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The Law of

Action and Reaction


Annie Besant



Reincarnation is carried on under the Law of Action and Reaction – Karma. The word Karma means action,  and we have seen above that every action is a triplicity.


The Hindu adept who has studied psychology for thousands of years, analyses action as made up of three factors: will [or desire] draws the mental energies together and directs them towards accomplishment; the act itself takes form in the mental world. It is then ready for manifestation, and is, as it were, pressing outwards towards embodiment; it is thrown out into the physical world, when the thinker can create an opportunity by his willpower, or when an opportunity presents itself.


It is then precipitated as a visible act. The whole process is regarded by the Hindu adept as a triple unity, and he calls it “Karma”, action.


The clear understanding of this is needed for the grasping of the three subsidiary laws which affect our future destiny.


But first it is necessary to realise that karma is a law of nature, and not an

arbitrary enactment which may be changed at will, and that it brings about results, but does not reward or punish. A law of nature is not a command, but a relation, an invariable sequence. It does not reward or punish, but yields invariable, and therefore foreseeable, results.


It may be stated generally as follows:  Where A and B are in a certain relation

to each other, C will follow.  Suppose we object to C; we must keep A and B out

of that relation. Nature does not say: “You must have C”. ------You must have it, if A and B are in a certain relation to each other; but if you can keep A and B out of that relation by any device – by the interposition of some force, some obstacle – C will not appear. Hence the better we understand Nature, the more we can have our own way in the midst of her laws; every law of Nature is an enabling force to the man of understanding, though a compelling force to the ignorant; we are perfectly free to balance these forces against each other, to

neutralise those which are against our purpose while we leave free to act those

only which will accomplish it. It was truly said: “Nature is conquered by obedience”.


The ignorant man is her slave and her plaything; the man of knowledge is her conqueror and her king.


Karma is a Law of Nature; it compels the ignorant, but it gives freedom to the

wise. The three subsidiary expressions of it that bear most on our destiny are:


“Thought builds character”; 


“Desire attracts its object, and creates

opportunity for grasping it”;


“Action causes a favourable or unfavourable

environment according as it has brought happiness or unhappiness to others”.


[1] We have already seen the first, in dealing with thought-power; anyone who

chooses to spend five minutes regularly every morning in steady thought on any

virtue which he does not possess will find that virtue – after a time the length

of which depends on the steadiness and strength of his thought – showing itself

forth in his character.


[2] a strong and firm wish brings about its own accomplishment; this is very often seen within the limits of a single life; a review of several successive lives places the existence of the law beyond doubt. 


[3] Those who make others happy, reap happiness for themselves ;  happiness is

found by not seeking it, and ever eludes those who grasp at it most passionately. Most strongly does this, again, come out in reviewing a succession of lives; the man who has caused widespread happiness is born into prosperous circumstances, while the man who has caused unhappiness appears in an unfortunate environment.


But so exactly does the law work – “Thought builds Character” – that is he has caused the happiness from a selfish motive his selfishness will result in a nature which is itself miserable, even when surrounded by all that should make life pleasant:


“Though the Mills of God grind slowly yet they grind exceedingly small; Though He stands and waits with patience, with exactness grinds He all”.


Karma being the result, at any given time, of all the thoughts , desires and actions of the past, manifested in our character, our opportunities, and our environment, it limits our present: If we are mentally dull, we cannot suddenly become brilliant; if we have few opportunities, we cannot always create them; if we are crippled, we cannot be hale. But as we created, so can we change it; and our present thoughts, desires and actions  are changing our future Karma day by day.


Moreover, it is well to remember, especially if we are facing a coming disaster,  that the Karma behind us is as mixed as our present thoughts, desires and actions.


A review of any day will show that it contains some good thoughts and some bad, some noble desires and some base, some kindly actions and some unkindly.


Each kind has its full effect, the good making good Karma and the bad making bad. Hence when we face misfortune we have behind us a stream of force which will aid us in turning it aside, and another which weakens us. One of these may be

overwhelmingly strong, helping or hindering us; if so, our present effort will

play but a small part  in the result; but very often the two forces are fairly equally balanced, and a strong present effort will turn the scale.


A knowledge of Karma should thus strengthen effort, not paralyse it – as unfortunately is sometimes the case with those whose knowledge is very small. It must never be forgotten that Karma, being a law of Nature, leaves us just as much freedom as we are able to take. To talk of “interfering with Karma” is to talk nonsense, except in the sense that one may talk of interfering with gravity.


In that sense we may interfere with both just as much as we can. If our muscles

are weak from fever, we may be unable to walk upstairs against gravitation; but

if we are strong, we can run up gaily, defying gravitation to keep us in the

hall below. So with Karma. Once more, Nature does not command anyone to do one thing or another; she lays down invariable conditions under which things can, or cannot, be done. It is for us to find out the conditions which will enable us to

succeed, and then all her forces work with us and accomplish our desires. “Yoke

your wagon on to “, said Emerson, and then the force of the star will draw your wagon to the place where you will have it.


One other practical point is of grave importance. We may in the past have made

some special karmic force for evil so strong that we are unable to overbear it by any force we can bring to bear against it today.


Under such circumstances we are driven to do wrong, even when we wish to do right, and feel ourselves to be as helpless as a straw driven before the wind.


Never mind. We still have resources. When the temptation to evil comes, we may meet it in one of two ways. Feeling that we must yield, we may yield supinely, and thus forge another link in the deadly chain of evil habit. But the knower of Karma says: “I have created this hateful weakness by countless yieldings to low desire; I set against it the higher form of desire, my Will, and I refuse to yield”. Battling against temptation, the man is forced surely back, step by step, until he falls over the precipice, and yields in act, though not in will.


To the eye of the world, he has fallen, a helpless victim in a hopeless slavery.

To the eye of the knower of Karma, he has, by his gallant struggle,, filed away

much of the chain that is still round his limbs; a few more such “ failures" and

the chain will snap, and he will be free. A habit made by many wrong desires

cannot be destroyed by one effort of right desire, except in those rare cases in

which the God within awakes, and with one touch of the fiery spiritual Will burns up the chains. Such cases of “conversion” are on record, but most men tread the longer path.


The more we understand Karma, the more it becomes a power in  our hands, instead

of a power which binds them. Here, perhaps more than anything else, “knowledge

is power”.






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