How the Seeds of Ethical Failure Can
Be Seen In the Book “Light on the Path”
Carlos Cardoso Aveline (Ed.)
The following article is reproduced from
the March 2015 edition of “The Aquarian
Theosophist”, where it appears under the title
of “The Classic Text ‘Karma’, With Notes”.
Published under the title of “Karma”, the essay by Ms. M. C. (Mabel Collins) closes the theosophical classic “Light on the Path”.
Its numerous occult mistakes help us understand why, soon after writing the book, M. C. betrayed the ethical principles that are at the foundation of philosophical wisdom. As a result, she failed as a theosophist. Her essay “Karma” contains the seeds of her defeat. The task of clearly identifying the traps created by illusions and of sharing such a knowledge with others is the duty of those who have an interest in the deeper aspects of esoteric philosophy.
M.C. tried to follow the path to wisdom.
Her failure remains as a source of lessons to the generations of students that came after her. Mabel Collins’ unfortunate experience belongs to the theosophical movement: sooner or later her spiritual soul will deserve another chance to learn.
The full text “Karma” is given in bold type: our commentaries are added between square brackets.
Consider with me that the individual existence is a rope which stretches from the infinite to the infinite and has no end and no commencement, neither is it capable of being broken.
[ A naïve statement. In fact, no individual existence can be considered infinite or eternal. Any individuality in the sense of a separate unit belongs to the world of illusion, and even the highest individualities dissolve at the end of a manvantara. In the Mahatma Letters the issue is clarified: “…In our Brotherhood, all personalities sink into one idea – abstract right and absolute practical justice for all.” (“The Mahatma Letters”, TUP edition, Letter LXXXV, p. 401.) ]
This rope is formed of innumerable fine threads, which, lying closely together, form its thickness. These threads are colourless, are perfect in their qualities of straightness, strength and levelness. This rope, passing as it does through all places, suffers strange accidents. Very often a thread is caught and becomes attached, or perhaps is only violently pulled away from its even way. Then for a great time it is disordered, and it disorders the whole. Sometimes one is stained with dirt or with colour; and not only does the stain run on further than the spot of contact, but it discolours other of the threads. And remember that the threads are living – are like electric wires, more, are like quivering nerves. How far, then, must the stain, the drag awry, be communicated! But eventually the long strands, the living threads which in their unbroken continuity form the individual, pass out of the shadow into the shine. Then the threads are no longer colourless, but golden; once more they lie together, level. Once more harmony is established between them; and from that harmony within the greater harmony is perceived.
This illustration presents but a small portion – a single side of the truth: it is less than a fragment. Yet, dwell on it; by its aid you may be led to perceive more. What it is necessary first to understand is, not that the future is arbitrarily formed by any separate acts of the present, but that the whole of the future is in unbroken continuity with the present as the present is with the past. On one plane, from one point of view, the illustration of the rope is correct.
It is said that a little attention to occultism produces great Karmic results.
[ Occultism is the philosophical science which studies the invisible aspects of life, bringing them to the plane of Reason and of conscious, ethically responsible understanding. The first rule for the student of real Occultism is to renounce the search for any personal advantage.]
That is because it is impossible to give any attention to occultism without making a definite choice between what are familiarly called good and evil. The first step in occultism brings the student to the tree of knowledge. He must pluck and eat; he must choose. No longer is he capable of the indecision of ignorance. He goes on either on the good or on the evil path. And to step definitely and knowingly even but one step on either path produces great Karmic results.
[ One more mistake by M.C. There are not “two paths” in Occultism. There is only the path of goodness and of the ethical Law. The path of selfishness is false and constitutes a “no-path”, a trap, a blind alley. H.P. Blavatsky wrote on the true path: “There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind – but yet a road; and it leads to the heart of the Universe. I can tell you how to find Those who will show you the secret gateway that leads inward only…” (“The Real H.P. Blavatsky”, William Kingsland, London, 1928, Kessinger Publishing, USA, p. V) ]
The mass of men walk waveringly, uncertain as to the goal they aim at; their standard of life is indefinite; consequently their Karma operates in a confused manner. But when once the threshold of knowledge is reached, the confusion begins to lessen, and consequently the Karmic results increase enormously, because all are acting in the same direction on all the different planes for the occultist cannot be half-hearted, nor can he return when he has passed the threshold.
These things are as impossible as that the man should become the child again. The individuality has approached the state of responsibility by reason of growth; it cannot recede from it.
He who would escape from the bondage of Karma must raise his individuality out of the shadow into the shine; must so elevate his existence that these threads do not come in contact with soiling substances, do not become so attached as to be pulled awry. He simply lifts himself out of the region in which Karma operates.
