Glimpses: Hazrat Inayat on Karma and Reincarnation

This is an excerpt from the Journal of Hazrat Inayat Khan, which begins with a review of religions and religious movements as he encountered them in the west. One group with which he had considerable interaction was the Theosophical Society, from which came a number of devoted mureeds.  A central teaching of the Theosophical Society was the concept of karma, or the fruits of actions, both  good and bad, leading to the rebirth of the soul.  Therefore, when Hazrat Inayat came from India, the members of the Society expected that he would preach this doctrine, but as his thoughts below show, it was not a subject he was inclined to encourage.

If it were not for the theory of karma and reincarnation which the Theosophical Society has brought forward as its special doctrine on which the whole Theosophical theory is based, it would have had great difficulty in touching the Western mind, which wants food for its reason first before accepting any faith. The ideal of reincarnation and karma made a great revolution in the West in the religious world. The backbone of religion in the West had already been broken, and this idea broke its legs, letting Eastern thought rise, introduced in the West in the form of Theosophy.
However, the idea of reincarnation and karma, which came from the race of Hindus, never has given the full satisfaction to that race itself. The influence of Islam, the ideas of the Sufis, made a great change in the Hindu outlook for many centuries, and great Hindu poets like Nanak and Kabir, Sundar and Dadu, Ram Das and Tukaram, and religious reformers of India like Swami Narayan and Babu Keshoba Chandra Sen, Dayananda Saraswathi, Devendranath Tagore, all these although they could not entirely erase this idea from the surface of the Indian mentality, upon which it had been engraved for ages, yet modified it to such an extent that hardly anyone speaks about these things. Especially the wise, the Sages, hold as their object in life mukti, liberation from the captivity caused by karma. It is a worn-out doctrine of the East which was revivified by the Theosophical Society in the West.

In the first place it appealed to the people in the West because it answered immediately the question why one is well off in life and why another suffers. The idea of reincarnation gave an answer readily justifying it: “Because of the actions of the past,” which gave no scope for further argument on the subject. It at once satisfies the intellect, though the answer of Christ was different. When somebody asked him: “Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” It always appeals to the hearts whose treasure is on the earth to think that even if we passed from this earth we shall not be taken away for ever, we shall come back again. And those who have not experienced the life of the earth sufficiently and who have not achieved their desire in this life, they are only content to think that next time they will come and accomplish it. Then there are some who find that there is little time left in life and they have not yet improved themselves. They can hope that perhaps at their next visit to the earth they will finish the task. Some become happy at the thought, “I am not rich this time, it does not matter, before this time I was a king and after I have paid my debts in this life, in the next life I may become an emperor.” For their likes and dislikes in the world some give the reason of reincarnation, past acquaintances or relationship. This gives scope to the play of the imagination, which very often arrives at very funny ideas about it. Once two people thought that they had been husband and wife in the last incarnation, and at this realization their joy was great to have found themselves again on this earth’s platform, but at the same time, in the face of this most unfortunate fact, they were most sad, realizing that this time they are not.

Though I have always had a great response from the members of the Theosophical Society, who love the Eastern thought and readily respond to it, still my position became very difficult when people brought me to the question of karma and reincarnation. The doctrine that interested them the most, had the least interest for me, and I have always tried not to encourage people in that idea, and yet not to oppose their belief, which has been a very hard task for me. Hafiz says: “Sing, O Singer, the new song of the new life every moment.” For a Sufi to think, “What was I and what shall I be?” takes him away from the vision of the everspringing stream of life. Many members of the Theosophical Society have taken interest in my work, since Theosophy prepares them to appreciate the deeper knowledge; although it has made the authorities of the Theosophical Society afraid of losing their members and for some time they have taken precautions so as to close their ears to my call.


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