THEOSOPHY, Vol. 21, No. 5, March, 1933
(Pages 206-209; Size: 12K)
(Number 15 of a 57-part series)
STUDIES IN KARMA
THE PENALTIES OF POSSESSION
"MAN," writes one, "is wholly and helplessly at the mercy of his environment. Let us then, by united effort, change the nature of the environment!" And doubtless the writer would laugh like the rest of us at the classic boot-strap aviator. But is not this mad paradox the very sum and essence of the race idea regarding property and possessions, the very epitome of its whole view as to the relation between mind and matter?
Every layman, without exception, has one object in his life race -- happiness. And the Theosophist who feels that his own aim is nobler, deceives himself nine times in ten. His hoped-for happiness may be of another fabric than the material; but it is no less personal. Should we delve here and there in the minds of the race at large for the contours of this all-engrossing goal, what shall we find? This man thinks he would be happy were he free of his bodily pains; that one, that he could enter elysium upon the wings of another job. The next, that were he rich he could purchase a healthy body from the doctor, or that with money he would be free from any job at all and thus enter upon Nirvana. The poor laborer, gazing upon the rosy cheeks of his ragged children, his wife's placid but worn features, vows that come what may, those children shall ride ponies and play upon a wide lawn, that faithful wife shall be draped in silks and queen it over shivering scullions. And in time his dreams are realized; his calloused fingers hold a fat cigar to replace the gone but not forgotten pick-handle; his feet propel a wheel-barrow no longer, but repose instead upon a mahogany desk. And thereupon he finds that for joyous, loving children, he has a selfish, snarling pack of spoiled adolescents. His weary but loving wife he has traded for a termagant dowager -- whose brows are furrowed by frowning over bridge-hands, whose extravagances eat into his substance incessantly, and who is mantled in eternal discontent because her transplanted imagination, sated, is unequal to the conception of new desires. Man is flush in the possession of things which have brought him no happiness while they have sapped his courage until he cannot do without them. While the beggar envies the supposed power of the king, the latter writhes under unbreakable conventions which frustrate every natural impulse and desire; his robe is a shirt of Nessus which he dare not doff, knowing that the memory of country and family abandoned, of duty forsworn, would burn his skin unto the end of time. The very rich man has long desired to retire to quiet wilds and rest his life out in peaceful contemplation. Any penniless tramp with a modicum of initiative could achieve in a trice all that this rich man asks from life, by becoming a South Sea beachcomber. Yet the world is full of those who think that liberty lies in the chains of wealth; that dishonesty is destroyed by putting in the hands of the thief that which he would otherwise steal; that greed is eliminated by surfeit, and vice by opening wide the gates of self-indulgence.
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief; never to any of them does it occur that happiness lies anywhere except in dispositions and redispositions, arrangements and rearrangements of matter! Never does it occur that only the attitude of mind toward things, and not the things with which mind is surrounded, has anything to do with happiness, with peace, with liberation! Even as the magnetic field generates power only in a moving wire, so does the human being find sensation only in change. The accustomed becomes the common-place, the boresome. The skeleton-faced convict of the French Guiana transportation camps, accustoms himself to his barred existence, finds in strange ways diversions, pleasures, achievements and ambitions, with always beyond him and beyond all, the dream of escape. The rich man, accustomed to pleasures until they are no longer pleasures, but necessities, and wearisome necessities at that, has not even that hope! Life is unendurable without his luxuries; the luxuries bring him less pleasure than does a stray cigar-stub to a wandering tramp, who further has the advantage of any number of things to hope for and dream about! Well indeed is it said that only those who have in some life gained all, or lost all, essay the Path in dead earnest.
Karma is "an undeviating tendency in the Universe to restore equilibrium;" and active Karma is in generation at any point in space where consciousness moves. If a man fall far below the average level of his fellows, the forces in his own nature -- the forces of humiliation, of envy, of ambition -- are the Karmic agents which bid him rise. Should a man thrust his shoulders above others, clad in a golden weave, all rally about to strip him thereof; the workings of human society are so constituted that disintegration and decay inevitably resolve every fortune into its ultimate coins, though held together by strenuous effort for generations!
