“Karma: The Law of Cause and Effect”
In our Western world we are all familiar with the law of cause and eﬀect. If certain things concur, then certain other things always happen. The ﬁrst group is called the cause of the second happening, and the latter is called the eﬀect of the ﬁrst. The observations of scientists have been largely directed to linking things together in such chains of cause and eﬀect. It is analysis of these kinds of data which has led to Natural Law. All this is familiar to everyone: the physical world is ruled by Law. When we come to consider Man himself, who, in the simplest terms must be considered a synthesis of body, mind and soul, we seem to be uncertain of the rule of law on these higher levels of ourselves. Some people talk as though these higher levels were the domain of caprice or chance: this is nonsense, for the Law of cause and eﬀect runs through all levels on which time operates. It is called in the Eastern philosophies the law of Karma, and it amounts to this: so far as human beings are concerned there is no such things as chance or accident, but everything that happens to them ﬁts into the pattern of cause and eﬀect. Each living person at some time has set going his own pattern of causation and is meeting the consequences.
We can all start oﬀ from agreed ground. Each of us came into this life; we were born to particular parents, of a particular nationality, at a particular point in history. Suppose we had been born to Esquimaux, or Arabian, or African parents, how diﬀerent would have been our physique, our education, our cultural interests, our dreams and opportunities.
Instead of being born when we were, we might have been born 100 or perhaps 1,000 years ago. How diﬀerent our outlook would have been: would we have been the same persons? The existing facts are what they are: but what are their causes? With innumerable other possibilities, why did these particular ones come to fruition?
Or look back over your present life and reﬂect that at innumerable points other paths could have been taken. It looks as though the way we took was determined sometimes by the `merest accident’. Perhaps we appear to have been inﬂuenced by a headache, a missed train, a shower of rain, or a casual word. If we reject the conception that we are playthings of chance, the sport of destiny, or feathers blown on the wind of change, we must accept the operation of a law of cause and eﬀect and ask ourselves the pertinent question, `What were the causes which led us to take the way that in fact we did take?’ I put to you one of the most important questions about life: `How far are we free?’ Is there such a thing as chance or accident in relation to the souls of men?’ If we do not make up our minds about this issue, how can we have any satisfying philosophy of life?
I ask you to look a little longer at the facts of familiar life. There are some people who seem to have been always the favourites of fortune. From earliest childhood they were blest with kind parents and many good friends. They have had good minds and healthy bodies, an encouraging environment, and the open door of opportunity. For others the face of life appears to have been one long struggle against handicaps, suﬀering and tragedy. Such inequalities are strange and baﬄing if you are concerned that there should be a law of justice in this world.
Here is a young surgeon who has qualiﬁed himself, by ten or more years of hard study, to do some brilliant work: then suddenly he is stricken with blindness. Here is a young mother attacked by terminal cancer and her young family left orphans. Here is a youth who has been accidentally shot through the spine, and he must lie on his bed as a cripple for the rest of his life. A tile is lifted from a roof by a gust of wind and it falls on a child in a pram and damages his brain for life. These are what we call tragedies and apparently no sort of vigilance or conduct on the part of the victim could have averted them. But if we are victims of chance or accident in this life, where does justice to the individual come in? If we are not victims of chance or accident, then what and where are the basic causes from which these eﬀects resulted?
You may ask, `What do you mean by chance or accident?’ The answer is, `A chance event is one to which so many diﬀerent factors have contributed that no prediction or forecast could possibly be made of the consequences, so that no care or vigilance could have avoided it.’ Indeed it is doubtful if there could be a world like ours in which the possibilities for both good and ill do not exist. Consider for example the tile which got blown from a roof and damaged a child’s brain. One of the essential factors was a high wind which could be traced to temperature variations, and the physical laws which control air movement. These operate in the interests of the planet: and these `chance’ events so-called which have advantages for most of the time, may occasionally create misfortune at other times.
The more we think about it, the clearer it becomes that it is the problem of justice to the individual which is basic. If there is only one life to live, the one we know at present, and if there is no enduring soul, then no sense can be made of life. The teachings of the East, and I suggest of all the great Sages of both East and West, is that there are many lives to be lived. This is the doctrine of reincarnation which we have already talked about. Each life that we live is of a transient personality created or budded-oﬀ as it were, by the soul. The experience and wisdom gathered through it is withdrawn into the permanent enduring entity, the soul.
When a soul reincarnates it enters upon the new life with a little greater experience than hitherto, and its stored wisdom is available to the new personality as what we call `intuition’. The question whether life is just to the individual must be referred to the soul and not to the individualised, transient personality. As I suggested in the last chapter, if we walked across a theatre and saw something happening on the stage, but walked out of the opposite door, we should have no adequate grounds for making a judgement on the play through that glimpse. We should need to know what had preceded it and what would follow after. So it is with human life.
We must now consider more carefully the meaning of karma, which is always taught alongside the idea of reincarnation. It is in fact karma, as the law of cause and eﬀect, which links our many lives together in a rational way. All that we have set going through our thoughts, words and deeds, has aﬀected both ourselves and others. That which we have been responsible for creating we must answer for, sometime, somewhere. The law of karma will require us to meet these consequences, perhaps in the same life, perhaps in a future life. If there are debts, we must repay them; if there are dues, we must receive them. According to this law, no one gets away with anything. This law has been expressed in diﬀerent forms. St Paul wrote, `Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ Jesus said, `Judge not, that ye be not judged: for with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’
With the twin laws of reincarnation and karma to guide us, we can begin to look at life from a truer and higher standpoint. Each successive birth and life is in circumstances created by the karma of our past lives. What superﬁcially might be described as unfair or unjust is the result of our own creation. The karma we have set in motion is stored up on a high level of the mind, and this becomes the network linking diﬀerent lives. When the time is ripe, the seeds of some of this past karma are allowed to fall into manifestation, and we are presented with opportunities to discharge our past debts, or set right things where we went astray before.
