by Archibald Keightley, M.B.,
IN illustration of the Mahatmic condition, it may be well to quote some extracts from “Five Years of Theosophy”, on pp. 215, et seq. “The principal object of the Yogi is to realise the oneness of existence, and the practice of morality is the most powerful means to that end. The principal obstacle to this realization is the inborn habit of man of always placing himself at the centre of the Universe. Whatever a man might act, think, or feel, the irrepressible personality is sure to be the central figure. This, as will appear on reflection, is that which prevents every individual from filling his proper sphere in existence, where he only is in place, and no other individual is. The realization of this harmony is the practical objective aspect of the ‘ Grand Problem.’ …. It availeth nothing to intellectually grasp the notion of your being everything . . . . if it is not realized in daily life. To confuse ‘ meum and tuum ‘ in the vulgar sense is but to destroy the harmony of existence by a false assertion of ‘ I’, and is as foolish as the attempt to nourish the legs at the expense of the arms. You cannot be one with Nature, unless all your acts, thoughts, and feelings, synchronize with the onward march of Nature. What is meant by a Brahmajnani being beyond the reach of Karma, can be realised only by a man who has found out his exact position in harmony with the one Life in Nature; that man can see how a Brahmajnani can act only in unison with Nature, and never in discord with it”.
“To use the phraseology of old occult writers, the Brahmajnani is a real co-worker with Nature. . . . Many have fallen into the error of supposing that a human being can escape the operation of the law of Karma by adopting a condition of masterly inactivity, entirely losing sight of the fact that even a rigid abstinence from physical acts does not produce inactivity on the higher astral and spiritual planes. . . . Such a supposition is nothing short of a delusion. . . . There is a tendency in every department of Nature for an act to repeat itself. The Karma acquired in the last preceding birth is always trying to forge fresh links in the chain, and thereby lead to continued material existence. This tendency can only be counteracted by unselfishly performing all the duties pertaining to the sphere in which a person is born. Such a course can alone produce purification of the mind, without which the capacity of perceiving spiritual truths can never be acquired”.
Such a moral standard as this may be considered as the main working factor in the existence of a Mahatma. He exists by, through, and in harmony, and, as Mahatma, is harmony itself. It is impossible to carry these speculations further, for beyond the fact that these considerations [Page 98] are in analogy with the great law of nature, ordinary human intelligence can gain nothing from them. The Mahatma is a Mahatma, and only those who have reached that supreme condition can describe it, and even then it is doubtful whether words would express it. The word Mahatma has been used with some hesitation, as it might possibly require an article of great length to give the least idea of what it means. But some idea of the true position of these exalted beings (known in India and Tibet by this name) may be gathered from the foregoing pages if any conception of the connection of humanity with the law of Karma, and also of liberated humanity with the law of harmony, can be obtained.
In the preceding pages especial reference has been made to the fact that the Mahatma, as such, has no Karma, but it is by no means intended to convey the idea that all who enter Occultism, and even those who have progressed a very long way on the Path of Life, are Mahatmas. Nay, more ! There are many of them who are very holy, and even exalted, beings, but who are still subject to the law of Karma, as applied to ordinary humanity. But they have acquired self-mastery to an extraordinary degree, and their whole attention is “fixed on the eternal”. Thus, so far as they are concerned, they generate no new Karma in the restricted sense, but only progress towards Universal Harmony.
To put it shortly, they exhaust their old Karma of past lives, and devote themselves to the production of Harmony.
It is important to bear this in mind when the attention is turned to the Karmic condition of ordinary humanity. For we are at once brought face to face with the old and much disputed question between free-will and predestination.
At this point, therefore, it will be necessary to enter, at some length, on this question, because it has been supposed that the idea of Karma is identical, or nearly so, with that of predestination. Consequently, it will be necessary to attempt a definition of what Free-will and Will are. Will, to the ordinary man, is known according to his experience as the power to do or not to do an action. So far, he is perfectly right, but, as usual, man limits the action of his will to the physical plane, and takes no account of even the mental plane. Even if he does not commit an action, he cannot help thinking about it, because he has desired to do it — even if he has repressed that desire. Nothing is more common than to hear anyone say, “ I can’t help my likes and dislikes”, or, in other words, their attractions and repulsions, desires and the reverse. Consequently, until a man can control his desires, those desires control his will, and, consequently, predestination appears to rule the day. Thus we find that it is desire which impels man onward on his course, and governs that course to a very large extent, and this is the principle which is at its highest development in mankind as a rule. Now if it be granted that human personalitv — a transient thing — has been constituted by [Page 99] man’s vanity as the centre of the Universe, it is plain that the combination of this principle of desire with the pronounced personality, will only serve to intensify this personality and bind man fast to it. Man thus constituted is a prisoner, and, more often than not, is so attached to his prison that he prefers to flutter his wings against the bars of his cage, instead of endeavouring to escape. But are there any means of escape — it may be asked ? Desire binds man fast to his personality, and intensifies one personality against another. Hence it is productive of strife and discord, and militates strongly against the law of universal harmony, or Karma, in this aspect. Thus desire and Karma would seem to be in complete opposition, and desire cannot be said to be a consequence of Karma. But really this is a confusion of terms, for all this only exists in the world of effects and not in that of causes. Desire is an effect of the accentuated personality, and in its turn produces that personality. This constitutes the prison, and the only means of escape from this prison of discord is the endeavour to produce harmony in its place. Thus, therefore, we have a definition of will as being not only that which represses a desire, but also an emanation of the one divine principle, and proceeding from the divine in man. In one sense, this will, this harmonizer of the discord, is identical with Karma. As a consequence, we can see that Karma produces punishment. That punishment arises from the fact that the assertion of both desire and will in any man makes him the battle-field of two opposing forces — the desire to do anything, and thus gratify the desire, and the will to repress it. Thus man must be a co-worker with nature and the law of harmony. He has to repress the Typhonic principle of desire and dissipate its energy. If he does not, it will bind him more firmly to his “personal centre”, accentuate his punishment, and hang like a millstone round his neck in the shape of Karmic effects, which generate fresh tendencies and desires.
