A doctrine common to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Theosophy,
although not wholly adopted by Theosophists as taught in
the other two religions. The word karma itself means ‘‘action,’’
but implies both action and reaction. All actions have consequences,
some immediate, some delayed, others in future incarnations,
according to Eastern beliefs. Thus individuals bear
responsibility for all their actions and cannot escape the consequences,
although bad actions can be expiated by good ones.
Action is not homogeneous, but on the contrary contains
three elements the thought, which conceives the action; the
will, which finds the means of accomplishment; and the union
of thought and will, which brings the action to fruition. It is
plain, therefore, that thought has potential for good or evil, for
as the thought is, so will the action be. The miser, thinking of
avarice, is avaricious; the libertine, thinking of vice, is vicious;
and, conversely, one thinking of virtuous thoughts shows virtue
in his or her actions.
There is also a viewpoint which believes that karma comes
not from the action itself, but the beliefs and feelings which motivate
or allow the action. ‘‘The law of karma is not a justice and
retribution system, so anyone who has had much suffering in
this life is not a victim of ‘bad karma,’ but simply finds themselves
in predicaments that are simply the result of their own
beliefs about themselves.’’
Arising from such teaching is the attention devoted to
thought power. Using the analogy of the physical body, which
can be developed by regimen and training based on natural scientific
laws, Theosophists teach that character, in a similar way,
can be scientifically built up by exercising the mind.
Every vice is considered evidence of lack of a corresponding
virtue—avarice, for instance, shows the absence of generosity.
Instead of accepting that an individual is naturally avaricious,
Theosophists teach that constant thought focused on generosity
will in time change the individual’s nature in that respect.
The length of time necessary for change depends on at least
two factors the strength of thought and the strength of the
vice; the vice may be the sum of the indulgence of many ages
and therefore difficult to eradicate.
The doctrine of karma, therefore, must be considered not
in relation to one life only, but with an understanding of reincarnation.
In traditional Hinduism individuals were seen as immersed
in a world of illusion, called maya. In this world, distracted
from the real world of spirit, one performs acts, and
those actions create karma—consequences. In traditional
teaching the goal of life was to escape karma. There was little
difference between good and bad karma. Karma kept one
trapped in the world of illusion.
During the nineteenth century, Western notions of evolution
of life and the moral order were influenced by Indian
teachings. Some began to place significance upon good karma
as a means of overcoming bad karma. The goal gradually became
the gaining of good karma, rather than escape. Such an
approach to reincarnation and karma became popular in Theosophy
and Spiritism, a form of Spiritualism.
Western scholars have often mistakenly viewed karma and
fate as the same concept. Fate, however, is the belief that the
path of one’s life is established by agencies outside oneself.
Karma is the opposite, implying the ability to alter one’s path
of life—in a future life if not the present—by altering one’s feelings
and beliefs, and by engaging in positive practices. ‘‘It is the
coward and the fool who says this is fate,’’ goes the Sanskrit
proverb. ‘‘But it is the strong man who stands up and says, ‘‘I
will make my fate.’’
According to this view, reincarnation is carried on under the
laws of karma and evolution. The newborn baby bears within
it the seeds of former lives. His or her character is the same as
it was in past existences, and so it will continue unless the individual
changes it, which he or she has the power to do. Each
succeeding existence finds that character stronger in one direction
or another. If it is evil the effort to change it becomes increasingly
difficult; indeed a complete change may not be possible
until many lifetimes of effort have passed. In cases such
as these, temptation may be too strong to resist, yet the individual
who has knowledge of the workings of karma will yield to
evil only after a desperate struggle; thus, instead of increasing
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Karma
the power of the evil, he helps to destroy its potency. Only in
the most rare cases can an individual free himself with a single
The karmic goal in reincarnation, however, is said not necessarily
to raise the soul to a higher plain of existence, but entreat
enlightenment to reign at whichever level of existence the
soul happens to find itself. ‘‘Many. . .see the process of enlightenment
as ‘‘ascension’’; it is in fact more true to say that it is a
process of descension, that is bringing the light down to all levels.’’
Abhedananda, Swami. Doctrine of Karma A Study in the Philosophy
and Practice of Work. Calcutta Ramakrishna Vedanta Math,
Carus, Paul. Karma A Study of Buddhist Ethics. La Salle, Ill.
Open Court, 1894.
Feuerstein, George. The Shambala Guide to Yoga. Boston and
London Shambala, 1996.
Glasenapp, Helmuth von. The Doctrine of Kerman in Jain Philosophy.
Bombay Bai Vojibai Jivanial Panalal Charity Fund,
Hanson, Virginia, ed. Karma The Universal Law of Harmony.
Wheaton, Ill. Theosophical Publishing House, 1975.
Jast, L. Stanley. Reincarnation and Karma. Secaucus, N.J.
Castle Books, 1955.
‘‘Karma Meaning and Definition.’’ Hinduism Today June 19,
1994, httpwww.spiritweb.org.
Payne, John. ‘‘Reincarnation & Karma.’’ January 1, 1995
Reichenbach, Bruce R. The Law of Karma A Philosophical
Study. London Macmillan, 1990.
Sharma, I. C. Cayce, Karma and Reincarnation. Wheaton, Ill.
Theosophical Publishing House, 1975.
Silananda, U. An Introduction to the Law of Karma. Berkeley,
Calif. Dharmachakka Meditation Center, 1990.
Torwesten, Hans. Vedanta Heart of Hinduism. New York
Grove Weidenfeld, 1985.
Woodward, Mary Ann. Edgar Cayce’s Story of Karma. New
York Coward-McCann, 1971

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