Defining karma, fate, and destiny
In karma we find a key to many puzzles of contemporary history. It is a doctrine which warns us that we have prepared the cocoon of our present lot largely by the thoughts and deeds spun out of ourselves during bygone earth-lives and the present re-embodiment. Now the doctrine is as applicable to the history of whole peoples as to the history of single individuals. Its corollary is that our characters and minds are in travail through the ages; some are old with the rich experience of a hoary past but most are young, unwise, and ungoverned. Its lesson is that the changing tides of public fate and private fortune are not meaningless. On the contrary, they invite our philosophical consideration so that we may understand how neglected duties or positive wrong-doing are the hidden root of our troubles. Those who understand the principle of karma aright, who do not misunderstand it as being an external independent fate but see it as a force originally set in motion by our actions, understand also the significant part played by suffering in the lives of men. It is educative rather than retributive. Merited punishment is really a crude form of education. Thoughtful men learn lessons from their sorrows and resolve not to commit the same sin or the same error a second time.
The unexpected events which happen to us apparently without cause or connection in our conduct constitute fate. The tendencies by whose influences and the circumstances by whose compulsion we act the way we do, constitute necessity. The results of those actions constitute Karma (recompense).
What a higher power has decreed must come to pass. But what a man has made for himself he can modify or unmake. The first is fate, the second destiny. The one comes from outside his personal ego, the other from his own faults. The evolutionary will of his soul is part of the nature of things but the consequences of his own actions remain, however slightly, within his own control.
Karma's will could not prevail in one special part of our life and not in any other parts, nor in one special event of our life and not in the others. It could not be here but not there, in the past but not now. Nor, going even farther still, could it confine itself only to major items and not to minor ones. It must be ever present or never present at all. If it puts more destiny into the happenings we experience than lets the Westerner feel comfortable, we must remember that other facet of truth, the creative and godlike intelligence in our deeper humanity and the measure of freedom which accompanies it.
Whereas fate (in the original and Greek sense of the word) is decreed by whatever Powers there be, karma is the result of our own doing.
The correct meaning of the word "karma" is willed action through body, speech, and mind. It does not include the results of this action, especially those which produce or influence rebirth. Such inclusion has come into popular concepts, but shows a loose use of the term. Karma is cause set going by the will, not effect at all. The phrase "Law of Recompense" is therefore not satisfactory and a better one is needed.
In the universal drama every man is playing the role required of him. Neither the drama nor the role depends upon his personal choice. The very circumstances which instigate his decisions or prompt his actions are written into the script in advance. Even the attempt to change his part or the refusal to continue in it is also in it.
No one will deny that the past is now absolutely fixed and completely unalterable.
All the karmic tendencies are not present in consciousness at the same time; some have yet to pass from the potential to the kinetic condition.
If we could really know what was going to happen to us, it would certainly be important to us. But who really knows? The future is in God's hands.
Every creature comes to earth with a certain potential of life-force which, ordinarily, must exhaust itself before it leaves.
The same destiny which brings two persons together, also parts them.
Since in the end the entire universe is destined to turn to ashes, what future is there for the human species?
The workings of the law of recompense are carried out by a means as beyond human comprehension as are most of the other workings of the World-Mind behind it. They are not thought out step by step but appear suddenly by a single magical stroke just as the result of a problem presented to an electronic calculator suddenly appears on its dial.
The law of recompense may possibly be better named the law of reflection. This is because every act is reflected back to its doer, every thought is reflected back to its source, as if by a vast cosmic mirror. Perhaps the idea of recompense carries too strong a moral implication and hence too limited a meaning to be the correct equivalent for the word "karma."
A doctrine which has the power to deter men from wickedness or to stimulate them to virtue, not by fear of punishment or hope of reward but by convincing them that the Good is to be followed for its own sake, is valuable both to society and the individual.
It is not that some mysterious superphysical angel, deva, or god intervenes personally and manipulates karma as a puppet performer pulls the wires of his suspended figures, but that karma is part of the equilibrium of the universe, bringing a come-back, recording a pressure, allowing each reaction to come about by its own momentum.
If life is a drama put on the stage of this planet for us (and others) to play in, then karma is the audience, the witness of it all.
Quite logically it is taught that some sort of a balance is struck between the two kinds of a person's karma, so that the bad may be mitigated or even outdone, but equally the good may be reduced or even offset.
Events happening to us are not necessarily karmic in the sense that we earned them. They can also have a non-karmic source. No physical doing on our part brought them on, but they are what we need at that point for character or capacity, development or correction. Both kinds are fated. In that sense they are God's will.
Human instruments are used to cause suffering to others and they do cause it out of human viciousness. Both statements are correct. They are complementary, not contradictory as we may think. Destiny naturally looks around for a vicious person when she wants to do harm, or a foolish one who can be led emotionally by the nose for a time, or an impulsive one who may do in a moment what he regrets for years. She will not waste time looking for ultra-wise and ultra-good people when she wants to do harm.
The destiny of man is whatever happens to him, be it self-earned or ordained by a higher power. The fate of a man is the special kind of destiny which is so ordained and hence beyond his control.
The victory of the spiritual nature in man is foreordained and unavoidable, but the hour of that victory no man knoweth.
If he could see his present path and goal more clearly, he could foresee his future ones more correctly.
Man's destiny always exists potentially and only waits the propitious moment when it may rightly reveal itself.
Destiny follows tendency. What we are makes us go in a certain direction. Philosophy sees the end from the beginning.
This tenet is not offered as consolation to the afflicted; indeed it would be a poor panacea for them. It is offered because we see no other that appears to possess its truth, harsh though that be.
Ouspensky's theory of eternal recurrence is both true and false. We repeat ourselves and our circumstances but always on a different level. It is a spiral not a circle. An event or a period in life corresponds to a previous one but is not identical with it. The future is analogous with the past but does not duplicate it. The spiral does not bring you back identically the same self or the same work: it brings you to what corresponds to it on a different level.
There is an inescapable balance between our principal thoughts and deeds and our principal life experiences. And this balance shows itself where it is least expected--in the moral sphere. Our wrong-doing produces sorrows, not only for others but principally for ourselves. Our good action produces a rebound of good fortune. We may not escape from the operation of this subtle law of moral responsibility. Causation is the top of a wheel whose bottom is consequence. This is just as true collectively as individually. When, for instance, a nation comes to believe that the conception of right and wrong is a false one, it marks itself down for destruction. We have seen this in our time in the case of the German nation. The moral law is not a figment of man's imagination. It is a divinely established reality.
It would be an error to separate karma from the universal power and to treat it as an independent power. This error accounts for the difficulty in understanding its role in bringing the cosmos into manifestations. Treat karma rather as an aspect of God and as inseparable from God, or as one of the ways in which God's presence manifests itself.
Karma, being made by human will, is subject to human modification. Fate, being decreed by the higher power, is not. The general fact of death is an example of fate, and in this sense the poet James Shirley's line: "There is no armour against Fate," is true. But the particular fact of death, its time and manner, may be alterable.
If it be true that the course of life is predetermined, this does not necessarily mean that it is arbitrarily predetermined. No--the good and bad qualities of your character, the development or lack of development of your capacities, and the decisions made in passing or by reason are the real determinants of your life. There is an inescapable equation between conduct and consequence, between thought and environment, between character and destiny. And this is karma, the law of creative equivalence.
It is because this tenet has been so often ill-understood that it has taken extravagant or erroneous forms and consequently ridicule has been cast upon it.
In philosophical tradition, the sword has been the symbol of God's Law of Recompense and Justice.
The law of consequences is not primarily an ethical law: more properly it may be said to have an ethical side.
Destiny is not working blindly and unintelligently, arbitrarily and antagonistically against us as most of us are likely to believe when enduring through a cycle of unfavourable karma. On the contrary, it is Absolute Wisdom itself in operation.
The processes of imagining are endless and incessant. It is inherent in mind that one idea should give rise to another because of the dynamic character of mind itself. Karma is the law that links the two.
The experience of hearing inner music is an interesting and significant happening. It is rare when it happens upon meeting, being more apt to occur at parting--usually with someone who is very dear, whom Destiny has decreed cannot stay with us.
Things act according to their nature. The World Idea records these actions in a secret way and reflects back their appropriate results. And as with things so with persons. Each of us sings a note out into the universe, and the universe answers us in the same key.
Whether he looks under a microscope at the lowest form of life or whether he looks deep within his own consciousness, this one law prevails unbrokenly.
Where misfortune seems to have visited a man through no contributory cause of his own, where he does not seem to have deserved in any way the poor cards which have been dealt out to him by destiny, he has no other alternative than to ascribe it to the deeds and thoughts of a former existence on earth, or to the necessary education of his inner nature by his higher self.
Every man is really on trial. Life itself is his judge with the working of karma, the ignorance or wisdom of his fellows, the voice of his conscience, and the capacities or incapacities of his personality.
As he looks back over all the events of his outer life, they seem like pages in a book he has been reading, already written out, with the events yet to happen being the unread pages. Or he is only a character in the book's story, seemingly acting out of his own choice but really and quite unconsciously working out the author's choice.
Buddha's statement of the karmic law, as made in the Dhammapada, is brief, lucid, firm, and confident. We are inescapably confronted with its truth as if it were a granite-hard mountain--a fact, fixed and undeniable.
The Greeks of antiquity believed in three Fates (The Moirai, or spinners): three old women, sometimes thought of as past, present, and future, or the holder of the distaff, the one who pulls the thread of destiny, and the one who cuts it. The early Romans believed in the birth-fairy who writes down the child's destiny when it is born.
Life owes you only what you have given it.
Karma is the king who rules this earth.
Life has no real purpose for its own essential self; it has just gone on and on. Man lives and lives, but the iron law of Compensation guards it, producing effects from Cause, good or bad, and adjusting the good or bad acts of man to the consequences.
The action which completes a thought is thrown back at him by Nature in the guise of karma. In this view he carries the responsibility for himself. He cannot turn it over to any human institution such as a church, or to any other human being such as a guru or saviour.
Karma is an impersonal force. It is not to be swayed by prayers as a Personal God is supposed to be.
When rendering an account of good or bad fortune, people usually forget to include the ethical values which were acquired from each experience. But when a man has attained some understanding of such matters, he will involuntarily bring the truth of personal responsibility into this light, not merely as an intellectual dogma but as a heartfelt conviction.
He has to foresee the consequences not only of an action but also of an attitude or an outlook.
He may deceive himself or others, but he cannot deceive the power of karma. Before it, he must stand responsible for his acts and receive their due effects. There is no other way he can go.
Those who will not learn from correct reflection about their experiences will have to learn from kicks delivered by the fresh karma they make.
Each birth makes fresh links in that chain of consequences which is karma.
From our study of the law of karma, we may deduce that a man must grow up, become adult, and learn to be responsible for his actions, decisions, emotions, and even thoughts. It is he who is accountable for which ideas, especially which impulses, he accepts and which he lets pass or pushes away.
Whoever ignores these higher laws and especially flouts the law of karma is opening a volcano under him.
Karma puts a certain responsibility upon every man alike--upon the philosopher no less than the primitive.
The man who imagines that he can go through life and manage his various affairs in independence of any alleged higher laws is following an illusion. Somewhere or at some time his awakening is inevitable.
A life that is not directed towards this higher goal, a mind that is entirely uninterested in becoming a participant in the Overself consciousness--these failures will silently censure a man both during his bodily tenancy and his post-mortem existence.
Men act out of self-interest; but through ignorance of the higher laws, especially that of karma, they may act against that interest.
Many groups in many lands demand justice from their governments, with varying definitions of the word. Apparently the claims are not easily satisfied for there are more today than ever before. Some individual persons go farther and demand justice from God. In a world where mischief and misfortune are so active they too seem only partly satisfied, if that. Here the notion of karma may seem fairer than governments are, but it is tied to other births in which these persons have lost interest!
It is largely their own doing which makes men suffer their own karma. But this is no reason why we should stand aside and leave them to their destiny.
Each of us carries a certain amount of responsibility for himself: none of us can justly renounce it on the plea that fate governs, directs, and arranges all things.
Let us not imagine that we are merely puppets bewitched hither and thither into pleasure and pain by an unseen showman.
If men ascribe to the overwhelming nature of fate the miserable weakness of their own inertia, they worsen their bad situation.
If men complain that life brings them its worst, they ought to pause and consider whether they have prepared themselves inwardly to receive anything better than the worst.
Too many people complain that they have been unfairly singled out by fate from others for unwarranted troubles, that they have had more misfortunes than they can bear, and that the good life they have led has availed nothing against such cosmic ill will. The fact is not that they have been specially harassed but that they have convinced themselves they have been harassed!
When we think of all the possible permutations and combinations of destiny and compare them with what actually happens, and note its relation to our inner being, condition, fault, virtue, or need, a line that is more than merely coincidental can be traced.
We are seldom fair to fate. When events do not happen in the way we would like them to, we refuse to accept the idea that it is our own fault, so we blame our harsh fate. But when they do happen favourably, we personally take the credit for bringing them about!
