By the editors of Lucifer – the Netherlands
[This is a reprint from Lucifer – the Messenger of Light, an original publication of I.S.I.S. Foundation, i.e. International Study-centre for Independent Search for truth. The editor is grateful for the permission given to make this important paper available for all readers of Theosophy Forward.]
Karma, the law of cause and effect, is usually associated with the doctrine of reincarnation. This makes sense because karma, the second Jewel of Wisdom, opens our eyes to the logic of ‘getting another chance’ to set things right. Coupled with the doctrine of reincarnation, the boundaries of having to do it all in one lifetime are removed. The effect always follows the cause: sometimes not even a second passes before we see the consequences of an action and sometimes an incredibly long period passes, sometimes as long as several lives.
The law of karma is technically the law of recovering harmony. All actions influence Nature, and
Nature responds in kind. The chain of cause and consequence in human life may be further explored as the concatenation of thoughts and actions leading to consequences which lead to effects with similar characteristics. Because we think and act life after life, we build on our character continuously. An ancient and very useful way to look at this is: sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character.
Karma is the practical explanation of the building of our character.
Karma teaches us to be disciplined, consistent and honest with ourselves. Karma is by definition fair to everyone, although this is not always immediately clear. A cause can originate from former lives or from this life; a consequence can manifest itself now or in a subsequent life. So there remains karma that has not yet worked out, karma that we are producing by thinking and acting, and karma that has started to generate consequences. Thus we can say the circumstances of our life
originate from the things we did ourselves, from our own character. Karma brings precisely what we are and what we have built ourselves, not more and not less. Arbitrariness, blame and punishment have no part in karma. It is a neutral law of nature, impersonal and fair.
Someone can be born desperately poor in an underdeveloped country and someone else as the child of a rich man in a country overflowing with opportunity. Someone can be healthy for a long time and enjoy a rich old age and someone else can die young. It is the nature of karma to encompass the entire series of our lives past, present and future to give us the opportunity to work out our thoughts and actions. This is the reason that often we think we are in a less than positive situation when it is exactly what we need. The concept “fate”, whether or not used in relation to karma, does not exist from the theosophical perspective. When any event occurs, all circumstances are optimal
for it, whether or not that is immediately obvious to the participants. When we are not able to grasp the how and why of it, we often call a concurrence of circumstances “coincidence”. But coincidence simply does not exist.
Getting control over your own life
The Western world operates on a Christian tradition which has instilled many with dogmatic and oppressive thoughts of guilt and fear of punishment from which they have difficulty breaking free. The idea that you are born in sin and that you must be saved by the mercy of a force outside yourself has enslaved generations in fear. The idea that you yourself and your fellow men should have to burn in hell forever, has tormented many their entire lives. Fundamentalist Christians whose particular denomination teaches predestination have had to deal with the frightening question whether they were in fact predestined for heaven or not.
Even when people turn their backs on the church, nagging thoughts of guilt and fear can play a role in neuroses for years afterwards. When these people encounter Theosophy, one of the first things to disappear is the fear. You know that you can’t get lost anymore. You experience that you are the one who observes, supervises and controls your life and that the idea of a judging god or other external powers interfering with you simply does not make sense any more. This way you learn to be more engaged in life and to face misfortunes with confidence. There are countless opportunities for you still in subsequent incarnations. You begin to understand that you will be able to realize all your ideals.
When most people first become aware of the simple truths of Theosophy something resonates deep within and they appear to know they are on the right track, finally! One way karma helps us in our daily life is that we realize that although we have grown up with certain ideas, those ideas can easily be shed just like a child can grow out of its clothes. We discover that we have the ability to rise
above our environment because our thinking can change, can become nobler.
In other words, we are able to replace troubling thoughts with helpful, noble and inspirational ones. It is karma that compels us to reflect. We are our karma ourselves. We are our own causes and consequences. That’s why we can consciously sow other causes, reap other consequences
and thus change ourselves and our environment. Living in the awareness of karma results in an unshakably positive attitude towards life.
