The Ancient Wisdom

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The Ancient Wisdom

By A Besant

Collective Karma

When a group of people is considered karmically, the play of karmic forces upon each member of the group introduces a new factor into the karma of the individual. We know that when a number of forces play on a point, the motion of the point is not in the direction of any one of these forces, but in the direction which is the result of their combination. So the karma of a group is the resultant of the interacting forces of the individuals composing it, and all the individuals are carried along in the direction of that resultant.

An Ego is drawn by his individual karma into a family, having set up in previous lives ties which closely connect him with some of the other Egos composing it; the family has inherited property from a grandfather who is wealthy; an heir turns up, descended from the grandfather’s elder brother, who had been supposed to have died childless, and the wealth passes to him and leaves the father of the family heavily indebted; it is quite possible that our Ego had had no connection in the past with this heir, to whom in past lives the father had contracted some obligation which has resulted in this catastrophe, and yet he is threatened with suffering by his action, being involved with family karma.

If, in his own individual past, there was a wrong-doing which can be exhausted by suffering caused by the family karma, he is left involved in it; if not, he is by some “unforeseen circumstances” lifted out of it, perchance by some benevolent stranger who feels an impulse to adopt and educate him, the stranger being one who in the past was his debtor.

Yet more clearly does this come out, in the working of such things as railway accidents, shipwrecks, floods, cyclones, etc. A train is wrecked, the catastrophe being immediately due to the action of the drivers, the guards, the railway directors, the makers or employees of that line, who thinking themselves wronged, send clustering thoughts of discontent and anger against it as a whole. Those who have in their accumulated karma – but not necessarily in their ripe karma – the debt of a life suddenly cut short, may be allowed to drift into this accident and pay their debt; another, intending to go by the train, but with no such debt in his past, is “providentially” saved by being late for it.

Collective karma may throw a man into the troubles consequent on his nation going to war, and here again he may discharge his debts of his past not necessarily within the ripe karma of his then life. In no case can a man suffer that which he has not deserved, but, if an unforeseen opportunity should arise to discharge a past obligation, it is well to pay it and be rid of it for evermore.

The “Lords of Karma” are the great spiritual (Page 266) Intelligences who keep the karmic Records and adjust the complicated workings of karmic law. They are described by H.P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine as the Lipika, the Recorders of Karma, and the Maharajas (The Mahadevas, or Chaturdevas of the Hindus) – and Their hosts, who are “the agents of Karma upon earth.” The Lipika are They who know the karmic record of every man, and who with omniscient wisdom select and combine portions of that record to form the plan of a single life; They give the “idea” of the physical body which is to be the garment of the reincarnating soul, expressing his capacities and his limitations; this is taken by the Maharajas and worked into a detailed model, which is committed to one of Their inferior agents to be copied; this copy is the etheric double , the matrix of the dense body, the materials for these being drawn from the mother and subject to physical heredity.

The race, the country, the parents, are chosen for their capacity to provide suitable materials for the physical body of the incoming Ego, and suitable surroundings for his early life. The physical heredity of the family affords certain types and has evolved certain peculiarities of material combinations; hereditary diseases, hereditary finenesses of nervous organisation, imply definite combinations of physical matter, capable of transmission.

An Ego who has evolved peculiarities in his mental and astral bodies, needing special physical peculiarities for their expression, is guided to parents whose (Page 267) physical heredity enables them to meet these requirements. Thus an Ego with high artistic faculties devoted to music would be guided to take his physical body in a musical family, in which the materials supplied for building the etheric double and the dense body would have been made ready to adapt themselves to his needs, and the hereditary type of nervous system would furnish the delicate apparatus necessary for the expression of his faculties.

An Ego of very evil type would be guided to a coarse and vicious family, whose bodies were built of the coarsest combinations, such as would make a body able to respond to the impulses from his mental and astral bodies. An Ego who had allowed his astral body and lower mind to lead him into excesses, and had yielded to drunkenness, for instance, would be led to incarnate in a family whose nervous systems were weakened by excess, and would be born from drunken parents, who would supply diseased materials for his physical envelope. The guidance of the Lords of Karma thus adjust means to ends, and insures the doing of justice; the Ego brings with him his karmic possessions of faculties and desires, and he receives a physical body suited to be their vehicle.

