THEOSOPHY, Vol. 59, No. 2, December, 1970
(Pages 53-56; Size: 12K)

REINCARNATION AND JUSTICE(1)

IT is objected that reincarnation is unjust because we suffer for the wrong done by some other person in another life. This objection is based on the false notion that the person in the other life was someone else. But in every life it is the same person. Suffering comes to nearly all men, and a great many live lives of sorrow from the cradle to the grave. When one sees, as is so common, a good man suffering much in his life, the question naturally arises, "Has Karma anything to do with it, and is it just that such a person should be so afflicted?"

For those who believe in Karma it is quite just, because this man in a previous life must have done such acts as deserve punishment now. And, similarly, the wicked man who is free from suffering, happy and prosperous, is so because in a previous existence he had been badly treated by his fellows or had experienced much suffering. And the perfect justice of Karma is well illustrated in his case because, although now favored by fortune, he, being wicked, is generating causes which, when he shall be reborn, will operate then to punish him for his evil-doing now.

"With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again," said Jesus; and Matthew declares that for every word, act, and thought we shall have to answer. So instead of its being unjust, it is perfect justice, and in no other manner could justice be preserved.

The existence of evil, of suffering, and of sorrow; the inequalities in social condition and privilege; the sharp contrasts between wealth and poverty, intelligence and stupidity, culture and ignorance, virtue and vileness; the appearance of men of genius in families destitute of it, as well as other facts in conflict with the law of heredity; the frequent cases of unfitness of environment around individuals, so sore as to embitter disposition, hamper aspiration, and paralyze endeavor; the violent antithesis between character and condition; the occurrence of accident, misfortune and untimely death -- all these are a hopeless puzzle to the mere philanthropist or the theologian, problems solvable only by either the conventional theory of Divine caprice or the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation.

But, it is said, if we reincarnate and cannot remember the deeds for which we suffer is it not unjust for that reason? Those who ask this always ignore the fact that they also have enjoyment and reward in life and are content to accept them without question. For if it is unjust to be punished for deeds we do not remember, then it is also inequitable to be rewarded for other acts which have been forgotten. Mere entry into life is no fit foundation for any reward or punishment. Reward and punishment must be the just desert for prior conduct. Nature's law of justice is not imperfect, and it is only the imperfection of human justice that requires the offender to know and remember in this life a deed to which a penalty is annexed. In the prior life the doer was then quite aware of what he did, and nature affixes consequences to his acts, being thus just. We well know that she will make the effect follow the cause whatever we wish and whether we remember or forget what we did. If a baby is hurt in its first years by the nurse so as to lay the ground for a crippling disease in after life, as is often the case, the crippling disease will come although the child neither brought on the present cause nor remembered aught about it.

That view of one's Karma which leads to a bewailing of the unkind fate which has kept advantages in life away from us, is a mistaken estimate of what is good and what is not good for the soul. It is quite true that we may often find persons surrounded with great advantages but who make no corresponding use of them or pay but little regard to them. But this very fact in itself goes to show that the so-called advantageous position in life is really not good nor fortunate in the true and inner meaning of those words. The fortunate one has money and teachers, ability, and means to travel and fill the surroundings with works of art, with music and with ease. But these are like the tropical airs that enervate the body; these enervate the character instead of building it up. They do not in themselves tend to the acquirement of any virtue whatever but rather to the opposite by reason of the constant steeping of the senses in the subtile essences of the sensuous world. They are like sweet things which, being swallowed in quantities, turn to acids in the inside of the body. Thus they can be seen to be the opposite of good Karma.

What then is good Karma and what bad? The all embracing and sufficient answer is this: Good Karma is that kind which the Ego desires and requires; bad, that which the Ego neither desires nor requires. And in this the Ego, being guided and controlled by law, by justice, by the necessities of upward evolution, and not by fancy or selfishness or revenge or ambition, is sure to choose the earthly habitation that is most likely, out of all possible of selection, to give a Karma for the real advantage in the end.