It is quite possible to trace the world's troubles to any cause--from eating certain food to the presence of certain people--which human fancy picks upon. For there is nothing which is not in some way and however remotely connected with some other thing. All that is needed is some imaginative faculty and some logical facility.
Too many people are praying to be delivered from the consequences of their errors or weaknesses, too few are trying to set themselves free from the faults themselves. If the prayers of the larger group are answered, the weaknesses still remain and the same consequences are bound to recur again. If the efforts of the smaller group are successful, they will be delivered forever.
I am well aware that there are "occultists" aplenty who can furnish full and detailed descriptions of the operations of karma, who know its Alpha and Omega, who can trace its activity among men as easily as a heraldist will trace your pedigree. They have led many into their camps with their glib "knowledge," and they shall lead many more. But they are only tendering the counterfeit coin of mere opinion for the rare currency of factual knowledge.
A man need not sit all night under a peepul tree to get the revelation of this truth about the law of recompense. He can get it sitting in a professional office or walking in the marketplace, if he will watch what happens with his eyes and put two and two together with his brain.
This blaming of others for one's misfortunes or even for one's misdeeds is, for the quester, a device whereby the ego directs attention away from its own guilt and thus maintains its hold upon the heart and the mind. For the ordinary man, it is merely the emotional expression of spiritual ignorance.
Everyone has to feel and think and act and speak. But everyone does not perceive the consequences, near or remote, swift or slow, of these operations.
Whoever chooses a wrong aim or an unworthy desire must endure the consequences of his choice. In every evil act, its painful recoil lies hidden. The process is a cumulative one. Each act begets a further one in the same downward direction. Each departure from righteousness makes return more difficult.
To bemoan and bewail one's lot helplessly on the plea of inexorable fate is to pronounce oneself a slave. Whence came this fate? It was not arbitrarily forced on one. The very person who complains was its maker. He therefore can become its un-maker!
If the cause of his troubles is left unremoved, it will in time lead to new effects and simply add more misery to his existing burden. All his so-called escapes from them will be illusory, so long as this cause is still operative.
There is a spiritual penalty to pay for every intellectual misbehaviour and every moral misconduct, whether there be a worldly penalty or not. For the one, there is the failure to know truth; for the other, there is the failure to find happiness.
Man is responsible for his own acts. The belief that any Saviour can suffer for his sins or any priest remit them, is incorrect.
He may resent and resist the law, but it requires him ultimately to go forward alone.
To ascribe the results of man's negligence to the operation of God's will is blasphemy. To blame the consequences of human stupidity, inertia, and indiscipline upon divine decrees is nonsense.
Those who say they deem it unjust to be forced to accept the painful consequences of deeds somebody else has done, who consider the lack of remembrance between the two earthly incarnations sufficient excuse for their lack of belief in the doctrine of re-embodiment, utter reasonable objections.
If men knew that the law of compensation was no less operative than the law of their country, they would unquestionably become more careful.
People should be warned that cause and effect rule in the moral realm no less than in the scientific realm. They should be trained from childhood to take this principle into their calculation. They should be made to feel responsible for setting causes into action that invite suffering or attract trouble or lead to frustration.
When men come to understand that the law of compensation is not less real than the law of gravitation, they will profit immensely.
It is not only a misfortune for which he is to be pitied, when a man endures trouble of his own making, but also a fault for which he is to be blamed.
Where a man will not put himself under his own discipline, life eventually compels him to accept its sterner one. Where he will not look his defects in the face, sufferings that result from them will eventually remind him of their existence.
Sins of omission are just as important karmically as sins of commission. What we ought to have done but did not do counts also as a karma-maker.
The same man who is responsible for our mistakes is likewise responsible for our misfortunes.
If the teaching of Karma (the law of recompense) imbues men with the belief that it is not all the same whether they behave well or ill, if it arouses their sense of moral responsibility, then none can deny its practical value.
He who discovers these moral truths and reveals them to his benighted fellows is not only their educator but also their benefactor. For he saves those who heed him from much avoidable suffering.
There is a justice in human affairs which only impersonal eyes can see, only impartial minds can trace.
Once a man really takes the law of consequences to heart, he will not willingly or knowingly injure another man. And this is so primarily because he will not want to injure himself.
Modern man needs this awakening to the fact that he is responsible for his fate and must not seek to saddle it on a whimsical God or blind chance. And so far as he has brought evil upon himself he should acquiesce in the justice of it, confess his sins, retract his deeds, and reorient his conduct.
When we thoroughly imbibe this great truth, when we humbly acknowledge that all human life is under the sway of the law of consequences, we begin to make a necessity of virtue.
When considered from the long-range karmic point of view, each of us creates his own world and atmosphere. Therefore, we have no one but ourselves to thank or blame for our comfort or wretchedness. It should be remembered, too, that present correct or incorrect use of free will is right now deciding the conditions and circumstances of lives to come.
It is absurd to treat the idea of karma as if it were some outlandish Oriental fancy. It is simply the law which makes each man responsible for his own actions and which puts him into the position of having to accept the results which flow from them. We may call it the law of self-responsibility. The fact that it is allied with the theory of reincarnation does not invalidate it, for we may see it at work in our own present incarnation quite often.
The attempt to evade karma may itself be part of the karma.
Foolish actions damage a man's life and may damage other men's lives, too. Wicked actions claim him as their first victim for he will suffer morally at some time in life or death, and physically if the karma justifies it.
Since it is demonstrably true that it is the degree to which events affect your thoughts or move your feelings that they have power over you, it must also be true that to gain control over thought and feeling is to become pleasurably independent of fortune. If you let your life be managed entirely by the hazards and chances of outside happenings instead of by your own intelligence, you imperil it.
Our outward miseries are symbols and symptoms of our inner failures. For every self-created suffering and every self-accepted evil is an avoidable one. It may not depend entirely upon yourself how far events can hurt you but it does depend largely upon yourself. If you had the strength to crush your egoism by a single blow, and the insight to penetrate the screen of a long series of causes and effects, you would discover that half your external troubles derive from faults and weaknesses of internal character. Every time you manifest the lower attributes of your internal character you invite their reflection in external events. Your anger, envy, and resentment will, if strong enough and sustained enough, be followed eventually by troubles, enmities, frictions, losses, and disappointments.
Yes, if you wish to understand the first secret of fate, you should understand that its decrees are not issued by a power outside you, but by your own deepest self.
Will the West ever admit the notion of karma to its mind? I feel assured that it will do so. This is because it will have to admit the idea of rebirth which, once accepted, introduces karma as its twin.
Do they notice the sequence of cause and effect in the lives of others, as well as in their own?
His own actions will in turn lead to someone else's further actions.
It is because of this pressure of their limitations that men are driven sooner or later to seek the inner life.
Men will moan about their unhappy past, and ache because they cannot undo it; but they forget to undo the unhappy future which they are now busy making.
The weapons which wound us today were forged by our own selves yesterday.
"Know thou also that the woes of men are the work of their own hands: Miserable are they, because they see not and hear not the good that is very nigh them; and The way of escape from evil, few there be that understand it." --Pythagoras: Golden Verses
So long as men love only the ephemeral and lose themselves in it, so long will they continue to suffer from that portion of their troubles which is avoidable. This was a chief element in the Buddha's message twenty-five hundred years ago and it is still as true today.
We reject the fatalism which would preordain every happening in such a total way that there is nothing left to personal initiative, nothing more that the individual man can do about it. We accept the existence of a line of connection between actions and their ultimate effects in one's life, even if those effects are deferred to later reincarnations.
Nobody succeeds in extinguishing karma merely because he intellectually denies its existence, as the votaries of some cults do. If, however, they first faced up to their karma, dealt with it and used it for self-cultivation and self-development, and then only recognized its illusoriness from the ultimate standpoint, their attitude would be a correct one. Indeed, their attempt to deny karma prematurely shows a disposition to rebel against the divine wisdom, a short-sighted and selfish seeking of momentary convenience at the cost of permanent neglect of the duty to grow spiritually.
If we look at men in the mass, we must believe in the doctrine of fatalism. It applies to them. They are compelled by their environments, they struggle like animals to survive precisely because they are not too far removed from the animal kingdom which was the field of their previous reincarnational activity. They react like automatons under a dead weight of karma, move like puppets out of the blind universal instincts of nature. But this is not the end of the story. It is indeed only its beginning. For here and there a man emerges from the herd who is becoming an individual, creatively making himself into a fully human being. For him each day is a fresh experience, each experience is unique, each tomorrow no longer the completely inevitable and quite foreseeable inheritance of all its yesterdays. From being enslaved by animality and fatality, he is becoming free in full humanity and creativity.
The old Japanese method of cultivating rice yields larger crops on poorer soil than the old Indian method. It was introduced and publicized by the Indian Republic's Ministry of Agriculture with such favourable results that it has become unnecessary to import the annual balance required to meet the population's growing needs. It is estimated that cheaper and more plentiful rice will within a few years reduce or remove the traditional hunger of this vast country. The people have hitherto religiously interpreted their starved existence as the will of God. The episode may teach them the philosophic truth that they are here to become co-workers with God by developing their intelligence, knowledge, and abilities. By improving themselves, they are able to improve the environment. The supine fatalism saddled on them by a mistaught religion and a miscomprehended mysticism may yield at last to the correct kind of fatalism taught by their own highest philosophy.
Such an enlightened and qualified fatalism need not lead to a paralysis of the will and passivity of the brain. It emphatically does not lament that man can do nothing to change his lot for the better nor, worse, leave him without even the desire to change it. No--the submission to fate which a doctrine teaches is not less enlightened and qualified than itself. Its effect upon those who not only believe in it but also understand it, is towards the striking of a balance between humble resignation and determined resistance, towards the correct appraisal of all situations so that the truly inevitable and the personally alterable are seen for what they are. It yields to God's will but does not therefore deny the existence of man's.
Can the puniness of man pit itself against the immensity of the universe? This is the attitude behind Fatalism.
The believer in such rigid fatalism finds himself trapped; there is nothing he can do about a situation except let it take its own course. Whichever way he turns he feels that he is caught. No choice that he makes is really his; it is always an imposed one. He cannot act of his own free will.
The belief that he can do nothing to control his future is paralysing to a man. Why try to become a better person if the matter is already totally arranged, if the same result will come about whether he acts well or evilly?
Philosophy refuses to acquiesce in a wrong or foolish deed merely because it has happened. Therefore it cannot acquiesce in it even if and when the happening is asserted to be God's will.
Philosophy teaches the truth of destiny but not the half-error of fatalism.
This utter dependence on destiny, this refusal to lift arm or limb to change one's circumstances, this complete acquiescence in every miserable event that time and others may bring us--this is not fatalism, but foolishness.
The fatalist who believes his future is irrevocably fixed, loses ambition, initiative, and other valuable spurs to human effort.
The malignant spirit of fatalism cannot be exorcised by a word or by a sentence, but when religion consistently entreats men to come up higher, to live out the fullness of their being, it is certain to have a wholesome influence upon those who hear.
The materialist doctrine of "determinism" is a mixture of truth and falsity. It rightly points to the way our outer lives are determined by our outer circumstances and events. It wrongly deprives us of the freedom to react as we choose to those circumstances and events. It is quite untrue where moral choice is concerned.
That the course of our actions and decisions has been unalterably fixed for us by an external power is manifestly an exaggeration. If it were really so, it would be useless for prophets to preach their religion and for philosophers to teach their system.
When the belief in fatalism is pushed to the Oriental extreme, the believer assumes no more responsibility for his life, his misdeeds, his health, his errors, and his fortunes. All these have been decided long beforehand by a power completely outside his control; it is not for him to question the decisions or complain against the actions of this power.
No man need resign himself to utter helplessness in the face of fate. Let him try to change what seems inevitable, and his very trying may be also fated!
In other words, what is destined to happen, paradoxically comes to pass through the exercise of our free will.
The choice between right and wrong can only exist where there is freedom of will to make it. Man is neither responsible nor free, declares materialistic determinism. If he is or becomes a criminal, environment is to blame, heredity is to blame, society is to blame--but not he. Spiritual determinism, karma (recompense), does not give him so wide a license to commit crime. It asserts that he was and is in part the author of his own character, consequently of his own destiny.
How can a man hold at one and the same time a belief in the existence of destiny and a sense of personal responsibility? Philosophy reconciles the two, solves the dilemma, and makes this position quite reasonable.
Three ways of looking at the world, out of many: (1) young optimism, such as that of Christian Science, New Thought, etc., which solves problems by ignoring them or by dismissing them as imaginary; (2) individual optimism which believes that man can conquer all difficulties by supreme self-exertion of will; and (3) the fatalistic acceptance of all difficulties as unavoidable and unmodifiable.
A freedom which permits everything to man is quite deceptive. A fatalism which denies everything to him is quite depressive.
He can accept neither the arrogant Occidental attitude which believes itself to be the master of life nor the hopeless Oriental attitude which believes itself to be the victim of life. The one overvalues man's creativeness, the other undervalues it. The one believes it can banish all human ills, the other regards them as irremediable.
