[THE following letter has been received by the editors, in criticism on Mr. Keightley’s article on “Karma”; and as it raises many rather important points, an attempt has been made to answer them. Mr. Beatty’s letter is somewhat difficult to deal with, for though it asks many questions, they are so inextricably mingled with its author’s thoughts that it would be unfair to disentangle them from the context. It is a pity that Mr. Beatty, in his haste to criticize, did not wait for the conclusion of the article, as he might have saved himself some trouble. If his real desire is to learn, it would be well that he should approach the endeavour in a less flippant spirit and evolve the critic out of the criticaster. In many of his arguments he has, so to say, “given himself away”, but, in the interests of space and of the readers of LUCIFER, only those questions and arguments which bear directly on the points at issue have been selected for answer. The point which Mr. Beatty does “not care to discuss”, and which refers to the mystery of Godliness, has been omitted. Perhaps, if Mr. Beatty continues to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, he may in some future incarnationsolve the mystery.]
In an article in LUCIFER, under the above heading, Mr. Keightley declares it to be “ very difficult, if not well-nigh impossible”, to understand Karma, and I grant him that his essay is a practical demonstration of his allegation. The difficulty (1.) does not, however, hinder him from attempting to define the refractory term. “Karma”, he says, “is the working of the great law which governs reincarnation” or “a manifestation of the One, Universal, Divine Principle in the phenomenal world”, or again, “the great law of harmony which governs the universe”. Now, waiving altogether the question of reincarnations, I shall proceed to examine whether Mr. Keightley makes good his contention that “harmony”, in his sense of the word, “governs the Universe”. He says, “the man who denies the existence of harmony in the universe has transgressed the law and is experiencing punishment. He does this unconsciously to himself, because the law of harmony forms an unconscious impulse to its readjustment when it has been broken”. Here there are several things to be considered. In the first place, it may be asked: (2.) Does a man, by merely denying the existence of a law of Nature or the universe, trangress that law? I think not. [ Mr Keightley’s meaning (and it is difficult for the words to bear any other interpretation) was that the denial of harmony is evidence that, at some previous time, the man who denies has set himself in opposition to the law, in virtue of those very desires and instincts of his animal personality to which Mr Beatty alludes later on. In this sense, Mr Beatty is right in saying that a law of the universe cannot be broken; but its limits may be transgressed, and consequently an attempt made by man to make himself into a small but rival universe. It is the old story of the china pot and the iron kettle, and that fact that china gets the worst of it is conclusive that the china is struggling against Nature ] Secondly. Can a law of the universe be “broken” ? Here again I must reply in the negative; for who is going to contend that the law of gravitation has ever been “broken”, [Will Mr Beatty explain the phenomenon of a comet flirting its tail round the sun in defiance of the “law of gravitation”?] has ever ceased to act, has ever required “re-adjustment” ? A man [Page 312] can break no law of Nature in the sense of bringing that law into abeyance. If then, a law of harmony governs the universe there can be no such thing as discord. (3.) Yet Mr. Keightley admits that there is discord, that the law of harmony has been “broken” and needs “readjustment”. This is a surrendering of his position and a patent admission that harmony is not constant or universal. He then proceeds to draw an illustration from music. “ In musical chords, the composing notes, if taken by twos and threes, will be found in discord, but, when taken together, produce a harmony”. This is a particularly unfortunate subject of illustration. For does it not show that discord is an element in the universe as well as harmony ? Why are discords introduced into music ? Simply to make the harmony more effective. The reason for this, however, does not lie in any so-called universal law of harmony, but rather in the constitution of animate existences. Fundamentally, sensation is the consciousness of difference. Where the difference is great the feeling is great. If we wish to have the keenest sensation of sweetness we must first taste something bitter. Thus it is that occasional discords heighten harmony. But are the discords any less real on that account ? Certainly not; for there can no more be harmony without discord, than there can be an up without a down. This, moreover, is only another illustration of the fact that human knowledge is merely relative. Must we, however, admit that the universal law may be harmony while our experience tells us that there are discords without number ? Unless ignorance be considered as superior to positive knowledge, I see no room for the admission. If a man’s house tumbles about his ears, does it become any less a fact by trying to persuade himself and his neighbours that it is still standing ? This seems to be the method of Mr. Keightley. He has, however, yet another argument. “The universe … is essentially an evidence of harmony; otherwise it could not exist, for it would fall to pieces”. This is a palpable begging of the question, and, besides, very absurd. The universe is a harmony, because a universe