[ from “The Canadian Theosophist,” April, 1933]
In “The Mahatma Letters” there is a reply to a question by Mr. A.P. Sinnett on the effect of Karma on the Social position of men. It contains enough to solve most of the problems of this kind that are raised in ordinary discussion. Let us quote it.
“The ‘reward provided by nature for men who are benelovelent in a large systematic way’ and who have not focussed their affections upon an individuality or speciality, is that – if pure – they pass the quicker for that through the Kama and Rupa Lokas into the higher sphere of Tribuvana, since it is one where the formaton of abstract ideas and the consideration of general principles fill the thought of its occupants. Personality is the synonym for limitation, and the more contracted the person’s ideas, the closer will he cling to the lower spheres of being, the longer loiter on the plane of selfish social intercourse. The social status of a being is, of course, a result of Karma; the law being that ‘like attracts like.’ The renascent being is drawn into the gestative current with which the preponderating attractions coming over from the last birth make him asimilate. Thus one who died a ryot may be reborn a king, and the dead sovereign may next see the light in a coolie’s tent. This law of attraction asserts itself in a thousand ‘accidents of birth’ – than which there could be no more flagrant misnomer.
“When you, realize, at least, the following – that the skandas are the elements of limited existence then will you have realized also one of the conditions of devachan which has now such a profoundly unsatisfactory outlook for you. Nor are your inferences (as regards the well-being and enjoyment of the upper classes being due to a better Karma) quite correct in their general application. They have a eudaemonistic ring about them which is hardly reconcilable with Karmic Law, since those ‘well-being and enjoyment’ are oftener the causes of a new and overloaded Karma than the production or effects of the latter. Even as a ‘broad rule’ poverty and humble condition in life are less a cause of sorrow than wealth and high birth, but of that… later on.” (T.U.P., p. 200)
In this as in all else, circumstances alter cases. It is just as easy and just as difficult to be kind and generous and helpful in a position of affluence as in a position of poverty. It is the nature of the Ego himself or herself to be generous and helpful or the reverse. And here stands one of the stumbling-blocks for the social reformer. We are all desirous of having better social conditions, everything better than it is. When everything is perfect and every one has all he wants, there will be room for anyone to help anyone else on the physical plane anyway, and it is to be feared that our benevolent impulses would thus soon become atrophied, and die out altogether for want of exercise.
We constantly forget that our faculties are gained by struggle and that as soon as we cease to struggle, or think we are so fortunate as to possess conditions which make struggle unnecessary, and have gained the summit of existence; right then and there we begin to lose what we have gained, and the sooner we are thrown back into the toilsome world the better for us. Too many people associate struggle with pain. There need be no pain in healthy struggle or effort, as long as our aims are unselfish.
Nor can it be wrong to strive to raise the conditions of society in general so that the standard of thought and aspiration should be raised among men. But there must continue to be struggle on the mental plane if physical conditions are made utterly pleasant and free from effort. This is why it is that no model settlement or colony, or anything of that kind has ever given prolonged satisfaction to intelligent people. Brook Farm, Fairhope, and all the rest of them become intolerable sooner or later to the best minds! Even Robinson Crusoe would never have been able to “stick it,” had he not kept himself perpetually busy improving his home and planting and reaping and planning and executing, as all rational beings must if they would remain sane and capable.
It may be observed how often men when they retire, though in perfect health, drop off as though life had lost its grip for them. Those who do not know the joy of work must always remain among the most miserable and discontented of beings. “I have known joy,” said Robert Louis Stevenson, “for I have done good work.” It is in the nature of things that we should always be building and rebuilding and that nature should always be pulling down and destroying. Every time we come back into reincarnation in the ordinary course of things we come into a new world. It is no wonder we remember little of our past lives. After a few centuries little is left to be recognized.
Mutability is the keynote of life. Christians accuse the easterns of pessimism for recognizing this, but the New Testament is full of it. And, so are our hymns and sermons, and they are not seldom the most popular hymns we sing. Take Lyte’s fine hymn, “Abide with me,” and study its lines. There is no greater exposition of pessimism, and congregations actually revel in it. They “seek a city which is for to come.” Buddhists are logical enough to realize that no permanent condition can be established in a world of change, so they aspire to the changeless Nirvana, not extinction, as some would have it, but the extinction of change, which can only mean something akin to the Absolute.
We can only find that Absolutencss in the Self. Hence, the whole race of Man draws onward towards that “far-off divine event.” St. Paul assures us that God shall be all and in all, and many Christians shrink from such a fate. It is the Nirvana of the Buddhists, no matter what the theologians may say. So the whole Race passes on through Round after Round, race after race, aeon after aeon, till the Great Day Be-With-Us, the climax of the ages of the ages.
Are we inclined to slacken in our petty tasks, when these things are brought to our contemplation? Then, assuredly, we have not yet learned the lesson of action in inaction, and inaction in action. We still need to know how to act and to be detached from the results of action. To stand aside and let the Warrior fight for us. To become conscious that the Self has given us the whole world and that we may peacefully lose it for the sake of that which lies behind.