April 2001

Karma - a survey of continous action

Katinka Hesselink

Karma is a much used term in New Age and Theosophical circles. It means in short: the law of cause and effect. Etymologically karma means action. Superficially it means to many people something like: "He that mischief hatches, mischief catches." Also the concept of karma is directly related to the concept of reincarnation. Without reincarnation a mans last act does not come back to haunt or bless the doer.

In this article I shall look at a few aspects of karma, the way I found them in my life and in the theosophical literature. I will deal with aspects like: karma of thought, responsibility, karma of the surroundings, personality etc. I'll start with responsibility.


It is clear that the concept of karma places responsibility in each individuals hands, for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Unkindly one could even feel unresponsible or uncaring about anothers sorrow, because "they deserve it", literally. Those who see it that way forget that the responsibility of the observer is in that way circumscribed. Or to put it another way: You are part of the circumstances and as soon as you feel apart from the other, and no compassion, you are part guilty. At least, that is the way I see it. It is obvious that we cannot right all wrongs, but as Light on the Path says:

"Remember that the sin and shame of the world are your sin and shame; for you are a part of it; your karma is inextricably interwoven with the great Karma." (1)

Thought and personality

When we think of karma, or our actions, most of us will think first of fysical action, perhaps of the words we speak. This means stuff like: do I steal? Do I lie? Am I selfish? This kind of stuff is of course important, but for me they are less important than: How am I in my thoughts? In other words: Are my thoughts real, nuanced, unpredudiced, honest, giving etc. Because I will act after what I think. I will talk the way I think. In 1890 H.P. Blavatsky lived in a kind of commune in London, that functioned after her strong personality and that supported her necessity for writing. Among other things she set up a number of Rules. In these Rules for the Residents of the London Headquarters she said at the last:

"In Practical Theosophy, therefore, it is necessary that these five conditions should coexist viz.

This is the right order of preference. Right action springs from right thought. The same goes for right speech and right feeling, though feeling and thought are interrelated. Right living is obviously composed of all the previous ingredients. Furthermore: every thought IS an action, just like every spoken word is an action. Every thought has its effect, not only on yourself, but also on the one you are thinking of. Helingceremonies are based on this principle. Therefore it would be enough to think with love and concentration of the one you want to help. The ceremony is merely meant to focus the thought and concentrate it.

Thought of course has an effect on the personality, or perhaps it is the other way around: thought is influenced by the personality. I think both are true. But ultimately the personality is an illusion that we have created, among other things by our thoughts. This means that we can change it too, for instance by watching our thoughts and radically uproot or burn the meaningless and harmful ones. Uprooting is the right word, because only pushing an unwanted thought away usually has only a temporary effect. Pushing a thought away still is better than endlessly dwelling on it (for instance: Those black folks are taking over the country). Still to uproot the thought and never let it return more has to happen. In the literature different ways are adviced, that each has to try for him or herself. Taimni for instance (Yoga Suttras of Patanjali) advices among other things to neutralize the thought by thinking the opposite, i.e. thinking a positive thought instead. (For instance: Hey, they are human too, and some of the power does have to be shared). Another option is to look inside and that is a process that can take years. For instance: Where does the thought come from? For instance it could be that you had a bad experience with a couple of black youths. That experience has been generalized to encompass the whole group of people with dark skins. This tendency to generalize just might be the cause of the thought. So that if the thought has to go, the tendency to generalize has to go, also for instance in your attitude towards women for instance (even if you are one, same goes for black people). This is rather a chore, of course, but it is one that is directly related to our spiritual welfare.

De Purucker once stressed:

"Karman is not an outside power. Karman is yourself. Our Lord the Buddha told the truth: what you are is your own karman. You have built yourself to be what you are now. You are now building for what in the future will be. You are your own karman, the consequence of the You that was. And you are now the roots, the seed, of the You that will be." (3)

Karma of the surroundings

After all this stuff that is our own responsibility, it is perhaps a relief to look at the following. H.P. Blavatsky says in a very short quote, in volume 10 of the Collected Writings (4) :

"It is not the injustice or mistakes of Karma which are the causes of such "undeserved misery," but other causes, independent of the past Karma of either the producer or the innocent victim of their effects, new actions generated by the wickedness of men and circumstances; and which arouse Karmic law to fresh activity, i.e., the punishment of those who caused the new Nidanas (or causal connections), and the reward of him who suffered from them undeservedly."

She puts it rather complecatedly, but the essence of it is that we should not ascribe everything that happens to us to our past karma. In other words what people do now, good or bad, has now its effect and the effect will reach into the future. If suffering is caused now, the message is, that in the future there will be compensation for it. This means that the tendency in some of us to ascribe everything that happens to us to past karma, is therefore useless, according to H.P. Blavatsky. This is logical if fact: we have the free will to make our lives better or worse Now. We cause karma in the present as much as we did in the past. In other words, we act continuously.

More on Karma by Katinka Hesselink


(1) Light on the Path, Mabel Collins

(2) H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Vol. XII, p. 213, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Ill. USA.

(3) The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, conversations between Teacher and Student on Genuine Theosophical Occultism, Vol. II. p. 10, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, California, 1948.

(4) H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Vol. X, p. 47. Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Ill. USA.