must be a harmony ! “Otherwise it could not exist”. Now how does our harmonist know whether it could exist or not ? Of what other universe has he experience or knowledge ? “It would fall to pieces”. Where, I wonder, would it fall to ? Perhaps it is even now fast falling to pieces, and who can tell us differently ? As far as ordinary people ran judge, it seems, as regards the parts we are acquainted with, to be falling into more or less concrete masses, but not many sane people believe it can fall into nothingness. After all this vain contention for universal harmony we find Mr. Keightley settling down like ordinary mortals to the conviction that the world is far from harmonious or perfect. One unfortunate individual who cannot be persuaded that all is harmony, is told that “he is incapable of understanding it because his attention is solely devoted to that which produces discord”. How comes it that the universe does not fall to pieces as a result of this discord ? Surely we are in a precarious condition, if every obstinate fool who persists in crying out when he has been hurt, endangers the stability of the universe. Did ever anyone meet with a universe where there is less evidence of harmony ? One brute force ever in conflict with another. Infernal forces piling up mountain on the top of mountain; supernal forces blasting, rending, excoriating and tumbling these mountains down again into the valleys; the oak struggling against the inwarping ivy, the fawn attempting vainly to escape from the claws of the [Page 313] tiger, the child agonising while parasites eat slowly and mercilessly into its lungs, liver, or brain; the strong everywhere victorious over the weak; each sect and each party exerting itself ferociously to scoop out the viscera of its rival. Such is the world, such all records declare it to have been, and such it gives ample promise of continuing. But if the world is not really so, and on the contrary is one immensity of joyous harmony, who can tell us why the evidence is so deceptive ? Here again, Mr. Keightley introduces to us a most remarkable statement. “The one Divine principle is divided by man’s actions into two opposing forces of good and evil, and man’s progress depends on the exertion of his will to preserve harmony and prevent deviation to one side or the other”. Give us by all means in preference to this for common sense, for rationality and for every other quality that makes it digestible, the childish story of Eve, the apple and the fall.
Beyond doubt, Mr. Keightley has a profound faith in man as a power in the universe and an instrument for evil. By a most singular process of metaphysical alchemy man decomposes the “Divine principle” into “two opposing forces of good and evil”. It seems from this revised version of an old story that man introduced evil into the universe. Why is man so important that a universe should be polluted for his sake ? Surely man did not make himself, and whatever powers were in him for evil or for good must have been potential in that from which he sprang. Man can create nothing, neither evil nor good, neither a tendency to do right nor an inclination to do wrong. “Man’s will” is always a tremendous force for good or evil in the hands of theologians and metaphysicians. Did man make his own “will ?” If not, how can he be responsible for what he does ? Everybody knows that man can act according to his likes or dislikes. But does anybody imagine that he can make his own likes or dislikes ? (4.) He can do as he wishes, but he wishes according to his nature, and this he cannot transcend, consequently he is not responsible to the Author of his nature for what his nature inclines him to do. But what are we to understand by the rest of the sentence ? Man’s will is “to preserve harmony and prevent deviation to one side or the other”. First the will brings about evil in the “Divine principle”, destroying harmony, then it is to reproduce harmony and at the same time to maintain a balance between good and evil, and “prevent deviation to the one side or the other”. This to Mahatmas and possessors of the “sixth sense” may seem plain logic, but it far surpasses my comprehension. [Very little doubt that it does. Mankind is only very gradually developing its fifth sense on the intellectual plane. Intuition might have carried our critic over the difficulty, but in some parts of his criticism he seems hardly to have begun to evolute the intellectual sense ] I am, perhaps, as averse to “the pernicious doctrine of reward and punishment after death, in heaven or in hell” as Mr. Keightley can be, but I can by no means deduce from it the results which to him appear so inevitable. “Nothing”, he says, “could have been found more calculated to circumscribe the view of life as a whole, and concentrate man’s attention on temporary matters. . . . He either rejected the idea of soul as altogether worthless, or else he transferred his interest to the soul’s welfare in heaven — in either case concentrating his attention on what is inevitably transient”. How the idea of never-ending existence in heaven or in hell can have the effect of circumscribing “the view of life as a whole”, and of concentrating “man’s attention on [Page 314] temporary matters”, is to me an insolvable puzzle. That it should have quite the opposite effect, does not seem to require proof. Why, in the name of mystery, should he “reject the idea of soul as worthless”, and how can transferring “his interest to the soul’s welfare in heaven” be called a concentrating of “his attention on what is inevitably transient ?” Truly this Karma is a bewildering subject ! [ “This Karma”, as Mr Beatty expresses it, would not be quite so bewildering a subject if critics would bear in mind the context and not fall foul of a detached expression — not even a sentence. The “interest of the soul’s welfare in heaven” is concentrated by John Smith on John Smith as John Smith in heaven, and in order that the said John Smith may go on enjoying the things he loved on earth. As his earth life has ended, John Smith has changed and is “transient”. If he were not transient a very natural inference would follow, that progress, evolution, etc., on whatever plane of being does not prevail ]
