THEOSOPHY, Vol. 30, No. 7, May, 1942
(Pages 302-309; Size: 24K)
(Number 33 of a 57-part series)
STUDIES IN KARMA
THE CIRCLING TIDES OF TIMEThe first 5000 years of Kali Yuga will end between the years 1897 and 1898. This Yuga began about 3102 years before the Christian era, at the time of Krishna's death. As 1897-98 are not far off, the scientific men of today will have an opportunity of seeing whether the close of the five-thousand-year cycle will be preceded or followed by any convulsions or great changes political, scientific or physical, or all of these combined....THE incumbent President of the United States once remarked "this generation has a rendezvous with destiny." One wonders whether, given a real vision of the scope and nature of the destinies involved, he would not either have said much more -- or remained silent.
Individuals and nations in definite streams return in regularly recurring periods to the earth, and thus bring back to the globe the arts, the civilization, the very persons who once were on it at work. And as the units in nation and race are connected together by invisible strong threads, large bodies of such units moving slowly but surely all together reunite at different times and emerge again and again together into a new race and new civilization as the cycles roll their appointed rounds. Therefore the souls who made the most ancient civilizations will come back and bring the old civilization with them in idea and essence....
The length of the individual reïncarnation cycle for the general mass of men is fifteen hundred years, and this in its turn gives us a large historical cycle related closely to the progress of civilization. For as the masses of persons return from devachan, it must follow that the Roman, the Greek, the old Aryan and other Ages will be seen again and can to a very great extent be plainly traced. But man is also affected by astronomical cycles because he is an integral part of the whole, and these cycles mark the periods when mankind as a whole will undergo a change.... --The Ocean of Theosophy.
"Arise, then, O Atlanteans, and repair the mischief done so long ago!" (William Q. Judge, THEOSOPHY I, 482.) [Note: A link to the article that this quote was taken from, entitled "Cycles", and its location in it, has been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.]
The universality of the law of cycles -- a Theosophical fundamental -- is an idea easy to grasp in its broadest outlines; in some of its implications, beyond any but the vastest comprehension; possibly, in its ultimates, beyond any embodied mind at all.
In its purely mechanical aspect, the rotation of the earth about its axis, its movement around the sun, the movement of the sun around its own cosmic center, the movement of that center about still another, ad infinitum, beguiles the mind with an immediate and easily grasped phenomenon of everyday life, only to lead it at last to the brink of infinitudes. When the perturbations and local disturbances due to other systems in the neighborhood are added to the theoretically perfect original ellipses, the immediate problem itself becomes very difficult. Astronomers can easily solve the motion of two bodies about their common center; no thoroughly satisfactory solution for the mutual influences of even three bodies has yet been devised. Yet the motions in the solar system can be approximated to a degree practical enough for use.
Even so, did we find ourselves members of a nation reincarnated from fifteen hundred years past, with only one other, a neighbor, friend, or foe of that period, to deal with, the forecasting of destiny would be relatively simple. There are now, as there were then, scores of groups of Egos involved; we are in the midst of a crisis in which much just Karma is being precipitated upon nations, masses of individuals, but in which, by greed, fear, hatred, folly, and sometimes noble action, new Karma, good and bad, is being generated. Unlike a natural cataclysm, which produces no new Karma in the act of balancing old, a war always brings with it a host of new and bad causes; instead of clearing the situation, it more often leads to heavier impending debts for all concerned. Thus, even if the same individuals of the past cycle were in each case concerned in an apparently exact repetition of the old situation, there would still be great differences in outcome, because of altered motivations and changed degrees of moral responsibility.
It is well that these obscurities be remembered; otherwise the appalling similarity of the present situation to that of the Fifth Century, and the equally appalling outcome of that crisis, might paralyze hope.
