A Study in Karma


Annie Besant


Published in 1917


Annie Besant

1847 - 1933



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Man in The Three Worlds



Man, as we know, is living normally in three worlds, the physical, emotional and mental, is put into contact with each by a body formed of its type of matter, and acts in each through the appropriate body. He therefore creates results in each according to their respective laws and powers, and all these come within

the all-embracing law of karma. During his daily life in waking consciousness he is creating "karma," i.e. results, in these three worlds, by action, desire and thought. While his physical body is asleep, he is creating karma in two worlds – the emotional and the mental, the amount of karma then created by him depending

on the stage he has reached in evolution.


We may confine ourselves to these three worlds, for those above them are not inhabited consciously by the average man; but we should, none the less, remember that we are like trees, the roots of which are fixed in the higher worlds, and their branches spread in the three lower worlds in which dwell our mortal

bodies, and in which our consciousnesses are working.


Laws work within their own worlds, and must be studied as though their workings were independent; just as every science studies the laws working within its own department, but does not forget the wider working of further-reaching conditions, so must man, while working in the three departments, physical,

emotional and mental, remember the sweep of law which includes them all within its area of activity. In all departments laws are inviolable and unchangeable, and each brings about its own full effect, although the final result of their interaction is the effective force that remains when all balancing of opposing forces has been made. All that is true of laws in general is true of karma, the


great law. Causes being present, events must follow. But by taking away, or adding causes, events must be modified.


A person gets drunk; may he say: "My karma is to get drunk"? He gets drunk because of certain tendencies existing in himself, the presence of loose companions, and an environment where drink is sold. Let us suppose that he wishes to conquer his evil habit; he knows the three conditions that lead him into drunkenness. He may say: "I am not strong enough to resist my own tendencies in the presence of drink and the company of loose-livers. I will not go where there is drink, nor will I associate with men who tempt me to drink."


He changes the conditions, eliminating two of them, though unable immediately to change the third, and the new result is that he does not get drunk. He is not "interfering with karma," but is relying on it; nor is a friend "interfering with karma," if he persuades him to keep away from boon companions. There is no karmic command to a man to get drunk, but only the existence of certain conditions in the midst of which he certainly will get drunk; there is, it is true, another way of changing the conditions, the putting forth a strong effort of will; this also introduces a new condition, which will change the result – by

addition instead of elimination.


In the only sense in which a man can "interfere" with the laws of nature he is perfectly at liberty to do so, as much as he likes and can. He can inhibit the acting of one force by bringing another against it; he can overcome gravitation by muscular effort. In this sense, he may interfere with karma as much as he likes, and should interfere with it when the results are objectionable.

But the expression is not a happy one, and it is liable to be misunderstood.


The law is: such and such causes bring about such and such results. The law is unchangeable, but the play of phenomena is ever-changing. The mightiest cause of all causes is human will and human reason, and yet this is the cause which is, for the most part, omitted when people talk of karma. We are causes, because we are the divine will, one with God in our essential being, although hampered by ignorance and working through gross matter, which impedes us until we conquer, by spiritualising, it. The changelessness of karma is not the changelessness of effects but of law, and it is this which makes us free. Truly slaves should we be in a world in which everything went by chance. But according to our knowledge are our freedom and our safety in a world of law. In the Middle Ages, chemists

were by no means free to bring about the results they desired, but they had to accept results as they came, unforeseen and for the most part undesired, even to their own serious injury.


The result of an experiment might be a useful product,

or it might be the reduction of the experimenter into fragments. Roger Bacon set going causes which cost him an eye and a finger, and occasionally stretched him senseless on the floor of his cell; outside our knowledge we are in peril, and any cause we set going may wreck us, for we are mostly Roger Bacons in the

mental and moral worlds; inside our knowledge we may move with freedom and safety, as the well-trained chemist moves today. It is true in all the three worlds in which we live, that the more we know, the more can we foresee and control. Because law is inviolable and changeless, therefore knowledge is the condition of freedom. Let us then study karma, and apply our knowledge to the guidance of our lives. So many people say: "Oh! how I wish I were good," and do not use the law to create the causes which result in goodness; as though a chemist should say: "Oh! how I wish I had water," without making the conditions

which would produce it.


Again, we must remember that each force works along its own particular line, and that when a number of forces impinge on a particular point, the resultant force is the outcome of all of them. As in our school days we learned how to construct a parallelogram of forces and thus find the resultant of their composition; so with karma may we learn to understand the conflict of forces and their composition to yield a single resultant. We hear people asking why a good man fails in business while a bad man succeeds. But there is no causal connection between goodness and money-getting. We might at well say: "I am a very good man; why cannot I fly in the air?" Goodness is not a cause of flying, nor does it bring in money. Tennyson touched on a great law when, in his poem on "Wages," he declared that the wages of virtue were not "dust," nor rest, nor pleasure, but the glory of an active immortality. "Virtue is its own reward" in the fullest sense of the words. If we are truthful, our reward is that our nature becomes more truthful, and so sequentially with every virtue. Karmic results can only be

of the nature of their causes; they are not arbitrary, like human rewards.




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