Do plants and animals come under the law of Karma ? is the next question discussed by Mr. Keightley. An extract from the Theosophist seems to discountenance such a thing. But are its arguments really conclusive against it ? I do not think so. It says, “A piece of iron is attracted to a magnet without having any desire in the matter” Now, in the first place, this is pure assumption, and has its origin in vainglorious human egotism. [ Mr Beatty hardly maintains his position of consistent materialism here; and it is at least as vainglorious to deny as to assert ] It is evident that from objective data alone we cannot decide what is the subjective state of the molecules of the attracted iron. In the second place, we are only acquainted with the iron as a cause producing changes in us. No matter how we interpret these changes, they cannot even tell us the real nature of iron, merely considered objectively. Again the extract proceeds: “An animal usually follows the instincts of its nature without any merit or demerit for so doing; a child or an idiot may smilingly kick over a lamp, which may set a whole city on fire. … A person can only be held responsible according to his ability to perceive justice, and to distinguish between good and evil”. According to this doctrine, man is not an “animal”, and does not follow his instincts. To those who are acquainted, even slightly, with the method and regularity of Nature, this contention will appear, on the face of it, untenable. For why should there be an exception in the case of man ? [ Man has the “animal” in him of course, but he has also the power of judgment or discrimination. Mr Beatty’s wish to be critically pessimistic seems here to run away with his power of discrimination ] Has man instincts, desires, and inclinations, or has he not ? If he has, why should he have them if he is not to follow them ? And if in any case he does not follow them, is it not with him as with the “animals” ? Is it not because he is deterred by influences from without, or hereditary influences from within ? And of all these instincts, desires and influences, how is he to know which to obey, to know which is of Divine sanction ? He has conscience, of course, but conscience is a very variable quantity, and indeed, it might not be too much to say that there is hardly a crime in the world that has not, at one time or another, been commended by conscience. Conscience is only one phase of the man’s mental activity, and was no more created by him than was his power of vision. We talk of “children and idiots”, and their being irresponsible, but are not untamed savages also irresponsible ? And if we admit that there may be beings as much [Page 315] higher than we, as we are higher than children, idiots, and savages, will they not, with reason and justice, regard us as irresponsible ? The truth is, there never was a greater chimera conjured up by unreasoning fancy than that one of man’s responsibility to a Supreme Power. Man is responsible only to man, and man’s conduct is without merit except from a human view-point. We are good or bad by reason of all the forces that act on and through us.
My object in writing what I have written is to show to Theosophists the dense darkness in which I wander. Will some God-illumined mind not take pity upon, and draw me up from the labyrinthian gloom, where illusions mislead me at every step ? My “sixth sense” seems wholly dormant, and Nirvana, that haven of rest, seems distant, by many a weary league of rocky path and burning desert. Pity me.
J. H. BEATTY.
5, Christie Street, Paisley.
(I.) The difficulty experienced in fathoming the mysteries of Karmic Law arises from the conditions of our present intellectual environment and general evolutionary status. It has been, also, frequently stated that a completecomprehension of its workings is reserved for the Initiate who has transcended the domain of terrestrial activity — viz., the necessity for soul-evolution through successive births. But, passing over this consideration, it is evident that, in the process of bringing down fragments of the Divine Truth on to the plane of mere intellectual interpretation, an inevitable distortion must ensue. The rays of spiritual light will be split up and refracted as they pass through the prism of the brain. Mr. Beatty will recognise this fact more clearly owing to his belief “that human knowledge is merely relative”. Surely, when that most familiar fact of our experience, the “perception of matter”, is, metaphysically speaking, an illusion, the relativity of mental conceptions of spiritual truths would appear to be a necessity. According to Huxley, Spencer, Du Bois Reymond, and all leading thinkers, we know nothing of things as they are even on this plane, which to the materialist is “All in all”. The essence of the thing “perceived” escapes us; all we really grasp is its presentation in consciousness. It is, therefore, clear that in interpreting realities on the super-physical plane, we cannot advance beyond word-symbols and adumbrations. The intuition of the individual must effect the rest.
Such considerations, however, in no way militate against the successful defence of Esoteric philosophy on purely intellectual lines. Translated into terms of human thought, its metaphysics must be shown to blend intimately with thefacts of science and psychology, and its ability to solve the enigmas of life demonstrated. “Philosophy is chaos”, remarks the author of “Absolute Relativism”, referring to modern thought. If we are to avoid the spectacle of a future “moral chaos”, also, as the fruit of the materialistic Upas tree, some fresh impulse must be infused into the dry bones of Western metaphysics — some raison d’être assigned to life, and an ideal worthy of man’s noblest efforts presented to the multitude of laissez-faire pessimists. Such is an aspect of the work now before us.
(2.) A man may certainly injure himself [ No law of Nature can be set aside, but a man transgresses a law of his [mental] being when he deliberately places himself under the sway of certain “evil” forces. The gist of Mr Beatty’s criticism is not quite evident here ] by shutting his eyes to a spiritual [Page 316] interpretation of the Universe and its workings. The only acquisition he can carry with him after physical death is the aroma of the vast aggregate of mental states generated in one incarnation. The personality or brain-consciousness of the physical man is, after all, a mere feeler projected into this objective plane to harvest experience for its individual Self. It does not at all follow that any experience may be acquired which the Monad is enabled to assimilate. Abstract thinking, religious aspirations, scientific lore, poetry, the nobler emotions, and all such efflorescences of human consciousness, furnish the “material” which go to build up the transcendental individuality of the Ego progressing towards the Nirvana. The materialist presents a frequent instance of soul-death — so far as the fruitage of the personality is concerned. His knowledge may be enormous, but being un-spiritualised, a mere creature of the physical brain, it cannot blossom into luxuriance in the Devachanic interim between successive births. Consequently, as the True Self — the “transcendental subject” of the neo-Kantian German school — only assimilates experience suitable to its own exalted nature, it becomes evident that, ideals apart, the philosophy of a man is of very great importance. At the same time, it need not be said that sectarian “religion” is almost more pernicious than materialism, inasmuch as it combines the two factors of crass ignorance and spiritual torpor.
(3.) Harmony is essentially the law of the Universe. The contrasted aspects of Nature come into being subsequently to the differentiation of matter from its several protyles in the commencement of a cycle of becoming, or Manwantara, and can have no reality except in the experience of conscious Egos. [The phenomenal contrast is not denied, but it is representative of no fundamental want of harmony. In the same way the contrast of Subject and Object is essential to our present finite consciousness, although it has no basis of reality beyond the limits of conditional being. Moreover, even in this phenomenal Universe, equilibrium (harmony) is most certainly maintained by the very conflict of the contrasted forces alluded to ] For beneath the surface of the great ocean of cosmic illusion — beneath the clash of apparently clashing forces — lies the Eternal Harmony. The semblance of discord is but a ripple on the stream of Maya, or illusion. One aspect of esoteric solution of apparent evils is dealt with in the last issue of LUCIFER (vide art., “Origin of Evil”). But Mr. Beatty will not find himself in a position to accept its validity so long as he continues to “waive the question of reincarnation”, the acceptance of that doctrine lying at the root of the real explanation.
