OF THE LAW OF KARMA IN
Today I want to speak
about the workings of the law of karma through individual human lives.
Any such explanation is bound to be incomplete, for I shall not be putting
before you any speculations or theories. I shall limit myself, as occultism
always should, to facts and experiences. I shall therefore tell you
of a karmic influence of one kind or another only when I have observed
a person in that particular situation. In speaking of karmic relationships
I shall draw only on real experiences.
We touched yesterday on
the fact that for most people the really burning question is: How does
our destiny come about and why are we born with talents and circumstances
that vary so widely? In order to understand these karmic relationships,
we shall have to look back again at what has been said about man's four
bodies — the physical, the etheric, the astral, and within them
the Ego-body, in which the higher part of the human being is enclosed.
In considering karmic relationships we shall be concerned chiefly with
how causes and effects are connected with these different bodies.
Let us consider first
the physical body, in so far as it bears on the law of karma. All our
actions take place in the physical world; if we are to cause anyone
pleasure or pain we have to be — of course not literally —
in the same place as he is. What we do results from the movements of
our physical body and on everything connected with it. Our external
destiny in a later life depends upon what we do in this physical life.
This external destiny is, as it were, the environment into which we are
born. Anyone who has done bad deeds prepares for himself a bad environment,
and vice versa. That is the first important karmic law: what we did in a
former life determines our external destiny.
There is a second fundamental
law. If we look at the way a man develops, we see that in the course
of his life he learns an extraordinary amount. He absorbs concepts,
ideas, experiences, feelings, and all this produces great changes in
him. Think of yourselves as you were a few years ago before you knew
anything about Theosophy; think of the new ideas you have acquired and
how they have changed your life. All this has produced a corresponding
change in the astral body, for it is the most subtle and delicate and
responds most quickly to change.
and inclinations change much more slowly. A passionate child, for example,
changes very slowly. Temperament, character and inclinations often persist
all through life. Ideas and experiences change quickly; it is just the
opposite with temperament, character and inclinations. These attributes
are very tenacious; they do change, but slowly. Their relation to quickly
changing ideas is somewhat like the relation of the hour-hand of a clock
to the quick-moving minute-hand. This is because they depend on the
etheric body, which consists of substance much less open to change than
is the substance of the astral body. Slowest of all to change is the
physical body. It is laid down once for all, so to speak, and retains
more or less the same character throughout life. We shall see later
how the Initiate can work upon his etheric body and can change even
his physical body. For the moment we must consider how all this extends
beyond a single life.
The ideas, feelings and
so on which transform the astral body during a long life will produce
a marked change in the etheric body only in the next life. Thus if someone
wants to be born. in his next life with good habits and inclinations,
he must try-to prepare these as much as possible in his astral body.
If he makes the effort to do good, he will be born in his next life
with the tendency to do good and that will be a characteristic of his
etheric body. If he wants to be born with a good memory, he must exercise
his memory as much as he can; he must practise looking back over the
separate years of his life and over his life as a whole. In this way he
will engender in his astral body something which will become a
characteristic of his etheric body in his next life — the
foundation for a good memory. A man who simply hurries through the
world will find in his next life that he cannot stick at anything. But
if anyone lives in intimate sympathy with a particular environment,
he will be born with a special predilection for everything that reminds
him of it.
We can trace the various
temperaments, also, back to a previous life, for they are qualities
of the etheric body.
The choleric man has a
strong will, is bold, courageous, with an urge to action. Alexander
the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, Napoleon, for example, were cholerics.
This type of character shows itself even in childhood, and a child with
this temperament will take the lead in childhood games.
The melancholic man is
very much occupied with himself and hence is apt to keep himself to
himself. He does a lot of thinking, particularly about the way in which
his environment affects him. He withdraws into himself, tends to be
suspicious. This temperament, too, is apparent in childhood: a child
of this type does not like to display his toys; he is afraid something
will be taken away from him and would like to keep everything under
lock and key.
