[This article appeared in the September 2022 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: https://www.ultindia.org/current_issues.html]
Freedom of choice in ordinary everyday life we are obliged by the compulsion of human nature to choose between various options that open before us in everything we have to do, be it the food we eat or the clothes we wear or the articles we want to buy, and so on. The criterion for exercising choice for the most part of our lives is personal preference and satisfaction. What seems to us to fulfil our personal desire and preference is considered as good, and the contrary as bad. This is on the material plane in material concerns. Even in such solely material concerns of our lives ethical considerations do figure in the choices we have to make with varying degrees of importance. The choices we thus make in our lives, whether based on purely personal considerations or impersonal ones, are not confined to our individual lives but have a ripple effect causing far-reaching consequences by their impact on society and also on our character and destiny.
As we are all inseparably bound to each other in an intricate interdependent web of universal life the effects we produce by our thoughts and actions unfailingly return to affect us. It is evident, therefore, that choices we make and decisions we take to act one way or another are generally influenced by the moral quality of the choices we had made and actions we had performed in the past. This happens by the law of cyclic return of impressions. Impressions created by our thoughts and acts on the many lives on physical, mental, moral planes, which together constitute our material nature, have a tendency to reproduce themselves and they come back to us as a tendency to act in the same way as in the past. Every act has for its basis a thought-desire, which produces a tendency, which, in turn, through repetitive recurrent action, forms habit, and habit shapes character. We thus shape our own character and make our own destiny.
However, as we are souls, superior to lower nature, we have innate power to freely choose to consciously suppress the past tendency and cut a new path by choosing to act in a different way so as to bring on a change in our tendencies and character, and alter our destiny for the better in a significant way.
Considerations of these verities clearly shows us that we err in blaming others for conditions we find ourselves in life which seem unpleasant to us. For instance, we often hear of people blaming their parentage or family heredity for ills they suffer from, be they diseases of the body, inclination to vices, and so on. This is clearly a misunderstanding of laws of life and its purpose on the part of the one who holds such a view and attitude. We cannot in truth do so, because what are seen as undesirable gifts of nature are actually the gifts that we ourselves earned by our own thoughts and actions in the past. The family environment in which we take birth has tendencies similar to ours. Therefore, similarity of nature offers the line of least resistance for the birth-seeking Ego to enter physical life in that particular family, besides other determinative factors. It is the likeness of nature and character which leads the Ego to incarnate in a particular family, community or nation. Therefore, no one or nothing is responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves in life—whether as individuals, communities or nations. By an attitude of rebellion against immutable and just Law of Karma, or attempting to evade our responsibility for the ills to which we are heir, we only darken our lives and suffer the more. The Law requires us to work through the self-made conditions of our lives, however adverse and difficult they may seem to be in our experience. With right knowledge and right effort, we can overcome undesirable tendencies, cultivate virtues, strengthen character, and thus work towards creating better conditions and happier circumstances. Adversities that meet us in our lives are thus opportunities for working through and overcoming them with right attitude, and to think and act in ways that will create congenial and happier circumstances. That is the way to true happiness and higher progress.
No hurt can come to us if we had not acted in a way, deliberately or otherwise, that hurt another or many others. It will be done unto us as we did to others. Similarly, glad tidings that come to us is the just reward we ourselves earned by cultivation of virtues and the good done to others. Whatever comes to us in life is the reaping of the fruits, the seeds of which we and none other sowed in the previous life or many lives before. It is destiny, self-made.
But we need not be helpless creatures of destiny. We have freewill to act in other ways to alter our destiny. Our attitude towards what comes to us by the decree of the just Law is the sowing for the future harvest. We have freedom to choose by way of attitude of mind how we receive what comes. As we choose and act so we make our future destiny. If our attitude is wrong, rebellious, or irresponsible towards what Karma brings us as prarabdha which seems irksome, we would have chosen to sow seed that can only bring forth bitter fruit which we would be compelled to partake of in the future. On the other hand, if our attitude is one of knowledge, understanding, acceptance and humility, it not only creates conducive conditions of a free mind in which we can learn the lessons implicit in the experience, but also sow good seeds for a happier and more harmonious life in the future.
The most common source of troubles in our lives is our ignorance of the power of our sympathies and antipathies. It is the same as liking and disliking, or love and hate. For instance, the Karmic effect of the feeling of dislike one may feel for another individual for whatever reason will be that the one who is the object of our hate will be the means for causing obstructions in the path of our life in the future lives. Paradoxically, what we dislike or hate will cling to us the more closely till we learn the lesson that there is, in truth, no separateness, and that our apparent adversary is a part of ourselves. This realization is wisdom which leads us to cultivate brotherly feeling and charitable attitude towards all alike, be they friends or enemies. Thus, with right knowledge enmity may be turned into friendship, hatred into love, adversities into opportunities.
This applies equally to communities and nations. Communities divided by mutual distrust and hatred whether on religious, ethnic, racial grounds or inimical historical experience will find themselves embroiled in rising cycles of violence with tragic consequences. Communities involved themselves have to resolve their differences by exercising mutual tolerance with an understanding of the laws of Karma and Reincarnation. The communities have to choose between blind impulsive action driven by past tendency or attempt to curb the blind impulse and choose to deliberately act contrary to it with mutual understanding and responsibility, and thus gradually transform enmity into mutual trust and benevolence. Theosophy teaches that if nations were to work in union and harmony, instead of disunion and strife, two-thirds of the world’s evil would disappear, and much desired but evasive world peace would be a reality very soon, which will pave the way for all round progress and prosperity, for humanity.
The whole aim of our life-effort ought to be to so think and act life after life as to fulfil the great aim of human life—which is attainment of freedom of soul and realization of universal brotherhood. This is the high road to human happiness and perfection.