The Key to Theosophy



Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

1831 -1891



The Key to Theosophy


Helena Petrovna Blavatsky


Key to Theosophy Index



What is Karma?



Q. But what is Karma?

A. As I have said, we consider it as the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the

source, origin, and fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature. Karma

is the unerring law which adjusts effect to cause, on the physical, mental, and

spiritual planes of being. As no cause remains without its due effect from

greatest to least, from a cosmic disturbance down to the movement of your hand, and as like produces like,Karma is that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently, and equitably each effect to its cause, tracing the

latter back to its producer. Though itself unknowable,its action is perceivable.


Q. Then it is the "Absolute," the "Unknowable" again, and is not of much value

as an explanation of the problems of life?

A. On the contrary. For, though we do not know what Karma is per se, and in its essence, we do know how it works, and we can define and describe its mode of action with accuracy. We only do notknow its ultimate Cause, just as modern

philosophy universally admits that the ultimate Cause of anything is



Q. And what has Theosophy to say in regard to the solution of the more practical needs of humanity? What is the explanation which it offers in reference to the awful suffering and dire necessity prevalent among the so-called "lower


A. To be pointed, according to our teaching all these great social evils, the

distinction of classes in Society, and of the sexes in the affairs of life, the

unequal distribution of capital and of labor-all are due to what we tersely but

truly denominate Karma.


Q. But, surely, all these evils which seem to fall upon the masses somewhat

indiscriminately are not actual merited and individual Karma?

A. No, they cannot be so strictly defined in their effects as to show that each

individual environment, and the particular conditions of life in which each

person finds himself, are nothing more than the retributive Karma which the

individual generated in a previous life. We must not lose sight of the fact that

every atom is subject to the general law governing the whole body to which it

belongs, and here we come upon the wider track of the Karmic law. Do you not

perceive that the aggregate of individual Karma becomes that of the nation to

which those individuals belong, and further, that the sum total of National Karma

is that of the World? The evils that you speak of are not peculiar to the

individual or even to the Nation, they are more or less universal; and it is

upon this broad line of Human interdependence that the law of Karma finds its

legitimate and equable issue.


Q. Do I, then, understand that the law of Karma is not necessarily an individual


A. That is just what I mean. It is impossible that Karma could readjust the

balance of power in the world's life and progress, unless it had a broad and

general line of action. It is held as a truth among Theosophists that the

interdependence of Humanity is the cause of what is called Distributive Karma,

and it is this law which affords the solution to the great question of

collective suffering and its relief. It is an occult law, moreover, that no man

can rise superior to his individual failings, without lifting, be it ever so

little, the whole body of which he is an integral part. In the same way, no one

can sin, nor suffer the effects of sin, alone. In reality, there is no such

thing as "Separateness"; and the nearest approach to that selfish state, which

the laws of life permit, is in the intent or motive.


Q. And are there no means by which the distributive or national Karma might be

concentrated or collected, so to speak, and brought to its natural and

legitimate fulfillment without all this protracted suffering?

A. As a general rule, and within certain limits which define the age to which we

belong, the law of Karma cannot be hastened or retarded in its fulfillment. But

of this I am certain, the point of possibility in either of these directions has

never yet been touched. Listen to the following recital of one phase of national

suffering, and then ask yourself whether, admitting the working power of

individual, relative, and distributive Karma, these evils are not capable of

extensive modification and general relief. What I am about to read to you is

from the pen of a National Savior, one who, having overcome Self, and being free to choose, has elected to serve Humanity, in bearing at least as much as a

woman's shoulders can possibly bear of National Karma. This is what she says:

Yes, Nature always does speak, don't you think? only sometimes we make so much noise that we drown her voice. That is why it is so restful to go out of the

town and nestle awhile in the Mother's arms. I am thinking of the evening on

Hampstead Heath when we watched the sun go down; but oh! upon what suffering and misery that sun had set! A lady brought me yesterday a big hamper of wild flowers. I thought some of my East-end family had a better right to it than I, and so I took it down to a very poor school in Whitechapel this morning.


