophical SocietySome 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


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