We should remember also that good as well as ill, returns to us. Indeed, all that we may regard as the givenness of life: place and time of birth, our parents and friends and enemies, our health, our abilities, our opportunities, our interests, virtually, all that comes to us without our choice or eﬀort is karmic. It is part of the great Pattern which we have ourselves been weaving so long as Time has been. All souls have in themselves an inherent knowledge about the conditions of life, although this knowledge seldom rises up to the consciousness of the ego. Buried perhaps beneath a lot of debris, the one hidden yearning of all souls is to return to their Creator, to the country of their origin.
Each time the soul undertakes incarnation it has a general preview of the conditions upon which it is entering and hopes that the life lived will result in some positive steps towards the goal. Whether it does so or not will depend largely upon the ego’s reaction to the situations. The great majority of souls are only beginning to awaken, and they are virtually prisoners of the ego which rules the personality.
A Lebanese sage wrote about karma in these terms:
“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. 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 …
“Accept a misfortune as though it were a fortune. For a misfortune, once understood is soon transformed into a fortune; while a fortune misconstrued quickly becomes a misfortune. There are no accidents in Time and Space, but all things are ordered by the Omni-Will.”
I have heard the doctrine of karma criticised as being fatalistic. I take it that a fatalistic attitude is one in which a man says, `It is my fate: I can do nothing about it.’ Surely this is a misrepresentation of karma, for it teaches that we ourselves, in conjunction with others, have created our own karma. Moreover, by meeting it in the right spirit, we can cancel the debt and need face it no more. Also it teaches that we create the future by our present attitudes.
The same misrepresentation of karma could lead a man to suppose that he is not his brother’s keeper; that compassion and the helping hand extended to a brother are a waste of time. That every misfortune is `his karma’. This is a complete travesty of the doctrine, for none of us live in isolation, and our links with others are part of our karmic pattern.
There is a story told of two men, who were both good swimmers, walking along the side of a river when a poor wretch, who could not swim, fell in and looked like drowning. One of the men proceeded quickly to throw oﬀ his coat and shoes preparatory to jumping in to help him. The other said however, `Let him alone, it is his karma’. This was a foolish remark. It was the man’s karma to fall into the river at a time when there were two good swimmers on the riverbank to help him. Furthermore, it might have been his karma to simply get his suit wet, rather than to be drowned!
Who are we to judge any situation? To say to a poor cripple `Thus have you earned’ would be a most presumptuous judgement. His karma will certainly have been linked with others and we do not know those links. Furthermore some great souls may choose to incarnate into conditions of hardship, handicap, and suﬀering, in order to help more eﬀectively other souls they love. Furthermore the law of karma, while utterly just, is not mechanically rigid. Always something new is capable of entering in, whether it is our diﬀerent reaction, the choices of others, or the descent of grace from higher beings as a result of prayer, etc. We are all rich with treasure we have not earned, but which others have earned for us. This is, of course, the happy side of karma, which we welcome!
To those who ﬁnd the ideas of karma and reincarnation diﬃcult to grasp I think it is helpful to read some book such as Gina Cerminara’s Many Mansions. When Edgar Cayce was alive many people consulted him about their health, or peculiar problems, or life-situation. He had the remarkable faculty of reading some of the past lives of the patient often showing the root cause, perhaps set going many centuries ago, of the present diﬃculties and problems. The book mentioned gives an account of many of these cases.
Another book which I found stimulating is H. K. Challoner’s book The Wheel of Rebirth. Out of a long series of lives recovered by various methods and described in the book, there is an account of seven lives covering a period of some thousands of years, and lived in Atlantis, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Germany, Italy and England. The thread of karma is traced through them all and a particularly valuable aspect of this book is the comment made by a teacher, who is an advanced soul, showing how each of these lives followed karmically from the preceding one in which a right or wrong reaction had been made to the life-situation.
Another book well worth reading is called Initiation by Elizabeth Haitch — and there are others. Most persons who have been serious students of the evidence will have studied Dr Ian Stevenson’s book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation which was published many years ago by the American Society for Psychical Research. This book, together with the work he has done since then, present a very strong case to which he draws the attention of Western people, of the majority of whom it would be true to say that their minds run in religious grooves, and they seem to be satisﬁed with conditioned thinking within a limited enclosure. Should we not be as keen to know what the great sages, saints and illuminated ones of Asia have taught about the great issues of life, as well as appreciating the teachings of those who have drawn their inspiration exclusively from the Judaeo-Christian sources?
For my own part, and I speak very humbly, but as one who has tried to survey the whole ﬁeld, I am quite satisﬁed that reincarnation and karma are great key-truths to be reckoned with. Their truth illumines human life, death and destiny, and without these keys it seems to me there can be no comprehensive and satisfactory philosophy of human life.
I am quite aware that the popular attitude to the issue of reincarnation is expressed by the question, `Have I lived on earth before’? This is immediately followed by the further question `If so, who was I, and when and where did this take place’? This popular attitude towards karma treats the subject as a sort of celestial bank account whose healthy or unhealthy state reﬂects the moral credits or debits we have incurred in our past-lives. An approach which is not unreasonable, but it is elementary and immature, for it is placing the emphasis on the succession of transient personalities rather than viewing them all as fragments of a long process in time that is concerned only with the unfolding and maturing of the soul.
Every great master who guides his pupils along the upward spiritual path will remind them from time to time that he is not on earth to pamper their personalities, but in the interests of their immortal souls which are precious to the Father, and which He wants to lead Home.
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published September 2012
Size: 229 x 152 mm