Making sense of the events of our lives and the world around us is often impossible to do. Why do certain things happen? Why do some people get sick and die and others live; why do some survive accidents while others suffer life-changing injuries? There appears to be no logical explanation to such questions; there is, however, a general recognition that a connection exists, however vaguely understood, between behaviour (including thoughts words actions) – individual or collective, and events; an acceptance of the biblical teaching that, “Whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6, v.7, New Testament). If someone is cruel, dishonest and selfish, for example, there is a belief that he/she will suffer the negative consequences, although this does not always seem to happen within the life span of that person, which adds to the confusion.
According to the Ageless Wisdom teachings and Eastern Philosophy more broadly, two basic laws underlie the cyclical manifestation of life. The Law of Rebirth and the Law of Cause and Effect or the Law of Karma, described by writer and artist Benjamin Creme as “the fundamental law, the basic law of life”.
While recognizing that there is, or may be a relationship between cause and effect, and acknowledging (to a degree) that our thoughts, words and actions, have consequences (an acknowledgement easily polluted through self-deceit and manipulation), for the most part humanity is largely ignorant of these two interactive laws, and certainly doesn’t acknowledge that the Law of Karma is the “basic law of life”. But, as we move into a new time and humanity has the opportunity to play a conscious, cooperative role in the implementation of the Plan of Evolution, and work in partnership with Those who know and administer the plan, these divine laws will need to become better understood.
The Law of Karma could be described as the inevitable working out of a certain cause or series of impelling forces; causes, which in turn trigger a further round of effects, until that particular ‘Karmic flow’ is stilled, or resolved. This Current of Consequences we might picture as a chain of complex interwoven patterns or threads, each moving towards resolution. Separate but existing within the broader karmic paradigm, whether that pertains to the individual, the group or that broader collective which is humanity.
In Esoteric Healing, by Alice A Bailey, who was the amanuensis for the Master DK for thirty years, it says, “everything that is happening in the world today and which is so potently affecting humanity…are aspects of effects, initiated somewhere on some level at some time, by human beings, both individually and en masse…karma is therefore that which man [mankind]…has instituted, carried forward endorsed, omitted to do, or has done right, through the ages until the present time.” (p. 262) The expression of karma is, we might say, the action and eventual resolution of certain patterns of energy, initiated at some point in time, in the recent or more distant past, effects that are enacted to ultimately bring about our liberation.
Benjamin Creme explained (2010, talk in New York) that, “As we think, moment to moment, and as we act, moment to moment, we set in motion causes, the effects stemming from these causes make up our lives, for good or for ill, both individually, socially and globally.” Therefore, he goes on to say, “Whatever we think [and say and do] has to be harmless.” Harmlessness though, is not simply being “nice”, whatever we take that to mean; harmlessness can only exist where there is detachment, freedom from motive, freedom from selfishness and freedom from dogma.
To create harmless relations between individuals and groups, cooperation is needed, understanding of another’s viewpoint and tolerance of difference(s). Such qualities are scarce (but growing), and, while people are full of “good intentions”, attachment to cherished ideals and firmly held positions strengthens notions of separation, contaminates relationships and tramples on harmlessness. Karmic waves of entrapment are the result. For whatever else karma does, it holds the person within its time-bound current.
Thoughts and actions rooted in separation cause conflict and invite karma; separation from ourselves, from one another, from the natural environment, and from That which we call God. Referred to as ‘The Great Illusion’, separation is an illusion rooted in the powerful identification of ourselves with the body (including emotions and thoughts); in truth there is only One, and we are That – the changeless ground upon which all transient time bound happenings, thoughts, feelings, experiences, pass. Thus we all share in and are responsible for collective or group karma; by the same token as we free ourselves, through service, meditation and detachment, we lighten the shared load and contribute to the freedom of humanity as a whole.
In The Light on the Path (an ancient text translated by the Venetian Master and dictated to the Theosophist, Mabel Collins by the Master Hilarion), rule number 5 says: Kill out all sense of separateness. The Master Hilarion then adds the following illuminating note. “Do not fancy you can stand aside from the bad man or the foolish man. They are yourself, though in a less degree than your friend or your Master. But if you allow the idea of separateness from any evil thing or person to grow up within you, by so doing you create karma which will bind you to that thing or person till your soul recognizes that it cannot be isolated. Remember that the sin and shame of the world are your sin and shame; for you are a part of it; your karma is inextricably interwoven with the great Karma.”
Karma and Free Will
In A Treatise on Cosmic Fire (Alice A. Bailey) the Master DK tells us that: “the law of karma is the most stupendous law of the system.” (p. 798). It is, He says, based on causes inherent in matter itself and on the “interaction between the atomic units”, whether that be “an atom of substance, a human being, a planetary atom, or a solar atom.”
Given this complex series of causal patterns, the question of free will arises. Do we as individuals have control over “our” lives, or are we simply the victim of certain karmic inevitabilities? Certainly in relation to death, DK in Discipleship in the New Age, volume II (DINA2), makes clear that “the time of your liberation is set by karmic law; this ever determines the demise of the real man within the body,” (p. 697) although, He continues, “if the physical body is unduly nurtured, and if it becomes the recipient of undue care, it can hold that real man in prison in defiance of karmic law.”