The ancient doctrines of karma and reincarnation show us we are able to actualize all of our ideals eventually! That is done by using opportunities optimally. Karma is a neutral law; it takes no favorites and therefore it is wise to appreciate the chances we create for ourselves.
Overcoming feelings of hatred
Another positive effect of living in the awareness of the doctrine of cause and effect is that you become able to overcome feelings of hatred. People with traumatic experiences, such as men who have confronted hand to hand battle in a war or people who have been victims of other egregious forms of assault or have lost a loved one in a terrorist attack, can find peace within themselves
by studying the doctrine of karma. They get answers to questions to which they could not have found a satisfactory answer without karma.
Some questions injured people frequently ask (before they become aware of karma) are: why did I have to be born exactly in that period in that country with those parents and in those circumstances? Why is this happening to me? Why was I exactly on that spot where the accident happened? Why have those criminals done this or that to me?
Thanks to the doctrine of karma people have the ability to ask other questions: is it only the others who are responsible for the things that happen to us? Didn’t we sow the seeds ourselves for what has happened to us? Remember that karma is a neutral law and it is in no way to be seen as “punishment”, but as an impersonal response of Nature to our thoughts and actions through all of our lifetimes. Every incident in our life that makes us uncomfortable is really the universe giving us the opportunity to regain balance and harmony. Karma is never punishment; it is always an opportunity to make things right.
When one finds answers to those questions because of karma, feelings of hatred begin to fade and traumatic experiences can be put into perspective.
Breaking a negative chain
Karma as an essential part of our philosophy of life can help us to overcome personal traumas. Knowing that we are part of a universal unity and also participants in a field of causes and consequences will not make cruelties any less horrible, but will give us the tools to put those
experiences behind us. We can look at the events in our lives as opportunities for growth instead of blocking our spiritual abilities with feelings of anger and revenge. The study of karma enables us to grow spiritually by learning to build on constructive thoughts and foster the comprehension necessary to work positively on a large scale.
An example of this possibility is the installation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, after the cessation of Apartheid. Although South Africa is still far from being a model of peace and harmony, this country was able to make a huge step forward in a short period of time, partly due to this commission.
Perseverance in rancor and insisting on retribution on the other hand can only bring about catastrophic consequences.
One example of this is the series of crippling “compensations” which were imposed on Germany after the First World War. The frustration and anger among the German people about this and the following economic disaster were direct causes for the people to become vulnerable to the rhetoric of the rising Third Reich.
Try to imagine the world we would have if people could use the doctrine of karma as a working hypothesis in their lives. They would influence governments and entire cultures. If people were free to invest their energy and resources seriously in facing and dealing with war and suppression while aiming for peace first within themselves, the chain of violence could be broken. Polarization of
peoples and hostility between countries simply would not make sense any more. The consequence would be peace and cooperation between countries and groups of people.
Letting go of attachments
It is because of karma that people are attracted to each other. We need to realize well that the force of attraction has two poles: love and hatred. We are attracted to each other because of sympathy or love; but also antipathy or hatred.
The attractions caused by these two opposing forces ties people together through lifetimes. In spite of the fact that the relations created by love have different characteristics from those which are established by hatred, these forces are equally powerful.
Because of this phenomenon, individuals who are attracted by feelings of sympathy (often mistaken for love) can evolve in different directions in the same lifetime. One may choose to stagnate for a while and another may be going through a growth spurt. Their common interests can change and the bond of “love” can become weaker. When this occurs the reaction is often anger and hatred.
When we understand karma, this type of growing apart does not have to include rancor and feelings of rejection. It is the logical consequence of the fact that individuals evolve at different rates.
When we realize that to cherish feelings of hatred assures us of having to deal with this perceived enemy again in a subsequent life (or indeed the same “type” over and over in this life) we learn that the idea of forgiveness takes on a whole new perspective. Suddenly forgiveness does not mean an emotional reunion; on the contrary, a person can achieve feelings of complete neutrality. Forgiving someone does not always mean a person has to see the other.