Fifteen hundred years ago the crisis of the 5,000 year cycle was still far off; far, also, the drawing together of the old Atlantean tribes, long separated in various climes, into America for a vaster destiny than any seen in the Europe of the last 2,500 years. The caliber of the intelligence residing behind the Theosophical Movement, which was able to penetrate these Karmic complexities and unearth the following forecast, may be appreciated but hardly yet understood:...man is himself his own saviour as his own destroyer. ...he need not accuse Heaven and the gods, Fates and Providence, of the apparent injustice that reigns in the midst of humanity. But let him rather remember and repeat this bit of Grecian wisdom which warns man to forbear accusing That which--The appearance of things shows that the fifteen hundred year cycle is casting the mold of events faithfully, for a long initial stage of the reckoning. Therefore let us examine the shape of things at that time.. . . . . . . . . . . . .--which are now the ways and the high road on which move onward the great European nations. The Western Aryans had, every nation and tribe, like their Eastern brethren of the Fifth Race, their Golden and their Iron ages, their period of comparative irresponsibility, or the Satya age of purity, while now, several of them have reached their Iron Age, the Kali Yuga, an age BLACK WITH HORRORS.... This state will last ... until we begin acting from within instead of ever following impulses from without;... Until then the only palliative ... is union and harmony -- a Brotherhood IN ACTU, and altruism not simply in name. (The Secret Doctrine I, 644-45.)
"Just though mysterious, leads us on unerring
Through ways unmark'd from guilt to punishment ..."
The fall of the Roman empire has always been a prize case-history to those interested in the pathology of imperialism; it is especially valuable, partly because unusually well detailed and documented, and partly because of its intimate connection with the individual Karma of each one of us in Western lands. But in general form it is only one more example of a cycle as relentless and well-defined as that of cancer.
An empire grows like a banyan tree; during the period of its extreme expansion there become visible the spores of dry rot at its heart; as its branches cover the world, the center becomes a hollow shell, and disappears from sight, while its offshoots gradually fill the pages of history with their own briefer cycles. Imperial expansion is hailed by its instigators as a symbol of growth and vigor. In reality, it is a symptom of mortal disease -- national elephantiasis. The United States as an independent nation may be said to have suffered from it at a certain stage; as a youth suffers unknowingly inherited atavistic tendencies, bearing them through the years without inconvenience, yet as a potential weakness in time of moral stress. The Karma of our extermination of the Indians, of Negro slavery, the shrewd "fifth column" work by which Texas and New Mexico were acquired, the jingoism of the Spanish war, may not be fatal wounds, but we are now suffering their effects in a hundred unrecognized ways. The greater danger is that in some future time -- possibly not so far in the future -- we may embrace the fatal disease of a real imperialism under the guise of "duty" -- its unvarying mask.
Of especial interest to all Americans should be the curious manner in which the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire separated from the Western, and the vicissitudes which followed. At the time of greatest Roman expansion, it was found necessary to form a secondary center of control because of the great areas involved. Byzantium, later Constantinople, became the center of the Prefectures of the East. The quasi-independent government thus formed led easily to the division of the empire by Theodosius between his sons, Arcadius and Honorius, 395 A.D. The old Empire in its Western phase had long since ceased to be a republic, though retaining some republican forms. There was a pretext of keeping them up in Byzantium, but the East in the very act of becoming independent, also carried the vices of its parent still farther into imperialistic dictatorship. Nevertheless there was a strange vigor in this new Empire, despite its apparent decadence. For a thousand years it maintained its independent existence against a host of enemies. The government finally became the most elaborate the world had ever seen, operating under the titular headship of Emperors who got their power indifferently by popular acclaim, military coups, adoption by predecessors, heredity, and now and then plain assassination.
Palace politics polluted the life of the nation throughout; it was more important to get the ear of the emperor than to be able or honest, and the life was eaten out of the people by taxes, necessary to maintain the host of governmental parasites ensconced in competitive bureaus incessantly engaged in struggles for power and prestige.
At certain stages the life of the capital centered about the games and race tracks, and mass riots of imposing proportions were the order of the day. (One of them cost 30,000 lives, and devastated the better part of the city.) At the same time, art and literature flourished; religion, though a Christianity becoming steadily more artificial, partook for a long time of beneficial influences bequeathed by Hypatia and her kind, and never reached the ferocity of the Western "conversions," which found their fullest fitting expression at last in the Inquisition.
A remarkable feature of the Eastern Empire was the fraternity of races it included. Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Oriental, and Germanic elements fused and flourished; the outlander had as good an opportunity as anyone else, and in fact, the life of the Empire was once saved by an alien, an Isaurian, who seized power from an incompetent predecessor in time of disaster. One may surmise that the power of the Empire arose from this fraternization of different talents and capacities; its ills, from so many of them having decadent backgrounds.