[ The idea that a sage liberates himself from the law of karma is false. Wise men get rid of the lower levels of Karma, only. The Law is omnipresent. Every degree of liberation attained by a great soul occurs in strict accordance with the Law and constitutes an expression of the Law. H. P. Blavatsky wrote in her article “Chelas and Lay Chelas”: “The Mahatmas are the servants, not the arbiters of the Law of Karma.” And a Master of the Wisdom wrote in “The Mahatma Letters” (TUP Edition, Letter XXIX, p. 225): “….. so am I likely always to be – the slave of my duty to the Lodge and mankind …” ]
He does not leave the existence which he is experiencing because of that. The ground may be rough and dirty, or full of rich flowers whose pollen stains and of sweet substances that cling and become attachments – but overhead there is always the free sky.
He who desires to be Karma-less must look to the air for a home; and after that to the ether.
[ The word “karma-less” can only be used in the sense of being free from denser karma, since even pralayas and manvantaras are strictly regulated by the Law of Karma and Equilibrium.]
He who desires to form good Karma will meet with many confusions, and in the effort to sow rich seed for his own harvesting may plant a thousand weeds, and among them the giant.
[ The giant weed is selfishness, which often presents itself under the appearance of the sweetest spirituality. ]
Desire to sow no seed for your own harvesting; desire only to sow that seed the fruit of which shall feed the world. You are a part of the world; in giving it food you feed yourself. Yet in even this thought there lurks a great danger which starts forward and faces the disciple, who has for long thought himself working for good, while in his inmost soul he has perceived only evil; that is, he has thought himself to be intending great benefit to the world while all the time he has unconsciously embraced the thought of Karma, and the great benefit he works for is for himself.
A man may refuse to allow himself to think of reward. But in that very refusal is seen the fact that reward is desired. And it is useless for the disciple to strive to learn by means of checking himself. The soul must be unfettered, the desires free.
[ Free and purified desires are at the source of that higher creativity which is necessary along the road. The point is examined by Nicolas Berdyaev: see for instance the chapter “The Ethics of Creativeness” in his book “The Destiny of Man”, which is available in our associated websites. ]
But until they are fixed only on that state wherein there is neither reward nor punishment, good nor evil, it is in vain that he endeavours.
[ To say “it is in vain that he endeavours” constitutes another resounding mistake, since no effort is useless. Every effort generates lessons. In mentioning “good” and “evil”, this sentence remains limited to the superficial aspect of what is conventionally seen as good and evil. In fact, Good is that which is in harmonious syntony with the Law of Karma and Equilibrium. “Evil” is but the ignorance which resists for some time the invincible force of Wisdom. As the whole universe is made of action and movement, or Karma, nobody can act without harvesting due results. Seen from a superficial point of view, the effects of action can be called “reward” and “punishment”.]
He may seem to make great progress, but some day he will come face to face with his own soul, and will recognize that when he came to the tree of knowledge he chose the bitter fruit and not the sweet; and then the veil will fall utterly, and he will give up his freedom and become a slave of desire. Therefore be warned, you who are but turning towards the life of occultism. Learn now that there is no cure for desire, no cure for the love of reward, no cure for the misery of longing, save in the fixing of the sight and hearing upon that which is invisible and soundless. Begin even now to practise it, and so a thousand serpents will be kept from your path. Live in the eternal.
The operations of the actual laws of Karma are not to be studied until the disciple has reached the point at which they no longer affect himself.
[ “No longer affect him” is, again, a childish mistake. The high levels of action transcend only lower levels of karma, not the Law. All divine intelligences act and move according to the One Law. In the famous Letter Ten of the Mahatma Letters, a Master of the Wisdom defines theosophy as “preeminently the science of effects by their causes and of causes by their effects”. (“The Mahatma Letters”, TUP, p. 52.) ]
The initiate has a right to demand the secrets of nature and to know the rules which govern human life. He obtains this right by having escaped from the limits of nature (…)
[ In fact, no one escapes from Nature. As Letter 10 and others in “The Mahatma Letters” clarify, nature includes in itself many levels of manifestation and occult life. There is nothing and nobody outside the limits of Universal Nature, or beyond the reach of its Law.]
(…) and by having freed himself from the rules which govern human life.
[ The above words tend to suggest the same wrong idea we have discussed above. The sentence is not totally wrong if referring only to the outer and blind aspects of human life. ]
He has become a recognized portion of the divine element, and is no longer affected by that which is temporary. He then obtains a knowledge of the laws which govern temporary conditions. Therefore you who desire to understand the laws of Karma, attempt first to free yourself from these laws; and this can only be done by fixing your attention on that which is unaffected by those laws.
[ To “attempt to free oneself from the laws” is the useless dream of dugpas and other selfish individuals. By self-purification the student of theosophy can change his karma for the better according to law. This he attains by fixating his attention in that which is most universal, elevated and noble, and by acting accordingly. ]
On the contrast between eternal wisdom and dangerous illusions which one finds in “Light on the Path”, see the article “Finding the Light on the Path”, which is available at our websites.
On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.