That the future already exists in time does not necessarily mean that we must become fatalists, that it cannot be changed, and that escape from its confinement is impossible.
That the retribution of guilt is as much a haphazard thing as the reward of goodness--this is a logical conclusion from the doctrine of materialism, as dangerous to the individual who believes it as to the society in which he lives.
The rigid fatalism which ignores the fact that what we do now is contributing towards the making of the future and which resigns itself to endure the effects of what it has made in the past--that rigid kind of fatalism which is mesmerized by those effects and makes no effort at all--has no place whatever in philosophy or in the philosophical understanding of the law of karma.
The idea that everything is already preordained and that nothing we can do will alter the destiny is accepted with a melancholy finality by millions of Orientals, but resisted by millions of Occidentals.
There is a large and decided factor between the original meaning of karma and that which has come to be assigned to it through the efflux of time. Once I rented a house in India and had to take the gardener into my employ with it. After a few days he asked my secretary to approach me to give him an increase in wages. As his former pay was by Western standards pitiably small, I instantly agreed to grant an increase. But as a student of human nature I took the opportunity to send for him and pretend that it could not be granted. He blandly raised his eyes to the sky and muttered: "It is your karma to sit comfortably inside the house but mine to toil fatiguingly outside it in the grounds. If the Lord had willed that you should give me an increase in wages you would surely have done so. As it is, my karma is bad and yours is good. There is nothing to be done but to accept it." He went back to his work, scraping the ground with a shaped piece of wood as his ancestors had scraped it two thousand years earlier. I saw that piece of wood as a symbol of inertia and unprogressiveness which the misunderstanding of karma had stamped upon his character. For whereas karma has come to mean that a man's life is predestined and patterned for him all the way from conception before birth to cremation after death, its original meaning was simply that a man could not escape from the consequences of his habitual thoughts and acts. It meant that success or failure in life lay largely in his own hands, that satisfaction or sorrow followed inevitably upon the heels of virtue or wrong-doing.
There is certainly a distinction to be drawn between determinism and fate. Those who have never been determinists, in the materialistic sense of the word, showed intuitive powers even in the earlier stages of the Quest of Truth.
If by determinism it is meant that something outside of oneself is the cause that determines one's actions, this can be only partly true. For the thought and energy behind them must come out of oneself.
Karma's role in human development
That which compels us to act in a certain way is in part the pressure of environment and in part the suggestion of our own past. Sometimes one is stronger, sometimes the other is stronger. But the root of the whole problem lies in our mind. Its proper cultivation frees us largely from both compulsions.
If you want to change your karma, begin by changing your attitude: first, toward outer events, people, things; second toward yourself.
The centuries-old debate between those who believe that all happenings are predetermined and those who believe they are the mere play of chance, can be resolved only by understanding that both predetermination and chance take their rise out of the divine Void.
When he fails to admit this first blunder, the way is opened for more blunders linked with it and possibly, emerging as a larger consequence of it.
His efforts to modify the effects of evil karma (recompense) must, where he can possibly trace any of them to causes set going in the present life, include remorse for wrongs done to others, as well as for harm done to himself. If the feeling of remorse does not come naturally at first, it may do so after several endeavours to reconsider his wrong actions from an impersonal standpoint. Constant reflection upon the major sins and errors of his past in the right way, setting the picture of his actual behaviour against the picture of how he ought to have behaved, may in time generate a deep sense of sorrow and regret, whose intensity will help to purge his character and improve his conduct. If, by such frequent and impartial retrospection, the lessons of past misbehaviour have been thoroughly learnt, there is the further likelihood that the Overself's grace may wipe out the record of evil karma waiting to be suffered, or at least modify it.
What he has brought upon himself may come to an end of itself if he finds out what positive quality he needs to develop in his attitude toward it to replace the negative one.
We learn in time to accept everything that happens to us as the will of the Supreme Father, and hence never grumble or complain about misfortunes. The karma made in past births is like a shot from a gun; we cannot recall it and must endure the consequences. But once we have surrendered ourself to the Spiritual Preceptor, he guides our hands and prevents us from shooting out further bad karma.
Although karma is clinched by what a man does in fact, it is built up also by what he long thinks and strongly feels.
If a man will not repent his ill-deeds, will not make restitution where he has wronged others, and will not try to change his thoughts and doings for the better, then his bad karma (recompense) must run its inevitable course.
It would be an error to confuse this serene peacefulness, this calm acceptance of life with mere stagnation or unfeeling sluggishness. The latter makes no effort to improve circumstances or to progress personally whereas the former is ready to do so at any time. The latter is stupefied by its situation, whereas the former patiently endures the necessities of its situation only so far and so long as it is unable to change them.
He will naturally try to smooth his destiny but he will not do so at the expense of his character. If there be no other way to keep his ideals, then he will be prepared to endure and suffer.
Only when a man can judge his own fortunes with impersonality and without complaint, can he develop the capacity to understand the mystery of his destiny and why it has taken one particular course rather than another.
Although philosophy considers all attitudes to be relative, it makes use of particular attitudes as and when necessary. Because it recognizes the factor of destiny and tries to detect the trend of events and to adjust itself to that trend, at certain periods it is optimistic, at other periods pessimistic. It knows there are times when the greatest efforts will still go badly. This is why the philosopher disciplines himself to endure with equanimity misfortunes which are such that none can avoid them, but on the other hand he seeks to overcome with resolution those which need to be fought against.
When a man finds that a condition is beyond his power to change, he may better endure it by holding the faith that all things and all conditions are ultimately ordered by the Universal Mind, and that they will work out for the best in the end.
When he becomes a philosopher, he will become strong enough to bear his fate with submission, if he finds that he cannot or should not modify it. Then neither grief nor distress, neither other people's evil-doing nor their evil-speaking will force him into emotional self-betrayal of the inner peace which has been won with so much effort.
We must learn to let go, to renounce voluntarily that which destiny is determined to take away from us. Such an acceptance is the only way to find peace and the only effective path to lasting happiness. We must cease to regard our individual possessions and relationships as set for all time.
The man who can live without troubles has yet to be found, but the man who can live without worry about them may be found wherever philosophy is found.
There is no capacity of mind which will always and easily give the foresight of consequences; but there is a capacity which will give an insight into truths which, when applied to practical affairs, guarantees the best possible consequences.
Before a man can submit to his destiny he needs to know what it is. Because something has happened to him in the past and is again happening in the present, must it necessarily happen in the future?
He will then see that the ego is not his true self, that the evil and error which it spawns are the avoidable causes of avoidable distresses.
The same illness whose enforced inactivity brings boredom or despair to one man, may bring literary discoveries or spiritual awakenings to another man. It may quickly dull the first one's mind but directly stimulate the second one's to reflect about life, suffering, and death.
It takes time, and plenty of it, before the new ideas and ideals become established in the mind, the feelings, and the actions.
In the making of our future, a mixed result comes from the mixed and contradictory character of the thoughts feelings and desires we habitually hold. Therefore our very fears may contribute their quota in bringing about what we do not desire. Here lies one advantage of positive affirmations and clear-cut decisions in our attitude toward the future.
When we discover how small is the measure of freedom we possess, the first reaction is one of stunned hopelessness; the second, which may come months later, is of weary surrender to it all.
Let him place his trust in the universal laws and turn his face towards the sun.
It is a valuable exercise for him to find out just where his own responsibility for his troubles begins, to separate what is really an outward projection of his inward defects from what is being saddled upon him by an untraceable destiny or a formidable environment.
The unpaid mistakes and debts from former lives are now here to haunt us. If we want release from them, we must either get release from our egos or else set up counteracting thoughts and deeds of an opposite character and in overwhelming amount.
The measure of this counter-influence will be the measure of the sincerity of his repentance, of the refusal to take any alibis from himself, of the effort to change his mode of thought, and of the practical steps he voluntarily takes to undo the past wrongs done to others.
A wiser attitude carries its outward problems into the inward realm of character, to intelligence and capacity, and deals with them there.
By watching our thought life, keeping out negatives, and cultivating positive ideas, full of trust in the higher laws, we actually start processes that eventually bring improvement to the outer life.
He is wise who sifts, screens, and absorbs the bygone years, taking only their lessons, counsels, warnings, and encouragements. In this way, he frees himself from much of it.
He must use his combined reason and intuition, that is, intelligence, to discern the handiwork of karma in the pattern of some of the external events of his own life.
Repentance for wrong-doing may not commute its karma but will at least provide the indispensable preliminary condition for such a commuting.
Life is largely what we make it by our way of thinking about it. How important then to remove error from the mind and to put truth in its place! How different would our fortunes be if we recognized this need and always acted upon it!
It is a Jain belief that bad karma can be cancelled by practising austerity, penance, and self-mortification. The harsher the asceticism the quicker will be this process of destroying the results of an evil past. There is a certain logic in this belief, for by suffering this self-imposed pain one is also suffering the bad karma, albeit in a concentrated form, and not evading it.
He may have to learn how to accommodate what he cannot control or avoid. This is resignation, the very name--Islam--of the religion given to the world by Muhammed. But if he has to accept certain things, this is not to say that their accommodation implies his approval of them. It means rather that he ceases to grumble or worry about them.
He is content to leave them, these evil-doers, to the judgement of time, knowing that the power of karma is inseparable from it.
Your karma is being speeded up; everything is being accelerated to a certain extent. This is necessary for a period to bring quicker progress through forcing different parts of mind and character into activity.
Think how much has been accomplished since you took up these studies. Look back to your state of mind before that.
Only when he sees that he himself is the prime cause of his own troubles, and that other people have been not more than the secondary cause, does he see aright.
Where it is possible to undo the past, he will try to do so, but where it is not he will remember the lessons but forget the episodes.
To state the doctrine is one thing; to apply it to practical problems is another.
Even deliberate inaction does not escape the making of a karmic consequence. It contains a hidden decision not to act and is therefore a form of action!
The law of recompense is not nullified nor proved untrue by the objector's proffered evidence of hard ruthless individuals who rose to influence and affluence over the crushed lives of other persons. The happiness or well-being of such individuals cannot be properly judged by their bank account alone or their social position alone. Look also into the condition of their physical health, of their mental health, of their conscience in the dream state, of their domestic and family relations. Look, too, into their next reincarnation. Then, and only then, can the law's presence or absence be rightly judged.
We humans have to bear the decrees of Allah as best we may.
Forces out of his own reincarnatory past come up and push him towards certain decisions, actions, and attitudes.
Men being what they are, the results of their actions must be what they will be, too.
One of the greatest misunderstandings of karma by its believers, and perhaps one of the chief hindrances to its acceptance by others, is the idea that it produces its effects only after very long periods of time. What you do today will come back to you in a future incarnation several centuries later; what you experience today is the result of what you did hundreds or even thousands of years ago; what you reap here in this twentieth century is the fruit of what you sowed there in Rome in the second century--such are the common notions about reincarnation and karma. But we have only to open our eyes and look around us to see that everywhere men are getting now the results of what they have done in this same incarnation.
Karma waits for a proper time before calling in its accounts; its settlements being periodic and grouped together explains why good and bad fortune so often run in apparent cycles.
Our intellect acknowledges the justness of this law, but our heart craves for the mitigation of its harshness. We pray for the forgiveness of our sins, the remission of their penalties.
The Day of Judgement is not only on the other side of the grave. It may be here, on this side, and now, in this month.
A man may break these higher laws through his own personal weakness or moral failure, or through deliberate rebellion and refusal.
Quite unwittingly, the criminal, the evil-doer, or the sadist is trying to punish himself. Soon or late he will succeed in doing so, and in proportion to the extent that he hurts others.
When the cause is put too far from the effect, as in some beliefs about karma, the moral effectiveness is weakened.
Karma is really neutral although to the human observer its operations seem to be rewarding or punitive.
All through history we see men inflicting suffering upon other men. This shows their ignorance of the higher laws, for by their own sin they punish themselves.
Not to harm others is as much in one's own interest as theirs. For if one does harm them he sets up causes which lead in the end by a mysterious cosmic working to a consequential suffering. Cosmic justice is then self-provoked.
The working of karma may often seem a grim affair, dragging in the past when he would prefer to forget it--whether it include unpleasant things done or pleasant things not done--permitting no appeal and offering no pardon.
The good merits of conduct in former lives bring pleasant benefits in the present one.
Retribution comes, even if it comes so late as to be deferred to another lifetime on this earth. Some ancients thought it came down too heavily, especially when the sin was only one of pride or folly, and complained to the gods.
Trotsky made a point of being merciless to the enemy during Russia's Civil War: it is not surprising that his own murder was a merciless affair.
If in the end--and sometimes well before--karma catches up with a man, it is not all painful; the term need not fill him with foreboding. For the good he has thought and done brings a good come-back too.
There are times when the karma of an action comes back to a man with the speed and precision of a boomerang.
The working of karma traces complicated effects back to complicated causes.
