Karma and Disease

THEOSOPHY, Vol. 20, No. 9, July, 1932
(Pages 399-402; Size: 12K)
(Number 7 of a 57-part series)
THERE are diseases due to mass thought and action -- the great epidemics; the weaknesses of bad popular habits of diet and behavior; the atmosphere and noise amid which moderns live. There are diseases brought directly by patently bad physical and mental habits. Worry, hatred, anxiety, greed, loose into the blood streams of toxins which poison the man as obviously as poison drained from a tumbler. To these are to be added the "social diseases." Then there are those diseases, disabilities, deformities, for which Theosophy alone sets forth an explanation -- the troubles often pursuing those of high aspirations, blameless lives, and correct habits; diseases inherited through the mental planes from past lifetimes.
Yet an examination of the cross-connections, the odd bars sinister which unite in brotherhood these sundry branches of the uneaseful family of pests, shows that the hard-and-fast categories are as useful in relationship as in contrast and comparison. For the epidemic cannot touch the man whose body is pure and whose resistance is normal; in many cases, for reasons unknown as yet to science, it fails to make its selection even from those who seem most fitted to be its victims. Those who are taught bad physical habits from birth -- as many of us, sealed behind windows nailed shut, were taught to fear "night-air" -- derive their bane from race-karma often acting for ages on many planes, mental as well as physical. This fear of the night air, for instance, is an inherited echo of the old times when evil spirits were thought to move amid the shadows; this superstition in turn is the perversion of a fact into which dread was introduced by loss of its rationale through the disintegration of the Mysteries as the dark ages came upon mankind. And so with many, many other ancient superstitions -- vaccination for instance, derived from ancient truth poisoned by religious divagations. Here the individual sufferer must look for the root of his woes back to times when his own intellectual and spiritual laziness, or his own treason, permitted or aided in the disintegration of race wisdom.
The diseases due to wrong thought reach far beyond obvious manifestations into troubles whose causation might never be suspected -- are the direct Karma of mental transgressions. For every one of them is founded on greed, which is spiritual theft; on fear, which is the reflection of intimidation exercised upon others in past times; on worry, which is distrust of Law arising from its breach in this or other lives; and so on and so on. The diseases of gluttony, of vice, of strained and careless living, are the manifestations of mental vices descended to a lower plane. The human Ego is in matter to master and spiritualize it, not to yield to it. To become the victim of any depraving physical habit is to break the ancient troth, to turn traitor to our kind, and to thrust downward the teeming life of the Universe whose elevation is our true aim. What else than evil Karma could result?
Those who suffer physically -- particularly those who tend to periodic illness -- might, if they would study themselves, find odd mental infections, mental fevers, running parallel though unseen along with their physical troubles; might find a nexus between their mental and emotional fluctuations and the ills which precede or follow them. Still further discernment might disclose direct Karma following upon ways of thought ordinarily deemed harmless, but which under Universal Law are transgressions of true brotherhood and true duty. Particularly those of blameless lives might find amid the strata of their mental deposits many a fossil betokening the former existence -- the still potential latency -- of evil aspirations which are now on their way down and out through the body.
There is a tendency to scoff at mental explanations of physical troubles. Fluctile as mercury, light as air, evanescent as moonlit spray, seem the processes of thought to the thoughtless; what relation can such things have to the dour, solid entrenchments of disease, enduring many years the onslaughts of medical science and of hygiene; outlasting, as the cliff outlasts the spray, the changing thoughts of decades?
We mistake the substantiality of mentation, -- not seen in the passing forms of fancy and idea; it appears in the basic mental habit, with whose color and contour the victim seldom if ever makes himself acquainted. Look not for illnesses in the surface-nature of ideas, but to the dank unrevealed mental pools, stagnating through the years, from which thoughts spring. Let him who thinks his thoughts unsubstantial or easily controlled, seek to eradicate their basis, and he will learn new lessons in their stubborn substantiality. He will find indeed that the body is light as gossamer, malleable as tallow, in comparison! For it is these thought-bases which endure unchanged through centuries of dream and oblivion, where the body lives but three-score years and ten; it is these bases which create unseen, beneath the surface of daily life, the karma of the ages!