The phlegmatic man has
no real interest in anything; he is dreamy, inactive, lazy, and seeks
The sanguine man, on the
other hand, gets easily interested in anything but he does not stick to
it; his interest quickly fades; he is continually changing his hobbies.
These are the four basic
types. Generally a man is a mixture of all four, but we can usually
discover the fundamental one. These four temperaments express themselves
in the etheric body, and so there are four main types of etheric body.
They have differing currents and movements, and these impart a particular
basic colour to the astral body. This does not depend on the astral
body; it only reveals itself there.
The melancholic temperament
is karmically determined if a man in his previous life was compelled
to lead a narrow, restricted existence and to be much alone; if he was
always preoccupied only with himself and unable to Make much interest in
anything else. If, however, a man has learnt a great deal from experience
but has also had something of a hard struggle, if he has encountered many
things and has not merely looked on at them, he will become a choleric.
If, again, he has had a pleasant life without much struggle or toil,
or if he saw and passed by many things, but only as an onlooker, all
this will work karmically into the etheric body of his next life: he
will become a phlegmatic or a sanguine type.
From this we can see how
we can work for our next life: and in occult schools this is done with
conscious intention. In former times it was done more often than it
is today because of the changes in human evolution. Five thousand years
ago the occult teacher had a quite different task. He had to concern
himself with people in groups; human beings had not reached the stage
where each man has to take responsibility for himself. The deliberate
purpose was to enable whole classes and groups of people to work together
harmoniously in their next lives. But human beings are becoming more
and more individual and independent; the occult teacher can no longer
use anyone as a means to an end but has to treat everyone as an end
in himself, and to help him to develop as far as is possible for him.
In the oldest civilisations, in India for example, the entire population
was divided into four castes, and the training given was intended to
fit everyone for a particular caste in the next life. The development
of human beings, together with the picture of the world they were to
have, was deliberately planned for thousands of years ahead, and it
was this that gave occult leaders their great power.
How, then, should we try
to influence our etheric body for the next life? Everything done to
develop the etheric body produces a result, however slowly, and education
can take pains to instil quite specific habits. Whatever the etheric
body acquires during one life comes to expression in the physical body
in the next life. All the habits and inclinations of the present etheric
body will create a predisposition to good or bad health. Good habits
will produce good health; bad ones will create a tendency to some specific
illness in the next life. A strong determination to rid oneself of a
bad habit will work down into the physical body and produce a tendency
to good health. How a disposition to infectious diseases arises in the
physical body has been particularly well observed. Whether we actually
get a disease will depend on what we do; but whether we are specially
liable to contract it is the result of the inclinations we had in a
previous life. Infectious diseases, strangely enough, can be traced
back to a highly developed selfish acquisitiveness in a previous life.
If we want really to
understand health and illness, we must bear in mind how complicated the
circumstances are. Illness need not be a matter of individual karma only;
the karma of a whole people has to be taken into account.
An interesting example
of how things in the spiritual life are inter-related can be seen in
the migration of the Huns and Mongols who poured from Asia into the
West. The Mongols were stragglers of the Atlanteans. While the Indians,
the German and other peoples were progressing, the Mongols had remained
behind. Just as the animaLs have separated off from the evolutionary
path of mankind, so have certain lower peoples and races fallen behind.
The Mongols were Atlanteans whose physical development had taken a downward
course. In the astral bodies of such decadent people an abundance of
decaying astral substance can be seen. When the Mongols fell upon the
Germans and other Central European peoples, they created a wave of fear
and panic. These emotions belong to the astral body, and under such
conditions decaying astral substances will flourish. Thus the astral
bodies of Europeans became infected and in later generations the infection
came out in the physical body, affecting not merely individuals but
whole groups of peoples. It emerged as leprosy, that terrible disease
which wrought such devastation in the Middle Ages. It was the physical
consequence of an influence on the astral body.
Philology will not help
you in finding evidence for this, because it knows nothing of astral
influences. But you will at least find some evidence for the descent
of the Mongols from the Atlanteans in the names: thus Attila, the leader
of the Huns, is called in the Nordic language, Atli — meaning someone
descended from the Atlanteans.