As the soul must return to earth until he has discharged all his liabilities, thus exhausting all his individual karma, and as in each life thoughts and desires generate fresh karma, the question may arise in the mind : “How can this constantly renewing bond be put an end to ? How can the soul attain his (Page 268) liberation?” Thus we come to the “ending of karma,” and have to investigate how this may be.

The binding element in karma is the first thing to be clearly grasped. The outward going energy of the soul attaches itself to some object, and the soul is drawn back by this tie to the place where that attachment may be realised by union with the object of desire, so long as the soul attaches himself to any object, he must be drawn to the place where that object can be enjoyed. Good karma binds the soul as much as does bad, for any desire, whether for objects here or in Devachan, must draw the soul to the place of gratification.

Action is prompted by desire, an act is done not for the sake of doing the act, but for the sake of obtaining by the act something that is desired, of acquiring its results, or, as it is technically called, of enjoying its fruit. Men work, not because they want to dig, or build, or weave, but because they want the fruits of digging, building, and weaving, in the shape of money or of goods. A barrister pleads, not because he wants to set forth the dry details of a case, but because he wants wealth and fame, and rank.Men around us are labouring for something, and the spur to their activity lies in the fruit it brings them and not in the labour. Desire for the fruit of action moves them to activity, and enjoyment of that fruit rewards their exertions.

Desire is, then , the binding element in karma, and when the soul no longer desires any object in earth or in heaven, his tie to the wheel of reincarnation (Page 269) that turns in the three worlds is broken. Action itself has no power to hold the soul, for with the completion of the action it slips into the past. But the ever-renewed desire for fruit constantly spurs the soul into fresh activities, and thus new chains are continually being forged.

Nor should we feel any regret when we see men constantly driven to action by the whip of desire, for desire overcomes sloth, laziness, inertia – (the student will remember that these show the dominance of the tamasic guna, and while it is dominant men do not emerge from the lowest of the three stages of their evolution) – and prompts men to the activity that yields them experience. Note the savage, idly dozing on the grass; he is moved to activity by hunger, the desire for food,, and is driven to exert patience, skill, and endurance to gratify his desire. Thus he develops mental qualities, but when his hunger is satisfied he sinks again into a dozing animal. How entirely have mental qualities been evolved by the promptings of desire, and how useful have proved desires for fame, for posthumous renown. Until man is approaching divinity he needs the urgings of desires, and the desires simply grow purer and less selfish as he climbs upwards. But none the less desires bind him to rebirth, and if he would be free he must destroy them.

When a man begins to long for liberation, he is taught to practise “renunciation of the fruits of action”; that is, he gradually eradicates in himself the wish to possess any object; he at first voluntarily and (Page 270) deliberately denies himself the object, and thus habituates himself to do contentedly without it; after a time he no longer misses it, and he finds the desire for it is disappearing from his mind. At this stage he is very careful not to neglect any work which is duty because he has become indifferent to the results it brings to him, and he trains himself in discharging every duty with earnest attention, while remaining entirely indifferent to the fruits it brings forth.When he attains perfection in this, and neither desires nor dislikes any object, he ceases to generate karma; ceasing to ask anything from the earth or from Devachan, he is not drawn to either; he wants nothing that either can give him, and all links between himself and them are broken off. This is the ceasing of individual karma, so far as the generation of new karma is concerned.

But the soul has to get rid of old chains as well as to cease from the forging of new, and these old chains must be either allowed to wear out gradually or must be broken deliberately. For this breaking, knowledge is necessary, a knowledge which can look back into the past, and see the causes there set going, causes which are working out their effects in the present.

Let us suppose that a person, thus looking backward over his past lives, sees certain causes which will bring about an event which is still in the future; let us suppose further that these causes are thoughts of hatred for an injury inflicted on himself, and that they will cause suffering a year hence (Page 271) to the wrong-doer; such a person can introduce a new cause to intermingle with the causes working from the past, and he may counteract them with strong thoughts of love and goodwill that will exhaust them, and will thus prevent their bringing about the otherwise inevitable event, which would, in its turn, have generated new karmic trouble. Thus he may neutralise forces coming out of the past by sending against them forces equal and opposite, and may in this way “burn up his karma by knowledge.” In similar fashion he may bring to an end karma generated in his present life that would normally work out in future lives. 

Again, he may be hampered by liabilities contracted to other souls in the past, wrongs he has done to them, duties he owes them. By the use of his knowledge he can find those souls, whether in this world or in either of the other two, and seek opportunities of serving them. There may a soul incarnated during his own life-period to whom he owes some karmic debt; he may seek out that soul and pay his debt, thus setting himself free from a tie which, left to the course of events, would have necessitated his own reincarnation, or would have hampered him in a future life. Strange and puzzling lines of action adopted by occultists have sometimes this explanation – the man of knowledge enters into close relations with some person who is considered by the ignorant bystanders and critics to be quite outside the companionships that are fitting for him; but that occultist is quietly working out a karmic (Page 272) obligation which would otherwise hamper and retard his progress.

Those who do not possess knowledge enough to review their past lives may yet exhaust many causes that they have set going in the present life; they can carefully go over all that they can remember, and note where they have wronged any or where any has wronged them, exhausting the first cases by pouring out thoughts of love and service, and performing acts of service to the injured person, where possible on the physical plane also; and in the second cases sending forth thoughts of pardon and good will. Thus they diminish their karmic liabilities and bring near the day of liberation.

Unconsciously, pious people who obey the precept of all great Teachers of religion to return good for evil are exhausting karma generated in the present that would otherwise work out in the future. No one can weave with them a bond of hatred if they refuse to contribute any stands of hatred to the weaving, and persistently neutralise every force of hatred with one of love. Let a soul radiate in every direction love and compassion, and thoughts of hatred can find nothing to which they can attach themselves.

“The Prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me.” All great Teachers knew the law and based on it Their precepts, and those who through reverence and devotion to Them obey Their directions profit under the law, although they know nothing of the details of its working. An ignorant man who carries out faithfully the instructions given him by (Page 273) a scientist can obtain results by his working with the laws of Nature, despite his ignorance of them, and the same principle holds good in worlds beyond the physical. Many who have not time to study, and perforce accept on the authority of experts rules which guide their daily conduct in life, may thus unconsciously be discharging their karmic liabilities. 

In countries where reincarnation and karma are taken for granted by every peasant and labourer, the belief spreads a certain quiet acceptance of inevitable troubles that conduces much to the calm and contentment of ordinary life. A man overwhelmed by misfortunes rails neither against God nor against his neighbours, but regards his troubles as the results of his own past mistakes and ill-doings.

He accepts them resignedly and makes the best of them, and thus escapes much of the worry and anxiety with which those who know not the law aggravate troubles already sufficiently heavy. He realises that his future lives depend on his own exertions, and that the law which brings him pain will bring him just joy as inevitably if he sows the seed of good. Hence a certain patience and a philosophic view of life, tending directly to social stability and to general contentment.

The poor and ignorant do not study profound and detailed metaphysics, but they grasp thoroughly these simple principles – that every man is reborn on earth time after time, and that each successive life is moulded by those that precede it. To them rebirth is as sure (Page 274) and as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun; it is part of the course of nature, against which it is idle to repine or to rebel.

When Theosophy has restored these ancient truths to their rightful place in western thought, they will gradually work their way among all classes of society in Christendom, spreading understanding of the nature of life and acceptance of the result of the past. Then too will vanish the restless discontent which arises chiefly from the impatient and hopeless feeling that life is unintelligible, unjust, and unmanageable, and it will be replaced by the quiet strength and patience which come from an illumined intellect and a knowledge of the law, and which characterise the reasoned and balanced activity of those who feel that they are building for eternity.(Page 275)




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