A Stern Universal Law Rules Every Form of Life
The Statue of Lady Justice in Dublin, Ireland
This article is reproduced from
“Theosophy” magazine, Los Angeles,
USA, July 1951 edition, pp. 399-403.
Original Title: “Kernels of Wisdom”.
“The reward of unlawful pleasure is lawful pain.”
One of the first marks of decline in the course of human civilization is a growing sense of irresponsibility in men for the things that happen in society and in their own lives. Willingly and without complaint we accept the pleasures and privileges of life, as though they were the natural heritage of the human race, the indisputable right of every living soul.
The question of whether such blessings are deserved or not, or of the need for gratitude to those through whom they come, seems never to disturb the serenity of complacent, self-righteous minds. But when sorrows and troubles arise, and the tide of life washes up to our feet experiences that are difficult to meet, it is an altogether different matter. Not only do we question and complain – we rebel, and in many instances accuse Great Nature of being fickle, cruel, unjust. Upon the approach of trial, we oftentimes put ourselves in such states of mental and psychic unbalance that it becomes practically impossible to see our true duty, and to learn the lessons which the events of life invariably hold.
“Why should this happen to me?” we say.
“Why is it that others, far less worthy than I, experience only pleasure and good times, while I am made to suffer?”
As proof of the fact that these questions are put from the lower, selfish parts of our natures, it is to be noted that we seldom complain about the miseries of other people. Friends and acquaintances may go through the most trying of circumstances, may suffer mercilessly at the hands of fate, without even a murmur of protest from us, so long as we ourselves are healthy, happy and well fed.
According to the American Declaration of Independence, it is the inalienable right of every human being to engage in the “pursuit of happiness”. This wonderful promise of freedom has been interpreted by some to mean that every single individual, every living citizen, without exception, is entitled to happiness, regardless of whether the blessing is deserved or not. But how can this be so? How can a man expect to experience peace and contentment of mind without having first set in motion the causes that lead to the effect? How can any person enjoy happiness while others suffer, and without a feeling of responsibility for the needs of those around him? Man’s only right, in the eyes of Karma, and even in the eyes of the Declaration of Independence, once it is correctly understood, is the right to pursue happiness, the right to perform such acts, to live such life, to set up such causes, in short, as shall result eventually in the condition of mind he wishes to achieve. Otherwise, however much one may take his privileges for granted, however much he may expect as a free American citizen, sorrow, despair and disappointment will be his lot.
One of the greatest delusions of our age is the belief that peace, freedom and happiness can be legislated by law, that all that is required for the attainment of Nature’s grandest prize, is the signing of a document, the demanding of a right, the expression of a desire. But a desire, says William Q. Judge, “is not a condition”, and what we have to do it to create the condition through which the effects we wish to accomplish may flow.
Few individuals stop to consider the means by which true happiness can be attained. Few seem to realize that there is such a thing as unlawful as well as lawful pleasure, that with the inalienable right to pursue happiness comes also a certain inalienable responsibility – a responsibility for the well-being of others. The Laws of Divine Humanity which nourish and sustain a man throughout the whole of his life will not allow him to long continue his round of selfish desire. The Laws of Universal Brotherhood weld all things and beings in the Kosmos into a common community of souls, and any pleasures gained selfishly or to the hurt of others are unlawful, and will result ultimately in sorrow, pain and dis-pleasure. The privileges growing out of the bond of brotherhood are simply one side of the coin, the other being that of duty and responsibility.
The reward of unlawful pleasure is always lawful pain. Why do we consider our pleasures to be right and just and our pains to be cruel and extremely unjust? Is it because we take the position of separateness, because we labor under the belief that the world owes us happiness and that anything that interferes is unlawful? Not until men gain some concept of universal Law or Karma will they come to see that it is impossible to act selfishly, inconsiderate of the good of others, without a lawful rebuff from Life.
Since the founding of the present Theosophical Movement in 1875, millions of people, perhaps, have heard of the doctrine of Karma. Of this number, thousands have given the idea some thought – at least to the extent that, in their eyes, it is the only logical explanation of the many mysteries of life. But how many individuals, among those who accept the doctrine theoretically, apply it as a key to their own lives? How many see it as the cause for their birth, with whatever it holds of weal or woe? How many actually use the Law, just as they would a principle of physics or chemistry, for the purpose of correcting faults in themselves, of remedying defects, and of strengthening character? Once Karma is applied thus, each event, however painful or pleasurable, becomes the lawful working-out of Divine Justice.