The great Indian sage Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi suggests that the free will of the individual is extremely limited. In 1896, aged 17, Ramana Maharshi (known then as Venkataraman) left his home in Madurai, and travelled the 350 km to Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu by train. Two years later, in December 1898, his mother tracked Him down to a cave on the sacred hill, Arunachala. At the time Bhagavan was not speaking, but in response to her anguished pleas he wrote a brief and illuminating note: “In accordance with the prarabdha [destiny] of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain.”
Discussing karmic certainties, the Master DK in A Treatise on Cosmic Fire says that despite the impact of a range of karmic forces, “within limits, man definitely does ‘control his destiny’, and can initiate action which produces effects recognizable by him as being dependent upon his activity along a particular line” (p. 807). These “limits” however are significant, as Bhagavan illustrated, and vary depending upon the evolution in consciousness of the individual.
The more “advanced”, the greater the “control”. Advanced” meaning the more in-tune with purpose, the more fully aligned with will, with the Plan – with the intention of the soul. The less evolved, that is the stronger the hold of the personality, with its selfish desires and fear-induced attachments, the greater the “limits”. DK makes this clear when he outlines the three “divisions” that karmic law manifests through in a “man’s own life”.
In the early stages (of development) “the centre of attention is the physical body…. during the second stage…. karmic influence turns its attention to the working out of desire and its transmutation into the higher aspiration.” And in the third stage, karma functions through the mental nature. “This is the shortest stage but is also the most powerful.” He goes on to say that, “when the will and purpose of the Ego [soul] is realized by man in his waking consciousness in the physical brain, then the law of karma in the three worlds is becoming neutralized, and man is on the verge of liberation.”
The key, then, to freeing oneself, or “neutralizing” karma is for the personality construct to be negated, to die. Then the soul, which is a direct reflection of that timeless Self which we are, can be fully expressed. Benjamin Creme repeatedly made clear, that the symbiotic means by which contact and eventual at-one-ment with the soul is established, is through meditation and service.
The Master DK in DINA2 adds a third tool for union, stating that gratitude (which He relates is greatly valued by the Masters), “is the hallmark of an enlightened soul and the basic releasing agent [from karma] from an occult and scientific angle” (p. 676). Why this is so is not explained, it is perhaps related to humility, the quelling of desire and the negation of the sense of doership. Consistent selfless service and right meditation draw in soul energy, quieten and subdue the personality self and enable karmic “neutralization” as DK calls it, to take place’ add in gratitude and a powerful trinity of release is created.
Within the silence of the Eternal
At the end of The Light on the Path there is a sublime essay on karma, written by the Venetian Master. In this poetic piece He draws an image of the individual life as a densely braided length of rope and says that, “What is necessary first to understand is, not that the future is arbitrarily formed by any separate [karmic] acts of the present, but that the whole of the future is in unbroken continuity with the present, as the present is with the past.”
This illustration reveals how disharmonious, harmful, actions – thoughts, words, deeds – occurring in the so-called “past” impact on the present and colour the future. It also shows how, seeing the whole movement of time as it in fact is, within the Eternal Now, Maitreya is able to make forecasts of world events, as he did starting in 1988 and continuing until 1993. It is “neither in the present nor the future”, where the aspiring disciple is advised to anchor him or herself, but within the silence of ‘the Eternal’. A timeless state of being beyond the reach of karma.
The Law of karma cannot, the Master DK explains, be understood by average man/woman, and as He Himself says somewhere in His writings, “who of us is not average”. The Venetian Master echoes this point, saying, “the operations of the actual laws of karma are not to be studied until the disciple has reached the point at which they no longer affect himself,” i.e. when he is free totally. At such a point, “he has become a recognised portion of the divine element and is no longer affected by that which is temporary”, and karma is temporary, relating to and operating within the confines of time. “He then obtains the knowledge of the laws which govern temporary conditions.”
The Master closes by saying, “Therefore you who desire to understand the laws of karma, attempt first to free yourself from these laws; and this can only be done by fixing your attention on that which is unaffected by these laws.” That which is “unaffected by these laws” is the Soul, and, beyond even this divine intermediary, the Self; That which Maitreya (and other great teachers) affirms we are: “the Self alone matters” He says, you are that Self, “an immortal being.”
We may not be able to understand the mechanism of divine justice inherent in the movement of karma, but what we can do is to take total responsibility for our lives; seek to live in a detached, harmless way, to meditate and consistently serve, and thereby make every effort to constantly align oneself with the soul. Of course this is not easy; the demands of life are many and great, personality resistance is strong. Earnestness is key, intent and sustained effort. In A Treatise on White Magic, DK states that, “Intention and effort are considered by Us of prime importance, and are the two main prerequisites for all disciples, initiates and masters, plus the power of persistence, ” (p54). The more successfully and consistently these qualities are built into the life, the stronger the relationship with the soul will be, allowing the work of ‘neutralisation’, as the Master DK describes it, to take place.