It is the Impersonal Law which, through recurring cycles, brings back to original equilibrium anything that has evaded Universal Harmony. For man, it is the Law of ethic causation, justice, retribution and punishment.
It rewards, when human actions embody Universal Harmony, while, otherwise, it inflicts punishment. Harmony is the co-existence of the manifested through action aiming at the spiritual progress of Universal Life. When our deeds do not lead to the Spiritual target, the Law of Karma intervenes and appropriately restores the effects into equilibrium, to the causes that generated them.
We, men, as we sow, so we reap with our own choices and activities. Our own volition determines our actions as well as their outcome, that is why our individual Karma is the effect of Absolute Justice.
“We consider Karma as the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the source, origin and fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature. Karma is the unerring law which adjusts effect to cause, on the physical, mental and spiritual planes of being. As no cause remains without its due effect from greatest to least, from a cosmic disturbance down to the movement of your hand, and as like produces like, karma is that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently and equitably each effect to its cause, tracing the latter back to its producer. Though itself unknowable, its action is perceivable. Though we do not know what karma is per se, and in its essence, we do know how it works, and we can define and describe its mode of action with accuracy.”
(Key to Theosophy, p.201)
Indissolubly connected with Karma is another aspect of the law of cycles – Reincarnation. It means that man as a thinker, composed of soul, mind and spirit, occupies body after body in life after life on the earth which is the scene of his evolution, and where he must, under the very laws of his being, complete that evolution, once it has begun. In any one life he is known to others as a personality, but in the whole stretch of eternity he is one individual, feeling in himself an identity not dependent on name, form, or recollection. The physical body is merely the shell of man, made of matter of the earth, from the three lower kingdoms – mineral, vegetable, and animal – and is being constantly renewed and worn out from day to day. Man, himself, is that invisible entity which inhabits the body, which is the cause of its present construction and development from lower forms of consciousness. The body is but one instrument of the man within. Other divisions are the psychic, mental and intuitional natures. Each of these ‘instruments’ is composed of intelligent ‘lives’ separate, only to be later re-assembled. In this separation of the instruments of man lies the explanation of ‘spirit-manifestations’ – which are nothing more than the automatic reflexes of ‘lives’ impressed by the departed soul with psychic impulses.
The doctrine of Reincarnation is the very base of Theosophy, for it explains life and nature. It is one aspect of evolution, since evolution could not go on without reembodiment. Reincarnation was believed in at the time of Jesus and taught by some of the early Christian Fathers. According to the view offered by Karma and Reincarnation, each is his own judge, and his own executioner; one’s own hand forges the weapon which works for his punishment, and each earns his own reward. Reincarnation banishes the fear and sorrow of death, for as sleep is a release from the body, during which we have dreams, so death is a rest and release, after which we are again incarnated in a new body on earth. We come once more into what we call waking existence, and meet again and again the various Egos whom we have known in prior births, that the causes generated in company with them may be worked out. Schopenhouer once wrote that this doctrine "presents itself as the natural conviction of man whenever he reflects at all in an unprejudice manner".
Intimately, or rather indissolubly, connected with Karma, then, is the law of re-birth, or of the reincarnation of the same spiritual individuality in a long, almost interminable, series of personalities. The latter are like the various costumes and characters played by the same actor, with each of which that actor identifies himself and is identified by the public, for the space of a few hours. The inner, or real man, who impersonates those characters, knows the whole time that he is Hamlet for the brief space of a few acts, which represent, however, on the plane of human illusion the whole life of Hamlet. And he knows that he was, the night before, King Lear, the transformation in his turn of the Othello of a still earlier preceding night; but the outer, visible character is supposed to be ignorant of the fact. In actual life that ignorance is, unfortunately, but too real. Nevertheless, the permanent individuality is fully aware of the fact, though, through the atrophy of the ‘spiritual’ eye in the physical body, that knowledge is unable to impress itself on the consciousness of the false personality.