The web of karma tightens around a man as the lives increase with the centuries or thins away as the ego gets more and more detached.
The brutal egotist who ruthlessly knocks others aside on his way upward will himself receive harsh treatment when the time is decreed.
Most men do not learn the practical wisdom of life the easier way. They do not heed the true seers, the far-seeing sages, the inspired prophets. There is a harder way, which they choose because it appeals to both their animal instincts and their selfish purposes. This is why they must be tutored by necessity--that is to say, by harsh circumstances of their own making, by karma.
Man rules this planet but the gods rule man. Take them into account in your mortal reckonings.
It will be asked: Why should the innocent suffer because of the activities of wicked men? Their innocence belongs to the present; we do not know of their past evil deeds and misdeeds!
The errors and disorders in his consciousness reflect themselves eventually in his general fortunes and outward conditions.
History shows that there are implacable forces around man which can elevate him in a day or cast him down in a night.
Events and environments are attracted to man partly according to what he is and does (individual karma), partly according to what he needs and seeks (evolution), and partly according to what the society, race, or nation of which he is a member is, does, needs, and seeks (collective karma).
The law of compensation does not measure its rewards and penalties according to the little scale of little human minds.
It is sheer nonsense habitually to interpret karma (recompense) as something which is operative only in remote reincarnations. Actually it is mostly operative within the same lifetime of a man or nation.
The working of karma from former lives is mostly in evidence at birth and during infancy, childhood, and adolescence. The working of karma made in the present life is mostly in evidence after the maturity of manhood has been reached.
For some errors we have to pay with the misfortune of a few years. But for others we have to pay with the misfortune of a lifetime. An injury done to a Sage who incarnates compassion may easily, if not repented and amended, fall into the second class.
A man's sins are the outcome of the limitations of his experience, faculties, and knowledge.
Retribution must one day overtake the wrong-doer. His sins and mistakes will pile up until one day the karmic hour strikes and they come down on him with a crash. All failure to wake up to responsibilities constitutes an ethical error for which a man must bear the consequence eventually. Thus the failure to do a right deed in a certain situation may be a karmic sin, although very much less so than doing a wrong deed.
Every infraction of the great law of compensation on its moral side is cumulative, piles one eventual affliction upon another into a heap, which is one reason why we often hear the complaint that afflictions are not in just ratio with sins.
The working of recompense (a piece of karma) also affects those who are closely associated with the person whose own acts or thoughts originated it.
The course of karma is not rigidly predetermined. It may have alternative patterns. If an evil deed does not find retribution in some other way, then it will always find retribution in the form of disease. This must not be foolishly misinterpreted to mean that all disease is the result of evil karma. If we live in an unhealthy manner, the disease which is thereby generated is the karma of our present ignorance or bodily imprudence, not necessarily the expiation of moral faults committed in other lives.
When at length he will be called to account by karma, he will be judged not by the certificates of character which others bestow upon him, whether good or bad, but by the motives felt in his heart, the attitudes held in his mind, and the deeds done by his hands.
These doctrines assert that those unlucky wretches are merely paying for their misdeeds in former bodies. Why, if that is correct, should they suffer for errors which they cannot possibly remember and which might have been committed by others, for all they know? I can understand and appreciate the philosophical arguments for the doctrine of rebirth, but I cannot understand the justice of punishing men for misdeeds of which they are completely unaware. Such is a reasonable criticism.
We invite the future through our aspirations. We get the consequences of our thinking, feeling, and doing. Nature has no favouritism but gives us our deserts.
Any man who artfully hurts another in the end hurts himself. For he denies the principle of love in his relationships, a principle that is part of the higher laws set for his development, and must pay the penalty of his denial.
The karma of a man cannot be measured by the world's yardsticks. Wisdom is worth a fortune at any time and goodness is a solid protection. Those who live for the immediate moment, the immediate enjoyment, may not perceive this; but those who wait for the ultimate result, the ultimate event, know its truth. Indeed, how could it be otherwise in a Universe where infinite intelligence and infinite benevolence have made the laws which make the destiny of mankind?
It is a mistake to regard the karma of a deed as something that appears later in time, or comes back to its doer soon or long afterwards. It is not a sequence to follow after what was done before. On the contrary, the karma is simultaneous with the deed itself.
A grievous marriage situation may itself change completely for the better or else a second marriage may prove a happier one, if there is sufficient improvement in thinking to affect the karma involved.
If men behave like wild beasts of prey, violent and greedy; if they show an utter lack of conscience, we may write them down as doomed to suffer themselves one day the painful consequences of their misdeeds.
A callous egotism is a bad-paying investment. For it means that in time of need, there will be none to help; in the hour of distress, none to console. What we give out we get back.
The war showed in the plainest possible way that the cost of wrong-doing is painful retribution. For we lived to see Hitler destroyed by his own hand, his Nazi hierarchy with its loathsome deviltry destroyed by all humanity's hands, and his deluded followers eating the sour fruits of their own planting.
The karma of a thought-habit or a deed becomes effective only when it reaches maturity. The time this takes is variable.
Karma expresses itself through events which may seem to be accidents. But they are so only on the surface.
The moral fallacy which leads a man to think that he can build his own happiness out of the misery of other men, can be shattered only by a knowledge of the truth of karma.
If you throw a pebble into the sea, its ripples go on and on, until they are exhausted. In the same way, there comes a time when the accumulated effects of doing or thinking lets loose a ripple of karmic come-back.
The consequences of several years of wrong doing and wrong thinking may crowd into a few months.
In the final test, they may show by their own words and actions during the next decade whether they honestly wish to enter the path of reconciliation. Their last yet first hope is to purify themselves by discipline and to make restitution--either physical or verbal--to those whom they have wronged.
His situation in the world is highly paradoxical, at once comic and tragic: comic because he knows that he is not so sure of himself as he appears to others, tragic because he does not know if adversity's sudden blows will miss him and strike others.
The prophet becomes the butt of the vulgar and violent mob, but in heaven the mob itself is gibbeted and hung. So justice works.
Each period of a life has its own evaluation, and opinions differ about them. Some say the early years are best, others the middle years, and so on. But the truth is that it depends on a person's karma more than on his age as to which shall prove best for him and from which he shall extract the most satisfaction.
Failure to act at the right time in the right way may bring its own karmic consequences.
Although the higher laws bring man the kind of experience--pleasurable or painful--which is so just, so right, and so fitting to his true deserts and need, he is mostly unable to see this, being blinded by his ego or his ignorance.
Here are facts which are vital to our conduct of life, primal to our search for happiness, yet which he leaves ignored or, worse, deliberately sneers at. Karma is one of them.
It is a fact in many people's lives that some of the troubles which befall them have no origin in the karma of former lives but belong solely to causes started in the present life.
The spiritually ignorant are to a large extent makers of their own misery.
Whoever fails to take advantage, by his co-operation and effort, of the right time for beginning an enterprise or the right opportunity that fortune thrusts in his path, will never again be able to do so to the same extent, if at all--for neither he nor circumstance can remain the same.
Every prophet knew and taught that virtue rewards itself as sin punishes itself.
For the lucky few, life is pleasure spotted by suffering. For the unlucky many, it is suffering relieved by pleasure. For the rare sage, it is ever-flowing serenity.
If his evolutionary need should require it, he will be harassed by troubles to make him less attached to the world, or by sickness to make him less attached to the body. It is then not so much a matter of receiving self-earned destiny as of satisfying that need. Both coincide usually but not always and not necessarily. Nor does this happen with the ordinary man so much as it does with the questing man, for the latter has asked or prayed for speedier development.
The wisdom which he has the chance to gain from his sufferings should lead not only to some self-renunciation, but also to some self-resignation to destiny's will when it reveals itself as inexorable. Once he brings himself to this submission, time will then more quickly heal up its own wounds and inner peace will more easily be obtained. So destiny shows itself also as a teacher.
There are times when, for a man's inner evolution, his ego has to be crushed, and he may then find himself bent under harsh events or melancholy reflections.
Fate is fashioned in such a way that it gives people at times what they want, so that they shall eventually, through this experience, learn to evaluate it more justly. They have then the opportunity to see the adverse side of the experience, which desire too often prevents them from seeing. Fate is also fashioned to go into reverse and block the fulfilment of the wishes of other people. Through this inhibition they may have the chance to learn that we are not here for a narrow, egoistic satisfaction alone, but also, and primarily, to fulfil the larger purposes of life as formed in the World-Idea.
The Law is relentless but it is flexible: it adjusts punishment to a man's evolutionary grade. The sinner who knows more and who sins with more awareness of what he is doing, has to suffer more.
When man knows the results of his actions, he has the chance to know the value of those ideas which led to these actions. In other words, experience will bring responsibility, if he allows it to, and that will bring development.
To look upon the encounters with suffering, misfortune, mistakes, and disappointment as the principal offering of each reincarnation is one view, and especially the Indian view. To see in them the requitals and rewards of the Goddess of Justice is another.
The subconscious connection between wrongs done and sufferings incurred leads him to feel more uncertain and more uncomfortable the more he engages in such acts.
Everyone has periods of pleasurable delusion when he affixes a rosy label on life but the awakening to what lies on its other side must follow sooner or later. Only after both experiences is he able to form a fair judgement upon it. The philosopher however does not want to wait for this tutoring by experience alone. By a deliberate detachment from every feeling likely to falsify the picture of life, he puts himself in a position to see it as it truly is.
The spiritual inertia which keeps most men uninterested in the quest is something which they will not seek to overcome by their own initiative. Life therefore must do this for them. Its chief method is to afflict them with pain, loss, disappointment, sickness, and death. But such afflictions are under karma and not arbitrary, are intermittent and not continuous, are inlaid with joys and not overwhelming. Therefore their result is slow to appear.
If this is the way his life has to be, if this is how the cards of his destiny have fallen, and if the inner voice bids him accept it after the outer voice has led him into unavailing attempts to alter it, then there must be some definite reason for the situation. Let him search for this reason.
As a man flings his cigarette suddenly upon the floor and stamps his heel savagely upon it until the red spark is extinguished, so too life flings some of us to the ground and stamps upon our ardours and passions until they are dead.
Life will bring him, if he is teachable, through the tutelage of bitter griefs and ardent raptures to learn the value of serenity. But if he is not, then the great oscillations of experience will tantalize him until the end.
Life is not trying to make people either happy or unhappy. It is trying to make them understand. Their happiness or unhappiness come as by-products of their success or failure in understanding.
The modern struggle for existence is nothing new. It is the same sky and the same world of pre-historic times. The scenes have been changed only in details; the actors, men and women, remain the same but they are now more experienced. Incessant struggle has ever been the lot of the human race.
No human existence is without its troubles at some period or without its frictions at another. The first arises out of the element of destiny which surrounds human freedom, the second out of the element of egoism which surrounds human relations.
Sorrow, loss, and pain may be unwelcome as evils but they are at the same time opportunities to practise the philosophic attitude and to train the will.
There is peace behind the tumult, goodness behind the evil, happiness behind the agony.
The painful elements in your destiny are the measure of your own defects. The evils in your conduct and character are mirrored forth by the troubles which happen to you.
Despite its insistence that suffering is always close to life, it tries to charge its message with the flavour of hopefulness, and to inspire men to make efforts and be daring in their inner lives. When suffering stimulates a man to re-adjust his life on sounder philosophical lines, it can hardly be called an evil.
I believe in love, not hate, as a motivating force for reform. At the same time, I see karma at work, punishing the selfish and the heartless, and I know that it will inexorably do its work whatever anyone says. God never makes a mistake and this universe is run on perfect laws. Unfortunately, suffering is one of its chief instruments of evolution and especially so where people will not learn from intuition, reason, and spiritual prophets.
How priceless would be the knowledge of the outcome of our actions at the time we did them! How invaluable the capacity to foretell beforehand the consequences of our deeds! We would then certainly avoid the tragedy of error and the misery of failure--so runs our thinking. But life is wiser and lets us profit by the commission of error and the experience of failure to find out what needs correction or cultivation in our own personalities.
Everyone has his burden of bad karma. What kind and how heavy it is are important, but more important is how the man carries it.
While fulfilling its own purpose, karma cannot help fulfilling another and higher one; it brings us what is essential to our development.
When his life does not develop along the line he has planned, his mind will become confused and self-doubt will creep in. It is then that the ambitious man is taken in hand by his higher self, to learn through frustration and disappointment released by the new cycle of bad karma those lessons he could not receive through success and triumph.
He makes many wrong decisions in the course of a lifetime, suffers their consequences, and learns the lessons of these results. If he is willing to learn them, they will be more quickly, fully, and consciously learnt; if not, they will be only partially, slowly, and subconsciously learnt.
All relative truths are fluctuating truths. They may become only partially true or even wholly falsified from a higher standpoint. The case of evil is a noteworthy instance of this change. A karma (recompense) which is outwardly evil may be inwardly spiritually beneficial.
The deer which lies mortally wounded by a hunter's shot is not capable of asking Life why it should suffer so, but the man who lies mortally wounded by a murderer's shot is capable of doing so.
When he accepts affliction as having some message in it which he must learn, he will be able to bear it with dignity rather than with embitterment.
When justice is done to a man for the injuries he has done to others, when his wrong actions end in suffering for himself, he may begin to learn this truth--that only the Good is really able to triumph.
It is true that sometimes the past, or at least some portion of it, will not bear looking at. It hurts to know that its unworthiness was created by his own actions, its foolishness by his own choices. Yet it may help somewhat to reconcile him to mistakes which are now unmendable, to recognize that they arose out of his inheritance from former lives, out of the nature this caused him to be born with, and out of the circumstances this allotted as his destiny--that, in short, he could hardly have acted or chosen differently. It would be futile to be angry with himself or resentful against fate.
Generation follows generation. Of what avail all this striving and struggling which always ends in death and dust? It is salutary at times to sink in this mournful thought, provided we do not sink to the point of despair.
People bound by their littleness, uninterested in Truth and unable to see it, dominated by puerile aims and petty desires--their way is long and slow, it is the way of instruction by karma.
The iron of man's character turns to tempered steel in the white-hot furnace of trouble.
We do not easily grow from the worse to the better or from the better to the best. We struggle out of our imperfections at the price of toil sacrifice and trouble. The evil of these things is not only apparent nor, in essence, in any ultimate conflict with divine love. Whatever helps us in the end towards the realization of our diviner nature, even if it be painful, is good and whatever hinders, even if it be pleasant, is bad. If a personal sorrow tends towards this result it is really good and if a personal happiness retards it, then it is really bad. It is because we do not believe this that we complain at the presence of suffering and sorrow in the divine plan and at the absence of mercy in the divine will. We do not know where our true good lies, and blindly following ego, desire, emotion, or passion, displace it by a fancied delusive good. Consequently, we lose faith in God's wisdom at the very time when it is being manifested and we become most bitter about God's indifference just when God's consideration is being most shown to us. Until we summon enough courage to desert our habitual egoistic and unreflective attitude, with the wrong ideas of good and evil, happiness and misery which flow out of it, we shall continue to prolong and multiply our troubles unnecessarily.
Destiny turns the wheel
When he knows that no good phase can last, that fortune will never let him rest durably in its undisturbed sunshine, he is ready for the next step. And that is to seek for inner peace.
It is as foolish to attribute all events to fate as it is to claim that all decisions and choices are free ones.
It is possible to take any and every situation and assert that it is in entire conformity with God's will. It is possible to find reasons to support the assertion. And the argument would be right, for if the universe with all its complications, ramifications, and connections, with all its network of relations and events, is not a manifestation of God's will in the end, then what is it? But two opposing events, or two hundred varying and contradictory ones happening at the same time as each other, can be brought into the same argument, thus making nonsense of it.
"Mektoubi!" exclaims the North African Arab. "It is written (fated)," implying that there is nothing to be done as action is useless. "Mektoubi."
There are events which a greater power than man's has preordained. Some he can modify, change, or prevent altogether but others he cannot. All of them exist already in future time. He will meet them in present time. He never leaves present time. Therefore it is not he that is moving to meet the future but the future is moving to meet him.
He clanks the earth in iron chain, each link stamped with the word "destiny." But because he neither sees nor hears his chains, he imagines that he walks where he wishes and as far as he wishes.
A man's whole destiny may hang upon one event, one decision, one circumstance. That single cause may be significant for all the years to follow.
There are times when events have to happen as they do, because such is the decree of the higher power which governs life.
Sometimes, here and there a man foresees his fate, but to most it is a blank page.
What is the message of Greek tragic drama, what do these doomed figures who make us shiver as they commit or endure horrors have to tell us? Is it not that do what you will circumstances will catastrophically overwhelm you, that the gods will drive you to an allotted disastrous end however much you may plan the contrary? From this depressing view, we may gladly turn to Shakespeare's, arrived at in the last maturest years of his life, expressed in the final four plays, ending in the philosophic view of The Tempest, that out of all life's troubles good somehow will emerge.
The same opportunity does not recur because it cannot.
No man is, or can become, fully free.
Some events in the future are inevitable, either because they follow from the actions of men who fail to amend character or improve capacity or deepen knowledge, or because they follow from the basic pattern of the World-Idea and the laws it sets to govern physical life.
He cannot withdraw from this destiny, try as he may.
When he reaches the end of a cycle, there will necessarily come with it some inner adjustment and outer change. This may also produce a little mental confusion.
Cycles of destiny make their periodical returns, for individuals and for nations. The prudent man foresees the coming one in advance and lets neither adversity nor prosperity overwhelm him but bears the one well and the other calmly.
All too often does an important enterprise, a long journey, or a serious undertaking carry in its start the insignia of its end.
However carefully we choose our course and plan our actions, we discover in the sequence that what is to be, will be. We have no power over happenings.
Life itself will work out his future course without consulting him.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings." Shakespeare's bold words sound reassuring, but he omitted to add that Brutus and Cassius were both struck down by violence. Does this not show that the last move was with fate after all?
But the ordinary man, who has not yet come to scorn time or seek a higher consciousness, will not like this terrible truth.
If all men knew all that would happen to them, how many would be willing to go on living into the worst period? Even if deprived of hope most perhaps would not abandon the body.
The feeling of being trapped by fate, held down by forces beyond his control, is partly true.
He becomes penetrated with the thought of his personal helplessness as against this inexorable and impersonal power controlling his life. He feels that there is nothing he can do when confronted by the unfavourable situations it creates for him, no way in which he can help himself. He sees himself in a little boat tossed by the waves of this immense power, a boat whose drift toward catastrophe he may observe but not prevent.
Atlantis shaped itself out of the condensing fire mists. Land hardened. Animals appeared. Men and women appeared. Civilizations appeared. The continent was developed. Then the wheel turned. The continent sank and all went with it. In 1919, Germany lay at the feet of her victors. She was disarmed and dismembered. She was weak, depressed, and fearful. Nobody was afraid of her. The wheel turned. Germany armed to the teeth. Her frontiers grew. She was strong, optimistic, and aggressive. Everybody was afraid of her. Today she is again disarmed, weak, and fearful. Arabia was unknown, insignificant, unimportant, obscure, her people barbarous, semi-savage. The wheel turned. A prophet arose, instructed and inspired his people. They spread out and took an empire that spread from the Atlantic to China. The wheel turned. The Arab power dwindled again. Arabia itself became a mere province, or colony, of the Turks. Empires are formed but to dissolve again; continents rise but to sink. Peoples collect but to be redistributed once more. Cycles operate, the wheel turns, evolution becomes involution. Only the intellectually blind, the spiritually paralysed can fail to perceive this. And the seeker of truth needs to be brave to be a hero, if he would tear down the veil and behold the Goddess Isis as she really is. Our own decade has witnessed strange things but things which prove this truth up to the hilt.
Even if his intuitive feeling warns him of an impending event in such a manner that he knows it to be unalterably preordained and inevitable, his inability to prevent it from happening need not prevent him from making all possible preparations to protect himself and thus to suffer less from it than he might otherwise have done. Such a warning can only be useful and saves a man from falling into the panic in which fear of the unexpected may throw others.
When a favourable cycle of destiny is operative, a little right action produces a lot of fortunate results. But when an unfavourable cycle is dominant, a lot of right action produces little result. The man and his capacities have not changed but his destiny has. At such a time, the new sequence of events in his life is dictated not by his individual will but by a higher will.
You can win if at the beginning of any enterprise you determine to do so, unless the fates are equally determined that you shall not. This is the "X" factor, the unknown hand which can gather up all your winnings in one grasp and toss them all aside. You may call it Luck if you wish. The wise man will in all reckonings allow for this mysterious factor and accept its existence as a fact.
If we accept the fact that man is as predestined to suffer as to enjoy life, that both experiences have been allotted to him, sometimes in juxtaposition but more often in rhythm, we can better prepare ourselves for life. If we refuse to accept it, we may have to pay the price which Oscar Wilde had to pay. The same Wilde, who until he was forty years old said that he did not know what it felt like to be unhappy, who repeatedly said, "We should seek the joys of life and leave the sores alone," lived to utter this confession and commentary upon his earlier attitude: "I seem dead to all emotions except those of anguish and despair."
Professor Don Mackenzie Brown, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, told me the story of a professional Hindu seer who visited that city. Under the strictest scientific test conditions, the man correctly predicted a number of headlines which would appear in the local newspaper within the next week. Did this mean that the events to which they referred were already present? If so, did that lead to the corollary that they were fully preordained and ruled by Fate? Or was there some entirely different explanation?
Many events in a person's or a nation's life are foreseeable, but only if existing trends of thought and existing courses of action are continued.
There is always some part of a man's person or fortune which remains wholly beyond his control. Do what he will he cannot alter it. It is then more prudent to acknowledge the inevitability of this condition than to waste strength in useless struggle. Sometimes he may then even turn it to his advantage. But how is he to know that this inevitability, this decree of fate, exists? By the fact that no matter how much he exerts himself to alter it, he fails.
We meet our destined experiences, for we have been given sealed orders at the beginning of our incarnation.
He knows that fate moves in rhythms of gain and loss, in cycles of accumulation and deprivation. The force which brings us loving friends and hating enemies is one and the same.
The wheel of life is a fixed one. Its turning spokes bring now elation, then depression, now prosperity, then adversity. There are periods of years when good health and good fortune crowd together, but then there are succedent periods when death and disasters try to break one's heart.
If, for instance, he is not destined to enjoy marital happiness, it would be futile for him to go on seeking it. If he does, he will one day get tired of beating the wings of desire against the bars of fate. But it is not always possible to know through past experience or present reasoning what his destined lot really is. For the past may be quite misrepresentative of the future, and thought can only throw light on some of its mysteries, not on all. Consequently he is forced to seek aid from revelation. This may come to him unreliably through the channel of one of the predictive arts or, most reliably, through a deeply felt intuition granted by his own higher self.
Those ignorant of the dark power of Destiny struggle with their lot and try to alter Fate's decrees. As well might they try to stop the roar and rush of a Niagara, alone and unaided. Even the mighty Napoleon, who nearly conquered all Europe, could not conquer Fate. He had to bow before its terrible sentence, as his own pathetic words at Saint Helena testified later. It is better to bow to the inevitable, and endure bravely what we cannot alter, than to cast our strength away in vain struggles.
We imagine we are the masters of destiny, when the truth is that we are as the barges that float down the Thames with each tide. I am never tired of telling myself, when things appear to go wrong, that the Gods rule this universe, and not man, that the last word lies with them, and if they see fit to dash all our plans to the dust, perhaps it is as well.
There is one striking passage wherein Emerson's pen neatly turns out the truth about the problem. I give it in its entirety because it is worth passing down intact. "I lean always to that ancient superstition (if it is such, though drawn from a wise survey of human affairs) which taught men to be beware of unmixed prosperity . . . Can this hold? Will God make me a brilliant exception to the common order of his dealings, which equalizes destinies? There's an apprehension of reverse always arising from success."
Destiny gives him hills of difficulty to climb because of its own impersonal balancing activity. But if he is thus able to, he demonstrates the superiority of the Man over the inferiority of the Position. Destiny befriends him.
He could not have met any person whose contact left deeply felt or important after-effects at any particular time in his inner life without the almighty power and infinite wisdom behind life having brought the meeting about for his own eventual development.
So many seemingly unrelated occurrences and inconsequential events shape into a pattern when looked at later, when they have long fallen into the past.
The wheel of life keeps turning and turning through diverse kinds of experiences and we are haplessly bound to it. But when at last we gain comprehension of what is happening and power over it, we are set free.
The broken fragments of destiny's mosaic are put into their correct places by his growing insight and thus an intelligible pattern eventually appears.
Internally and externally, we find through experience that a certain arc of fate has been drawn for us and must consummate itself. Futile is the endeavour to try to cross that arc; wise is the submissiveness that stays within its limits. We must leave to it the major direction which our mental and physical life must take. The thoughts that shall most move us and the events that shall chiefly happen to us are already marked on the lines of the arc. There is nothing arbitrary, however, about this, for the thoughts and the events are related and both together are still further related to an interior birth in the long series that makes up human life on this planet.
There are tides of fortune and circumstances whose ebb and flow wash the lives of men. There are cycles of changes which must be heeded and with which our plans and activities must be harmonized, if we are to live without friction and avoid wasting strength in futile struggles. We must learn when to move forward and thus rise to the crest of the tide, and when to retreat and retire.
Time and thought have fixed in my mind the unpleasant but unescapable notion that the major events of a man's life are as preordained for him as are the destinations of a million different letters all posted on the same day.
It was not blind fatalism but clear perception which made Mary, Queen of Scots, say that her end was in her beginning.
Can the oracular writing of destiny be deciphered? Can its mysterious pattern be foreseen?
Destiny may bring them together for the purpose of the spiritual birth of the younger one of them, may confront them so that the elder may pass his living vision and enlarged understanding to the other.