For the shallow of thought a further difficulty arises. I can understand, says the mechanical Theosophist, the recompense for a limb shorn by battle-axe, in the flare of agony accompanying dismemberment under a train, or even by the surgeon's knife. But where in the delights of eating and drinking, the keen satisfaction of desire, does one inflict upon any living thing the endless, drear, and complicated pains which follow in a crowding host upon the sunset years of the profligate? Do we think that our body is an inert instrument of sensation, feeling on its own account in no way the passions indulged in by the mind? Or, on the other hand, that the irrepressible Life and Lives composing it share in wholehearted unity our unholy joys?
For Life -- that Life which is at once our field of experience, our vehicle of action, our transmitter and reflector of sensation, is subject to impression, is keenly sensitive. Until it comes into the sphere of sinful Man, it flows pure and uncontaminated from its mother-fount, the spiritual basis of Substance. Do we think that the impurities of man come as congenial to this Substance by nature, or that in acquiring his iniquities it suffers no frictions, no painful alterations of vibration, no jarring changes of sensation and direction? Has it occurred to us that the pulsing agony of the drunkard's brow the morning after, is the return into his sphere of consciousness, translated into terms ofhis feeling, of the deep, inchoate miseries felt in the depths of conscious matter composing his physical and astral nature during the very hour of his joyous transports? Or that the "pleasures" of a still greater sinner, jarring to still deeper profundities his own real nature, require a correspondingly longer time to return to the field of his self-consciousness, plus a correspondingly mightier interest?
It is popularly believed among certain of our "younger generation" that "science," having shown the way to avoid either disease or social reprobation as the recompense of self-indulgence, the last barrier to unlimited self-gratification is down. So they thought in Rome; and in universal maladies, particularly in the mental diseases which claim the one-half of our invalids of today, we may trace the delayed and augmented Karma of deliberately avoided effects. And that again traces far, far back to Atlantean animalism.
Pain never is and never can be other than the violent restoration of disturbed physiological and biological balance. The restoration of disturbedmoral balance is purification through mental and psychic suffering. What observing man has not noted that a violent illness is often the final clearing off of subdued smoldering annoyances and miseries which perhaps have made life gloomy for years? Who has not noted that a violent illness is often followed fast by an exuberant well-being hitherto unknown? What true aspirant to the Path has not noted that such exuberance is maintained and augmented without stain if the thought be kept pure, undefiled, unselfish; that dire return to the former miseries follows if the new vitality be squandered unworthily?
Then let us welcome, not the creation of pain, not the causing of pain, but pain itself, come mercifully to clear us by the collection of its debt. Let us welcome it, make restitution, and by learning its cause in the midst of misery, set the foundation for stainless joys.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
Question: The lives of the lower kingdoms go back to their own kingdoms on the dissolution of the body. Would that not be retrogression? What is the Karma of those lives?
Answer: It would be a mistake to suppose that the lives which compose our bodies go back to their respective kingdoms only on the dissolution of the body; there is a constant coming and going during our lifetime, through the food and in other ways. The "lives" are not the same when they go as when they come; they may remain on the human plane or may go to lower kingdoms according to the impress given them by the human being. It is the impress given them that determines their destination; the Karma is that of the human being who gave the impress and impulse; the retrogression -- if it may be so-called -- is due to the human being. The "lives," having no sense of responsibility nor volition, are not karmically responsible; their nature is action, but action under impulsion; their degree of consciousness is not changed, but their modes of action may be. Retrogression applies to consciousness, not to form; for example, a being in human form may ascend to divine heights or descend below the brute in consciousness. --Robert Crosbie