You should have seen the pallid little faces brighten! Thence I went to pay for some dinners at a little cookshop for some children. It was in a back street, narrow, full of jostling people; stench indescribable, from fish, meat, and other food, all reeking in a sun that, in Whitechapel, festers instead of purifying. The

cookshop was the quintessence of all the smells. Indescribable meat-pies at 1d.,

loathsome lumps of 'food' and swarms of flies, a very altar of Beelzebub! All

about, babies on the prowl for scraps, one, with the face of an angel, gathering

up cherrystones as a light and nutritious form of diet. I came westward with

every nerve shuddering and jarred, wondering whether anything can be done with some parts of London save swallowing them up in an earthquake and starting their inhabitants afresh, after a plunge into some purifying Lethe, out of which not a memory might emerge! And then I thought of Hampstead Heath, and-pondered.


If by any sacrifice one could win the power to save these people, the cost would not be worth counting; but, you see,they must be changed-and how can that be

wrought? In the condition they now are, they would not profit by any environment in which they might be placed; and yet, in their present surroundings they must continue to putrefy.


It breaks my heart, this endless, hopeless misery, and the brutish degradation that is at once its outgrowth and its root. It is like the banyan tree; every branch roots itself and sends out new shoots. What a difference between these feelings and the peaceful scene at Hampstead! and yet we, who are the brothers and sisters of these poor creatures, have only a right to use Hampstead Heaths to gain strength to save Whitechapels.


Q. That is a sad but beautiful letter, and I think it presents with painful

conspicuity the terrible workings of what you have called "Relative and

Distributive Karma." But alas! there seems no immediate hope of any relief short

of an earthquake, or some such general engulfment!

A. What right have we to think so while one-half of humanity is in a position to

effect an immediate relief of the privations which are suffered by their

fellows? When every individual has contributed to the general good what he can

of money, of labor, and of ennobling thought, then, and only then, will the

balance of National Karma be struck, and until then we have no right nor any

reasons for saying that there is more life on the earth than Nature can support.

It is reserved for the heroic souls, the Saviors of our Race and Nation, to find

out the cause of this unequal pressure of retributive Karma, and by a supreme

effort to readjust the balance of power, and save the people from a moral

engulfment a thousand times more disastrous and more permanently evil than the

like physical catastrophe, in which you seem to see the only possible outlet for

this accumulated misery.


Q. Well, then, tell me generally how you describe this law of Karma?

A. We describe Karma as that Law of readjustment which ever tends to restore

disturbed equilibrium in the physical, and broken harmony in the moral world. We say that Karma does not act in this or that particular way always; but that it

always does act so as to restore Harmony and preserve the balance of

equilibrium, in virtue of which the Universe exists.


Q. Give me an illustration.

A. Later on I will give you a full illustration. Think now of a pond. A stone

falls into the water and creates disturbing waves. These waves oscillate

backwards and forwards till at last, owing to the operation of what physicists

call the law of the dissipation of energy, they are brought to rest, and the

water returns to its condition of calm tranquility. Similarly all action, on

every plane, produces disturbance in the balanced harmony of the Universe, and

the vibrations so produced will continue to roll backwards and forwards, if its

area is limited, till equilibrium is restored. But since each such disturbance

starts from some particular point, it is clear that equilibrium and harmony can

only be restored by the reconverging to that same point of all the forces which

were set in motion from it. And here you have proof that the consequences of a

man's deeds, thoughts, etc. must all react upon himself with the same force with

which they were set in motion.


Q. But I see nothing of a moral character about this law. It looks to me like

the simple physical law that action and reaction are equal and opposite.

A. I am not surprised to hear you say that. Europeans have got so much into the

ingrained habit of considering right and wrong, good and evil, as matters of an

arbitrary code of law laid down either by men, or imposed upon them by a

Personal God. We Theosophists, however, say that "Good" and "Harmony," and "Evil" and "Dis-harmony," are synonymous. Further we maintain that all pain and suffering are results of want of Harmony, and that the one terrible and only cause of the disturbance of Harmony is selfishness in some form or another.


Hence Karma gives back to every man the actual consequences of his own actions, without any regard to their moral character; but since he receives his due for all, it is obvious that he will be made to atone for all sufferings which he has

caused, just as he will reap in joy and gladness the fruits of all the happiness

and harmony he had helped to produce. I can do no better than quote for your

benefit certain passages from books and articles written by our Theosophists-those who have a correct idea of Karma.