The real function of will is to promote harmony between man and the great law by repressing desire. Liberation from the effects of Karma will come to the man who grasps his whole individuality firmly (not merely his personality), and, by the force of his awakened spiritual will, recognises this individuality as not himself, but as a thing to use in passing beyond the life of the individuality.
Thus the direction of will should be towards realizing one’s aspirations, and so give man “a glimpse into the eternal”; the lower consciousness will mirror these aspirations, even unconsciously to itself, and then itself aspires and is elevated if all is in accord.
But this is not free-will in the ordinary sense of the term; and it does not seem possible that such should exist in view of the ideas of Karmic effects and of reincarnation. It is in these two that lie all the objections to free-will, because too short a view has been taken of human life. In the dim vistas of time, and the countless incarnations which have taken place in them, it will at once be seen that the individual [Page 100] being has generated innumerable causes, the effects of which are still to be experienced. Thus it is free-will that man has, but not in the ordinary sense; it is free-will limited by countless other free-wills around him — limited too and circumscribed by his own acts. Man makes himself a prisoner, and believes himself free. He is right in his belief in a measure, for in virtue of the will he is free — to aspire and soar into the sublime heights of his own higher nature. He is a prisoner and predestined when he confines himself to his personality. Karma is at once his gaoler and his liberator, and the decision lies in the intensity of his aspirations, and is therefore in his own hands. Thus from the personal view predestination is true, but not from that of the spirit, which is free. From the latter view, and to a reasoning mind, the Calvinistic doctrine sounds little short of blasphemy. It is most certainly a contradiction in terms to speak of God as an all-wise, all-powerful and entirely just God, and then to speak of predestination as one of his laws, a law which, in face of the above qualities, and with that of mercy in addition, dooms countless millions to an eternity of pain and suffering as punishment, and that too before they are even born. When the apparent injustice of the lives of men is viewed and argued, it is because men forget what they have done in previous lives, in which they have violated the law in a very material direction, which leads them into these positions and from which they have to escape.
Thus the aspirations of man constitute that which sets man free, and which therefore represent his free-will. It is then well to endeavour to trace these aspirations in man with regard to Karma. The second section of the third part of “Light on the Path”, speaks on this point with no uncertain voice. The Occultist must pluck and eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and step on either the good or the evil path. And to do this knowingly produces great Karmic results. The mass of men walk waveringly, uncertain as to their goal, their standard of life is indefinite; the Occultist cannot be half-hearted, nor can he return when he has passed the threshold. “The individuality has approached the state of responsibility by reason of growth; it cannot recede from it”. The one means of escape from Karma is for the Occultist to live in the Eternal. But below this — the threshold — many men aspire. On this point, we may quote, “Five Years of Theosophy”, p. 226.
“The unintelligent aspiration towards goodness propagates itself and leads to good lives in the future; the intelligent aspiration propagates itself in the same way, plus the propagation of intelligence; and this distinction shows the gulf of difference which may exist between the growth of a human soul, which merely drifts along the stream of time, and that of one which is consciously steered by an intelligent purpose throughout. The human Ego, which acquires the habit of seeking for knowledge, becomes invested, life after life, with the [Page 101] qualifications which ensure the success of such a search, until the final success, achieved at some critical period of its existence, carries it right up into the company of those perfected Egos, which are the fully developed flowers only expected from a few of the thousand seeds”.
“Now it is clear that a slight impulse in a given direction, even on the physical plane, does not produce the same effect as a stronger one; so exactly in this matter of engendering habits which are required to persist in their operation through a succession of lives it is quite obvious that the strong impulse of a very ardent aspiration towards knowledge will be more likely than a weaker one to triumph over the so-called accidents of nature”.
These considerations bring us to the question of those habits of life which are more immediately associated with the pursuit of occult science. It will be quite plain that the generation within his own nature of affinities in the direction of spiritual progress is a matter which has very little to do with the outer circumstances of a man’s daily life. It cannot be dissociated from what may be called the outer circumstances of his moral life, for an occult student, whose moral nature is consciously ignoble, and who combines the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of wrong, becomes by that condition of things a student of sorcery rather than of true Occultism.
Thus so far traced Karma in one of its aspects is, “the ethical law of causation”. This law descends in its action below the moral plane, and is observed as the law of compensation on the physical plane. Thus the physical, intellectual and emotional planes, are all affected by Karma. The key to the situation is the mind; and, as we have seen, the liberation of the mind must be the most difficult task. If the powers of the mind are concentrated on the attainment of the highest ideal, Karma has no basis in which to inhere and consequently the tendency to commit actions from lower motives is annihilated. Even repentance, from this point of view, is a mistake, as it necessarily draws the mind back to the actions and motives repented of. Consequently by the exertion of free will, in the aspiration to realize the ideal, man becomes his own Saviour; and the true way to do this is to look neither for reward nor punishment; to detach the mind from all considerations below that of the spiritual life, and to live only in the Eternal.