He misses the road-signs of life, the events which could tell him where he is going, the episodes which indicate success or disaster as a destination if he does not heed their meaning.
That the human will is but a thin straw floating on an irresistible tide, is a hard conclusion for the human mind to accept. Yet it is not less reasonable than it is distasteful.
For long I fought desperately against the notion of fate, since I had written screeds on the freedom of will. But an initiation into the mysteries of casting and reading a horoscope began to batter down my defenses, while an initiation into profounder reflection caused me to suffer the final defeat.
Human will may plan its utmost for security, but human destiny will have something to say about the matter. There is no individual life that is so secure as to be without risk.
Every man's personal freedom stretches to a certain distance and then finds itself ringed around by fate. Outside this limit he is as helpless as a babe, he can do nothing there.
Envy not those with good fortune. The gods have allotted them a portion of good karma, but when this is exhausted they will be stripped of many things, except those inner spiritual possessions.
If fate's decrees are preordained but a man's prayer seems to bring result, then his prayer too was part of his fate and also preordained.
But after we have listed all these various sources and influences which make us what we are, it would be an exaggeration to assert that they do so inexorably, immovably, and inevitably. We are not condemned to be the plaything of all these forces. There is a mysterious X-factor in every human being which he can call upon if he will. The fact that so few do so merely means that through ignorance they condemn themselves to remain as they are.
Those who look for some swift miraculous renaissance of peace and goodwill in the Occident look in vain, for such miracles do not happen. The world is making its own destiny, and nobody can neutralize it. Nobody can abrogate the past. A grim Justice rules all worlds, from the strange and weird places where ghosts foregather to the more matter-of-fact haunts of earthly cities. Only the psychically blind and the spiritually sightless ever hope to evade this Justice or to escape the final accounting which tracks down individuals and nations alike with mathematical accuracy.
Only the sage perceives with deadly clarity how like the dust blown hither and thither is the weary labour of their days; how frail are the timbers of the ships which men send out, laden with their self-spun hopes and fears; how dream-like are their entire lives.
What different course our life might have taken if we had not casually met a certain person--a meeting which led to momentous consequences--affords material for tantalizing speculations. Fate sometimes hangs upon a thread, we are told; but it always hangs upon such a tangled knot of dependent circumstances that the game of speculating how different it would have been had a single one of them been changed, is futile though fascinating.
That our mortal destiny is made up of welcome and unwelcome circumstances or happenings is a certainty. There is no human being whose pattern fails to be so chequered--only the black and white squares are unequal in number, and the proportion differs from one person to another. It hurts to confess this duality of pain with joy, this temporality which threatens every happiness; but this truth is unassailable, as Buddha knew and taught.
You cannot defraud self-made Destiny. It enters unannounced upon your best-laid plans.
Life whirls us around as the clay is whirled upon the potter's wheel.
If good cycles seem to pass all-too-quickly, the bad ones seem to linger.
His spiritual destiny remains hidden far out of sight in the future.
Our lives are like a jigsaw puzzle; we collect our little queerly shaped pieces and then one day the pattern is seen.
Where nothing is certain, nothing is really predictable.
That an irresistible power dictates the major events of our lives, who can doubt that has lifted a little of the veil?
"We trail our destiny with us wherever we go. Even the gods cannot alter the past," says a Greek aphorism.
The disintegration and disappearance of things is an inescapable part of their history if they are to come into existence at all. Nature could not be formed by God on any other basis than this. But it is followed by their reappearance.
In the story of life there is misfortune and suffering, frustration and calamity; but it is not completed by them alone. It usually includes other chapters which bring out some of its positive, attractive, and happier sides and even its potential glory.
We are at one and the same time both the consequence of our environment and the creator of it. The philosophic mentality sees no contradiction here, knows that there is a reciprocal action between the two.
Whatever happens to a man or a nation is self-made or God-decreed. And this is still so even when some other human agent or other nation is the outward doer.
Whether he enters birth in penurious squalor or in palatial grandeur, he will come to his own SPIRITUAL level again in the end. Environment is admittedly powerful to help or hinder, but the Spirit's antecedents are still more powerful and finally INDEPENDENT OF IT.
One man's power may prevail against his circumstances, whereas another man must accept them simply because he lacks both the power and the knowledge to contend with them.
We are often not doing the ideal actions, but those which the circumstances necessitate, which are forced on us for the time being.
The ugly woman has the right to ask why others are born beautiful and she not. The deformed man has an equal right to ask why other men are born well-formed, healthy, virile and not he.
We are forced to discover in the end how little is the freedom which illusion deceives us into believing is our own. We are drawn to move in environments and mix with people scarcely of our own choice.
There was a period when the Roman Imperial grip on Europe and the Near East was so firmly established, and for so long, that few could foresee how it could ever be relaxed, let alone removed.
He despises the snobbishness which despises others less fortunate, yet he acknowledges that caste is a fact in Nature. Is this a contradiction?
Caste differences may be accepted but caste rigidity need not. There ought to be free passage upward for those who seek to qualify by self-improvement, who have widened their horizons and started to respond to the meaning of quality.
When the low castes rule society, do not expect a high result because inferior sources must yield inferior results. But if the low castes rule society, it is because the high castes were indifferent to their welfare or even exploited them.
Newspaper quote: "While a man may inherit wealth and position he does not necessarily inherit brains and wisdom." P.B.'s comment: But he does inherit upbringing, atmosphere, and standards.
Many individuals may be caught in the wave of a common destiny, may have to share a group karma.
Each of us lives at a certain time in history and occupies a certain place (or certain places) during that period. Why now and here? Look to the law of consequences for an answer, the law which connects one earthly lifetime with earlier ones.
The ability or cupidity, the opportunity or inheritance, which brings a man into the possession of riches, is itself the product of his karma.
If a man can come up out of the squalor, discomfort, and ignorance of the slums into cleanliness, culture, and refined living, we may read into it either the favourable working of karma and rebirth or the power of the person to conquer his environment. But others who fail to do so may read into it the belief that luck is against them or else their lack of capacity to overcome environment. Thus we see that some glean a message of hope from reading the biography of such a man while others glean only frustration, if not despair. In both views there may be an element of truth but how much will differ from one person to another.
He has unconsciously taken a decision. It lies there, implicit, within his obedience to, and faith in, the credo or the party he follows. He is still responsible, still making personal karma.
Who is to say whether contributory circumstances which totally change our plans are merely pure coincidence or really the writings of the hand of destiny?
Duty and destiny must be reckoned together in one's life account. It is often a matter of not only what one should do but also of what circumstances allow one to do.
Suppose you had to carry the hunchback's cross? Would you not be bitter? Would you consider God's dealing with you a just one?
Nobody has been betrayed, either by God or by life. We have contributed to, and in some measure earned, the tragic happenings of our time.
When we say that a situation is caused by circumstances, we mean that it had to happen. That is fate. But does this imply that nobody is responsible for it, no individual is to blame for it if it is tragic or distressing?
It is quite untrue to say that we are created by our environment. It is true to say that we are conditioned, assisted, or retarded by our environment, but it is only a half-truth. We bear within ourselves a consciousness which, at several points and in different attributes, is independent of and sometimes quite opposed to all environmental suggestions. For, from the first day on earth, we possess in latency certain likes and dislikes, aptitudes along one line of thought and action rather than along others, whose sum, as they disclose themselves and then develop themselves, constitutes our personality. Of course, such a process necessarily takes time. Biological heredity contributes something quite definite toward this result but former incarnations contribute much more.
The face, brain, and form of the body will partly be molded by his destiny, partly by his character-tendencies and mental qualities.
The bad environment does not create the bad character. It brings it out and encourages its development. The weaknesses were already there latently.
The man who is born with a silver spoon may have great talents but never use them. They may die with him, because he never felt the spur of necessity. Insufficient or moderate means may give a man incentive. The worse the poverty the greater the incentive. This sounds a hard gospel but for some men it is a true one.
You want your exterior life unfoldment to meet your own conceptions. But if your have not found your interior harmony with God, in spite of all your efforts it will never do so.
Circumstances or other persons may be contributory but cannot be wholly responsible for a man's failures and misfortunes. If he will look within himself he will always find the ultimate causes there.
The average man is not so heroic or so angelic as all that and soon finds out that his soul cannot rise above his circumstances and that his nerves are unquestioningly affected by his environment.
To regard man as the product of his thinking only, to ignore the existence and influence of his surroundings, would be to place him in an utter vacuum.
He may be predestined to live in certain surroundings but the way in which he allows them to affect him is not predestined.
Man's body and mind inherit his past, and the body can move freely only within the limits imposed by this past karma, just as a goldfish can move freely only within the limits of its globe of water.
Karma is as active in the destiny of great powerful nations as in the destiny of poor insignificant men.
In a rough kind of way, and after sufficient periods of time have matured, a man's outward conditions will keep in some sort of step with his inward development.
The people one meets, the events one confronts, and the places one visits may be highly important but they are, in the end, less important than one's thought about them.
A lesson which the multitude has to learn is that acquiescence in brutality and aggressiveness does not pay in the end any more than the perpetration of such crimes themselves. Nevertheless, although a people which acquiesces in the deeds of its rulers has to share the karma of those deeds, it need not necessarily share all the karma.
Providence has made great men of unattractive or undersized physical appearance, or made them crippled, hunchbacked, lame, and so on, apparently in order to give the mob a striking lesson that men are not to be judged by outer appearance alone but much more by inner worth.
Because the Mind at the back of the Universe's life is infinitely wise, there is always a reason for what happens to us. It is better therefore not to rail at adverse events but to try to find out why they are there. It may be consoling to blame others for them, but it will not be helpful. If we look within ourselves for the causes, we take the first step toward bringing adversity to an end; if we look outside, we may unnecessarily prolong it.
We come normally into higher-class surroundings if our tendencies pull us to them, or if our actions (karma) justify them. But in an age of transition such as ours, where social ranks are thrown into confusion, where democratic levelling of all alike creates ethical and social chaos, where religion is losing its meaning and materialism prevails, no one is to be judged by the old rule of appropriate birth, of being in the station to which God has called him. In any case, neither lower nor higher class escapes the alternations of suffering and joy, misery and happiness in some way. That is the human lot.
A choice which is thrust upon a man by circumstances is no choice at all.
Our economic condition and our personal history, our physiological situation and our astrological horoscope all contribute to making us what we are. There is a spurious peace which is really nothing more than stagnation and which will be pushed aside or even destroyed with the first waves of change--whether the change be economic, physiological, or psychological.
Karma is not merely applicable to the individual alone but also to groups, such as communities, towns, countries, and even continents. One cannot get away in some particular or other from the rest of humanity. All are interconnected. One may delude himself, as nearly all people do, into thinking that he can live his own life and let others go hang, but sooner or later experience reveals his error. All are ultimately one big family. This is what reflection on experience teaches. When one reflects on Truth, he shall eventually learn that, as the Overself, all are one entity--like the arms and legs of a single body. The upshot of this is that he has to consider the welfare of others equally with his own, not merely because karma is at work to teach the individual, but also because it is at work to teach humanity en masse the final and highest lesson of its unity. When this idea is applied to the recent war, one sees that the latter was partly (only partly) the result of the indifference of richer peoples to poorer ones, of well-governed nations to badly governed ones, of the isolationist feeling that one's country is all right and if others are not, then that is unfortunate but their own affair. In short, there is no true prosperity and happiness for any country whilst one of its neighbours is poor and miserable; each one is his brother's keeper.
Great catastrophes, such as earthquakes and floods sweep hundreds to their doom, but individuals here and there escape, for their destiny is different. Such escapes often occur miraculously; they are called away suddenly to another place or protected by seemingly accidental occurrence. Thus individual destiny, where it conflicts with collective or national destiny, may save one's life where others are struck down.
If Alexander is to be praised for spreading Greek civilization as far east as India by the simple process of invading other countries, then the generals Flaminius, Sulla, and Mummius are to be praised for spreading Roman civilization by the simple process of invading Greece. There is a karmic connection between the two.
What tradition, family, society, and surroundings have bequeathed to him, consisting of beliefs, ideas, customs, culture, and manners, may need revision, examination, sifting, and sometimes even scrapping.
There are so many still latent possibilities for good and evil in most men that only the turns of circumstance's wheel can develop them.
Man changes the world, and the world changes him.
Philosophy does not reject the belief in the power of environments over man. They are important. But, it adds, even more important is the power of man himself.
The study of recompense (karma) reveals that mankind have to pay not only for what they have wrongly done but also for what they have failed to do. Such neglect is largely due to this, that man's intensely personal outlook makes him estimate the character of events primarily by the way in which they affect his own existence and only secondarily by the way in which they affect the larger human family to which he belongs. We are all workers in a common task. This is the inevitable conclusion which shares itself as soon as the truth of humanity as an organic unity is understood.
If you study history and think it over for yourself, instead of accepting the book-built theories of blind historians, you will find that the rise of great upheavals among men--whether spiritual or social, military or intellectual--always synchronized with the birth and activity of great personalities.
