My friend, if the whole path and movement of heaven and all its contents are of like nature with the motion, revolution, and calculations of wisdom, and proceed after that kind, plainly we must say it is the supremely good soul that takes forethought for the universe and guides it along that path. — Athenian Stranger
Anyone who wishes to make practical use of the universal principles of justice and compassion inherent in the doctrine of karma must first grasp the idea that what we call the karmic effect is actually inherent in the karmic cause. This could be seen in two ways: first of all, philosophically or metaphysically, and secondly, morally. If karma refers to the totality of interaction of all beings in a single, unified cosmos, then it must be the case that every single act, rooted in a thought or an idea, already contains within itself the whole series of manifestations which appear to exist as its distinct effects. That appearance is illusory. What we call the effect of an act is already contained in the origination of the first impulse of the first thought and feeling constituting the act. This is very difficult to comprehend metaphysically. But anyone could come closer to understanding it from the moral standpoint.
Each one could look at any single act that he has done and link it up to the state of mind in which he acted and to the quality or colour of feeling that was present in that act. He could look behind ‘thought’ and ‘feeling,’ in the separative and specific sense in which the words are used here, and attempt to see the act in terms of the totality of his character, in relation to the whole of his life, at least since he became a responsible adult, whenever that was for the individual person. The whole of his life has led to this particular act. On this act we have the indelible stamp of the kind of person he is and has become in all the time since the moment of birth, but, more perceptibly, at least since he became a responsible adult. If the whole of his being is imprinted upon that act, in a universe of law he has already, in the very act, determined the consequences of that act to himself as a mind-being, as a unit-being. Therefore, any sound morality would be one that provides a self-validating, compelling and continually applicable basis for ethics, both on the plane of thought and on the plane of feeling, which together are represented in what we call external acts.
A person who is wise and fortunate enough to include a method of relative and increasing self-scrutiny into his day is engaged in what might be called ‘doing one’s moral arithmetic.’ If he could do this, he would soon be able to work out a few simple sums. Then he would not have to wait, in an Epimethean way, for the sum totals of external effects, from which it is extremely difficult to trace back. Anyone who has studied a bit of elementary mathematics knows, if he is given the answer to a problem, that from the answer one cannot speedily work out the process that leads to the answer. In a very good teaching system, a person would be given more appreciation for grasping the process, even if the actual answer reached is only an approximation. Certainly, this would be preferable to rewarding a person who happened to hit the answer but did not have the proper sequence of steps that follow from the initial statement of the problem, using the relevant basic rules or equations or tables that are provided to him to work out this answer.
In the moral realm this is extremely difficult, and points to the difference between ignorant human beings and Adepts. An Adept is one who has mastered the mathematics of the soul. Indeed, he embodies it every moment, twenty-four hours a day, and therefore he continually acts with a seeming casualness but out of a profound deliberation based on total detachment. With this perspective, we can understand the reason why the heavenly wisdom in relation to karma should be imparted, in this day and age, with the extraordinary care that has been taken by the Mahatmas. Those who have the good karma — even if not entirely deserved in this life — of coming into contact with Bodhi Dharma are given the opportunity to move from a position of muddle and irresponsibility to a gradual awakening to their responsibility as moral agents: as Manasaputras, as descendants from the divine ancestry of the great collective host that gave the fire of self-consciousness to human beings over eighteen million years ago. Those who do reasonably well render incalculable service. No one can do more than try, and even to try is to make a real choice. They are, in a sense, fortunate, because they are protected from attachment to results since they are not in a position to calculate what Adepts alone can work out precisely. They can render some benefit to the whole of the human race, to the karma of a nation, to the family in which they were born, and to their associates.
The time has come when no student of Theosophy can afford to ignore the practical moral implications of this aspect of karma, even if he is not immediately ready to grasp the profound philosophical and metaphysical basis of the idea. We have found already in this century, in the last twenty-five years, that the idea has partially come into contemporary thought. Inward responsibility is the focus of several exploratory efforts by contemporary philosophers who want to see its application to punishment. Wittgenstein raised the question whether there is any internal, rather than extrinsic, relation between an act and its reward or punishment. Philosophically, this is difficult to grasp, but deep down we must feel a profound pity and compassion for any person who is a murderer and who is now delighted, in one sense, that he does not have to be executed, but who, on the other hand, is nonetheless excruciatingly tortured by his own thoughts. In some cases, such persons may spend a whole lifetime adding to their karma by broodings that are even worse than the thoughts which led to the murder committed. In other cases, they may be able to look back upon what was done with a sense of relative bewilderment, which Simone Weil would have called a kind of “innocence through penitence.”
No one could truly make a moral use of the teaching and become a real penitent without becoming ready, before the moment of death, to have deserved the priceless privilege of coming into contact with divine wisdom. To do this seriously requires spending time reflecting upon the idea of the interpenetration of cause and effect and how it applies to each and every one. As long as there is no understanding and proper study of karma, no one will be able to introduce any order into his life relative to the disorders of our time. Nor will he be able to generate a current of true repentance or appreciate the relationship of mercy to justice that is essential to a comprehension of concepts like reward and punishment. There is the statement in The Ocean of Theosophy that “Karma is a beneficent law, wholly merciful, relentlessly just, for true mercy is not favor but impartial justice.” Normally, we think of mercy as gratuitous or arbitrary and justice as relentless or ruthless. In terms of the universal law of karma, human appellations like ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’ are misleading. They are merely approximations arising through an inadequate understanding of connections between causes and effects applicable only over very short time spans and also modified by the gap, not merely between any legal system and the moral justice of the universe, but between the theory of that legal system and its working in practice.
Suppose a very sincere man truly wanted to find out what is due from him to every other human being on earth — let us say because he has consulted ancient wisdom or merely because he has read Godwin, or even because he thought about it. If this person then asked what could it mean for him to do justice to every human being he ever met in this life, it would be very difficult for him to make a practical response. The mathematics are too complicated. The person hardly knows anyone else. It is forbidding enough to do justice to any human being on earth. But that is what is required on the path of understanding, of Jnana Yoga.
Supposing, then, this person said, “To the extent to which I cannot know what is due from me to every single being, and yet that is where I want to go — though it take a very long time, even many lives — I have a firm faith that the very desire and determination to go in this direction is not only a holy one, because it is the noblest feeling I feel, but it is wholly compatible with the truth and totality of things.” This makes immensely joyous the prospect of having myriads of opportunities in future lives to be able to perfect the enterprise. Such a person might also say, “Meanwhile, to the extent to which I do not know what doing justice to every single human being means, I might as well err in one direction rather than in the other.” As long as one is caught up in attavada, the delusion of being separate from everyone else — the only conception of sin in the teachings of Buddha — then, if one is going to sin it is better to sin in the direction of exaggerated praise of others than in the opposite direction.
If this generation is to make the enormously arduous move from being the most abnormal in soul-sickness to becoming human, it would be extraordinarily important to emphasize mercy and compassion. Beyond all else, to be human is to radiate benevolence. As long as one strives to be compassionate and merciful, it will be imperatively and inevitably the case that one will come to understand justice better. Through mercy one may come closer to an appreciation of divine justice, cosmic justice, and above all learn what it means to be just to every living being, every elemental, every constituent of the seven kingdoms of nature. Every single human being has also the prerogative of doing justice to his or her true self.
The Gupta Vidya II