Q. I wish you would, as your literature seers to be very sparing on this


A. Because it is themost difficult of all our tenets. Some short time ago there

appeared the following objection from a Christian pen:


Granting that the teaching in regard to Theosophy is correct, and that "man must

be his own savior, must overcome self and conquer the evil that is in his dual

nature, to obtain the emancipation of his soul," what is man to do after he has

been awakened and converted to a certain extent from evil or wickedness? How is he to get emancipation, or pardon, or the blotting out of the evil or wickedness he has already done?


To this Mr. J.H. Conelly replies very pertinently that no one can hope to "make

the theosophical engine run on the theological track." As he has it:

The possibility of shirking individual responsibility is not among the concepts

of Theosophy. In this faith there is no such thing as pardoning, or "blotting

out of evil or wickedness already done," otherwise than by the adequate

punishment therefore of the wrong-doer and the restoration of the harmony in the universe that had been disturbed by his wrongful act. The evil has been his own, and while others must suffer its consequences, atonement can be made by nobody but himself.


The condition contemplated … in which a man shall have been "awakened and

converted to a certain extent from evil or wickedness," is that in which a man

shall have realized that his deeds are evil and deserving of punishment. In that

realization a sense of personal responsibility is inevitable, and just in

proportion to the extent of his awakening or "converting" must be the sense of

that awful responsibility. While it is strong upon him is the time when he is

urged to accept the doctrine of vicarious atonement.


He is told that he must also repent, but nothing is easier than that. It is an

amiable weakness of human nature that we are quite prone to regret the evil we

have done when our attention is called, and we have either suffered from it

ourselves or enjoyed its fruits. Possibly, close analysis of the feeling would

show us that thing which we regret is rather the necessity that seemed to

require the evil as a means of attainment of our selfish ends than the evil



Attractive as this prospect of casting our burden of sins "at the foot of the

cross" may be to the ordinary mind, it does not commend itself to the Theosophic student. He does not apprehend why the sinner by attaining knowledge of his evil can thereby merit any pardon for or the blotting out of his past wickedness; or why repentance and future right living entitle him to a suspension in his favor of the universal law of relation between cause and effect.


The results of his evil deeds continue to exist; the suffering caused to others by his wickedness is not blotted out. The Theosophical student takes the result of wickedness upon the innocent into his problem. He considers not only the guilty person, but his victims.


Evil is an infraction of the laws of harmony governing the universe, and the

penalty thereof must fall upon the violator of that law himself. Christ uttered

the warning, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee," and St. Paul

said, "Work out your own salvation. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." That, by the way, is a fine metaphoric rendering of the sentence of the Pur as far antedating him-that "every man reaps the consequences of his own



This is the principle of the law of Karma which is taught by Theosophy. Sinnett,

in his Esoteric Buddhism,rendered Karma as "the law of ethical causation." "The

law of retribution," as Mme. Blavatsky translates its meaning, is better. It is

the power which


Just though mysterious, leads us on unerring

Through ways unmarked from guilt to punishment.


But it is more. It rewards merit as unerringly and amply as it punishes demerit.

It is the outcome of every act, of thought, word, and deed, and by it men mold

themselves, their lives and happenings. Eastern philosophy rejects the idea of a

newly created soul for every baby born. It believes in a limited number of

monads, evolving and growing more and more perfect through their assimilation of many successive personalities. Those personalities are the product of Karma and it is by Karma and reincarnation that the human monad in time returns to its

source-absolute deity.


E.D. Walker, in his Reincarnation, offers the following explanation:

Briefly, the doctrine of Karma is that we have made ourselves what we are by

former actions, and are building our future eternity by present actions. There

is no destiny but what we ourselves determine. There is no salvation or

condemnation except what we ourselves bring about … Because it offers no shelter for culpable actions and necessitates a sterling manliness, it is less welcome to weak natures than the easy religious tenets of vicarious atonement, intercession, forgiveness, and deathbed conversions … In the domain of eternal

justice the offense and the punishment are inseparably connected as the same

event, because there is no real distinction between the action and its outcome …

It is Karma, or our old acts, that draws us back into earthly life. The spirit's

abode changes according to its Karma, and this Karma forbids any long

continuance in one condition, because it is always changing. So long as action

is governed by material and selfish motives, just so long must the effect of

that action be manifested in physical rebirths. Only the perfectly selfless man

can elude the gravitation of material life. Few have attained this, but it is

the goal of mankind.