History vividly shows us that at certain psychological periods unusual men arise to inspire or to instruct the age. They are men of destiny.
Every successful man feels this sense of power supporting him, although the time comes when it also deserts him. Why? Because the map of his destiny has already indicated this change. Napoleon on St. Helena felt this loss, this difference from his former state. Disraeli, in his late sixties, said, "There were days when, on waking, I felt I could move dynasties and governments; but that has passed away."
One of the most impressive biographical facts about most of these men is the mixture of fate and free will in their lives.
It is a fundamental lesson of my world-wide observation that Heraclitus was completely right when he wrote: "Man's character is his fate."
Character is the root of destiny. An evil character must lead to an evil destiny.
A creative and original mind can undertake work for his own profit or benefit. If he undertakes it in addition for the benefit of others, he gains karmic merit. One refers, of course, to worthwhile work.
Wherever man goes he still takes his own mind, his own heart, his own character with him. They are the real authors of his troubles. Nothing outside will change these troubles so long as he does not begin to change his psychic life, that is, himself.
Fate gives them unbounded faith in their own future; it forms their character and shapes their capacity to enable them to carry out an historic task in human evolution.
Although it is true that the strong or the prudent man rules his stars and conquers his circumstances, it is equally true and often overlooked that the strength and the prudence to do so come from within, are born in the man much more than acquired by him.
Most of the great figures of history--be they great in war or thought, art or industry--have felt that some higher power than their own was largely responsible for the upward arc of their career. Napoleon felt it and said: "I feel myself driven toward an end that I do not know. As soon as I shall have reached it, as soon as I shall have become unnecessary, an atom will suffice to shatter me."
Responsibilities tend to gravitate to the shoulders of those who can bear them best.
His character was already in existence at birth, but it is now somewhat modified by environment and experience, by karmic happenings.
Destiny uses certain men to work out its large public aims yet lets them work at their little personal ones all at the same time.
Men like Lenin and Lincoln--strange as the conjunction may seem--are the instruments of destiny.
It is nonsensical to say that a single man makes a historical epoch. He is the embodied reaction called to play his part by the destiny of his times and by the thoughts of those among whom he is thrown.
Destiny uses such a man to fulfil her ends, to bring about the changes for better or worse. Hence destiny makes or breaks him.
History teaches us that the hour produces the man, yet if we are too addicted to the things of earth, if we have forgotten the diviner principles of righteousness, truth, and justice, then the man arises to our doom. The awful chaos of the French Revolution spawned forth after awhile its predestined figure of Napoleon. He brought the beginning of the end of the old feudal age in every European country wherein he fought but he brought it through a holocaust of misery, war, suffering, and bloodshed.
To accomplish a notable historic event, two elements are required--the man and the destiny.
Karma may use a person as the unwilling agent for its decrees.
Destiny usually fits its man. What he is tends to shape what he experiences.
The modification of a man's destiny calls for the modification of his moral character and personality trends as essential prerequisites.
Hitler was a vain and violent man who had absolutely no conscience, no sense of good or evil other than the barbarous rule that his own success was the sole good, his own failure the sole evil. In the vast contours of this century's history, this would-be world dictator will be seen for what he was and it will then find no other words with which to conclude its judgement than that Hitler was a criminal lunatic, a pathological and paranoic creature whose own insanity showed up the general craziness of his people and of his own groups who followed him in other lands. This is a true judgement of Hitler the man, but there was also Hitler, the instrument of destiny.
We can read the cryptic signs of these historic events aright when we read in him the half-conscious karmic agent who broke the decaying foundations of an ageing structure, who hastened the final dissolution of a shallow period which was governed by refined hypocrisies and self-deceptions and materialistic jealousies. Hitler had his part to play in the universal drama, albeit a very wicked one. But this does not for one moment mean, however, that we are to welcome Hitler's birth or to regard him as other than he was--the wickedest of all human beings, the most sinful of all sinners, the most vindictive of his contemporaries, the most barbarous of human creatures, the most devilish of all the enemies of truth and culture. Let there be no misunderstanding about this man who made murder a method of propaganda and oppression a method of government. If history has a place for Hitler, it can be only in her annals of brutality without parallel, falsehood on a gargantuan scale, and aggressiveness raised to the degree of utter bestiality. He has amply illustrated Emerson's saying that all history resolves itself easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons, even though his stoutness was devoted to an evil cause and his earnestness to an aggressive aim. This said, we must finish by curling our lips in disgust.
Although it is quite true that much of the vaunted free will of man is quite illusory, it is equally true that most of the events in his life, which consequently seem so predetermined, grow inescapably out of the kind of moral character and mental capacity which he possesses. They are neither merely accidental nor wholly arbitrary. Choice and reaction, attitude and decision depend ultimately on his psychological make-up and influence the course of events in a certain way. "Character is fate"--this is the simplest statement of the greatest truth. Where is freedom for man when heredity and the history and state of his family and race prearrange so many physical factors for him?
Astrology, fate, and free will
Philosophy teaches us a wiser course than mere fatalism, a truer one than mere faith in free will. It teaches us that even when the stars in the firmament appear to work against us, the stars of worthy ideals will always work for us. It liberates us from anxieties about our horoscope because it gives us certitudes that the right causes we set going must have right effects. It gives our life's ship sails and rudder, port and map; we need not drift.
The present comes to us out of the past and the future is being made in the present. All three are linked together and a horoscope is simply their map. This is one of the oldest ideas to be found in human culture, this idea that man's life is subject to a higher power, that he is personally responsible to a higher law for his actions and that he cannot escape its retribution for wrong-doing or its reward for righteousness. The Stoics of ancient Rome had this idea and called it Fate. The Platonists of ancient Greece had it and called it Destiny. And the Indians, mostly Buddhists and Hindus, had it and have it and call it Karma.
The planets do not control your individual destiny, but their movements determine the times when the latent karma which you have earned shall become active and operative. Hence the sky is like a gigantic clock whose hands point to the fateful hours of human life but it is not a storehouse of forces influencing or dominating that life.
I am not sure but that our modern reformers have swept away some sound doctrines in their efforts to purge astrology of its "superstitions." They lose sight of the fact that astrology could never have been formulated by the thinking brain of man but was essentially a revelation. This wonderful knowledge could only have been discovered by great seers, whose lucid clairvoyance compelled the star-gemmed skies to deliver up their secrets. It is a great pity that the Oriental system is so little known in the West, for without its aid we shall never come nearer to an impeccable science.
The horoscope is a map not only of the present reincarnation, but also of the relation existing between the ego and the soul. It indicates what particular lessons have to be learned.
The question of astrology comes up afresh too often these days to let us forget it. If it were wholly true, this predictive reference to the planets, it could easily be tested and established in the company of all the respected sciences. If it were wholly false, it could just as easily be tested and discarded once and for all. But because the correct appraisal lies at some undetermined point between these two extremes, the question can only receive a tantalizing and confused answer. Those who reject astrology totally prove thereby that either they have never or insufficiently investigated it. Those who accept it totally are in grave danger of denying to man his gift of limited free will in mind and action as well as of losing their way in a silly fatalism. Since it is man himself who has made the larger part of the destiny which he must undergo, it is he who can unmake it. Thus there is no room for extreme fatalism. Nevertheless, because his individual will is governed by a higher will, some part of his destiny remains so strong that it is beyond his capacity to change it. The Overself must surely be granted the simple power to know, before each reincarnation on earth, the potentialities for virtue and sin, for spiritual rise and fall, that lie innate within its progeny, the ego. But this no more commits man to a hopeless fatalism than does the knowledge that he will eat a couple of meals tomorrow. Let him ask his own reason and past experience whether these shining points of light in the sky are more baleful influences on his life than his own weaknesses, shortcomings, egoism, and lack of self-control. What can they do to him worse than what he can do to himself?
Lodovico, the Italian medieval prince, fell into one trouble after another despite his faithful following of advice given by a personal astrologer. For there are several different ways of interpreting a starry relationship--be it square or trine, conjunction or opposition. Astrology can point more easily and more certainly to its nature, as whether it be good or bad. But it cannot point to the precise meaning of a configuration in such detail that all astrologers would agree among themselves. Hence astrology is not a science so much as an art. The perfect astrologer would have to be omniscient and dwell far above the common human scene.
Astrology was given by the primeval sages as a revelation to early mankind. No human being on earth could have created out of his own head this mysterious science of astrology. It was given to help human beings who still were far from spiritual attainment, as a concession to their human nature. But when man has come by spiritual advancement, under the grace of God, directly, or through a teacher, it is not possible to construct a horoscope that will perfectly fit him because his testimony will always be liable to modification and alteration.
The ancient Roman belief that books are born under some kind of horoscopical destiny, just like human beings, seems, in my experience, to have a basis of truth.
Overstress of such beliefs as astrology may cause him to understress or even forget entirely his creative possibilities. They are both extreme swings of the pendulum. Astrology rests on the ground of karma in tendencies and deeds. Freedom of decision rests on the evolutionary need to let man express the creativeness he gets from the Overself. He must put both factors together to find truth.
While lesser lights of the modern literary world are content to dismiss the subject of astrology with a contemptuous sneer, England's greatest dramatist treated it with the respect grown of proper understanding. This is proved by abundant quotations from Shakespeare's plays that could be made. But advanced astrologers ought to realize the incomplete and fragmentary nature of their present knowledge.
We may defy the karmic law for many years in matters of the body's health and not have to pay for it until middle or old age. We may defy it in matters of conduct towards others and not have to pay until a later birth. But the law is always enforced in the end, always registered in the horoscopal chart imprinted on the very form of the body and nature of the personality.
Whatever happens to a man is in some way the consequence of what he did in the past, including the far-gone past of former births. But it may also be in part the imposition of the World-Idea's pattern upon his own karmic pattern. If it comes, such imposition is irresistible for then the planetary rhythms are involved.
Were those Romans wrong or superstitious who returned home if the day's start was unfortunate or marred? Was there nothing but chance in such accidents? Or were they, as astrologers believe, ill-omens to be heeded?
An Indian astrologer: "The planets do not compel anyone to be a villain and proclaim from the house tops `Evil be thou my Good.' Unique in the history of [the] world's astrological adventure, the Indian systems have carefully explained that the planets just indicate a rough outline of future events. Individuals and nations must realize not merely their potentialities for good and evil, but their limitations as well, as indicated by planetary configurational patterns, if life is to be lived in peace and harmony."
Man's inner life is fulfilled by rhythms which are under laws as much as tides and dawns are under laws.
Whoever will take the trouble to investigate the subject can discover that the events of life concur with the changes indicated in the skies.
All we may rightly say is that there is a fated element in every human life. But how large that element is in each particular life is generally unknown; what shape it will take is often unpredictable. We certainly ought not to say that such an element is the sole one. Therefore the wise man will take no horoscope, however expertly cast, as absolutely inevitable and no clairvoyant, however reputed, as absolutely infallible.
When astrology uses the stars and planets to explain the events which happen to us as pointers to the good and evil, the wisdom and ignorance within ourselves, as the prime causes of these events, it serves a purpose. If, however, it uses them as the real causes, then it renders us a disservice.
Have astrologers ever answered the criticism of Saint Augustine, that twins born under identical aspects do not have identical fortunes in life?
Do the sparkling planets which circle around our sun put the thoughts in our heads, the tendencies in our hearts, the words in our mouths, and the events in our lives? Do they throw roses in one man's path and rocks in another man's?
The first science ever created by the brain of man was astronomy.
The warning prophecies of these clairvoyants are useful in that they are to some degree what the oracle of Delphi was to Socrates. Those old Greeks had a wisdom all their own. They were not far wrong when they saw in unusual good fortune the forewarning of dread calamity; to them the gods did not desire mortals to remain happy too long.
It was a common act for the instructed persons among the earlier races of man, whether Egyptian or Greek, Roman or Indian, Chinese or Sumerian, to undertake no important enterprise and no long voyage without first consulting the will of the gods. And this they learnt within the secret walls of the temple, or from the lips of some revered holy man, or by studying the omens given by certain objects or circumstances. Men as gifted and as astute as Macedonian Alexander did not disdain to make the unpleasant journey to a corner of the Egyptian desert solely to consult the oracle at the temple of Ammon. It was here that Alexander, after dismounting from his horse at the door of this mystic shrine, was told that victory would follow his flag and that the world would be put into the hollow of his hand. Let us not think so slightingly of the people who lived before us, but remember that they too had culture, civilization, and religion.
Why is it that a man's own dreams have sometimes made a correct forecast of coming events?
Do the planets work sometimes for and sometimes against him or are they quite neutral?
Astrologers might be called "Interpreters of Over-Ruling Justice." It is not generally known that in India (although not in the West) astrology admits that in the horoscopes of advanced persons there appears what is called the Gurukula. When this is present, the astrologer takes it for a sign that at any moment Grace may change the character of the picture thereby presented. It is true that this doesn't appear in the horoscopes of ordinary persons. This point should be investigated by individuals who are particularly interested in the subject since it could have an important bearing on one's thinking.