The Universe must, at bottom, be a Harmony. Why ? [ Mr Beatty asks how the Universe would come to a stand-still, if the law of Harmony was suspended. Now suppose, for instance, the law of “gravity” was not counterbalanced by the action of other “forces” what would happen? Science assures us that everything would have long before gravitated to a common centre, and a universal dead-lock have ensued! Vice versa, if “gravity” were to lapse. Verb. Sap.]The equilibrating action of the forces around us is a sufficient proof of the fact; the apparent discord existing, as argued by Spinoza, solely in the sensations of conscious beings. The matter in reality involves the re-opening of the much debated question as to whether an optimistic or pessimistic pantheism is the creed of the true philosopher. Can we with von Hartmann postulate the strange contradiction of an absolutely wise (though from our standpoint unconscious) cause [Page 317] behind phenomena confronted with a “worthless universe” ?. Obviously not. Moreover, as pantheists necessarily regard the individual mind as only a rushlight compared with the blazing sun of the Universal Mind, its source, how is a final conclusion as to the “unfathomable folly” of manifested being possible ? On the other hand, a non-recognition of the Maya of appearances is a tacit impeachment of the wisdom of the Absolute. The pantheist — and pantheism alone accounts for consciousness itself — is, at least, logically driven into the admission that the “nature of things” is sound and that, probably, apparent flaws in the mechanicism of the Universe would, if viewed from a wider standpoint than the human, altogether vanish.
If, however, the Spinozistic axiom that evil exists only in us, is true — and it is not for a relativist of our critic’s type to deny the fact — pessimism is routed in the recognition of the equilibrating action of the law of Karma. The examples cited by Mr. Beatty of brute forces “one in conflict with another”, of the sufferings of animals in the struggle for existence; and more especially of human suffering in no way controvert the views of the “Harmonists”. The first group is representative of those forces which balance one another by oscillating about a common centre of equilibrium, producing harmony by conflict, just as in the case of the so-called centripetal and centrifugal forces, which regulate the earth’s orbital journey. The second group is, undoubtedly, characterised by the infliction of much incidental pain. But in all instances where Nature immolates the individual organism on the altar of natural selection, she does it for the benefit of the species or the “survival of the fittest” — the individuals borne down by violence in the struggle, reaping, one and all, the results of a compensatory Karma. In the domain of human suffering, moral debasement, etc., an entirely new factor supervenes — the equilibrating influence of a positive Karma, which in biblical language demands “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.
(4). “Why”, asks our critic, “is man so important that the Universe was polluted for his sake ? ” In the first place, Humanity is, by no means, unimportant; the panorama of evolution only existing in order to evolve the Ego from the animal stage up to that of a conscious God. The designation of nature as divided into “good” and “evil” principles, has been taken by Mr. Beatty in its absolute, as opposed to its relative, aspect. Man pollutes only himself and his fellows by “sin”; nature remaining constant per se. “How can he be responsible for what he does ? ” he continues. He is only so within certain wide limits defined by his previous Karma — the tendencies moral, mental and spiritual, generated in previous lives, continually driving him on to certain lines of action. The “Free Will absolute” of the theologians is as unpsychological and worthless a concept as it is possible to formulate. Not so the doctrine that the Ego is able to mould its tendencies of thought and emotion within “constitutional limits”. It was the recognition of this fact which led John Stuart Mill to take up a midway position between the equally absurd extremes of Free Will and Necessarianism. The same conviction led the prophet of Materialism, Dr. Louis Büchner, to contradict his whole system by admitting human liberty within a certain area mapped [Page 318] out by “Heredity” and Environment, and Professor Clifford to invest the “conscious, automaton” Man with the power to control his own ideas !! Responsibility varies enormously, and is, perhaps, almost wanting in the savage (who, however, is in all cases the degraded relic of primaeval civilisation). In all cases, the human Ego must be held to be the evolver of the group of tendencies which make up the personality of each re-birth. The sensualist is the victim of a “Frankenstein’s monster”, into which he has infused strength through many lives. We really cannot follow Mr. Beatty when he writes: “Has man instincts, desires, and inclinations, or has he not ? If he has, why should he have them if he is not to follow them ? ” He has them because they are the heritage handed down to him from past lives, and also because his Karma as an individual is bound up with that of the race to which he belongs. It rests with him as to how far he chooses to modify them “for weal or woe”, for every moment the exhaustion of past Karma runs parallel with the creation of new. It is certainly a strange doctrine here enunciated by Mr. Beatty, that the possession of certain “instincts, etc.,” justifies their gratification. Crime, debauchery and cruelty would be difficult to deal with on this hypothesis ! It is certainly true — to some extent — that “we are good or bad by reason of all the forces that act on or through us”. These latter are the stimuli to action (subject to the control of the will), but are in their turn the resultant of previous Karma. Judging from the general tone of his criticism, it would appear that his first acquaintance with the esoteric philosophy does not date back to a very remote antiquity.