A New Look at Karma
The noted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking raises an intriguing question about our perception of reality. He writes:
A few years ago the city council of Monza in Italy barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved bowls. The source of the statement partly explained the ruling by saying that it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl with curved sides because, gazing out, the fish would have a distorted view of reality.
This report, as trivial as it is, raises some questions. How do we know WE have the true, undistorted picture of reality? Might not we ourselves also be inside some big goldfish bowl and have our vision distorted by some enormous lens? The goldfish’s picture of reality is different from ours, but can we be sure it is less real?
The Grand Design
This observation also raises questions about life in general and about our modern society in particular. To some extent, as followers of a spiritually enlightened Master, we have had a few distortions of our own corrected during our years on the path. But even our understanding of reality is still no more than conceptual.
We are told that the world as we know it is an illusion, but are we really convinced of this? We see no evidence that it is illusionary; we only see much evidence of the world’s physical ‘reality’. In truth then, we are not much better off than the goldfish, except that the distortion we experience is caused by ignorance and a crooked mind, not by a curved bowl. The lens of ignorance distorts much of how we understand life on this plane.
Let us dig a little deeper into the law of karma to try and understand more fully the profound and minutely detailed influence it exerts on our lives. In The Path of the Masters Julian Johnson tells us that karma is the law of nature, which requires that every doer shall receive the exact result or reward of his actions. It is nothing more or less than the well-known law of cause and effect.
This law is well understood and accepted in science. In physics it is known as the law of compensation or balance. In life, as we know, there are good and bad actions. Bad actions create bad karma and right actions create good karma. As stated in the Bible, “We reap what we sow”. To put it another way: the law simply means that every action is followed by an equal and opposite reaction.
In The Path of the Masters Johnson quotes from a famous essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson called “The Law of Compensation”. In this essay Emerson challenges the reader to understand the biblical law that whatsoever a man sows he shall reap, because this applies to every aspect of life. The following extract from Emerson’s essay stresses the inevitability of the universal law of karma. He says:
Thus is the universe alive. All things are mortal. That soul that is within us … is eternal, but it enacts itself in time and space. Justice is not postponed. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life. … Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every wrong is redressed, in silence and necessity.
In other words, a perfect equity maintains the karmic balance in every aspect of the creation. No animate or inanimate aspect of the creation is unaffected by this law. It is the Creator’s means for keeping everything in the creation in balance. This balance is as dependable and as inevitable as a mathematical equation. It is such a simple equation, but its inevitability is untouchable and sacrosanct.
And yet so much of the world conveniently ignores this inevitability. Even in religions where this moral law of justice is recognized, its integral importance does not have the effect of regulating behaviour. Imagine for a moment how transformed any society would be if every individual in it believed and lived by the moral code of karma.
The law of karma applies to all people in the world, even though it is often not acknowledged. Balance must be established to create order, else all would be chaos. The social institution of law is an example. Law operates on the principle of fairness. It is there to ensure that any illegal acts committed are punished by means of an appropriate sentence or punishment. In almost every country, East and West, all miscreants are brought before some kind of court of law and are charged and convicted if found guilty. The sentence they receive is assessed by matching the severity of the sentence to the severity of the misdeed. This is what we call justice, and it basically attempts to impose the moral code of karma on society.
The message that the Masters teach us is this: We have to surrender our will, our ego, before we can become one with the Lord, and only then will we have a clear understanding of the profound influence of karma and its detailed complexity. But generally speaking, we are nowhere near this level of spiritual development. In One Being One the author gives a clear description of where most of us are at this time and why. He says:
In our present life, most of us don’t achieve anything like the degree of purity required for ‘dying while living’. Our minds are too involved with material existence to muster sufficient concentration to be able to pass through the inner door.
The majority of us may not reach that level during this present lifetime. We have been told that attaining this level of concentration, of focus, can take a lifetime. We read further in One Being One why this can take so long:
It entails dealing with all the stuff we have accumulated in our mind that prevents full concentration. The mind has to be purified of all material and outgoing inclinations, of all thoughts of self, of everything but the One Being. And achieving that is no joke.
We also read:
During the course of our lives we think and act and desire, mostly in an entirely scattered and unfocused kind of a way. All of this thinking and acting leaves impressions on our mind, and at the time of death, our head is still full of stuff related to ourselves and to our existence in this world. So what happens to us after death?
The answer to this question is disturbing, to say the least. We’re told that we go to where our mind takes us. We may spend some time in some inner plane, depending on the purity of our mind, but sooner or later we can be pulled back to the world. And then, of course, when we do come back in our next life, all our previous accumulated karma prescribes in detail how this new life will unfold.
So the body we have and the being we are in this life are all exactly the way they need to be to enable us to go through the destiny allotted to us in this life. That means that our looks, our talents, our personalities, our circumstances – and every other aspect of our being down to the tiniest detail – are exactly the way they have to be to meet the requirements of our destiny. Seen in this light, it is a rather shocking fact that we are exactly what we created ourselves to be – courtesy of our karma.
So the question arises: is there a way out of this endless cycle of birth and rebirth in which we appear to be so helplessly trapped? The mystics provide the solution. It is their purpose in the world to take their allotted souls out of this cycle of birth and death and enable them to return to their original home.
How indescribably fortunate we are. We have met a Master whose sole purpose it is to take us out of here, out of the endless cycle of birth and death, and back to our original home. To do this he has accepted us as disciples and guides us by imparting the teachings of the saints. These teachings have exposed us to a wealth of profound information about our existence, our origins and our purpose for living in the world.
We may well ask: Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this? Clearly, at this stage we will not receive answers to these questions. But to show our appreciation we can at least try to live in his will and do our meditation. And we can follow the way that he has advised us to live. This should become our prime focus. Nothing else is important.