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June 2019, Karma

It’s not easy to define an ancient term like Karma so broadly used in today’s world. The references in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself dealing with levels of karma are helpful. The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga says that “the ancient teaching of a venerable doctrine, whose Indian name is Karma, was long ago discovered by astute Indian sages who… discerned a certain rhythm at work beneath the fluctuation of man’s fortunes” (p. 315 HTBY.) Since irrelevant superstition and religious dogma have confused what is fundamentally a sane and scientific basis of a sound ethical code, it helps to find the essence of this code: “first, psychological reaction, i.e., that habitual thoughts form themselves into tendencies and thus effect our own character; this in turn expresses itself in deeds; these, again not only affect other persons, but also by a mysterious principle of reaction, ourselves. The working out of this principle implies, second, physical rebirth, i.e., the persistence of thought in the sphere of the Unconscious Mind, as well as sooner or later the reappearance of more or less the same ‘character’ or personality upon this earth. Karma creates the need for readjustments and inevitably leads to rebirth, to an outlet for the dynamic factors which have been set in motion. The consequence of this principle is personal retribution, i.e., that acts whereby we injure others are inevitably reflected back to ourselves and thus injure us, whereas acts whereby we benefit others eventually benefit us too.” (Ibid.)

PB writes on pp. 236-7 in the Wisdom: “If therefore we wish to think truly of ourself we must think of it in terms of the Whole. Consequently the esoteric interpretation of karma recognizes that a wholly isolated individual is only a figment of our imagination, that each man’s life is intertwined with all mankind’s life through ever-expanding circles of local, national, continental, and finally planetary extent; that each thought is influenced by the world’s predominant mental atmosphere; and that each action is unconsciously accomplished with the cooperation of the predominant and powerful suggestion given by mankind’s general activity. The consequences of what he thinks and does flow like a tributary into the larger river of society and there mingle with waters from innumerable other sources. This makes karma the resultant of all these mutual associations and consequently raises it from a personal to a collective level. That is to say “I,” an individual, share in the karma generated by all other individuals, while they share in mine. There is a difference however, between both our shares in that “I” received the largest share of the results of my own personal past activity and the smallest share of the results of the rest of mankind’s activity.” Page 237 also states: “There is no need for antagonism between classes, nations, and races, no need for hatred and strife between different groups whether large or small. All are ultimately interdependent. Their separateness is as great a delusion as separateness of individuals, but only philosophy and history prove this truth. The situation in which we all find ourselves today compels a recognition of this challenging truth in our mutual interest.”

The small volume What is Karma? is a collection of material and commentary from several of PB’s writings. The eight-page introduction offers specific suggestions like the following: “Our freedom consists in this, that we are free to choose between one act and another but not between the consequences arising out of those acts. We may claim our inner freedom, whatever our outer future may be. We may fix our own life aims, choose our own beliefs, form our own ideas, entertain desires, and express aversions as we wish. Here, in this sphere of thought and feeling, action and reaction, free will is largely ours.”

The newly published paperback, Instructions for Spiritual Living, a collection of essays written by PB, references Karma with emphasis on service. An example on page 184 reads: “For I believed then and even more so now, that the ultimate worth of an outlook on life that inculcates the hidden unity of the human family, is its power to find expression in the earthly life of humankind. I believe that those who possess such an outlook should endeavor to render it effectual, first in their own everyday existence, and second in that of society, and not be content only with dreaming or talking about it. I believe that there is laid upon them the duty to try to mold, however slightly, the public mind: to try to guide the contemporary public welfare movements and to inspire; to try to influence or counsel the leaders and intelligentsia.” He further advises on the same page: “it is our duty to try, unconcernedly, leaving all results to the Overself.”