The Inner Life, v. II/Eighth Section/III
THE KARMA OF DEATH
It is by no means certain that in the majority of cases a time for death is definitely appointed by the Lords of Karma at all. The whole arrangement is far more elastic and adaptable than most students suppose. The clue to its comprehension lies in never forgetting that there are three great types of karma, which the Indians call sanchita, prarabdha and kriyamana.
The first is the whole vast mass of unexhausted karma, good or bad, which still waits to be worked out; let us call it mass-karma. The second is that particular part of the first which has been selected to be worked out in this incarnation; let us call it the man's destiny for this life. The third is the new karma which we are constantly making by our present actions.
It is the karma of the second type that the astrologer or the palmist tries to read; and his calculations, are often invalidated by intrusions from the other two varieties. It is quite certain that nothing can happen to a man which is not in the great mass of his karma, but unquestionably something may happen which was not originally included in his destiny for this life.
Suppose the case of a man on board a vessel which is about to be wrecked, or in the first car of a train which is about to come into collision. It may or may not be in the destiny appointed for this particular life that that man should die about this time. If it is, he will no doubt be killed; if it is not, he may be saved, if such saving does not involve too great an interference with the ordinary laws of nature. I think we may say that he probably will be saved if the prolongation of his physical life would appreciably hasten his evolution. It is intended that in each life some lesson should be learnt, some quality developed. If that life-work is already done — or if, on the other hand, it is obvious that the man will not succeed in doing it this time, no matter how long he lives — he has nothing to gain by continued physical life, and he may just as well be delivered from it.
Also, if there be in the vast mass of his previous karma some debt that can be adequately cancelled by whatever of physical or mental suffering may be involved in such a death, the opportunity of that cancellation may very well be taken when it thus offers itself, even though it may not have been included in the original plan for this particular life. But if in the whole of the mass-karma there is nothing that will fit in with such a death, the man simply cannot die that way, and he will inevitably be saved, even though it be by means which seem miraculous. We hear of such cases — cases in which a huge beam has fallen so as just to save a man from being crushed by the superincumbent weight of the wreckage, or in which when an ocean steamer has gone down with all hands, one man has somehow floated ashore on a hen-coop.
We must not forget the influence on our destiny of that third variety of karma which we are making for ourselves every day. A man may be doing such good work that for the moment he cannot be spared; he may or he may not have acted so as to deserve release from the physical plane at that particular period. Our tendency is to attach an altogether exaggerated importance to the time and the manner of our death. If for a moment we try to imagine how the matter must present itself to the Great Beings in charge of our evolution, we shall gain a much truer appreciation of relative values. To them the progress of the egos in their charge is the one matter of importance. They know the lessons to be learnt, the qualities to be developed.
They must regard it much as a schoolmaster regards the amount of work which a boy has to do before qualifying himself for entrance to the university. The schoolmaster divides that work according to the time at his disposal; so much must be done in each year, and the year's work in turn must be subdivided into terms and even into days. But he will allow himself a considerable amount of latitude with regard to these minor divisions; he may decide to devote two days instead of one to some specially difficult point, or he may close a lesson earlier than he intended if its object is clearly achieved.
Our lives are exactly these days of school life, and, the lesson may be lengthened or shortened as the teacher sees to be best. Death is merely the release from school at the end of one day's lesson. We need not trouble ourselves about it in the least; we should thankfully accept it whenever karma permits it to us. We must realize that the one important thing is that the appointed lesson should be learnt. The sections into which that lesson shall be divided, the length of the various lesson-hours, and exactly when they shall begin or end — all these are details which we may well leave to the agents of the Great Law.
From this point of view no death can be described as premature, for we may always be absolutely certain that what comes to us from without is what is best for us. Our business is to do our very best with each life, and to make every effort to retain it as long as possible. If we ourselves cut it short by recklessness or improper living, we are responsible, and the effect will assuredly be prejudicial; but if it is cut short by something entirely beyond our control, we may be sure that the curtailment is for our good.
Nevertheless what has been written in some of our books about “premature” death is quite true. In extreme old age desire fades away, and so something of the work of the astral life is already done before the man leaves the physical plane. A similar result is achieved by long sickness, and so in either of these cases the astral life is likely to be comparatively short and without serious suffering. This may be called the ordinary course of nature, and it is only by comparison with it that an earlier death may be spoken of as “premature.” If a person dies in youth, desire is still strong, and therefore a stronger and more strenuous astral life may be expected — a condition on the whole less desirable. But if the Powers behind decided that an earlier death is best, we may feel sure that They know of other considerations which outweigh the prolongation of the astral life.
It seems probable, therefore, that in the majority of cases the exact time and manner of a man's death is not decided before or at his birth. Astrologers tell us that in many instances they cannot actually foretell the death of the subject whose horoscope they are examining. They say that at a certain time malefic influences are strong, and the man may die then, but if he does not, his life will continue until a certain other occasion when evil aspects threaten him, and so on. In the same way a palmist will tell us that at such and such points there are serious breaks or markings upon the life-line; they may indicate death, or it may be only serious illness. It is likely that these uncertainties represent points which were left open for later decisions, depending largely upon the modifications introduced by the action of the man during his life, and by the use which he makes of his opportunities. At any rate we may be well assured that whatever decision is made it will be a wise one, and that, whether in death or in life, all things are working together for our good.