Karma is said to be the law of equilibrium and harmony in which the universe rests, or is sustained. Having its roots in Spirit, which is the divine essence of all things and beings, whether of an atom, a solar system, a mosquito, or a man, and operating through the Divine Ideation of Universal Mind, its adjustments are always effected from the point of view of the Whole. How else can equal justice be achieved? Karma knows neither preference nor enmity, for on the plane of its repose all things and beings are one. And the man who learns its ways and works with it finds a friend more trustworthy than the most faithful of relationships between men. The co-worker with Nature experiences a joy far above and beyond the usual kamic or emotional pleasures of sense. He has learned the magic formula of conforming his ways and wills to the pleasure and disposition of the Divine Will. Work for the principle of Universal Brotherhood results ultimately in peace and everlasting joy.
Imagine, for the sake of illustration, that the great spiritual plane of consciousness is a universal Ocean of Water, extending everywhere and interpenetrating all things and beings, and that Karma, or the Law of Harmony, is the tendency in that Ocean to restore calm and equilibrium. And let the physical plane on which we live and move be represented by that portion of the Ocean which is visible to our sight – that is, the surface, with its waves and ripples, and whatever floating objects there may be. In the attempt to restore harmony in our lives, most of us unfortunately concern ourselves exclusively with the waves and ripples, with the multiform objects of debris as they bob up and down upon the surging sweep of time. Ignoring the vast depths of man’s invisible nature, and its fundamental identity with the Soul of Humanity, with whatever It feels from the winds of fate, we quibble with effects. How is it possible to calm a floating log on the water, so long as the Ocean itself is disturbed? How can a single unit of the race go into a state of bliss or personal salvation while others suffer?
Knowledge of the Law of Karma leads men to see that they cannot violate the principle of unity and progress, that it is impossible to live in the pleasure-grounds of sense without doing injury, both to themselves and to others, and that any infringement of the purposes of Soul, however personally enjoyable, can but lead to pain.
Might it be that one reason why we are so expecting, so demanding of our rights to personal pleasure, is that we have taken for granted all the natural beneficent privileges of Universal Brotherhood, without realizing that something is due in return? “He who, sinfully delighting in the gratification of his passions, doth not cause this wheel thus already set in motion to continue revolving, liveth in vain, O son of Pritha.” 
Wide distinction is to be made therefore between the psychic pleasures of the personality and the true pleasure and disposition of the Soul. The former is a product of Lower Manas, and is artificial, temporary, skin-deep, of the nature of amusement and emotional gratification. Higher Manasic pleasure, on the other hand, is enduring and noble above all other experiences. In its highest sense, true happiness is closely related to bliss, which has been defined by all religious mystics as blessedness, felicity, rapture. The great tragedy of modern civilization is the fact that men search for true happiness in the turbulent waves of Lower Mind, in the desires and ambitions of the personality. We ceaselessly deceive ourselves with the delusion that heart aspiration and yearning can be satisfied through the acquirement of things, or on the plane of emotion or sensation. With each new acquirement or experience, we think that now, at last, the object of our heart’s desire has been fulfilled, only to wake up, sooner or later, to the fact that all objects of sense must eventually turn to dust and ashes in the mouth. Yet, on and on the Law of Karma leads us, moved by the force of our own souls, which will never allow us to rest content with less than divinity for the whole man, and for all.
True happiness can be known only when the individual adjusts his own attitude of mind, so that instead of taking all he can get from life, he asks what it is he can give; instead of viewing the Law as punitive and restrictive, he sees it as a power that works for his good; instead of thinking that Karma is to be feared, he sees it as something to be trusted and revered. What would we think of a world in which no man could receive help from another, in which each was required to labor just for himself? How would we like the idea of a universe without Law and order? Those who recount their blessings soon come to see that the Law of the Universe is their truest friend, a reality that we can and do trust, to some degree, every moment of our lives. Universal adjustment and lasting joy will be achieved only when men, in their turn, become as trustworthy as the Law, equally concerned for the good of all as for their own advance.
A 2017 NOTE:
 This is the fourth paragraph in Chapter III of the “Bhagavad Gita”, version by William Q. Judge, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles. (CCA)