The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
November 2007 -- Vol. 10 Issue 9
During World War II in China, we used to listen to news from the other side of the earth, relayed from New Delhi in the night, keeping the sound very low for fear of being caught. The knot we all had in our middle would ache with the intensity of stress. You got used to living with it because it never quite went away, and it served to supply adrenaline in tight situations when you needed all your wits.
A strange thing would sometimes happen, as though a telescope had been abruptly reversed: the worldwide holocaust would suddenly turn into a tempest in a teacup. The words of the announcer would begin to sound contrived, as if he were reciting a preposterous tale of science fiction; battles and invasions seemed reduced to petty proportions, and for a minute the grim desperation became the laughable product of a morbid fantasy.
It was real enough, of course. We all knew that. But the momentary vision of a larger perspective had loosened the knot just a little and brought a wholesome laugh or near-laugh. We all tend to take ourselves too seriously. Even in "normal" times, when disaster does not hang on a careless word or glance, we have ways of making ourselves fearful or unhappy. If we have nothing greater to ruffle a placid life, a broken fingernail can be a major annoyance, a mislaid ticket or a traffic jam a tragedy. It seems as if we are determined to suffer with or without adequate cause. And what is adequate cause for one may be trivial to another; sometimes it takes an upheaval to stir us from a torpid indifference. A wise friend observed that all events have the same impact; it is we who react differently, according to our character and vision. This may explain the self-sacrifice that makes one person a hero while his companion looks on with amazement. Their sense of proportion is different.
All of our living takes place in our consciousness. People have been known to sleep through an air raid unperturbed who, at another time, may agonize over some wholly imaginary eventuality. Circumstances provide only one of the mechanisms which trigger our awareness; we then select one from a wide range of possible reactions. This selection appears to be the crucial factor which determines whether the lesson is learned or whether further experience is required in that area of thought. As we mature in humanness, we doubtless run the gamut of responses, from carefree ignorance, through varying intensities of involvement, until, through long experience we learn to place things in their correct proportions. As we gain a more universal view, we approach closer to the equanimity which is the hallmark of the gods and loosen the bonds that hold us captive in a smaller frame.
We seem bound by strands of affinity in many areas. The grosser bonds gradually give way as we surmount our more obvious limitations, only to be replaced by more subtle ties of egoism, tenuous traps we weave for ourselves without being fully aware of their tenacity. Little by little these too must cede, only to be replaced by ever finer strands. The truth-seeker gradually transfers his concern from the search for pleasure to the search for reality: former needs become the temptations of today; these in time lose their appeal in a willing renunciation come tomorrow. Thus we slowly free our spirit from restraints. Our separate existence blends into the purpose of the whole, until at last the very self is forfeited, the final gossamer thread is snapped. We are Buddhas.
Nothing is forced, no stage of growth unsought or unnatural. Drawn ever onward by our natural attractions, we leave each phase as imperceptibly as the child grows to maturity, "putting aside childish things" and gaining ever greater vision. As we grow, we can smile indulgently at our former preoccupation with small matters that once seemed of such momentous importance. It is good, then, to remember that our vantage point will duly take its place in the long procession of the past, that our current greatness will one day seem as quaintly moving as the labors of ants at our feet. – Alison Baker
Our next subject is "Suffering and Adversity." We will be discussing such questions as: Why do we have hardships, conflicts, and suffering? What can we do about them? Do they have a meaning or purpose? Are such difficulties our own, others', or no one's fault – and does it matter? What are their positive aspects and benefits? What about God, fate, or karma? Are pain and suffering the same? Are feelings such as unhappiness, grief, and despondency a normal part of life, or abnormal states? Does suffering lie at the root of all life, and should we seek to avoid it? Aren't we apt to romanticize or glorify suffering and its effects, especially when we haven't suffered in that particular way ourselves? 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. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
December 13: Mankind Is Our Business
January 24: Where Is Our Path?
February: Overcoming Ourselves
By Grace F. Knoche
Millions carry a burden of private sorrow, asking them-selves why – why was this child born defective and fated to early death, while its siblings are normal? Where is the justice and mercy in a universe supposedly administered by an all-loving God? It is cold comfort to be told it is God's will or the working out of old karma: the cause and cure of suffering reach to the core of mystery and will remain such until, beyond the words of all teachings humanity has received, we can feel with every atom of our being the compassion of divine purpose behind everything that happens.
I don't think anyone can say categorically that a child born with a congenital affliction is paying for some misdeed in a previous life or lives. It may well be the case; but equally it may not be so at all. Is it not possible, for example, that a returning entity – for we are primarily spirit-souls, not bodies – could be far enough advanced interiorly to "choose" the karma of severe malformation in order to gain a profounder sympathy with human suffering? There is also the possibility that the reincarnating ego might need a temporary respite from the hurly-burly of certain mental and emotional pressures and select a "retarded" vehicle. Again, it could be that cruelty or selfishness had been so engrafted in the character that the surest means of removing the stain would be to take birth in an impaired body; the lesson of compassion could then be burned deep and the nature gentled.
The universal law of karma, of action succeeded by corresponding reaction, may seem simple when applied to physical happenings; but it becomes exceedingly complex when we try to follow the intricate meshing of karmic strands of even one person, let alone that of the billions of our fellow humans, each with ages of past experience. "Judge not that ye be not judged" – only one able to read the spiritual history of an individual would be able to determine just what lines of karma had been traced in lives long gone that culminated in the precise conditions which the reincarnating ego finds itself handling – or not handling – in this life. All of us have been weaving grandeur and baseness into the tapestry of the soul; but when we intuit, as many do, that we are linked with our divine parent and that whatever we experience of joy or pain is an intrinsic part of our destiny woven since the beginning of time, then we know there is a fitness and a beauty in even the most heart-rending of circumstances.
A letter from a friend bears this out. It was typewritten with a mouth-stick by one who from birth has weathered the trauma of severe disablement. She earns her living as an artist, and also devotes what time she can to working with children and young adults who are more incapacitated than herself. She is not concerned with what they can't do; she focuses on what they can do. In this way she energizes their will and creative energy to actualizing whatever potential they do have. She wrote:
“Please promote erasing the false idea that people get about the word "karma." Neither I nor others handicapped have been "punished" by being in damaged bodies (brains, or . . . ). No! In fact, once one's consciousness has sprung past the illusions of faulty education, then in a flash one changes one's attitude about the disability – changes and realizes once and forever that the damaged form is not a punishment but a holy privilege, through which one is at last permitted to "work" on a conscious (awakened) level. It's like wearing a proper costume to "go to work" – the damaged vehicle is a necessary and self-imposed outer draping. Our own inner mechanisms permit the current "body" and momentary circumstances so that the teaching-learning conditions may be met. Each of us has in some moment of time had to "pay" for past errors in thought or deed. Able-bodied people are not purer than cripples; they "pay" for their errors via a different cause-and-effect situation. . . .
“Karma – the word should be explained as meaning "circumstances currently the soul chose as the best opportunity for the soul's growth and for teaching others."
A powerful response to "Is life fair?" by one who refused to stay bitter and has consecrated her gift of courage and love to all in need of hope and self-esteem. Dare any one of us do less? Let us honor and respect each other, in full recognition that every human being who has the stamina and compassion to assume challenges beyond the norm is adding his or her building stone to the ageless temple of the soul.