This then is how diseases
affecting whole peoples have originated, and in ancient times some
knowledge of it survived. The Bible has a true saying, very often
misunderstood, when it speaks of God visiting the sins of the fathers on
the children, even to the third and fourth generations. This does not
refer to the successive incarnations of individuals, but to a karma
affecting whole generations. We have to take the saying literally, as
indeed many such statements have to be taken more literally than is
The fact is that we must
first learn to read the religious sources properly. In ancient times
simple-minded people took them literally. As people became more
sophisticated, this way of reading became increasingly rare. Then the
clever liberal theologians began to expound the sources, each in his own
way; and this meant that many passages were not expounded but undermined.
Then there was a third stage: that of the people who took everything
— old myths and legends and even the life of Christ — as a
series of symbols. All this depends on the ingenuity of individuals;
some will always be cleverer at it than others. But there is also a
fourth stage: that of the occultist, who can once more understand
everything literally because through his spiritual knowledge he can see
how things are interconnected.
From what has been said
you will realise that habits and feelings, which first belong to the
spiritual life, can later express themselves in physical life. There
is an important principle here: if care is taken to inculcate good habits,
not only will the moral life of subsequent generations be improved,
but also the health of a whole people, and vice versa. This is then
their collective karma.
There is a form of illness,
very widespread today, which was hardly known a hundred years ago —
nerves or neuroticism — not because it was unrecognised, but because
it was so uncommon. This characteristic illness springs from the
materialistic outlook of the eighteenth century. Without that, the
illness would never have appeared. The occult teacher knows that if this
materialism were to continue for a few decades more, it would have a
devastating effect on the general health of mankind. If these
materialistic habits of thought were to remain unchecked, people
would not only be neurotic in the ordinary sense but children would
be born trembling; they would not merely be sensitive to their
environment but would receive from everything around them a sensation
of pain. Above all, mental ailments would spread very rapidly; epidemics
of insanity would occur during the following decade. This was the danger
— epidemic insanity — that faced mankind, and the
possibility of it in the future was why the leaders of humanity,
the Masters of Wisdom, saw the necessity of allowing some spiritual
wisdom to be diffused among mankind at large. Nothing short of a spiritual
picture of the world could restore to coming generations a tendency
to good health. Theosophy, you will realise, is thus a profound movement
which has been given out to meet the needs of humanity. A hundred years
ago a “nervous” man meant one with iron nerves. Simply from
the change in the meaning of the word you can see that something quite
new has come into the world.
How is the law of karma
related to physical heredity? Physical heredity plays a great role;
we know that some of the characteristics of a father and his ancestors
may be found again in the son. In the Bach family, for instance, there
were twenty-eight highly gifted musicians in a period of 250 years. Again,
Bernoulli was a great mathematician, and eight other gifted mathematicians
came after him in his family. This is all a matter of heredity, we are
told; but that is only partially true. In order to be a good musician
you need more than a musical predisposition in your soul; you need also
a good ear in the physical sense. This good ear is a physical quality
to be found in a family of musicians, and is passed on from one generation
to the next. In a family, then, where a great deal of music is performed,
you will find good musical ears, and so when a soul with a strongly
developed musical talent is to be incarnated, it will naturally not
choose a family with no interest in music — where it would languish
— but one which has suitable physical organs. This fits in very
well with the law of karma.
The same thing applies
to moral courage. If a soul with that predisposition cannot find a suitable
heredity, the characteristic will fade out. You can see that you have
to be very careful in your choice of parents! The fact is not that the
child resembles his parents, but that he is born into a family where
the parents most resemble him.
might ask: Does not this devalue a mother's love? Not at all. Just
because the deepest sympathy already exists before birth, a particular
child seeks out a particular mother; the love between them has its source
much further back, and after birth it continues. The child loved its
mother before it was born: no wonder then that the mother returns the
love. Thus the significance of a mother's love is not falsely explained
away; rather is its true source made clear. Of this, more tomorrow.