“The Law of Karma is today a great and incontrovertible fact in the consciousness of humanity everywhere. They may not call it by that name, but they are well aware that in all today’s events the nations are reaping what they sowed. This great law – at one time a theory – is now a proven fact and a recognised factor in human thinking.”
When the Master Djwhal Khul dictated these words to Alice Bailey for Esoteric Healing nearly half a century ago, the popular perception – and misperception – of ‘karma’ that has to come to permeate popular culture today was mainly limited to spiritual and esoteric groups. Subconsciously, however, many people even then were wrestling with the Law of Karma as they struggled to discover the causes underlying the happenings of a troubled world and to gain a measure of control over the future. “The question ‘Why?’,” wrote DK, “brings in the factor of cause and effect with constant inevitability.
The concepts of heredity and of environment … qualities, racial characteristics, national temperaments and ideals … historical conditions, the relationships between nations, social taboos, religious convictions and tendencies … things of beauty and of horror, modes of living and civilisation and culture, prejudices and likings, scientific attainment and artistic expression … are aspects of effects, initiated somewhere, on some level at some time, by human beings, both individual and en masse. Karma is therefore that which Man – the Heavenly Man in whom we live, humanity as a whole, mankind in groups as nations, and individual man – has instituted, carried forward, endorsed, omitted to do or has done right through the ages until the present moment.” (Esoteric Healing, p262-3.)
Since Djwhal Khul so succinctly defined karma and provided, for those who had ears to hear, the most essential clue to understanding the realm of causes, thinking people around the world have developed a conscious interest in the concept of karma as a way of answering their otherwise unanswerable questions. Along with the popularization of the idea, however, has come a tendency to oversimplify, to adapt wholesale from Eastern traditions half-understood versions of what karma is and how it operates, and to adjust the concept to the personality need to justify and rationalize one’s own actions. As a result, there are many misunderstandings of karma which need to be corrected if we are to work with, rather than in spite of this most important universal law.
Three of these deserve particular attention. First, the common and rather resigned perception of karma as immutable predestination: “I don’t really see what I can do about it. It’s just my karma.” This is the “sin and retribution” version which in the West probably flows from historical religious beliefs in a wrathful, vengeful God and the “original sin” theory of Calvinism and Puritanism. In effect it denies the possibility of free will and tends to rationalize passivity and inaction in dealing with life’s problems. The misunderstanding here, says the Master DK, is in confusing the Law of Karma with the Law of Retribution which is merely one of its aspects. Actually, it is more accurate to think of karma in terms of the comprehensive law of which karma is itself but an element – the Law of Cause and Effect. This law, comments DK, “is not to be understood as we now interpret it.
There is, to illustrate, a law called the Law of Gravitation, which has long imposed itself on the minds of men; such a law exists, but it is only an aspect of a greater law, and its power can be, as we know, relatively offset, for each time that we see an aeroplane soaring overhead, we see a demonstration of the offsetting of this law by mechanical means, symbolising the ease with which it can be surmounted by human beings.” (Esoteric Healing, p20-21.)
We can, in other words, offset the limitations imposed by law – if we understand the law and use our wisdom, intelligence and will properly. It is true, of course, that through past action we have indeed created what we call “bad” karma – largely, DK tells us, “owing to humanity’s ignorance and low stage of development.” What our ignorance and want of evolution has produced in the past, our personalities will experience in the present, and the more highly developed our minds, the greater will be our suffering from this experience. At the same time, however, our increasingly sophisticated minds grant us the capacity to offset negative karma by intervening intentionally, through choice. As Maitreya taught in Volume I of Leaves of Morya’s Garden many years ago, “Karma is of great importance, but of greater gravity is the choice. Karma is but the condition of the choice.”
Right choice, says DK, “is determined every time by that which is right for the whole and not so much by that which is right for the part.” Thus, the offsetting of karma by the imposition of willed choice requires a certain detachment from self-interest and the capacity to focus on the well-being of humanity as a whole. Under these circumstances, DK continues, “what man has made he can unmake. This is oft forgotten. Karma is not a hard and fast rule. It is changeable, according to man’s attitude and desire.” (Externalisation of the Hierarchy, p225.)