In the present day we behold a vast acceleration, a catastrophic precipitation of such Karma duly in line with the "quick Karma" to which the American race seems particularly subject. Perhaps never before have the burdens, the insecurities, the dangerous benefits of wealth been so apparent. A highly perceptive writer in Liberty for November 5, 1932, makes it clear indeed -- from the inner as well as the outer point or view.The man with capital is rich. If you don't believe it, listen to the street-corner socialists or communists. A so-called capitalist friend of mine owes the government $22,000 in back taxes. His bank has called for a reduction of $10,000 of the mortgage on his home. It is just as serious for the rich man to lose his home as for the poor man. "But," says the latter, "he'll have somewhere to rest his head." The rich man doesn't know that. "He'll have some rich friend to take him in." But his rich friends like privacy. The poor are more hospitable; they are accustomed to take in friends who are broke....The desire for riches, for that security which is no possession of the rich any more than of the poor, enslaves and embitters the poor man. The burdens of wealth, the tenderness of the skin to adversity which follows upon its possession, the shining mark it offers to avarice, envy, and misfortune, weigh down and haunt the rich until suicides are more frequent among them than among the poor. What then is the way out? None, perhaps, for those unable to see that all human misery comes from mental slavery to matter; a form of servitude more wearing upon the rich than upon the poor. But the Theosophist has his own mentor, his own formula.
A group of bank directors confer on the calling of a loan. Each one fidgets uncomfortably in the realization that the facts of the debtor's position apply to him. He hopes the lightning will not strike. He is a trustee and as such will cast a vote that shames him as a man.
The mayor calls a meeting of the leading and wealthiest citizens to consider unemployment relief. Most of them are wondering how long they can stave off their creditors and keep open the factory, shop, or office. It is up to them to help -- but they themselves need help....
The one thing that ordinarily is reasonably certain about the so-called rich man is that he has obligations, though he may have little or nothing else. Having had credit, he now has debts. He has leases, mortgages, and contracts; he carries insurance which has no further leeway for borrowings; he has a burden of taxes, not on the surplus but on an income that does not meet the established need; he has family dependents and retainers and is surrounded by loved ones none of whom has been trained to earn a nickel. He has possessions and obligations to which he is a slave ...
The question is not as to how one comes to be in that position. The vicissitudes of life are various. The way of life is fortuitous. Most of us drift. All of us are the victims or beneficiaries of accident. Whatever one's station, rich or poor, he finds himself involved when the economic structure collapses. The security for which we all strive is a vain illusion, for the result depends upon an infinite variety of incalculable circumstances.
"Desire possession above all; but desire only those possessions which can be enjoyed by all pure souls equally."
Desire the ability to labor joyously, unselfishly. Desire unsullied wisdom. Desire contentment, adaptability to one's lot. Desire the sunshine and the moonlight, and the friendship of far-flung stars, and the scent of pines and the song of the wind in the tall trees, and all other things whose enjoying requires the rape of no man's goods. Of gold desire only that which can be sent through proper channels, no miser hoard of one's own, but directed by wise hands for the benefit of mankind.
Desiring thus -- "thou mayest enjoy." And only then.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
THE GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY
"After all, every wish and thought I can utter are summed up in this one sentence, the never-dormant wish of my heart," "Be Theosophists, work for Theosophy!" "Theosophy first, and Theosophy last; for its practical realization alone can save the Western world from that selfish and unbrotherly feeling that now divides race from race, one nation from the other; and from that hatred of class and social considerations that are the curse and disgrace of so-called Christian peoples. Theosophy alone can save it from sinking entirely into that mere luxurious materialism in which it will decay and putrefy as civilizations have done. In your hands, brothers, is placed in trust the welfare of the coming century; and great as is the trust, so great is also the responsibility."
--H. P. Blavatsky
STUDIES IN KARMA
(Part 16 of a 57-part series)
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