In our hearts we are always connected with each other. But by our own thoughts, fed by sympathy and unfortunately sometimes also by antipathy, we choose the people that we deal with, our parents and family, our job, our environment. We are responsible for these choices ourselves although we may not remember having made them.
When people appear to abandon us because they take another direction in life, we are able to accept this more easily because of the doctrine of karma. We learn to look at our circumstances in an impersonal way even when things happen which hurt us personally. This gives us the freedom to “let go” and to respect the wishes of the other.
A type of thinking which transcends the personal desires and needs of the individual is a skill which is essential to the study of the doctrines of karma and reincarnation. This discipline also prepares us for a future which extends over subsequent lives. To strengthen self-seeking thoughts would intensify our inner obstacles. Both self-aggrandizing and self-pitying thinking are prime examples of living in the illusion that we are separate from the rest of our fellow living things. The Heresy of Separateness to which most people still subscribe, albeit unconsciousnessly, is the belief that one’s own life is disconnected from the lives of others. Part of this illusion is that the concerns and
needs of others are not one’s own concerns and that our lives are or ever could be separated from the whole. The principles of Theosophia, which are directly perceptible in the doctrine of karma, show us clearly that Brotherhood is a fact of Nature. We are inextricably linked together because we all are in essence the life, the PRINCIPLE.
Theosophia continues to prove her value again and again when it concerns insight into behaving well. Even in very difficult circumstances, the insight that the understanding of karma brings gives us the wisdom to act ethically. It is as Krishna teaches Arjuna in The Bhagavad-Gîtâ:
“The doer who performs necessary actions unattached to their consequences and without love or hatred is of the nature of the quality of truth — sattva.” *
Further in the same chapter:
“The discerning power that knows how to begin and to renounce, what should and what should not be done, what is to be feared and what not, what holds fast and what sets the soul free, is of the sattva quality.” (1)
We all know of situations in which people. We all know of situations in which people have had to
make difficult decisions, such as what actions to take in the case of suspected child abuse. When someone adheres to the doctrine of karma he is able to act quietly and deliberately, always aiming at a long term solution and never acting on emotion or out of personal judgment.
Allow yourself to imagine: if the doctrine of karma could have been practiced by bankers, the worldwide bank crisis would never have arisen. Bankers who were focused on their own short-term interests caused the worldwide crisis. If they could have understood a little of karma, then they
may have had more vision of the whole and would have focused their view on the long term. The world would certainly have been spared the misery this self-seeking behavior caused.
The doctrine of karma and reincarnation shows us, as already stated earlier in this article, the undeniable fact that we ourselves are the architects and designers of this life and the next. We are not being passively fed into some mechanism over which we have no influence. On the contrary, we are that mechanism in every sense. Man has self-consciousness, although it is not yet completely
developed. However, human self-consciousness is developed enough to live this life thoughtfully and to focus those thoughts on the general well-being of our family and our friends as well as acquaintances and all of our fellow men, of our neighborhood, of our environment and the world of which we are an essential and inseparable part. In that way we are able to concentrate on the lasting
and continued development of our higher, spiritual faculties. In that way we make ourselves suitable to be an unwavering and valuable champion in the army of Helpers of humanity. Theosophia offers us the knowledge to build a philosophy of life for that purpose. We, with ourselves as self- governing sources of inspiration and power for good, can train in the wisdom to practice that
knowledge each and every day of every life.
* Sattva is one of the three gunas (or characteristics): sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is understood to consist of truth, goodness, reality and purity. Rajas represents the urge to activity. Tamas is passivity and ignorance.
The Bhagavad-Gîtâ. Chapter 18: ‘Devotion as regards renunciation and final liberation.’ Verses 26 and 30. Translated by William Q. Judge.
To be continued