by B P Wadia 

© 2003 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmφ 

"Let the sins of the whole world fall upon me, that I may relieve man's misery and suffering."

 Thus spake the Enlightened Buddha, the Compassionate One, the Sage of high heart and philosophic mind. Destiny, suffering, and sins confuse mortal minds. Even students of logic, metaphysics, and moral philosophy are often bowled over when face to face with the work of Nemesis. 

Joseph Addison is not only a master of English prose, but at times proves himself a practical philosopher of mystic insight. In The Spectator of September 13, 1712, he writes an essay full of wise thoughts founded upon these words of Horace: — 

Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus Inciderit
( Neither should a god intervene, unless a knot befalls 
worthy of his interference ). 

Addison writes: 

"We cannot be guilty of a greater Act of Uncharitableness, than to interpret the Afflictions that befall our Neighbors, as Punishments and Judgements. It aggravates the Evil to him who suffers, when he looks upon himself as the Mark of Divine Vengeance, and abates the Compassion of those towards him, who regard him in so dreadful a Light. This Humor of turning every Misfortune into a Judgment, proceeds from wrong Notions of Religion, which in its own Nature produces Goodwill towards Men, and puts the mildest Construction upon every Accident that befalls them. In this Case, therefore, it is not Religion that sours a Man's Temper, but it is his Temper that sours his Religion."

Among church-going persons, there are hard-hearted and narrow-minded unjust men and women whose arbitrary self-righteousness is riveted on the misdemeanors of others. They are unfaithful to their Master, who demanded: "Why behold thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but consider not the beam that is in thine own eye?" 

Similarly, in the minds of many Indians who believe in the Law of Karma, suffering and error, justice and mercy, and acts of men and curses or blessings of God and Gods, are so mixed up that confusion worse confounded results. 

The first expression of man's real religion is in his belief in Karma or Nemesis —  the nature of fate and the function of human free will. Whence suffering and what is its source? Kismet? Whence "accident" and "chance?" To what result is taken the active man? Where do his pleasures take him? Have they lessons to teach? Is learning only from affliction and agony? Can one be the maker of one's destiny and the master of one's fate? How can we rise above "this place of wrath and tears?" How many of our race and our civilization can assert with Henley:—

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul. 


Addison in his essay castigates, and rightly, the habit of judging our neighbor, acquaintance, or friend in the language of faultfinding and condemnation. He instances the gentlewoman who "is so good a Christian that whatever happens to her self is a Trial, and whatever happens to her Neighbor is a Judgment." He goes on to say:—

" I cannot but look upon this Manner of judging upon Misfortunes, not only to be uncharitable, about the Person whom they befall, but presumptuous about Him who is supposed to inflict them."

He refers in passing to God and Judgment Day from the then prevailing theological notions, but he lights perforce on a great fact of spiritual philosophy:—

"We are all involved in the same Calamities, and subject to the same Accidents. When we see any one of the Species under any particular Oppression, we should look upon it as arising from the common Lot of humane Nature, rather than from the Guilt of the Person who suffers."

In the course of his discussion he gropes after an answer to the question: "What are Calamities and what are Blessings?"

"If we could look into the Effects of every Thing, we might be allowed to pronounce boldly upon Blessings and Judgments; but for a Man to give his Opinion of what he sees but in Part, and in its Beginnings, is an unjustifiable Piece of Rashness and Folly."

Karma is merciful. It brings to the unjust judge the nemesis of revealing to him his own weaknesses and folly. Our inner faith is shaken by the test of our own Karmic precipitations. We commit offences that we have not intended or planned. We omit to do the good that we have planned to do. The Wisdom of Karma, the Law which ever compensates, is a shield that has justice for its one side and Mercy for its other. It protects us against "the bludgeoning of chance," and it takes the offensive against "the Horror of the shade" and "the menace of the years." 

The trials of the neophyte are the test of his faith. He may fail, as in the story told by Rabindranath Tagore:—

"There has been related in one of our Bengali epics the legend of  a merchant who was a devout worshipper of Shiva the Good, the Pure, — Shiva who represents the principle of renunciation and the power of self-control. This man was perpetually persecuted by a deity, the fierce snake-goddess, who in order to divert his allegiance to herself inflicted the endless power of her malignance upon her victim. Through a series of failures, deaths, and disasters, he was at last compelled to acknowledge the superior merit of the divinity of frightfulness. The tragedy does not lie in the external fact of the transfer of homage from one shrine to the other, but in the moral defeat implied in the ascribing of a higher value of truth to the goddess of success —the personification of unscrupulous egotism— rather than to the god of moral perfection."

On the other hand, the great drama of job's bodily leprosy and soul-suffering reveals a lesson in Resignation leading to Redemption —
"My redeemer liveth." 

Judge not. Condemn not. It is added, "Forgive and ye shall be forgiven." The final way of paying Karmic debts to individual fellow men or to collective influences, national, racial, and even cosmic, is enshrined in the word "Forgiveness." In the "Vana Parva" of  the Mahabharata, this is said:—

"Strength might be vanquished by forgiveness; weakness might be vanquished by forgiveness; there is nothing which forgiveness cannot accomplish; therefore, forgiveness is truly the strongest."

From "Thus have I heard", pages 192-96. Utgiven av Indian Institute of World Culture, 1959.


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