A Question of Choice
The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, an appropriate personification for the start of the new year. This particular Roman god had two faces so that he could look ahead toward the future and back at the past at the same time. As we get rid of an old year and look forward to a new one, let us all try to be a little like Janus.
We know through experience what we did wrong and what we did right, and hope to do better this year. A new year is unfolding – like a blossom with petals curled tightly, concealing the beauty within. This year let us make every effort to reveal the beauty of the divine light that is within all of us.
For satsangis, our primary focus in life is our spiritual duty, which is staying within the four principles. By following these principles we clean up our act, because God cannot reveal himself to a contaminated mind. These principles are the only way to break free from the karmic debts that shackle us to this material world, life after life, endlessly, like a hamster on a wheel.
In The Path of the Masters, the author explains that karma means the law of nature which requires that every doer shall receive the exact result or reward of his actions. That is the underlying principle of cause and effect. He writes:
Directly applied, the law of karma demands that every living being … from amoeba to archangel, from mind and soul to the Creator of the Three Worlds – everyone must receive the exact balance of accounts, the precise compensation for each and every act. And so, this is karma.
There are three types of karma. Firstly, there is sinchit karma – this is the store of accumulated karmas of past births. The lord of karma may draw upon this store of karmas and assign it to be lived out at such times and places as he may determine. Once it has been drawn and assigned to the soul to go through in this life, it then becomes pralabdh karma, which is the second type of karma. This is fate or destiny karma which must be paid off in our current life. Thirdly, there is kriyaman, or new karma, which is the result of our choices that we are making from day to day during this life. We may reap its payment at once or at some future time during this life. After our death what is left may be stored to be drawn upon in some future lifetime.
Karma, whether deliberate or inadvertent, has to be paid off. The Master teaches us to stop blaming our karmas; he tells us to treat every action we take as our own choice, which will create a new kriyaman karma. We have to act as if we’re sowing new seeds. With this attitude, we would not blame our behaviour on previous karmas, and we would take more responsibility for all our actions.
Everything may be the Lord’s will from the Lord’s perspective, but we cannot use that as an excuse not to make moral choices. After all, we’re still operating at the human level.
In what seemed to be a complete contradiction, Hazur Maharaj Ji once said that we have less free will than a puppet. If everything is predetermined, and we have no choice in the matter, then how can there be kriyaman karma, which is the result of our choices?
In Mysticism, The Spiritual Path, the author very eloquently explains this apparent contradiction. The following is paraphrased:
Things of one plane are true and real for that particular plane, but in the higher light of a subtler plane the truths of the lower planes become deceptive and unreal. Therefore, from a higher plane, this physical world and its apparent truths become unreal and we cease to exist as separate beings.
Thus we can say that reality has levels. At the highest and final stage, reality is in its absolute truth and purity. There is no duality and all is the divine One, whole and indivisible, all-knowing and all-transcending.
For us human beings, this world is real – it does exist, just as for the deluded mind, the world of delusion is a reality. For the mystics of the absolute stage, reality is the transcendent One; for us, it is this world of ever-changing multiplicity. Perfect mystics embrace the absolute reality of Oneness; we grope in relative reality or duality.
This settles the question of whether humans make their own choices, or whether everything is predestined and foreknown by an all-knowing God. Both can be true at the same time, for they are truths of different levels of reality.
Our existence as human beings and our free will are realities of the same order. They are real according to this plane, but unreal in the absolute truth of the highest region. Another reality of the lower planes is time – that is, the illusion of life unfolding in sequence. From the higher perspective, everything is taking place simultaneously, in the now.
The contradictions in mystics’ writings are thus due to the fact that they are truths of different planes. What is true at one stage may not be true at another. When we are in the physical world, free will and duality are the truth for us, but the final truth is still the absolute truth of all-knowing, transcendent Oneness.
What this means is that when Maharaj Charan Singh said that we have less free will than a puppet, he was speaking from the viewpoint of a perfect mystic who is always at the level of absolute truth. When the Master tells us that we always have a choice, he speaks to us at our own human level, and free will or choice is true at this stage of human understanding.
This entire material universe is made up of one or more of the four elements – of earth, air, fire and water. All the lower forms of life are possessed of all four elements, though some are dormant. In higher life forms like mammals all four of these elements are active. And the Masters tell us that we humans are the top of creation because we are the only creatures that have a fifth element, ether, which allows us discrimination or the capacity to make choices.
So human beings making their own choices as their lives unfold in time and space is the truth for this plane. While we are human beings in this universe of the elements, this is our reality.
The French philosopher Voltaire said:
Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.
By way of explanation: the dealing of the cards is our pralabdh karma, the karma apportioned for this life, while the way we play the cards becomes our kriyaman karma, the karma we create every day.
Buddha said, “What we think, we become.” This means that everything that makes up our own personal lives was originally formed in our thoughts. Thoughts lead to actions and actions lead to reactions. This is an inescapable law. All Masters throughout the ages have taught this fact. It is the nature of the mind to give expression to our thoughts on the physical plane.
When we understand that we reap what we sow, then, in a sense, we sow whatever we wish to reap. If we think this is not true, think about how a person becomes a doctor or a lawyer. He has a thought of what he wishes to become, then he has to ‘sow’ the seeds of education in order to reap the rewards of qualifying. We are sowing and reaping almost every minute of the day. This sowing of crops can be as simple as deciding what to wear, or as complex as becoming a criminal and having to reap the crop of that karma for however many lifetimes.
In The Book of Mirdad we read:
Aye, Man invites his own calamities and then protests against the irksome guests, having forgotten how and when and where he penned and sent out the invitations. But Time does not forget; and Time delivers in due season each invitation to the right address; and Time conducts each invitee to the dwelling of the host.
Here Mirdad is stating that we may have made foolish choices in a previous life and then, in this life, we protest against our irksome guests – the karmic consequences of those choices.
People often say that if you believe in karma then you’re a fatalist, but the author of The Path of the Masters, writing on karma, states:
This great doctrine, instead of leading to a dull fatalism, is in fact the only teaching in the world that shows exactly how man is the architect of his own fortune, the creator of his own fate.
A fatalist is one who resigns himself to the fact that he has no power to control his future, and that everything that happens to him is just the ‘hand of cards’ that some higher power dished out to him. Whereas just the opposite is true: we are truly the architects of our own fortunes, the creators of our own fates.
Understanding that at this level we do have free will is very exciting, and we need to utilize this in our favour by choosing to earnestly attend to our daily meditation in an effort to break the fetters of our sinchit or reserve karmas. We need to decide what we want to happen at our moment of death – the choice is ours. We can choose to do our meditation every day. Meditation and the grace of initiation from the living Master are the only way to achieve liberation from reincarnation, and it is up to us to choose whether to meditate or not. The results of that choice will decide our future.
We are undergoing our fate, in which we have no choice. But we do have the choice to work anew as we please, for our future…. We are, therefore, at present doing a dual function: In regard to fate, we are helpless, but in new actions we have a free hand to sow for the future.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems