AOH :: KARMA.TXT|
A subjective view of karma, free will, destiny.
A Personal View of karma, Free Will and Pre-Destination
Peter K Cross
These notes impart my personal opinions only, but I have drawn extensively on
the work of the late Dr Paul Brunton, who has been my teacher and inspiration
for many many years.
The trouble with trying to understand the principles behind and the operation of
karma is that karma and its method of action are intrinsically tied in with the
nature of Man and the Universe itself. karma is, if you like, a property of this
creation, and therefore cannot be understood completely without a proper
understanding of the Real nature of the Universe in which we find ourselves.
Because it is inappropriate for the purposes of this discussion to examine in
detail the nature of our universe, it may be necessary to use concepts and ideas
which seem unproved or speculative while attempting to describe the operation of
karma and to throw some light on the question of Free Will Vs. Determinism. If
any readers of this message wish to discuss these matters separately just drop
me a line and I will answer them the best I can, or refer them to the writings
of others who explain things far more thoroughly than I am able, given the
limitations of computer messages.
Now, coming to the consideration of karma specifically. some people reject the
idea believing that destiny is extremely unfair. Consider, for example, the case
of a person who has had the apparent misfortune to be struck down by some
debilitating disease or crippling deformity through no apparent fault of their
own. Such physical maladies are frequently traceable back to the genetic
inheritance from their parents. If despite the best efforts of the person
concerned the ailment refuses to depart, they may turn for relief to religious
faith, mystical experience or metaphysical reflection. These have the effect of
enlarging our horizons and diminishing our Self-centredness, and consequently
the sorrowful experience will not have been without value. There will be some
ethical or philosophical lesson to be learned indirectly through it.. "Know that
sorrow, being the means of convincing Man of the need of inner life, is a
Those who have suffered deeply will listen to a spiritual message sooner than
those who have not. As said, "The swiftest horse that brings us to perfection
is suffering". A man may be suffering what is really good for him, but he will
weep as though it were really bad for him. If suffering brings men closer to the
blessed life which transcends it, then if only for that reason and to that
extent its existence is justified.
One of the properties of a manifested universe is the manifestation with it of
what in Hindu terminology is known as the pairs of opposites - light and
darkness, life and death, pleasure and pain etc. This duality is inherent in the
very structure of the universe. Consequently it is an inevitable accompaniment
of our own human existence too. In the physical body pleasurable sensations lure
us to eat to sustain physical life and to procreate and so ensure the
continuation of our species. But painful reaction s also serve to repel us from
what could be potentially harmful. What would happen in a world totally free of
suffering, to a hand accidentally put into a fire if there was no painful
reaction to warn us of our mistake. In this case, the pain of the burn is really
a disguised friend helping to preserve life. It is useless to expect a life of
pleasure only in a body built on such opposing tensions.
A similar duality applies to our mental and emotional life also. To look for
one-sided perfection is to invite disappointment. The forces of winter wither
the foliage of trees but can not as a consequence be regarded as a force of
evil. The destructive element in Nature withers the forms of individuals,
nations, civilisations and continents when they have out served their utility
and the appropriate time for disintegration arrives. This is not a victory for
evil, but rather a manifestation of one side out o f a pair of opposites. Pain
fills a place in the present evolutionary stage of our ethical existence which
is hardly less, and more often useful, than that filled by pleasure, but our
egoism blinds us to this fact.
The pain inflicted on a swollen sense of 'I' by karmic compensatory working is
not really punishment any more than is the pain inflicted by a surgeon who opens
an abscess with a knife. The coils of karma which entwine themselves around the
wrong-doer are primarily there as a natural consequence of his own acts, not as
a fiat of punishment. Time is educating him and developing him to perceive what
is right. When he finally faces the responsibility for his own past errors he
will see how many of his troubles were self-earned.
Nobody likes to impose discipline upon themselves, and that is why everybody has
to submit to a discipline imposed by karma. Hence pain and suffering come to us
principally through the operations of karma. The first error which most people
make when accepting the tenet of karma is to postpone its operation to future
incarnations. The truth is, however, that the consequences of our acts come to
us, if they can, in the same birth as when they are committed. If we think of
karma as being something whose fruits are to be born in some remote future
existence, we think of it wrongly. Each moment we are shaping the history of the
next. Every month we fashion the form of the month to follow. To paraphrase
Emerson - Every thought either ennobles or debases the Soul. There is no
standing still. By thinking a noble thought, the S oul is ennobled AT THAT VERY
MOMENT. Similarly, the Soul is debased at the very moment that a selfish or evil
thought passes through the mind.
No day stands isolated and alone. karma is a continuous process and does not
work by postponement. It is incorrect to regard it as a kind of post-mortem
judge. But it is not always possible to work out these consequences within a
particular incarnation. In such cases, and in such alone, do we experience the
consequences in subsequent births.