And then the writer quotes from The Secret Doctrine:


Those who believe in Karma have to believe in destiny, which, from birth to

death, every man is weaving, thread by thread, around himself, as a spider does

his cobweb, and this destiny is guided either by the heavenly voice of the

invisible prototype outside of us, or by our more intimate astral or inner man,

who is but too often the evil genius of the embodied entity called man. Both

these lead on the outward man, but one of them must prevail; and from the very

beginning of the invisible affray the stern and implacable law of compensation

steps in and takes its course, faithfully following the fluctuations. When the

last strand is woven, and man is seemingly enwrapped in the network of his own

doing, then he finds himself completely under the empire of this self-made

destiny … An Occultist or a philosopher will not speak of the goodness or

cruelty of Providence; but, identifying it with Karma-Nemesis, he will teach

that, nevertheless, it guards the good and watches over them in this as in

future lives; and that it punishes the evil-doer-aye, even to his seventh

rebirth-so long, in short, as the effect of his having thrown into perturbation

even the smallest atom in the infinite world of harmony has not been finally

readjusted. For the only decree of Karma-an eternal and immutable decree-is

absolute harmony in the world of matter as it is in the world of spirit. It is

not, therefore, Karma that rewards or punishes, but it is we who reward or

punish ourselves according to whether we work with, through and along with

nature, abiding by the laws on which that harmony depends, or-break them. Nor

would the ways of Karma be inscrutable were men to work in union and harmony, instead of disunion and strife. For our ignorance of those ways-which one portion of mankind calls the ways of Providence, dark and intricate; while

another sees in them the action of blind fatalism; and a third simple chance,

with neither gods nor devils to guide them-would surely disappear if we would

but attribute all these to their correct cause … We stand bewildered before the

mystery of our own making and the riddles of life that we will not solve, and

then accuse the great Sphinx of devouring us. But verily there is not an

accident of our lives, not a misshapen day, or a misfortune, that could not be

traced back to our own doings in this or in another life … The law of Karma is

inextricably interwoven with that of reincarnation … It is only this doctrine

that can explain to us the mysterious problem of good and evil, and reconcile

man to the terrible and apparent injustice of life. Nothing but such certainty

can quiet our revolted sense of justice. For, when one unacquainted with the

noble doctrine looks around him and observes the inequalities of birth and

fortune, of intellect and capacities; when one sees honor paid to fools and

wastrels, on whom fortune has heaped her favors by mere privilege of birth, and

their nearest neighbor, with all his intellect and noble virtues-far more

deserving in every way-perishing for want and for lack of sympathy-when one sees all this and has to turn away, helpless to relieve the undeserved suffering,

one's ears ringing and heart aching with the cries of pain around him-that

blessed knowledge of Karma alone prevents him from cursing life and men as well as their supposed Creator … This law, whether conscious or unconscious,

predestines nothing and no one. It exists from and in eternity truly, for it is

eternity itself; and as such, since no act can be coequal with eternity, it

cannot be said to act, for it is action itself. It is not the wave which drowns

the man, but the personal action of the wretch who goes deliberately and places

himself under the impersonal action of the laws that govern the ocean's motion.

Karma creates nothing, nor does it design. It is man who plants and creates

causes, and Karmic law adjusts the effects, which adjustment is not an act but

universal harmony, tending ever to resume its original position, like a bough,

which, bent down too forcibly, rebounds with corresponding vigor. If it happen

to dislocate the arm that tried to bend it out of its natural position, shall we

say it is the bough which broke our arm or that our own folly has brought us to

grief? Karma has never sought to destroy intellectual and individual liberty,

like the god invented by the Monotheists. It has not involved its decrees in

darkness purposely to perplex man, nor shall it punish him who dares to

scrutinize its mysteries. On the contrary, he who unveils through study and

meditation its intricate paths, and throws light on those dark ways, in the

windings of which so many men perish owing to their ignorance of the labyrinth

of life, is working for the good of his fellowmen. Karma is an absolute and

eternal law in the world of manifestation; and as there can only be one

Absolute, as one Eternal, ever-present Cause, believers in Karma cannot be

regarded as atheists or materialists, still less as fatalists, for Karma is one

with the Unknowable, of which it is an aspect, in its effects in the phenomenal



Another able Theosophic writer says:


