We presently recognize two kinds of law. There is (1) civil/criminal law, an attempt to legislate fairness, to regulate our commercial and social interactions, to ensure social justice, to reduce our own unconscious anxiety by attempting to control others; and (2) natural law, laws of nature, statements of regularities, invariable sequences, inferred from or seen in the physical world, recorded by scientists (and other observers), thought to be descriptive of the behaviour of fundamental physical particles and fields and their aggregates, independent of any moral order. Such fairness and justice that we enjoy appears, to many of us, to be a bit of a lottery, human conventions, man made, tribal. Yet we notice vast and unacceptable injustices which seem beyond appropriate and timely redress or remedy.
Mystical observers have steadily, consistently reported (over a time span that is at least one order of magnitude greater than the historical duration of what we presently refer to as "Science") the existence of an order of a third kind, a significant lawlike regularity which operates in non-physical realms of thought and intention, regions as orderly as the physical, which has observable consequences in the near-physical and physical worlds.
They claim that by its functioning, and our actions, we determine the conditions of our lives. As neither the existence of this law nor associated techniques of modification and relief appear to be well known or widely acknowledged as a proper subject for sober research, it may serve a useful purpose here to set out a portion of the material readily available in mystical literature*1,2,3, but still little known.
Without some understanding of the effects of karma it is difficult to go beyond a minimal comprehension of why nature (reality), as displayed in the physical world, is displayed in its present form, nor is it as easy to comprehend epidemics of crime and disease, cycles of accidents, periods of success and failure and suffering, the courses of our own lives, the gradual decay or the sudden end of an individual, an enterprise, an institution or a civilization.
Many different terms used by mystics over the centuries to point with precision to karmic phenomena have entered popular usage, though rarely with the full force of original signification intact. Although no longer applied with an understanding of their origin or their original technical meaning, they retain some sense of their ancestry. Karma, (presumed from the Sanskrit "kri", to do), can be taken to mean the results of action. Whether one speaks of Dependent Origination or the Law of Compensation or Nemesis or Destiny or Fate or Fortune or Retribution or Karma or the Good Law, or Providence, the labels properly refer both to an accumulation of effects brought about by multiple causes set in motion through our unresolved mutually interdependent attitudes and actions in the past, and new causes initiated in the present that will result in future effects. This is not usefully described as a moral law, (though all our moral legislation might be seen as semi-conscious attempts to model it.)
According to the reports we presently have, It appears to be a law of energy, a description of the way mental energy behaves. This may explain the common use of financial metaphors (karmic overdraft, pay ones karmic debt, etc) in the mystical literature, as they provide readily understood and familiar terminology for describing consequences associated with energy flow, storage and ownership. As thought energy may have non-obvious effects a biological metaphor (seed, sprout, root, plant, blossom, fruit, harvest) is also in common use. (As there is a time to plant, according to the seasons, so there may be a time to act, in harmony with various karmic cycles.)
The law itself appears, to the observers of its consequences, to be neutral and impersonal. It functions by returning to us, in some educational form, the consequences (meaning) of our actions. In thinking and acting we supply the lesson materials with which we can be taught, or teach ourselves. The environment, social surroundings, outward circumstances, suitable occasions, unavoidable difficulties and special events of our life and our ability to perceive and to respond are equitably conditioned products of our behaviour. Cataclysms of nature are not excluded from the lessons, though it is yet to become clear to conventional science just what kind of causal chain could link human thoughts, public and private, to earthquakes, hurricanes or drought.
All thought, desire and action alter in some measure the state of the universe, most obviously by altering the state of the consciousness of the observer. The lightest thought or slightest act have some inevitable consequences. This may include an apparent short term reduction in justice and harmony. The word karma refers to the consequences of a hidden process of re-adjustment which ensures (mystics assert) an inevitable return to a state of fairness. Very often the karmic result is not felt immediately. The operation of this law, which appears to mystical observers to be ceaseless, may yield a result at once or may yield a delayed result in accordance with factors not at all well understood. As the consequences may return long after an action was initiated, and in an unexpected form, it isn't difficult to account for the widespread lack of recognition of karmic results.
A return to a fair state does not always occur within the limits of one lifetime. Repeated lives seem to be required, given the present level of development of humanity. Cycles of reincarnation provide a necessary extension in time for the exhaustion of karmic force through a series of rebirths in a physical body. Fairness is re-established. There is a gradual development of our power, knowledge and skill in action, and, after many lessons, the flowering of wisdom.
Important to an understanding of karma, it is claimed, are distinctions between aspiration, thought, desire and action. Action alters our environment. Desire binds us to desired objects. Thought affects our character. Aspiration yields ability (faculty). Each of us is born with various talents, the fruit of past aspiration and effort, with a character, the fruit of past thoughts, in an environment, the fruit of past actions, and into a family, the fruit of karmic ties.