When we, from this plane, inquire into the matter, we see that the "advantages" which one would seek were he looking for the strengthening of character, the unloosing of soul force and energy, would be called by the selfish and personal world "disadvantages." Struggle is needed for the gaining of strength; buffeting adverse eras is for the gaining of depth; meagre opportunities may be used for acquiring fortitude; poverty should breed generosity.

The middle ground in all this, and not the extreme, is what we speak of. To be born with the disadvantage of drunken, diseased parents, in the criminal portion of the community is a punishment which constitutes a wait on the road of evolution. It is a necessity generally because the Ego has drawn about itself in a former life some tendencies which cannot be eliminated in any other way. But we should not forget that sometimes, often in the grand total, a pure, powerful Ego incarnates in just such awful surroundings, remaining good and pure all the time, and staying there for the purpose of uplifting and helping others.

But to be born in extreme poverty is not a disadvantage. Jesus said well when, repeating what many a sage had said before, he described the difficulty experienced by the rich man in entering heaven. If we look at life from the narrow point of view of those who say there is but one earth life and after it either eternal heaven or hell, then poverty will be regarded as a great disadvantage and something to be avoided. But seeing that we have many lives to live, and that they will give us all needed opportunity for building up character, we must admit that poverty is not, in itself, necessarily bad Karma. Poverty has no natural tendency to engender selfishness, but wealth requires it.

A sojourn for everyone in a body born to all the pains, deprivations, and miseries of modern poverty, is good and just. Inasmuch as the present state of civilization with all its horrors of poverty, of crime, of disease, of wrong relations almost everywhere, has grown out of the past, in which we were workers, it is just that we should experience it all at some point in our career. If some person who now pays no heed to the misery of men and women should next life be plunged into one of the slums of our cities for rebirth, it would imprint on the soul the misery of such a situation. This would lead later on to compassion and care for others. For, unless we experience the effects of a state of life, we cannot understand or appreciate it from a mere description. The personal part involved in this may not like it as a future prospect, but if the Ego decides that the next personality shall be there then all will be an advantage and not a disadvantage.

If we look at the field of operation in us of the so-called advantages of opportunity, money, travel and teachers we see at once that it all has to do with the brain and nothing else. Languages, archaeology, music, satiating sight with beauty, eating the finest food, wearing the best clothes, traveling to many places and thus infinitely varying impressions on ear and eye; all these begin and end in the brain and not in the soul or character. As the brain is a portion of the unstable, fleeting body the whole phantasmagoria disappears from view and use when the note of death sends its awful vibration through the physical form and drives out the inhabitant. The wonderful central master-ganglion disintegrates, and nothing at all is left but some faint aromas here and there depending on the actual love within for any one pursuit or image or sensation. Nothing left of it all but a few tendencies -- skandhas(2) not of the very best. The advantages then turn out in the end to be disadvantages altogether. But imagine the same brain and body not in places of ease, struggling for a good part of life, doing their duty and not in a position to please the senses: this experience will burn in, stamp upon, carve into the character, more energy, more power and more fortitude. It is thus through the ages that great characters are made.

Reincarnation, with its companion doctrine of Karma, rightly understood, shows how perfectly just the whole scheme of nature is.


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TWO (2) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:

(1) NOTE.--Collated from the writings of William Q. Judge.
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(2) The skandhas -- well known in eastern philosophy -- are the aggregates that make up man. The body includes one set of the skandhas, the astral man another, the kama or desire principle is another set, and still others pertain to other parts. In kama are the really active and important ones which control rebirths and lead to all the varieties of life and circumstance upon each rebirth. They are being made from day to day under the law that every thought combines instantly with one of the elemental forces of nature, becoming to that extent an entity which will endure in accordance with the strength of the thought as it leaves the brain, and all of these are inseparably connected with the being who evolved them. There is no way of escaping; all we can do is to have thoughts of good quality, for the highest of the Masters themselves are not exempt from this law, but they "people their current in space" with entities powerful for good alone.--W.Q.J.
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