The Long Arm of Karma

By Elsa-Brita Titchenell

Some years ago my granddaughter was thought to have a learning disability: her schoolwork was much below what was expected of her -- until it was discovered she needed glasses. Suddenly, with corrective lenses, she found herself in a whole new world. The chalkboard was no longer an unintelligible blur, her books contained facts and ideas she had never seen before. As a humanity we are in a very similar situation. During most of the nineteenth century we had been trying to make sense out of a world we couldn't see properly and to learn from a book of nature we couldn't read. H. P. Blavatsky in her Secret Doctrine, provided lenses through which we could discern the wonders we are immersed in and a tool for shaping our future out of the amorphous substance of our daily venture into the unknown. When her message is used with intelligence and self-dependence, each individual can see more clearly what life is all about and the function of the human race in the cosmic whole.

People sometimes ask, why don't the Wise Ones, if they exist, come down and show us how to live? These people don't ask themselves, would I heed the message? or do I in fact follow the injunctions we already have? We have been given the panacea many times and consistently ignored it. A little honest thought tells us the cure for all our ills. If human beings were to take seriously the injunctions of the great teachers who have come and gone in the past, sharing with humanity the treasure of their personal discoveries and the wisdom of all ages, many of the causes of suffering would vanish.

When a messenger does appear and proclaims the ancient wisdom in a form intelligible to mortals, there is always a sacrifice involved. The effects of anything we do or think are farther reaching than we can possibly imagine. Every individual acts according to his understanding and convictions. Ultimately all his thoughts, words, and actions reflect the comprehension he has achieved. A teacher of spiritual verities knows that he is indirectly responsible for whatever results from what he teaches. Yet he volunteers to assume part of the responsibility for all that may be done, right or wrong, by anyone who has received from him any information, even a partial glimpse of truth, and the recipients' understanding or misunderstanding of it will have long-range effects.

The debt of gratitude owed to any spiritual teacher is so immense and untraceable, being often at second, third, or nth hand, that we tend to forget that what we are and do is based on our grasp of the realities we have learned -- not on the truths themselves, but on our comprehension of them, which is necessarily faulty and incomplete. Therefore we make many and many a mistake, all of which redound both on ourselves and on those who transmitted to us the treasure we have misused. Add to this the fact that no genuine teacher is ever recognized for what he is, and we can see the grossness of the injustice assailing any one who devotes him- or herself to enlightening others.

Perhaps if we realized the awesome responsibility taken on by a teacher of any degree, we should be much more careful about giving forth our own beliefs and creeds, and more grateful for the ideas of genuine worth that are passed on by those who are wiser than we. Sometimes the truths we receive are not palatable or demand more effort than we are willing to put forth in the rush and flurry of daily events. We don't appreciate learning of our shortcomings, but if we can compel ourselves to appraise with honesty our response to those admonitions which we inwardly know to be valuable and try to live up to the ideals that seem so remote and difficult, we might appreciably alter the temper of our strife-torn world by injecting a desire for harmony and mutual acceptance into the atmosphere we share. The general climate of world thinking could be enormously improved if a preponderance of human beings would consider the lasting values of spiritual living and apply them in practice.

Spiritual preceptors have given of their wisdom at many junctures in the past, though seldom have they been acknowledged by their contemporaries. As time passed they have more often been subjected to personal worship and made into gods, while the valuable lessons they taught are ignored. That was never their intent; rather they sought to render a service by invoking what is noble and of lasting value to human evolution, appealing to the innate grandeur of the divine element in mankind. The fact is that their purpose has been thwarted again and again by recalcitrant less-than-human nature, even though their message was recognized as an important gift that could, if understood, elevate the human race to a far superior status than we are willing to take the trouble to achieve.

In creating the nucleus of a brotherhood of humanity and publishing ideas that explain the rationale of man's evolutionary goal demonstrating that all beings are components in a universal divinely endowed organism, HPB brought once again the timeless message of transcendent beauty and promise that has at various times been named "theosophy." She did this so that we ordinary humans might avoid the pitfalls of divisive egoism and materialism, and aim toward a truly humanitarian way of living, where the best interests of our species may be brought to the fore, even if it means frustrating the egocentricities that so often govern our conduct. HPB herself suffered unbearably from the injustice that became her lot as a result of trying to help other people obtain peace of mind and increasing understanding of the purpose of life.

In the century that has passed since her death, as a result of her altruistic endeavor the world has gained enormously in the progress of scientific insight and in the abatement of religious bigotry. The very word brotherhood, which was a thorn in the side of the class- and race-conscious society of her time, has gradually gained acceptance so that today reasonable individuals everywhere are aware of the intrinsic worth of every human being. Most of us are not aware of the powerful influence exerted by the ennobling ideas that came to light a hundred years ago through HPB's agency, but the thought climate we live in has undergone a profound change owing to the ideals she promoted. This in itself indicates how strong is the influence of a truly spiritual ideal: its effect on general thinking should not be underrated, nor should we forget that we too are agencies for either raising or lowering the standard of human character by the ideas we emit in the course of our daily living. If one great soul can have so marked and lasting an effect on the tenor of world thought, even a lesser agent can affect the psychology of mankind to some degree. And who knows how effectively you and I can transform the world by aspiring to the highest we can imagine and hope for?

The future world is being formed in accordance with the general character we are collectively creating today in our seemingly ordinary, undistinguished routines. No one is so unimportant, no thought so trivial that we cannot sway the general tenor of human character by making the small effort required to turn the seemingly negligible into a firm and constructive instrument for improving the vision of our species as a whole. The momentary impatience or thoughtless repartee that springs too readily to mind can be transformed into a supportive and helpful emanation of love and kindness. No impulse is too slight to have its effect on the trend of human evolution. Wisdom is not transferable, it grows naturally in the fertile soil of the heart, and self-forgetful altruism is the natural outcome of human growth.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press.)

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