There is no such thing as luck, if this word is taken to mean undeserved fortune. Life is not a lottery. Behind every piece of good or bad fortune lie the causes (directed energy) that we have consciously or unconsciously supplied, perhaps recently or in a previous life. By selfish actions out of ignorance (whether wrong-belief or no-belief ignorance), we bind ourselves to limiting conditions. In order to find a state of understanding, happiness and peace we must cease the flow of binding energy. While it is true that our accumulated karma limits our choices, we always retain a margin of freewill. By successive choices and efforts, or lack of effort, we determine the future limits to our freedom of perception, movement and achievement. We may be temporarily constrained, but we have done this, albeit unconsciously, to ourselves, and we can, in due course, set ourselves free. Luck is the fruit of antecedent activity. Karma, discharged, melts gracefully away.
We normally live in, and are more or less conscious of, three interpenetrating worlds (realms, levels) - physical, emotional and mental - in vehicles (bodies) appropriate to each world. We generate and apply energy as we act in each world. These energies in due course bring a corresponding result on their respective levels, according to the local (level specific) laws. Every one of us can generate and most of us are constantly generating three or four types of force, which determine not only our mode of life now, with its successes or failures, and the state of consciousness after death, but also our environment and relationships with others in succeeding incarnations. Physical acts alter our present and future physical environment; desires create or break family and social links with other individuals; simple thoughts result in mental habits, within whose limitations we work to obtain such happiness as we can from our circumstances. Aspiration and effort in due course yield powers.
An action is an expression of, is set in motion by, a thought. As we think so we are likely to eventually act. If our physical acts bring happiness to others, we will find ourselves sooner or later in a fortunate physical environment, with an increased opportunity for spreading happiness and good will. If, by actions or by neglect, we cause pain to others, we will find ourselves eventually in less fortunate, but perhaps more educational, surroundings.
The thoughts (mental images) of most people at the present stage of evolution are primarily associated with interpersonal desire, and consequently bring the thinkers of them into contact with other persons. The pursuit of a desired object stimulates and aids our development. Nature responds to desire by affording opportunity. If we wish to have future opportunities in any particular line of endeavour, we should cultivate the relevant desire and act on it as soon as possible. One can have no desire for that which one does not anticipate.
The wisdom of a desire may be judged by experiencing the results of its gratification. After experiencing the consequences of some desires, one may choose to abandon them. Fed by thought, desires cannot die. Starved, they cannot live. Finally one learns, though this can take many lifetimes, to abandon desire itself, the root of all karma. (Desire for the fruit of action binds; abandon attachment to the fruit of action.*4,5, Through the circumstances provided by wise desires, the soul gains expansion and illumination. For the final cessation of suffering, all desire must be abandoned -- so mystics claim.
The third "order" under consideration here is that of thought, the ancestor of every action. Every thought (mental image) that we give off persists as an active force, surviving in proportion to its initial intensity and to the energy subsequently supplied to it by the repetition (refuelling) of the thought either by the originator or by others. Thinking brings about the development of the mental body (vehicle). Careful and sustained thinking results in a mental body increasingly articulated and powerful. Many if not most of our mental images hover around us, and act to severely restrict our ability to perceive the world without distortion and bias. This has been referred to as the problem of the "thicket of views".
Given an understanding of their operation we can put to use such civil and natural laws as have come to our attention. We can similarly bypass the inevitability of those karmic consequences which are not already upon us by suitably changed attitudes and appropriately timed intervention, setting in motion causes that will cancel undesirable effects. Harmful acts do not inevitably lead to suffering as there is a delay before the consequences of an act return to us during which time one has an opportunity to take corrective steps.
When we are unavoidably faced with a piece of difficult karma, we may seek to meet it constructively, remembering that any circumstance can be regarded with gratitude as an opportunity to grow (and serve) beyond our customary limitations. Courage and serenity in meeting misfortune, and a persistent effort to eradicate all feeling of ill will and resentment towards those who seem to be responsible for our unhappiness, will do much to mitigate both present and future karmic effects. Responding with an active good will to others can also be recommended. "All help which is given comes back to the giver."*6,
Seemingly dormant, the karmic seed eventually sprouts, matures and a harvest is reaped. In the fertile soil of our physical, emotional and mental natures, we plant the seeds of our futures. We carry with us the rich harvest of many past sowings.
"You who desire to understand the laws of karma,
attempt first to free yourselves from these laws;
This can only be done by fixing your attention on
that which is unaffected by these laws."*7,
"Each man is his own absolute lawgiver,
the dispenser of glory or gloom to himself,
the decreer of his life, his reward, his punishment."*8,
"Desire to sow no seed for your own harvesting;
desire only to sow that seed
the fruit of which shall feed the world."*9,
"If a harvest appears poor and unfruitful,
it can be improved by planting better seed.
We are never without the opportunity to plant
the seeds of love, of kindness, of beauty,
that there may be a harvest of tolerance, faith and loveliness."
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