But even those who accept the twinned doctrines of karma and re-incarnation, are
not infrequently hazy about the attitude to adopt as a consequence of this
belief. It must be understood that while evil exists we must accept the fact of
its existence as the price to be paid for the self-limiting of an emanation from
the infinite into the finite. But this does not mean that we should complacently
tolerate its activity. Although we may believe that karma operates to bring
about appropriate justice in the end, we should not stand indolently aside from
aggressive wrong-doing in passive trust of its operation. For karma needs to
utilise instruments, and its effects do not spring miraculously out of the air
Hence we must not shirk if we are called upon to co-operate with its intended
educative effect and to set in motion those causes through which its reactions
may be produced.
This brings us to the question of Free Will. We weaken ourselves if we believe
that all events are unalterably fixed, that our external lives are unchangeable
pre-ordained and that there is nothing we can do to improve the situations in
which we find ourselves. It is true that we are compelled to move within the
circumstances we have created in the past and the conditions we have inherited
in the present, but it is also true that we are free to modify them.
Freedom exists in the heart of man, that is in his very Soul. Fate exists only
in the surface life - that is in the personality. As man is himself a compound
of both these beings, neither the absolute fatalist nor the proponent of
absolute free-will is wholly correct. The external life is always a mix of both
freedom and fate. No man, however evolved he may be, has complete control over
his life, but he is not entirely enslaved to it either. No action is wholly
free, and no action is wholly fated, but all are of a mixed double character.
The elements of heredity, education, experience, karma (collective and
personal), free will and environment all conspire together to fashion both the
outer form and inner texture of the life we have to live. We sew the tapestry of
our own destiny but the thread we use is of a kind, colour and quality forced
upon us by our own past thoughts and acts. Our existence has a semi-independent
and semi-predestined character.
So, our past free will is the source of our present fate, just as present free
will (constrained but not enslaved by fate) will be the source of our future
destiny. The most powerful factor of the two is our own will. But there is no
room for either foggy fatalism or over confidence. Man cannot escape the
responsibility in the matter of shaping his internal outlook and external
environment by laying the blame on something or someone else.
Each person should study his mistakes in action and ascertain their source in
himself. He must admit to partial responsibility at least, and make what amends
that he can. This may be painful, but it is better than continuing to dwell in
illusions from which severe checks or repeated disappointments may later bring
him down to earth.
In all instances, the thought precedes the act. It is bad or negative thought
which leads to selfish and evil acts. Karmic consequences arise from both
thoughts and deeds. Once a thought series or deed is strong enough the karmic
result is inevitable. When karmic force has gained a certain impetus its onward
movement cannot be stopped, although it may be modified. This is why it is a
maxim to nip undesirable growths in the bud before they become inexorably
decisive. A thought which has not yet attained a certain fullness of growth will
not yet yield karmic consequences. The importance, therefore, of nipping off
wrong thoughts at the time of their arisal cannot be overstated. The way to
fight a bad tendency in oneself, or a bad movement in a nation, is to check it
in the early stages before it has gathered momentum. It is easier to scotch it
at the start than later when it has gained in strength.
Having said all this, it must also be understood that whilst it is correct to
fiercely resist karma's decrees at some times, it is also correct to bow
resignedly to them at others, The lesson to be learned is one of letting go when
it is wise to do so, and similarly of fighting when it is wise to fight. But
this raises the question as to how we know what the wise course is in any given
set of circumstances. No book and no teacher can impart this wisdom. But the
intuition of man checked by reason, or reason illuminated by intuition may do
Such intuition must be distinguished from pseudo-intuition, which is a mere echo
of his own emotional complexes. The best intuition is a whisper from the Soul.
The worst is born of innate prejudice or wishful thinking.
The Soul holds all the innumerable memories of past experiences and past lives
in solution, as it were, so it can be said that they are, and yet they are not.
It is the Soul which wills only what is karmically earned during successive
lives, and it always wills what will justly compensate for characteristics
manifested in past thoughts and actions. Because it is the Soul which is the
source of this karmic adjustment, it may be truly said that each man is his own
judge. For the Soul is his own central Self, not something remote or alien. The
nature of karma is not grasped if it is understood to be a power external to the
Self, ruthlessly dictating its decrees for our helpless submission. This leads
to the further conclusion that what happens to a man happens to him by the
secret will of his own innermost being. Therefore sufferings which may have to
be endured are not evils in the ultimate sense, but only in an immediate sense.
What appears as a blind external and r uthless force is, in reality, a conscious
internal and purifying one.
Evil challenges man to obliterate it. It provokes him to overcome it, as a pain
provokes him to seek for peace. It pushes man to question his own motives, and
consequently turns him on to the golden road to truth. It is worth remembering
that, in the end, evil in the life of every individual is an unstable and
insecure phase only. It must eventually perish because it contains within itself
the seeds of its own destruction. Through constant adjustments effected by karma
the surface self eventually and inevit ably ceases the misdirection of its
intelligence and brings it into harmony with the divine.
These notes are mostly concerned with the nature of karma and the mechanism by
which it operates. But it operates at a collective level as well as a personal
one. But I will leave that discussion for a future occasion. I hope you find
them interesting and look foreword to receiving any observations, comments or
(c) 1995 Peter K Cross, 100346,73
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