reprinted from “Theosophical Siftings” Volume - 2 -

THE greatest problem in human life is its sorrow. From some form of trouble not one of us is free. The happiest and most envied of men knows the meaning of bodily pain, of mental unrest, of sadness from disappointment, fear, or loss. How much more, then, those who are continually ill; those who are anxious over tomorrow's bread; those who, perhaps, have not bread enough for today. And to such as are suffering from cold and hunger and sharp discomfort in every form, there is added the bitterness of seeing wealth and luxury and ease in the hands of others whose characters and lives show no greater merit, perhaps less manly strength.

Every man asks why there is suffering in the world; but the poor man particularly asks why he is made so to suffer. He revolts at the seeming injustice of human lot, clenches his fist at the sight of finery and extravagance, possibly curses the earth whereon he lives in misery, while his brother man has everything he can desire. None of the explanations given him satisfy either his reason or his feelings. The political economist states that inequalities in social life are the necessary effect of high civilization; that you cannot have workmen without business, nor business without capital, nor capital without luxury; and that strength of mind has as much right to its gains as has strength of body. The candidate for office urges that this is all the consequence of evil laws, and that, when laws are made better, comfort will be more general. The parish clergyman tells him that it is the will of God, and that we are not to question its wisdom, but submit to its authority. He has been pleased to make a few rich and many poor, some healthy and others weak, all to have trouble but most to have much of it, and that we must accept the fact with devout resignation, not eye it with doubt or bitterness.

But these arguments do not seem wholly to meet the case. Much sorrow of mind and much suffering of body exists for which they do not account, and it is not clear that the inequalities of life arise only from higher civilization or from unjust laws. Still less is one satisfied with the explanation of partiality in God, of a Fatherhood which is sympathetic only to a few of its children and wholly indifferent to the rest. And the hungry, shivering pauper does not look up [Page 18] with reverence to the skies if he thinks that thence comes his misery and his pain.

There must be some better solution of the problem of human suffering if the mind is to be satisfied, the moral sense content, the inner spirit braced. And it is just here that Theosophy, the great teacher and inspirer of humanity, comes in with its doctrine of Karma as explaining and justifying the facts of life as we know them. This doctrine holds that men are what they have made themselves, that their lot has been fashioned by their own acts, that they suffer or enjoy because they have earned either suffering or enjoyment. The condition in life is not all accident; it is an effect. But most men will say, “How is this possible? My condition began with my infancy; how can it have been determined by my conduct since ? Your doctrine implies that I am as I am because I so prepared myself in a previous state! To which Theosophy replies, “Precisely so, This is not your first earth-life, nor perhaps your hundredth. In the slow process by which Nature led you up from infancy to manhood, your life was composed of distinct days, separated from each other by nights of sleep. So in that slower process by which she is educating you from the lowest stage of human littleness to the highest plane of godlike wisdom, your existence is composed of distinct lives, separated from each other by periods of withdrawal. In these lives you act and learn, and form your character; as is that character, so are the lives which follow and express it. Re-birth, re-incarnation, is the law of human development; you come again and again into the world that you may improve and advance and struggle upwards to perfection, Karma expresses the extent to which you have done so; you are now what you have made yourself; your condition is that for which you are fit."

“Yet how can this be?" it is honestly asked, "Do poverty or riches, feebleness or power, obscurity or rank, indicate the merit or demerit I have gained?". "Not at all", answers Theosophy; " but your degree of happiness does. Happiness does not depend on wealth or station; sorrow does not needfully follow small means or small influence. Joy and sadness are conditions of the mind, influenced, no doubt, by bodily surroundings, but not determined by them. The rich are not always happy, hence not the standards of past good; the poor are not always wretched, hence not the standards of past wrong-doing. It is the state of the mind, not the state of the purse, which shows what Karma implies in any case."

If any man once clearly sees that his present condition is but the result of his conduct in prior lives; that it means and expresses, not merely what he has done, but what he is that it is not an accident or a freak, or a miscarriage, but a necessary effect through invariable law, he has taken the greatest step towards contentment, harmony, and a better future. For note what clouds this conception clears away, and what impulses towards improvement it at once [Page 19] begets. The sense of injustice disappears. He may not, cannot know the past careers of which he feels the now effects, but he knows what their quality must have been from the quality of those effects. He reaps what he has sown. It may be sad or pitiable or distracting, but at least it is just. Envy disappears also. Why should he envy the greater happiness of those who, after all, have a right to it, and which might have been his too if he had earned it ? Bitterness is assuaged. There is no room for such when it is seen that the causes for it do not exist, and that the only person meriting condemnation is oneself. Best of all, there dies out resentment at Divine favouritism, that peculiarly galling belief that the Supreme Being is wilful or capricious, dealing out joys and sorrows for mere whim, petting one child and chastising another without regard to moral worth or life's deserts. In such a being confidence is impossible, and the only theory which can restore it is the theory of the Karmic Law, a law which is no respecter of persons, regards each man precisely as any other man, notes the very smallest acts in its complete account book, enters their value in the precisest terms, and when the time of settlement arrives, be it in the same incarnation or in one far off on the great chain, pays it with scrupulous fidelity. Centering thus responsibility for each man's lot in himself alone, Karma acquits Providence, calms resentment, abates discontent, and vindicates justice.

But it does even more than this; it stimulates endeavour. If we are now what we have made ourselves, we shall be what we make ourselves. The mould of the future is in our hands today. The quality of later incarnations does not arise from chance, or from a superior Will, but is simply such as we impart to them through our present. Responsibility, power, are ours alone. It is just as certain that re-birth will be upon the lines we trace in this life, as that the latter part of this life will be upon the lines traced in the former part. Re-birth is, in fact all expression of character, and character expresses what we are and do. He, then, who desires a better re-incarnation must better his present incarnation. Let him perceive the faults which mar his life, the sloth, the repining, the rashness, the thoughtlessness, the covetous spirit, the evil of hatred or uncharity, and let him master them. Above other faults, and embracing all, is that of selfishness, the sad love of personal desire as against the rights, the privilege, the happiness of brother men, a love which inflames every lower element in the human constitution, and kills all higher and richer sentiment. He who would prepare for himself a happier rebirth, may begin by making happier the lives of others. He may respect their rights, consult their feelings, extend their pleasures, generously sacrificing himself that they may profit. As he so does, his own higher nature is manifested, and finer satisfactions greet him with an unalloyed delight. By a blessed law of being, he who thus loses his life shall save it; for he not only tastes richer pleasure than any possible through selfish effort, but he moulds his character in the grace and beauty of [Page 20] true manliness, and he moulds, too, that new incarnation which is to fit the nature formed in this.

Certainly a principle which quickens the highest motives in human nature may well be the regeneration of human life. He who sees his present as the product of his past self, who foresees that his future will be the product of his present, who finds in Karma the unfailing treasury for every effort and every toil, who desires that re-birth shall have less of pain and more of gladness than he knows of here, will seek in generous service to fellow-men the highest happiness of his highest faculties, and trust for brighter incarnation to that law which cannot break, that force which cannot fail.


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