Every individual is making Karma either good or bad in each action and thought

of his daily round, and is at the same time working out in this life the Karma

brought about by the acts and desires of the last. When we see people afflicted

by congenital ailments it may be safely assumed that these ailments are the

inevitable results of causes started by themselves in a previous birth. It may

be argued that, as these afflictions are hereditary, they can have nothing to do

with a past incarnation; but it must be remembered that the Ego, the real man,

the individuality, has no spiritual origin in the parentage by which it is

reembodied, but it is drawn by the affinities which its previous mode of life

attracted round it into the current that carries it, when the time comes for

rebirth, to the home best fitted for the development of those tendencies … This

doctrine of Karma, when properly understood, is well calculated to guide and

assist those who realize its truth to a higher and better mode of life, for it

must not be forgotten that not only our actions but our thoughts also are most

assuredly followed by a crowd of circumstances that will influence for good or

for evil our own future, and, what is still more important, the future of many

of our fellow-creatures. If sins of omission and commission could in any case be only self-regarding, the fact on the sinner's Karma would be a matter of minor

consequence. The effect that every thought and act through life carries with it

for good or evil a corresponding influence on other members of the human family renders a strict sense of justice, morality, and unselfishness so necessary to future happiness or progress. A crime once committed, an evil thought sent out from the mind, are past recall-no amount of repentance can wipe out their

results in the future. Repentance, if sincere, will deter a man from repeating

errors; it cannot save him or others from the effects of those already produced,

which will most unerringly overtake him either in this life or in the next



Mr. J.H. Conelly proceeds-


The believers in a religion based upon such doctrine are willing it should be

compared with one in which man's destiny for eternity is determined by the

accidents of a single, brief earthly existence, during which he is cheered by

the promise that "as the tree falls so shall it lie"; in which his brightest

hope, when he wakes up to a knowledge of his wickedness, is the doctrine of

vicarious atonement, and in which even that is handicapped, according to the

Presbyterian Confession of Faith.


By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels

are predestinated unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting



These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained are particularly and

unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it

cannot be either increased or diminished … As God hath appointed the elect unto glory … Neither are any other redeemed by Christ effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.


The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of

his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the

glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by and to ordain them

to dishonor and wrath for their sin to the praise of his glorious justice.

This is what the able defender says. Nor can we do any better than wind up the

subject as he does, by a quotation from a magnificent poem. As he says:


The exquisite beauty of Edwin Arnold's exposition of Karma in The Light of Asia tempts to its reproduction here, but it is too long for quotation in full. Here

is a portion of it:


Karma-all that total of a soul


Which is the things it did, the thoughts it had,

The "self" it wove with woof of viewless time

Crossed on the warp invisible of acts.


Before beginning and without an end,

As space eternal and as surety sure,

Is fixed a Power divine which moves to good,

Only its laws endure.


It will not be despised of anyone;

Who thwarts it loses, and who serves it gains;

The hidden good it pays with peace and bliss,

The hidden ill with pains.


It seeth everywhere and marketh all;

Do right-it recompenseth! Do one wrong-

The equal retribution must be made,

Though Dharma tarry long.


It knows not wrath nor pardon; utter-true,

Its measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;

Times are as naught, tomorrow it will judge

Or after many days.


Such is the law which moves to righteousness,

Which none at last can turn aside or stay;

The heart of it is love, the end of it

Is peace and consummation sweet. Obey.


And now I advise you to compare our Theosophic views upon Karma, the law of Retribution, and say whether they are not both more philosophical and just than this cruel and idiotic dogma which makes of "God" a senseless fiend; the tenet, namely, that the "elect only" will be saved, and the rest doomed to eternal



Q. Yes, I see what you mean generally; but I wish you could give some concrete

example of the action of Karma?

A. That I cannot do. We can only feel sure, as I said before, that our present

lives and circumstances are the direct results of our own deeds and thoughts in

lives that are past. But we, who are not Seers or Initiates, cannot know

anything about the details of the working of the law of Karma.


Q. Can anyone, even an Adept or Seer, follow out this Karmic process of

readjustment in detail?

A. Certainly: "Those who know" can do so by the exercise of powers which are

latent even in all men.





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