During the time when Byzantium was first establishing its far-flung power, the old Roman Empire reached that stage where a nation, rotted out by ease and sensualism based upon exploitation, becomes a hollow shell, almost unsuspected except by a few philosophers. The Germanic tribes had moved out from their defensive positions in the Northern forests, and had gradually over-run most of the northerly provinces -- often welcomed by agrarian communities who had reached the point where any change seemed for the better.
In the latter part of the fourth century, Rome had become so weak that she had begun to appease the Germans by giving them office, wealth, and military power; a process which augmented their appetites. These encroachments and disturbances first became most serious to the Eastern section of the Empire; but it was that section which threw them off as it became independent, and the Western that finally succumbed. The struggles with the Germans, at first by the allied Empires, finally became a prolonged attempt by the Eastern Empire to rescue the remains of the Western from them. The West lost Africa to the Germans in the early part of the fifth century; lost Italy and Gaul (modern France) at the same time to the Huns. Sometimes the Germanic rulers who established themselves amid the ruined glories of Rome were independent; sometimes they were temporarily brought to heel by the Eastern Emperor, and rendered tribute; in general, the period from the fifth to the sixth century was marked by intermittent but losing struggles to regain the western lands. For a brief period under Justinian this was actually accomplished, but the Karmic accumulation was too great to maintain the Roman hegemony. The Eastern Empire has sometimes been accused of preventing the new Teutonic occupants of the old Roman territory from settling down and becoming civilized, through these incessant feuds; and thus of making a major contribution to the onset of the Dark Ages in Europe.
By the end of the sixth century, Byzantium found itself in trouble -- mostly by its own fault -- first with Persia, then with Islam, then with Russia. For many generations futile wars wasted both Byzantium and Persia. Persia was finally beaten, but Islam was at hand at once. This next struggle lasted intermittently until the siege of Constantinople, following disastrous civil wars, ended the Empire in 1453, thirty-nine years before a new world was discovered -- the land destined for the home of the founders of the Empire, then about to return from their Devachans, drawing with them old allies and enemies.
The situation which arose in the middle of the fifth century is more than worthy of note; not only as corresponding to our time, but also to our circumstances. It marked the first large-scale collision between the Fourth and Fifth Race stocks in comparatively modern times -- between the Occidental and the Mongolian.
The Huns originated in Central Asia and became a many-branched race, some tribes of which remained strictly Mongolian, while some became highly hybridized. The modern Turk, Magyar, and Finn are some of their descendants. Apparently they presented the phenomenon now so troubling the world -- that of a rapidly increasing, vigorous people finding themselves cramped on insufficient land. They were a nomad and herding people, and their first unrest seems to have begun with drought. Their wanderings brought them in contact with decadent Rome and China, and the rising glories of Byzantium, which aroused at once their contempt and their avarice.
In the middle of the fifth century they became an increasing threat to the Roman Empires, which were contending at the same time with the Germanic tribes. The fiercest of these tribes, the Angles, were at the same time beginning the invasion of Britain, which had been left to its own devices by Roman weakness. Genseric, the Germanic Vandal, while fighting a coalition of the two Emperors, induced Attila, leader of the Huns, to attack them. Attila made an onslaught on the Eastern Empire which destroyed seventy Byzantine cities and brought him to the gates of the Capital. This forced the Emperor, Theodosius II, to make a purchased peace. The embassy which Theodosius sent to Attila to settle peace terms included an honest ambassador, Maximin, and an "under-cover" emissary, Vigilius, whose mission was to secure the poisoning of Attila, if possible. Attila discovered this, said nothing, sent home the honest ambassador with presents, and paid his respects to Theodosius in a special mission, the upshot of which was the extraction of an enormous ransom to save the rest of the Empire from devastation. The Empire became temporarily tributary to Attila. In 451 Attila made a devastating attack on the dying Western Empire, but was defeated by a combination of Romans, French, and Germans -- all awake to the insanity of continuing their own quarrels in the face of the Oriental menace -- and died in 453. Thereafter the Hunnish power rapidly vanished from Europe.
The Huns came very near to over-running Europe, largely because of the typical white race contempt for them as "savages." True, they practically lived in the saddle and ate raw meat often carried under their saddle-flaps; but Attila's army had an efficient divisional organization and a knowledge of tactics equal to the best of the day; facts which dawned upon the Occidentals almost too late.
Hunnish history was different in the Orient. One branch of Huns, the Ephthalites, having already been in conflict with the rising power of Persia for generations, descended on India in 470, plundering and committing terrible atrocities. The worst of them, Mihiragula, whose favorite amusement was rolling elephants down mountains, was defeated by the Indian princes in 528. Their homeland was invaded by an alliance of Turks and Persians in 565, and they vanished as had their relatives a century before.
In the Orient, China was beginning to fall into somewhat the same disintegration as had Rome. By the fourth century a dynasty of Huns reigned in Shansi, and also held much of Siberia. A mixed reigning family arose, which ultimately conquered all of China. This Suy dynasty, curiously enough, began a renaissance of China itself, carried to a bright epoch by its successor, the Tang dynasty. Not least of the glories of the latter was the ascendancy of Buddhism. This was contemporaneous with the very darkest age of Europe.
Now, how shall we identify this confused mélange of the past with the peoples of today? Who now are the Romans, the Byzantines, the Persians, the Huns, the Chinese, the Teutons? Will they act only as they acted before, thus continuing to spin the same weary wheel -- as indeed they have begun? Have enough of them inwardly learned so that at the right prompting when the time comes, they will move energetically toward a true "new order" emerging with purification from seas of blood and tears? Or will the augmentation of hatreds run apace with the augmentation of the power of destruction, and the major part of the world revert to a new Dark Age more savage still than the old?
Madame Blavatsky stated that we were at the beginning of a cycle, "at the end of which not a few accounts would be drawn and squared between the races." Could we correctly estimate the rights and wrongs of the past millennia, we might have a better idea as to the direction in which the squaring will take place.
H.P.B. made two other prophecies: that Western civilization may sink in a sea of horror unparalleled in history; that the twenty-first century may be a heaven compared with the nineteenth. They were both conditional -- "unless Theosophy prevails"; "if Theosophy prevails."
Nations and individuals may dream that if "our side" wins, an eternal end will be put to war by that fact alone. Already are growing the visible seeds of new alliances, new conflicts, new enmities, to spring out of the very soil of victory, unless a clearer light dawns. Upon the fall of Carthage, Cato announced in the Roman Senate that war was ended forever, now that the one great aggressor power was exterminated. In 1918 that prediction was repeated in reincarnated Senates -- those of Britain, France, Italy and America.
Where, now, is the visible hope? American politics, American luxury, irresponsibility, and sensuality are those of Byzantium; we chatter as idly in the market-place as did our ancient forebears. Theodore Roosevelt recognized a generation ago the recrudescence in America of these evils by characterizing our own plutocrats and tycoons as "malefactors of great wealth," our scholars as "Byzantine logothetes." But the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are not Byzantine documents; nor was the character of Lincoln that of a Constantine or Justinian.
The greeds and exploitations of our modern great empires have been as brutal as those of Rome; but the people had to be led to their support by protestations of high motives and the pretended obligations of the "white man's burden." The raw, callous, unashamed greed of the ancients was not enough this time. Today the people, in no matter what land, can be brought to wage war only by being made to hope that thus they will end war itself -- however delusive the dream of accomplishing such an end in such a way.
The present-day picture, then, is that of peoples repeating the old cycle, but who have really learned something by it, however obscurely realized as yet. The greater scope of disasters is due to new experiences, of which the lesson is only now being learned -- the lesson of the power and prostitution of material science. We are so dazed by its magnification of horrors as to fail to recognize the old situation in its essentials.
The right solution requires knowledge; the responsibility is upon the holders of that knowledge, for upon none others can it rest. The fewer the holders of the light, the greater their responsibility. This is today's import and application of H.P.B.'s great mission, and of her dying "message to the American Theosophists."
[Note: Here is the link to the article by William Q. Judge, entitled "Cycles", that was quoted from at the beginning of the above article. The quote is located at the very end of the article. --Compiler.]
STUDIES IN KARMA
THE NEW MEN AND THE NEW AGE
(Part 34 of a 57-part series)
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