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Family Karma

Don’t Read this if you are a Traditional Values Reactionary

Posted 17/11/06

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Do you ever look at your life and feel that you have inherited something that isn’t yours and quite simply doesn’t fit your true nature to such an extent that you are constantly struggling against it (e.g. authoritarianism, stinginess, living in the past or selling yourself short )?


When you were at school, did you ever feel that in some subtle inexplicable way, your family or the members of the family structure you were brought up in were different from that of others?


Is there a family way of thinking or tradition that you are constantly trying to disassociate yourself from?


Are you the “Black Sheep” of the family, ostracized by relatives who don’t approve of you?


Modern theories about all this tend to work on heredity and environment. You inherit genetic traits from you ancestors (not just parents) and how you turn out is the result of the combination of these traits mixed with social experience and character moulding provided mainly by your family. Your family may provide offspring with a “one size fits nobody” upbringing which can become a bone of contention for the rest of your life.


These ideas work well enough but I believe that the hold the family has over you sometimes goes much further than this with a more oppressive hold than most of us realize at a conscious level. You don’t get out of this even if you grow up in on a modern flexible family structure although the rules change a bit, making it less oppressive for some.


You have your Karma (good or bad) to deal with but Annie Besant here adds another dimension to the equation with the concept of Family Karma.

Please note that Annie Besant was writing at a time (1917) when the term “family” referred to the traditional structure and I believe that a reaction to the oppressive Karmic hold of this structure has contributed to the decline of the traditional family.




Extracts from A Study in Karma


Annie Besant 1917


Family Karma


Let us consider the collective karma of a family. The family has a thought-atmosphere of its own, into the colouring of which enter family

traditions and customs, family ways of regarding the external world, family pride in the past, a strong sense of family honour. All the thought-forms of a member of the family will be influenced by these conditions, built up perhaps through hundreds of years, and shaping, moulding, colouring, all the thoughts, desires and activities of the individual newly born into it. Tendencies in him that conflict with family traditions will be suppressed, all unconsciously to him; the things “a fellow cannot do” will have for him no attraction; he will be lifted above various temptations, and the seeds of evil which such temptations might have vivified in him will quietly atrophy away.


The collective karma of the family will provide him with opportunities for distinction, open out avenues of usefulness, bring him advantages in the struggle for life, and ensure his success. How has he come into conditions so favourable? It may be by a personal tie with some one already there, a service rendered in a previous life, a bond of affection, an unexhausted relationship.


This avails to draw him into the circle, and he then profits by the various karmic results which belong to the family in virtue of its collective past, of the courage, ability, usefulness of some of its members, that have left an inheritance of social consideration as a family heirloom.


Where the family karma is bad the individual born into it suffers, as in the former case he profits, and the collective karma hinders, as in the former

instance it promoted, his welfare.





If the power of the traditional family (clearly defined here in terms of the perpetuated male line and with an emphasis only on positive attributes) is so far reaching and you are encumbered a dominating “thought atmosphere” and with Karma generated by ancestors who died possibly hundreds of years before you were born, then it is perhaps not surprising that so many have rejected the traditional family unit. This rejection has been at a subtle, emotional and intellectual level and runs far deeper than the extension of sixties hip-groovy attitudes that some traditional values reactionaries claim it to be.


Unfortunately you don’t escape the pull of Family Karma by being born into a less structured arrangement but things can be easier. You still inherit a bundle of Karma from your ancestors, the difference is that whereas in the traditional family, you only have the one outfit to deal with, in a more flexible set up, you will have a choice from the various strands of your ancestry. The “collective past” broadens from the point of view of Karmic inheritance. The “thought atmosphere” will be more of an aggregate of the inherited traditions and more flexible.


How this choice is made will be determined by your affinities with the members of your family structure. You will naturally gravitate towards certain people and by doing this inherit their Karma. The down side to this is that your grouping may be dominated by certain forceful people (or one dominant person) who have a disproportionate influence on you, taking you Karmically back to square one.


Of course changes have taken place within the notion of the traditional family, which make being in a family a much more laid back and less intense affair. The concept of family portrayed here by Annie Besant is now rare, familiar to Poet Phillip Larkin but alien to the average 15 year old. This, I believe is the also the result of a need to break the Karmic hold of the family, meeting it half way.


Some argue that there are social and career advantages in the traditional family and have figures to prove it. The decline of the traditional family, however, only goes back forty years and society has not yet assimilated such a massive change in such a short time. The mould has been broken and I don’t see us going back to the 1950s. It is of course probable that at some stage in the distant future, the cyclic nature of history will bring about a change.


What’s the Karmic Bill for all this


Annie Besant optimistically describes considerable benefits associated with membership of a very privileged family which clearly knocks its members into shape. Family members are only permitted to reach their potential on strict family terms. You could also be in a family like this with no specifically bad Karma but also none of the benefits outlined.


The oppressive nature of being born into a family with bad Karma is pretty obvious and it is logical that you are just as likely to be born into a bad Karma family as a good Karma one.


As I see it, if you are in a less formal family or family structure coupled with less commitment to any family tradition, then the Karmic pluses and minuses will be less than if you were in the sort of outfit described by Annie Besant.


Going one stage further and cutting oneself off altogether from all family commitments and obligations is not a viable option according to H P Blavatsky who warns that self isolationism as a means to avoid Family or Group Karma will not work.


She says in The Key To Theosophy


“In reality, there is no such thing as “Separateness”; and the nearest approach to that selfish state, which the laws of life permit, is in the intent or motive.”


As we now live in an aspirational society which prizes the goal of self realization highly, the use of the term “selfish state” seems to hark back to a time when everyone was supposed to know their place and be satisfied with it. Indeed if nobody had ever made any move to the break away from the Group Karmic forces which affected them, then we would still live in a feudal agrarian economy. H P Blavatsky is making the point here that one never acts alone in Karmic terms, and to believe that one can, is arrogant and futile.


Looking Forward


We won’t escape the Law of Karma and if Family Karma becomes less important then other forms of Group Karma will be tracking us down. We will just have to keep looking over our shoulders.


A Study in Karma By Annie Besant

(Full Text)


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