Skip to main content

Selected from
The Wisdom of the Overself
by Paul Brunton


Dear Reader: The theme of the next two PB e-teachings is Karma. This teaching aims to discuss how karma works while the next one will show how the individual can cooperate with the positive effects of karma. In our studies of the chapter “The Birth of the Universe,” in The Wisdom of the Overself we learned that the universe is an endless affair which arises out of a gradual process of manifestation. There has always been an eternal hidden reality in its background, World Mind. The mental impressions formed in the past reappear as the world and as individuals in the world; they are reincarnations of previously existent forces that go on developing themselves and mutually inter-act. Put another way, “As the ripples of Karma flow across the lake of World-Mind they move through both the universe and the individual at the same instant and, operationally, in the same way.” pp. 56-57.

Nobody likes to impose a discipline upon himself and that is why everybody has to submit to a discipline imposed by karma. The seeds may have been sown during the present life and not necessarily during a past one. The first error which most people make when accepting the tenet of karma is to postpone its operation to future incarnations. The truth is that the consequences of our acts come to us if they can in the same birth as when they are committed. If we think of karma as being something whose fruits are to be borne in some remote future existence, we think of it wrongly. For every moment we are shaping the history of the next moment, every month we are fashioning the form of the month which shall follow it. No day stands isolated and alone.

Karma is a continuous process and does not work by postponement. But it is often not possible to work out these consequences in terms of the particular circumstances of this birth. In such cases ? and in such alone ? do we experience the consequences in subsequent births. Even those who accept the twin doctrines of re-embodiment and self-made karma, which are the most reasonable of all doctrines claiming to explain the principal vicissitudes of human fortune, are not infrequently hazy about the proper practical attitude to adopt as a consequence of this belief. It is necessary for them to understand first of all that although whilst evil endures we must accept the fact of its existence as the price to be paid for the self-limiting of an emanation from the Infinite into the finite, we need not therefore complacently tolerate its activity. Because we believe that karma operates to bring about sometimes approximate, sometimes adequate justice in the end, we must not therefore for example stand indolently aside from aggressive wrong-doing in passive trust to its operation. For karma needs to utilize instruments, and its effects do not spring miraculously out of the air.

The second point for their understanding is the place of free will in the practical application of this doctrine. For we weaken ourself and injure truth if we believe that all events are unalterably fixed, that our external lives are unchangeably pre-ordained, and that there is nothing we can do to improve the situations in which we find ourself. It is true that we are compelled to move within the circumstances we have created in the past and the conditions we have inherited in the present, but it is also true that we are quite free to modify them. Freedom exists at the heart of man, that is in his Overself. Fate exists on the surface-life of man, that is in his personality. And as man himself is a compound of both these beings, neither the absolute fatalist nor the absolute free-will position is wholly correct, and his external life must also be a compound of freedom and fate. No man however evolved he may be has entire control over his life, but then he is not entirely enslaved to it either. No action is entirely free nor entirely fated; all are of this mixed double character. ..We sew the tapestry of our own destiny, but the thread we use is of a kind, a colour and quality forced upon us by our own past thoughts and acts. In short, our existence has a semi-independent, semi-predestined character.

The Wisdom of the Overself, pp. 228-9