THEOSOPHY, Vol. 17, No. 3, January, 1929
(Pages 116-117; Size: 8K)

DUTY--AND KARMA(1)

SUCH words as Karma and Dharma are not understood. Dharma means Law, and is generally turned into duty, or said to refer merely to some rule depending upon human convention, whereas it means an inherent property of the faculties or of the whole man, or even of anything in the cosmos. Thus it is said that it is the duty, or Dharma, of fire to burn. It always will burn and thus do its whole duty, having no consciousness, while man alone has the power to retard his "journey to the heart of the Sun," by refusing to perform his properly appointed and plainly evident Dharma.

If you will read the Bhagavat-Gita, especially chapters II and III, I think you will find much to help you. There it says: ... "perform thy duty ... and laying aside all desire for any benefit to thyself from action, make the event equal to thee, whether it be success or failure." There is great encouragement in Krishna's words to Arjuna in the second chapter: "In this system there is no destruction of or detriment to one's efforts; even a very small portion of this duty delivereth a man from great fear." Krishna then insists on the scrupulous performance of natural duty. "And considering thine own duty as a Kshatriya, thou art not right to waver. For there is nothing better for a Kshatriya than lawful war."

In order to see more clearly the occasion for his insistence upon performance of duty, we must remember that at the opening of the battle Arjuna "threw down his bow and arrows." This, in India, meant that he then resolved to desert the circumstances in which Karma had placed him and to become an ascetic, or, as has been frequently proposed by Western students, he wished to get away from a state of Society which offered apparent obstruction to spiritual culture. But Krishna refers him to his birth in the Kshatriya -- or Warrior -- caste, and to the natural duty of a Kshatriya, which is war. The natural caste of Arjuna might have been represented as that of Merchant, but wisely it was not, for this is the book of action, and only a warrior fitly typifies action; so his natural duty will stand for whatever be that of any man. We are not to shirk our Karma; by abhorring it we only make new Karma. Krishna then proceeds to exhort Arjuna again to perform the duties appointed to him, and urges him to do it on the ground that he being a great man should set a good example that the lower orders would follow, saying, "He who understands the whole universe should not cause these people, slow and ignorant of the universe, to relapse from their duty."

The forsaking of worldly action -- called sannyas --is the same as what is known in Europe as the monastic life, especially in some very ascetic orders. Adopted selfishly under a mistaken notion of duty it cannot be true devotion. It is merely an attempt to save oneself. The course adopted by some Theosophical students very much resembles this erroneous method, although it is practised in the freedom of the world and not behind monastery walls. To-day, just as then, there are those who think true renunciation consists in doing nothing except for themselves, in retiring from active duties, and in devoting their attention to what they are pleased to call self-development. Truly they sought for equal-mindedness, but failed to see that it can only be acquired through right performance of duty, and not by selecting the duties and environments that please us. We have a duty to see that we do all we can in our own place as we see best, undisturbed and undismayed by aught.

The true path to divine wisdom is in performing our duty unselfishly in the station in which we are placed, for thereby we convert lower nature into higher, following Dharma -- our whole duty.

For nearly twenty centuries the Western nations have been building up the notion of a separate I -- of meum and tuum -- and it is hard for them to accept any system which goes against those notions. As they progress in what is called material civilization with all its dazzling allurements and aids to luxury, their delusion is further increased because they appraise the value of their doctrine by the results which seem to flow from it, until at last they push so far what they call the reign of law, that it becomes a reign of terror. All duty to their fellows is excluded from it in practice, although the beautiful doctrines of Jesus are preached to the people daily by preachers who are paid to preach but not to enforce, and who cannot insist upon the practice which should logically follow the theory because the consequences would be a loss of position and livelihood.

The only way to prepare the way for the advent of a favorable Yuga, and for the increase of the number and greatness of Mahatmas, is to establish gradually the conditions for the leading of a true household life. I should unhesitatingly state, that that is the duty of earnest Theosophists and real philanthropists. Let it not be understood at all, that I mean by "family duties" and "national duties," false attachments to the family or to the nation. If family duties are taken care of, our duties to the nation and to humanity would, to a greater extent, take care of themselves unimpeded.

What then is the panacea finally, the royal talisman? It is Duty, Selflessness. Duty persistently followed is the highest yoga, and is better than mantrams or any posture, or any other thing. If you can do no more than duty it will bring you to the goal.


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(1) Excerpted from the writings of William Q. Judge.
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