The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
August 2006 -- Vol. 9 Issue 6
by John Burroughs
Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind nor tide nor sea;
I rave no more 'gainst time or fate,
For Lo! my own shall come to me.
I stay my haste, I make delays--
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways
And what is mine shall know my face.
Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me,
No wind can drive my bark astray
Nor change the tide of destiny.
What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it has sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.
The waters know their own, and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flows the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.
The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.
There is no entity in the universe but has, or has had in the past, some degree of free will or the power of choice. Are animals innocent, or are they rapacious? Animals are without the human sense of moral responsibility, but those who have had the most to do with them would be about the last, I think, to regard them as wholly innocent. Animals have made karma in the past, and are reaping it and making it now. They are not wholly irresponsible. The spark of divinity which is in the animal has chosen that imbodiment to work out its evolution and to purge itself of unlovely qualities. In other words, every creature obtains that imbodiment and way of life to which its own desires, relative perfections or imperfections, and state of evolution draw it. There is no outside law or god or chance that can put and keep creatures in an imbodiment and way of life wholly contrary to their own nature.
Why are there rapacious animals? Because in the long past their desires and choosings led them to that character and form. Animals are animalistic because somehow, somewhere along the path of evolution they have chosen to be so. They are in the process of developing the beginnings of conscience, or else they would not be on the way toward becoming human. No creature in the universe is wholly without higher guidance. Animals do not perfectly follow the highest guidance that they have. Anyone sufficiently familiar with them knows that they inflict unnecessary cruelty on each other. Hence they do make bad physical karma, which is the kind of karma that animals make, suffer, and enjoy.
Karma, true justice, includes all other laws. Every creature must experience "unmerited" suffering and joy (we must not forget the undeserved joys!) from the acts of others, but karma is just, and such experiences are fully compensated for soon or in the more distant future, though our so limited perceptions may not see the compensation. It is said that animals will be recompensed for the sufferings (such as vivisection, etc.) caused to them by human beings. -- The Theosophical Forum, June 1939
When the cards are dealt and you pick up your hand, that is determinism; there's nothing you can do except to play it out for whatever it may be worth. And the way you play your hand is free will. -- Jawaharlal Nehru
This month "How Karma Works" is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: We see action and re-action in the physical world; does this principle apply in the psychological, social, moral, and spiritual arenas? How would cause and effect work in the nonmaterial aspects of life? Why don't we see the results of all our actions, or the causes of all the things that happen to us? Does karma work organically, mechanically, or in some other way? Is karma, like Providence, the will of some outside being or thing that is imposed upon us? Is there "instant" karma? Good or bad karma? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group for the rest of the year. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
September 21: Earth -- A Living Being
October: Our Spiritual Origin
November: Suffering and Sacrifice
December: Religion and Theosophy
January 2007: Living Well -- The Paramitas
Karma is an organic process, not some "thing" outside of us, standing apart from who we are or how we exist. It is an integral part of Life. Together with reimbodiment it explains how our lives progress as we pass through successive deaths and births to inculcate lessons we teach ourselves. And the experiences we remember, most often the painful ones of suffering or sacrifice, teach us the most. In this aspect, karma is our friend, our helper, our teacher.
As we make choices each moment, we literally construct our future. Against all odds, no matter what anyone thinks or believes about us, we set the stage for our future by what we think and do, good or bad. It will come back to us -- not in a vengeful manner but simply as the effect of a cause we set in motion. It may be seconds or lifetimes, but that wave will return and we will have the chance to learn from it, make our lives better, and move closer to the source of all being. It is never too late to set our path toward the highest goal, to reach for the right thing, to think the most loving thought.
"The only way out, is through" an old friend used to say. We can't escape the framework we construct for our-selves. We own it; it is not someone else’s. When we say, "Why is this happening to me? Why not to that guy who deserves it more! What have I done?" That is precisely when we need to examine closely what IS happening to us, look into the moral of the situation, the feelings and emotions it brings up in us, and think carefully about how it is making us think and act. It is up to us to ponder silently our predicament and discover what we need to learn. If we truly make that change part of our lives, we will break the cycle of repeating that offense against nature and move on to other lessons.
So far, karma sounds pretty mechanical, you're thinking! In one aspect, yes, but in another no. While on the surface karma does look like tit for tat, eye for an eye, it isn't. I perceive karma as working largely on our mental self. We are spiritual beings in a physical body, and our unseen aspects -- intuitional, mental, and emotional -- are more "us" than is the physical. We are trying to evolve into higher beings by spiritualizing our lower aspects. So right now our mental aspect is taking the lead in trying to learn, grow, and move upward.
In helping ourselves grow into higher beings, we learn through experience and by seeing what others do, not by being told how to do it. Most often we teach ourselves by listening to that still, small voice within. What is it telling us? How is it cautioning us? No longer do we have to look outside for our teacher to appear. He is already here and has been all along! We just have to be open to seeing our teacher.
We don't connect the return of effects with the original acts because cause and effect are often separated by time. In this way karma is very kind, never giving us more than we can handle. Sometimes we think it does, but if we are essentially spiritual beings we can probably handle a lot more than we give ourselves credit for! John Lennon sang about instant karma. When we push a branch and it swings back to hit us in the head -- that’s instant karma. But when we get cancer or are involved in a car accident, the cause may be farther back in our history. Regardless, we set a cause in motion.
Everything in the universe is producing karma, and all that karma is interacting with all the other karma. No wonder it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the exact origin of every effect. Perhaps the busload of people injured in a crash shared a common cause; perhaps they had separate similar experiences that gathered them together. Perhaps the person who was upset about missing the bus didn't share that common cause. What about when we try to get somewhere and traffic seems to be preventing us from reaching our goal on time? Should we lash out? Or should we sit back and know that life will let us arrive when we should? Karma is smarter than we think! In recording all the causes and coordinating the release of all effects, karma seems very just -- a universal justice transcending any man-made legal system (not that our legal systems are not part of our societal karma!).
Yes, societal karma. And perhaps neighborhood, nation-al, cultural, and family karma. We are grouped into distinct clusters of people, each with its own karma, all of them intertwined. Fortunately we only have to be concerned with our own karma as it comes each day. Our job in this life is to try to understand ourselves as best we can, while creating the smallest ripple in the universe we can. For as H. P. Blavatsky wrote, "Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance."