A Study in Karma


Annie Besant


Published in 1917


Annie Besant

1847 - 1933



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Laws: Natural and Man-Made



Much confusion has arisen in this matter, because, in the West, "natural" laws have been regarded as apart from mental and moral laws, whereas mental and moral laws are as much part of natural law as the laws of electricity, and all laws are part of the order of nature. Natural law has been, in many minds, confused with human law, and the arbitrariness of human legislation has been imported into the realm of natural law. Laws affecting physical phenomena have been rescued from this arbitrariness by science, but the mental and moral worlds are still in the chaos of lawlessness.


Not a divine command, but the immanence of the divine nature, conditions our existence, and where prophets have laid down moral laws, these have been declarations of inevitable sequences in the moral world, known to the prophet, unknown to his ignorant hearers; because of their ignorance, his hearers have regarded his declarations as arbitrary commands of a divine lawgiver, sent through him, instead of as mere statements of fact concerning the succession of moral phenomena in a region as orderly as the physical.


Law, in the secondary social sense, is an enactment laid down by an authority regarded as legitimate. It may be the edict of an autocrat, or the act of a legislative assembly; in either case the force of the law depends on the recognition of the authority which makes it. Among the Hindus we find the ideas both of man-made and natural law. The King, in the conception of the Manu, is an autocrat, and the subject must obey; but above the King is a Law to which he in his turn must be obedient, a Law which acts automatically and is in the nature of things. In spite of his autocracy, he is bound by the supreme Law, which will

crush him if he disregards it. Weakness oppressed is said to be the most fatal enemy of Kings; the tears of the weak sap the foundation of thrones, and the suffering of the nation destroys the ruler.


The physical and the super-physical worlds interpenetrate each other, and causes set going in the one bring about results in the other. The King and his Council in ancient India made the laws of the State, but these were artificial, not natural, laws; they were binding on the subjects, and were enforced by penalties, but such laws differ wholly from

natural law.


It seems a pity that one word should be used for two things so different as natural and artificial laws, yet they are clearly distinguishable by their characteristics. Artificial laws are changeable; those who make them can alter them or repeal them. Natural laws are unchanging; they cannot be altered nor repealed, but lie in the nature of things. Artificial laws are

local, while natural are universal. The law in any country against robbery may be enforced by any penalty chosen by the legislator; sometimes the hand is cut off, sometimes the thief is sent to goal, sometimes he is hanged. Moreover, the infliction of the penalty is dependent on the discovery of the crime. A penalty

which is variable and artificial, and which may be escaped, is obviously not causally related to the crime it punishes. A natural law has no penalty, but one condition follows invariably on another; if a man steals, his nature becomes more thievish, the tendency to dishonesty is increased, and the difficulty of

being honest becomes greater; this consequence works in every case, in all countries; and the knowledge or ignorance of others as to theft makes no difference in the consequence. A penalty which is local, variable and escapable is a sign that the law is artificial, and not natural. A natural law is a sequence of conditions; such a condition being present, such another condition will invariably fellow. If you want to bring about condition No.2, you must find or make condition No.1, and then condition No.2 will follow as an invariable consequence. These sequences never vary when left to themselves, but if a new

condition is introduced the succeeding condition will be altered.


Thus water runs down a slanting channel in accordance with the force of gravitation, and if you pour water in at the top, it will invariably run down the slope; but you can obstruct the flow by putting an obstacle in the way, and then the resistance which the obstacle opposes to the force of gravitation balances it, but the force of gravitation remains active and is found in the pressure on the obstacle.


The first condition is called the cause, the resulting condition the

effect, and the same cause always brings about the same effect, provided no other cause is introduced; in the latter case, the effect is the resultant of both.



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