from the Theosophist December 1997

Karma and Cancer

Hugh Shearman

Several years ago, in The Theosophical Journal, the review published by our Society in England, Dr Yves Marcel, a medical member of the society in France, enquired if any member had ideas or insights on the subject on cancer. It may be useful to record a few tentative ideas on the subject.

In our local medical school the definition of cancer that used to be offered to students about sixty years ago was that it was an ordinary cell gone Bolshevik. That rather unkind comparison of the disease to a Russian political party obviously belonged to that period of history, but one can see what the medical luminaries who were lecturing on the subject were trying to convey. Cancer results from an ordinary cell doing something unexpected and disconcerting that it was not intended to do.

When the writer developed cancer, some theosophical friends were kind enough to suggest that he must have committed some indiscretion in ancient times probably in Atlantis. This raises the whole subject of "Karma". One puts the word here in quotation marks, for in the present context, it must carry some of those western implication of reward and punishment.

The surgeon who removed from the writer's inside the cancer with a kidney attached to it was a buoyant and enthusiastic sort of man and he declared that it was "a fascinating thing". He had it preserved in alcohol and put in the medical museum, so that posterity may contemplate it and experience its fascination.

This may elicit further "theosophical" thoughts about some kind of elemental or nature spirit getting great creative satisfaction from assisting an supervising the structure of that fascinating thing, but it has to be remembered that the change in a cancerous cell is usually degenerative and out of harmony with ordinary constructive life processes. The condition is also liable to replicate itself in other areas of the organism by metastasis.

Cancer is not confined to human beings and one does not have to commit indiscretions in Atlantis to become involved with it. The writer was once walking with a medical friend along a seaside cliff top when a seagull suddenly dropped out of the sky, stone dead, and at once became a subject for investigation and dissection. The cause of death was a large cancer which must seriously have impeded the functioning of the bird for some time previously, but the gull had kept on literally until it dropped.

When we encounter any entity or organism we can see that it has two obvious characteristics. First it is a distinct and individual being, not completely similar to nay other being. It is often remarked that it is impossible to find even two blades of grass completely identical. The secondly, every entity or organism is a component in some larger being. It may be a component in a species or in a tribe, a football team or a family, a nation or a work force, a culture or a nationality, a group of reincarnating entities or the followers of one religious teacher. There is nobody and nothing about which we cannot legitimately enquirer, "or what is this a part?:

These two characteristics make up our lives and seem to be inseparable. Each being is individual and unique. Each being is also a component in and of a larger being. There is perpetual interaction between the two roles, between individuality and a composite relationship with others in a larger setting and functioning. Each function depends upon the other. Individuality depends on how well the entity functions as a component in the larger life to which he or she contributes and the quality of that composite life depends on the quality of the individualities composing it.

At a certain stage in human evolution, we are told, individuality becomes fully and consciously established, coinciding with the individual perfecting his or her roles as a member of and a contributor to the larger being.

So much of life is made up of this interaction between the individual and the larger life that it may be considered as being virtually the whole field of our human karma. If we follow the moralistic, it - for that view of karma, often expounded by members of the Theosophical Society, we can see how the incapacity of nay entity to play an adequate contributory part in the larger life of which it is a component, may invite a comparable reaction in the cells of which collectively the physical body is composed. It will also be remembered that, by inverted reflection "down here", the physical aspect of life mysteriously mirrors the atmic or will principle of our innermost selves.

Because we naturally attach importance to our personal selves, karma is often thought of as something that comes about laterally, between separate individuals on the same level; but there seems also to be what we may call a vertical manifestation of karma, in the spirit of the aphorism "As above so below". If we assert our separate selfhood at the expense of actually putting into reverse the role we ought to be playing in that larger being of which we are a component, then some kind of reaction and balancing up of forces seems likely to follow among the cell lives which are components of our personal lives.

Of course all karma does not take the form of cancer. Only a rather flagrant and active repudiation of our role as component in a larger life would seem likely to evoke a similar reaction on the part of a cell or group of cells in the body.

There are also man-made environment conditions which at present seem to enable a cancerous outcome to surface earlier and more easily. For example the disaster at the nuclear power station at Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986 made possible tens of thousands of cancer cases, and our depletion of the ozone layer has promoted much cancer in the form of melanoma. Our zf abuse of nature is bound to raise various forms of karmic reaction, some cancerous, some not.

A question which is sometimes asked about the occurrence of cancer is why cancer seems so often to attack people of outstanding and saintly character and exceptional wisdom. The cases of Sri Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi or J. Krishnamurti, and many others, are cited. The thought that comes to mind is that these were people who were nearing the end of a phase of human life and were soon to enter upon a higher quality of existence. A new adjustment of forces had to be made and a final "balancing of the books" had to take place before they were liberated into a higher and more completely fulfilling quality of living. A "dweller on the threshold" had finally to be met at that particular entrance into a new life.

It seems reasonable to imagine that as advanced individuals move on into the next stage of evolution, and the interplay between individual personal self and the greater Self achieves effective harmony, and duality yields to unity, then the sort of adjustment that finds its expression in cancer will no longer be necessary.


More Hugh Shearman