A Study in Karma


Annie Besant


Published in 1917


Annie Besant

1847 - 1933



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The Opposing Schools



In the thought of the outer world, quite apart from the ideas of reincarnation and karma, there has been much opposing opinion. Robert Owen and his school regarded man as the creation of circumstances, ignoring heredity, that faint

scientific reflection of karma; they considered that by changing the environment the man could be changed, most effectively if the child were taken ere he had formed bad habits; a child taken out of evil surroundings and placed amid good ones would grow into a good man. The failure of Robert Owen’s social experiment

showed that his theory did not contain all the truth. Others, realising the force of heredity, almost ignored environment; "Nature," said Ludwig Buchner, "is stronger than nurture." In both these extreme views there is truth.


Inasmuch as the child brings with him the nature built in his past, but dons the garment of a new mentality and a new emotional nature, in which his self-created faculties and qualities exist indeed, but as germs, not as fully developed powers, these germs may be nourished into rapid growth or atrophied by lack of nourishment, and this is wrought by the influence of the environment for good or ill.


Moreover, the child puts on also the garment of a new physical body, with its own physical heredity, designed for the expression of some of the powers he brings with him, and this can be largely affected by his environment, and developed healthily or unhealthily. These facts were on the side of Robert Owen’s theory, and they explain the successes gained by such philanthropic institutions as Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, wherein germs of good are cultured and germs of evil are starved out. But the congenital criminal, and beings of that ilk, none may redeem in a single life, and these, of various grades, are the nonsuccesses of the benevolent rescuer.


Equally true is it, as the opposite school affirmed, that inborn character is a force with which every educationalist must reckon; he cannot create faculties which are not there; he cannot wholly eradicate evil tendencies which, below the surface, throw out roots, seeking appropriate nourishment; some nourishment

reaches them from the thought-atmosphere around, from the evil desire-forms which arise from the evil in ) others, forms of thoughts and desires which float in the air around, and cannot wholly be shut out – save by occult means, unknown to the ordinary educationalist.




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