A related misinterpretation of karma is described and corrected by DK without equivocation: “There are many people today who find an alibi for themselves in the present world situation, and a consequent release from definite action and responsibility by saying that what is today happening is simply karma or the working out of cause and effect, and that there is nothing, therefore, that they can do about it; they take the position that it is not their affair, and that in due course of time the process will be worked out and everything will be all right again. The slate will then be cleaner and incidentally they will not have been embroiled, but will have safely (even if uncomfortably) looked on.” If they have the capacity to analyze world events in this way, such people of course also have the mental capacity to utilize some degree of free will and, says DK, it is only through the compassionate use of that free will that the world’s evils and havoc will be transmuted into good. “Therefore,” he concludes, “those who are looking on at the tragic sufferings of humanity and who refuse to be implicated, and thus succeed in evading responsibility as an integral part of the human family, are definitely storing up for themselves much evil karma.”
The struggle against such human suffering is the struggle for freedom, and “those who refuse to share in that struggle for freedom will be left out of the gains of freedom, even if it only means within their own home limits, in their life habits and in their private circumstances.” (Externalisation of the Hierarchy, p253.)
The karmic process, then, if rightly engaged with, is transformative, constantly alchemizing evil into good, materiality into spirituality, pain and suffering into joy and happiness. From the most esoteric point of view, karma is synonymous with opportunity and constitutes a beneficient means for earning one’s way back to God. This perspective sharply contrasts with the third pervasive misunderstanding of karma, namely that all karma is negative: to say “that’s my karma” is the same as “that’s the curse I must live with.”Karma from this perspective is a painful exacting of repayment for transgressions long since forgotten and controlled by some vague agency not easily understood, a kind of ‘cosmic’ retribution. The good we experience is, therefore, not karmically created and lies outside the stern and unforgiving
Law of Karma.
Perhaps it is because, as DK tells us, humanity is capable of taking on its own negative karma and is doing so – painfully but positively – that we are so inclined to believe – and quite illogically – that the Law of Cause and Effect is really the law of negative causes and negative effects. “Today,” says DK, ” the karma of humanity is descending upon it,” a fact of life in the period during which he was dictating material to Alice Bailey and which has colored the attitudes of both those who lived through that period and their children. Even in such dark times, however, we should not forget that there is another side to the Law of Karma: “I would remind you … that the continuous emphasis laid upon the malevolent aspects of karma conveys a wrong impression and negates the full grasp of the truth. There is as much good karma as there is bad… The good karma emanating from the soul of humanity balances the evil which comes from the material aspect and is continuously over-emphasised.” ‘Bad’ karma, then, is best understood as “the rhythm of matter in contradistinction to the rhythm of the soul.” (Externalisation of the Hierarchy, p117.)
Karma of Reward
There is, in fact, a “Karma of Reward… This is the type of karma oft forgotten, but one which will become better known in the coming world cycle. Humanity has worked off much evil karma, and the karma based on causes later to be initiated will not generate such dire effects as that of the past.” Already one can perceive the prophetic wisdom of these words as the world enters the Age of Maitreya, an age of divine intervention and the externalization of the Hierarchy only made possible by the use of human free will to offset its karmic liabilities.
Similarly, more and more individuals are experiencing an increased capacity to generate ‘good’ karma and gradually become conscious actors in their evolutionary dramas. “In time to come,” DK said in the 1940’s, “man will develop that mental attitude which will consider causes of greater importance than effects; he will then learn to consider with care the first steps taken in initiating any line of action, pondering upon and deducing the probable effects before committing himself to any specific deed.” (Externalisation of the Hierarchy, p117.)
Surely the presence worldwide of the New Group of World Servers is further evidence that many thousands of people are already sufficiently free of the need to spend most of their time struggling with past negative karma and can reap, as their reward for past and present efforts, a great reward: the right and capacity to serve. Perhaps we are in fact on the verge of a period when, as DK taught, the difficult karma of the past “will be changed into the good karma which is the true destiny of humanity and will usher in the new era of joy and of peace and spiritual synthesis – that synthesis which we call brotherhood.” (Externalisation of the Hierarchy, p256.)
Reprinted with the kind permission of Share International Magazine.
Authors Details: Carrol Joy
The late Carrol Joy was US editor of Share International and a consultant in developmental education based in New York.