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Siddhartha Gautama and Theosophists on Karma and Rebirth

Siddhartha Gautama, in speaking to the Jains asks the Niganthas (an order of contemplative Jains), if they believed that their sufferings are due to Karma coming over from past births. He asks, ‘friends, how do you know you existed in the past and that you did not exist?’

Have we not raised the same question?

Devadaha Sutta: At Devadaha, tr. by Thanissaro Bhikku —

“‘And do you know that you did evil actions in the past, and that you did not, not do them?’

“‘No, friend.’

“‘And do you know that you did such-and-such evil actions in the past?’

“‘No, friend.’

Karma is a central concept in Theosophy:

“In connection with this, let me tell you before, that since you seem so interested with the subject, you can do nothing better than to study the two doctrines — of Karma and Nirvana — as profoundly as you can. Unless you are thoroughly well acquainted with the two tenets — the double key to the metaphysics of Abidharma — you will always find yourself at sea in trying to comprehend the rest. We have several sorts of Karma and Nirvana in their various applications — to the Universe, the world, Devas, Buddhas, Bodhisatwas, men and animals — the second including its seven kingdoms. Karma and Nirvana are but two of the seven great MYSTERIES of Buddhist metaphysics; and but four of the seven are known to the best orientalists, and that very imperfectly. (…) If you ask a learned Buddhist priest what is Karma? — he will tell you that Karma is what a Christian might call Providence (in a certain sense only) and a Mahomedan — Kismet, fate or destiny (again in one sense). (…) There, where Christian poetical fiction created, and sees a “Recording” Guardian Angel, stern and realistic Buddhist logic, perceiving the necessity that every cause should have its effect — shows its real presence.” (K.H., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Letter No. 16)


The Sepher Ha-Zohar edition edited by Nurho de Manhar, a ‘pseudonymous Theosophist,’ was published between 1900-1914, which I possess (the third revised edition). The editor of the release of the text online, on Sacred Texts, says: “This is not a critical edition; written by a pseudonymous Theosophist, probably British, it is laced with out-of-place terminology such as ‘Karma’ and ‘Planes.’” How Theosophists may use terms sometimes can seem out of place.

The T.S. has built in itself a pseudo-Sanskrit/English jargon.

We aren’t criticising Nurho de Manhar, because it’s a fine commentary on the Zohar, but words can be overused and has.

This was an issue covered once about a Mongolian irritated, that he found a book on Shamanism and Tengriism, only to find New Age thought and terminology in it. It doesn’t stay true to the culture.


The term “karma” can be substituted, if the culture isn’t Asian.

Every culture or people should have a concept about causation.

Karma, in the English can be easily substituted by the term causality.

Theosophy actually rejects the popular notion of reincarnation, and thus, we cannot simply rehash the word, with what it’s associated with. The writings on theoretical Occult Philosophy explain, that the theory of transmigration is intimately linked with the classical Indian atomic theory, and that the popular concept of reincarnation and souls, especially of humans re-becoming animals in rebirth, are superstitions and fancies.

The term karma in the West refers to a supernatural force of retribution. Some derive pleasure from karma as a force of personal revenge, whether deserved or not. However, from our studies, more deeply related to Daoism, “nāstika-s” so-called, and classical materialist outlook, understanding causal law is key to our studies.

Observing the processes of nature (intuitive physics skills) working in the physical world†, as the natural laws, is a key to the lightening and clarity of perception about the hidden interdependent origination of things. It is vital to have the right ideas of the concepts used, because it will lead us to the right methods. What we want to do is challenge the very idea that religion and religious concepts are inerrant, random (i.e., miraculous), unfalsifiable, and unprovable.

These studies can be tested, checked, and replaced by better models.


† Big Think, Study: Religious People Struggle to Understand How the Physical World Works.


There is also, the mistake, that the divine or holy has nothing to do with matter, and the physical world. There were classical schools of the past have already dealt with the issue.

There are in classical Indian philosophy multiple ways of looking at the theory of karma, and the occult position on the concept of causation or karma rejects accidentalism. We neither say as some commonly say: “everything has a reason, or purpose,” usually, in accordance to their God’s plan. We see our predecessors, like Pythagoras whose school of thought originated circa 6th century B.C.E., learned in mathematics; and the Pythagoreans engaged in mysticism.

There is a mention of “planes,” to go over.

The concept of planes is not out-of-place terminology in Judaism.

“Planes,” are described in the Biblical literature, as when Corinthians (see A Gem from Poemandres) refers to a man being taken up to the third heaven (a level or platos), and it is described in Mesopotamian religions. Now, karma is causation, and in physics, the equations have been developed far beyond the simple notion that is common: an image of a billiard ball hitting a static cue ball, from its own prior static state. The idea of causation, attributed to karma is in ways actually outdated, or a simplified Western idea of karma. This latter concept is often associated with the “heretical” and rejected doctrines, such as trans-migration, reincarnation, or metamorphosis. The main religions of the West rejects reincarnation, but in the culture keeps “karma.” This has only become problematic.

The adoption of the term has not really led to anything, except memes, and occasional quotes about “what goes around comes around.” This is not what karma is all about. Understanding the law of causal production, or the concatenation of causes and effects is central in the original teaching of Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha is focused on getting us to understand, that there are specific antecedents to every consequent. Siddhartha refutes the idea that we need to rationalise people’s sufferings, by supposing they suffered in a past life, which some theosophists and many people believe. Between both Siddhartha and The Mahatma Letters, they break from the popular ideas.

Gautama teaches, that behind the rise of every phenomenon is an antecedent, reason (without Brahma), or cause (hetu). Esotericists apparently apply this formula of interdependent origination to practice. This is hetu, rooted in the universe, through all phenomena, leading to the comprehending of the root of evil.

It is intimately tied to the root of suffering.

Understanding causal law on far more than a theoretical and mathematical basis is important, because k a r m a or causal law is an observable and demonstrable process, and therefore not an abstract concept.

This is central in the approach of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, in Daoism, and certainly in the teachings and sayings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama. As the Theosophists state, the concept of karma is very central, as well as reincarnation, or trans-migration, but what are their right conceptions? The trans-Himalayan esoteric system, as well as the philosophy of Siddhartha rejects the popular notions about rebirth and karma.

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