In the horoscopes of ordinary people, in which a concatenation of several planets called the Gurukula does not appear, the expert can with reasonable accuracy plot the course of their future life because their characters are not likely to change very much. But, in the horoscopes of those few people in which the Gurukula does appear, it is not possible to prognosticate the future. Usually such persons have a great mission to perform, whether public or hidden. The individual karma from past lifetimes, even of the present one, may be changed during the fulfilment of such a mission. Ramana Maharshi had the Gurukula in his chart, as did Gandhi, and all Masters have it.
Philosophy agrees that karma can be changed, modified or counteracted for the most part, but there are certain limits beyond which one cannot go.
Although astrology cannot be regarded as an exact science, in the sense that astronomy is, it does offer some useful, informative clues and probabilities. A man's capacities and talents, the forces in his character, even some major happenings may be indicated by a horoscope. But interpreting this chart offers scope for human error.
This is not to go back to medieval superstition, but to go forward to modern, carefully investigated discovery.
Scholars and priests of the earliest known antiquity have drawn on the traditions of astrology to link our human fortunes with the starry firmament.
It is ridiculous for any sceptic to assert that it is impossible to foretell the future when science itself is doing it successfully every day of every year. Astronomical science foretells the time of eclipses of the sun and moon long in advance to the very minute of their happening. Chemical science foretells what will happen to litmus paper when it is applied to alkaline or to acid.
The horoscope indicates the future only for ordinary people and can never become a fixed certainty for the spiritually awakened. For wherever an individual has come under Divine Grace, he directly or indirectly through a teacher can be rendered independent of his past karma at any moment that the Divine wills it to be so. The will is free because Man is Divine and the Divine Self is free.
In its practice, astrology is resorted to by its believers too frequently and for too trivial matters. In its Western popularization through newspapers, periodicals, and pamphlets, it is presented so deceptively as to be half-falsified. In its theory only the most honest and most expert of its practitioners will admit the truth that it is not a precise science and that its interpretation trembles under the human frailty of its interpreters.
One important use of an astrological horoscope is principally to detect the presence of new opportunity, and to warn against the presence of dangerous tests, snares, and pitfalls. It is often hard to make a decision, when an important crossroad presents itself, if one of the roads leads to disaster and the other to good fortune. At such a time a correct horoscope will be helpful in arriving at a right decision.
Whoever succeeds in discovering his deeper identity by penetrating through the personal ego's surface and sub-surface life will thenceforth cease the efforts to discover his worldly destiny. The oracles which others seek so eagerly, the turns of the wheel of fortune which they hope to learn in advance, are left alone that he may enjoy serenity.
The receipt of a proposition or the beginning of a new undertaking or the making of a momentous decision, the founding of an enterprise or the occurrence of a grave crisis may offer signs which show the future destiny of the affair or advice as to the course to be taken. Such signs could be given by a particular phenomenon in Nature or the character of a particular event. These signals omens auguries and auspices need interpretation or divination; they may be favourable or unfavourable. It is as if Nature herself or Karma itself cast a kind of horary horoscope to direct those who are uncertain about the future or undecided about the present.
Those who use the I-Ching or astrological ephemerides and horoscopes as predictive instruments which are infallible tend to over-use them in the end and thus become complete fatalists devoid of self-reliance. Moreover, even apart from the question of infallibility, human interpretation enters into them, which is certainly not infallible.
All our Western education, training, mentality, and instinct has refused to accept this distasteful fatalism of the Orient, and so has rejected it utterly in the past. But since the war a wide belief in astrology has been spreading through Euramerica. Is not its inevitable consequence summed up in the Muhammedan's exclamation: "Inshallah"?
It is a mixture of wish and desire, fear and anxiety, which brings them repeatedly to the door of the fortune-teller, the predictive astrologer, and the like.
In most of the future-reading methods which have come down by tradition, such as Tarot, palmistry, and so on, the left side represents the past and the right side represents the future. The left eye, for example, represents receptivity and the right eye represents positivity. The same symbolism is carried through into ceremonial forms.
Does anyone really possess the power of predicting events weeks or even months before they happen? Accuracy about the past or present could alone give one some confidence in predictions about the future.
Some who cannot succeed in any other profession or who are unfit for honourable work, take to fortune-telling and quickly learn the art of deceiving those who consult them. Sometimes their predictions happen to come true but in ninety percent of cases they do not.
Critics insist that character-readers and fortune tellers appeal only to the grossest superstitions. One can understand the attitude of those who are so antagonized by exaggerated claims as to dismiss the whole subject of destiny and its foretelling with irritated impatience. The old Brahmin astrologers of India rigidly refrained from allowing their astrological knowledge to percolate down to the masses, for fear that it would be misunderstood or misused. This is precisely what has happened today. The popularization of knowledge in these democratic days is not altogether a good thing.
There are some enthusiastic exponents who, not content with claiming that every event in a man's life can be predetermined with the utmost precision, even turn these arts into a creed. I am a believer in the stellar science, with certain reserves--for I perceive its incomplete and fragmentary nature--but I have never found that astrology could provide the spiritual solace for which one looks to religion or philosophy.
The situation in the world with its anxiety, stress, and strain has produced a remarkable phenomena of recrudescence of fortune-telling and notably of astrology. A whole army has encamped in the midst of the metropolis which professes to provide its patrons with glimpses of the events of their future life. I do not regard astrology as nonsense. I believe there is some basis for the doctrines, but I regard the whole trade of fortune-telling as having been riddled through and through with quackery. Those who place their faith in the predictions of these gentry will, in the vast majority of cases, be sadly disillusioned. The prosperity, fortunate marriage, and fame which form so common a feature in their venial prophesies prove to be hollow bubbles that are pricked by the spears of time. The mentality which accepts every prediction as authentic is as primitive and as moronic as the mentality which utters it, as in the days of the decline of ancient Rome. Superstition battens on unsettled minds and fearful hearts, on all those who feel the need of some assertions about their personal future during the disturbed epoch. The wise man will refuse to follow the mass of slander, but will derive his assertions from the study of philosophy and practice of meditation.
However much we pry into the future we do not come a bit nearer real peace, whereas faithfully seeking and abiding in Overself gradually brings undying light and life.
Predictions were not only unfulfilled but actually their very reverse happened; this was because they were based on the false theory of materialism on the one hand and the cynical estimate of human nature resulting from it on the other.
All talismanic precautions, gem influences, and so on, either amplify or modify the other influences (karmic, environmental, and personal) which may be at work; they do not stand by themselves. More may be done in this way by changing the kind of prevailing thoughts, and especially by keeping out negative harmful and destructive thoughts, together with prayer for guidance.
Given a certain set of characteristics in a man, it is often possible for the psychologist to foretell in advance how he is likely to act in a given situation.
Some possess an instinctive belief in astrology. They look constantly to the planets for advice about the right timing of their moves.
He may intuitively know--not reason out--that certain events will happen even before they do arrive.
There is a danger that negative predictions may also act as suggestions and, by influencing mental or emotional causes, bring about physical effects which fulfil the predictions.
Although the ancients were much addicted to divination, Socrates counseled the use of one's own reason and judgement in solving problems, and only when these failed should one resort to divination.
There are no lucky house-numbers and no unlucky ones. If a man has had a series of misfortunes in a certain house, it is not the fault of its number but the fault of his karma. His evil karma fell due during that period and would have ripened into sorrowful experiences even if he had occupied a totally different house with a totally different number. Now karma arises ultimately out of character for the better and thus ultimately changes his karma to some extent. Then let him move back into the same house which once brought him sorrow. He will find that this time it will not do so. Its so-called unlucky number will no longer harm him.
I am a believer in portents. This is one weak little superstition I allow myself, that the beginning of an event carries quite an auspicious significance for me.
That at times it is possible to foretell the future, to know beforehand what is going to happen, is a matter of personal experience with the sensitive man.
The "lucky gem" which can thwart the power of karma and bring a man to the high position which he does not deserve has not been found; the "unlucky stone" which can deprive a man of the fruits of his endeavour has not been formed.
A warning must be given about astrological predictions. The readings must be taken with the greatest reserve. Every astrologer makes mistakes--and, frequently, tremendous mistakes--because the full knowledge of this science is lost in the modern age and there is only a partial knowledge nowadays.
"He resisted the temptation to introduce himself [to the woman who later became his wife]; he felt it was not the right moment either for him or for me--But now, six months later, he knew that the right time had come." It proved so! Thus the importance of timing in relation to events is once again illustrated by this short story, and constantly illustrated daily by the work of astrologers.
We may freely leave the future to our stars, if we know that we can be true to ourselves.
It is more important to face the future equipped with right principles and strong character than with predictions concerning its details. If we establish good attitudes toward it, we cannot get bad results.
Uncritical and imaginative believers will mold, press, and distort the history of their life and the pattern of their character to fit the fortune-teller's reading or an astrologer's horoscope. In this task they mostly succeed, for there are usually some points in any reading or horoscope which are correct for any person.
The astrologically inclined may think they can sidestep the blows ordained by the stars.
If we consider the wide range of possibilities which the future holds for us, we will make predictions hesitantly.
When I was in the teen-age group, I studied astrology and looked anxiously or expectantly at my horoscope several times each month. Now I have not seen it for years, and care little what is in it. Why?
The accurate prediction of future events is not something that can be as rigidly scientific as mathematics, for instance. There are incalculable and elusive factors always at work. Nevertheless, the broad trend and general ways of events can be forecast with some soundness.
Shall we delay our journeys in deference to the planets?
If I have lost interest in having my fortune told, it is because I have found my real fortune in myself.
In dealing with the adverse statements of fortune-telling, Alan Leo, who was years ago the greatest of British astrologers, pointed out that these predictions were the consequence of what would happen if no precautions were taken against them. This attitude of a modern, Western, European astrologer is interesting when compared with the predictions made by an Indian or other Oriental astrologer, for their view is far more fatalistic.
Where a horoscope shows that any physical relationship with women--much more any promiscuous one--is adversely aspected by the planets, to ignore this warning would simply bring trouble after trouble in a man's life. However hard, an unmarried chaste state must be accepted.
Karma, free will, and the Overself
What man really dominates his destiny? The great person may succeed in modifying it, but the psychological and physical factors with which the ordinary person starts the course of life are already in his genes and predicate both character and fortune. He is at the mercy of events until he learns this secret of modifying and influencing them.
We all have to bear the consequences of our past deeds. This cannot be helped. But of course there are good deeds and bad deeds. We can, to a certain extent, offset those consequences by bringing in counter-forces through new deeds; but how far this will be true will necessarily vary from person to person. The one who has knowledge and power, who is able to practise deep meditation and to control his character, will necessarily affect those consequences much more strongly than the one who lacks these.
Karma gives a man what he has largely made himself; it does not give him what he prefers: but it is quite possible at times that the two coincide. If he is partially the author of his own troubles, he is also drawing to himself by mental power his good fortune.
Some measure of fate, prudence, destiny, must exist in the world of human affairs if they are to be part of a divine order, and not of a mere fortuitous chaos.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof say the apathetic, the sluggish, the inert, and they refuse to look forward. They experience the evil alright. If time is simultaneous and the future already exists, what is the use of making any effort? This despairing but plausible objection overlooks the parallel fact that the future is not fixed for all eternity; it is always fluctuating because it is always liable to modification by the intrusion of new factors, such as an intense effort to alter it or an intense interference by another person. The future exists, but the future changes at the same time.
Both the benign and the malefic are already concealed in destiny's decrees for the child at its birth. To the extent that outer fortunes are directly traceable to inner tendencies, to that extent they are controllable and alterable. How large or how small a part of its life is quite beyond its free choice and direction is itself a matter of fate.
He may feel powerless in the presence of fate, too diminutive against the vast cosmic power that shapes men's lives, and overwhelmed by it into apathy or impotence.
Resignation to circumstance, adaptation to environment, coming to terms with the inevitable, and acceptance of the unavoidable, however reluctant--these have their place as much as the use of free aggressive will.
If it were true that every act of man and every event which happened to him was predestined in every point, the destruction of his moral responsibility which would necessarily follow would be as disastrous to society as to himself.
If certain evils are written in our destiny and may not be avoided by effort, it is still sometimes possible to minimize them by prudence.
Just as threads are crossed and laced to make textiles on a loom, so destiny and free will are interwoven to make a man's life.
We are not so tightly bound by fate as we think.
Fate must have its way and impose its will, for that is its work and power. But man may interfere with what it does by introducing his own doings, or equally help it in its course.
In the somewhat mysterious way whereby fated decree meshes its gear in with willed free choice, the final result appears.
To say that everything depends on fate is an exaggeration; to say that it depends on one's effort is misleading.
With most persons whom one encounters, destiny has withheld something they ardently desired and persistently looked for.
If he had not done this, life would still have arranged for it to happen; but in that case it would then not be quite the same nor happen just at the same time.
What man has more than partial freedom? All men have to receive the come-back of past activities, although the wise and disciplined ones may counter it to some extent by new actions.
The karma is a part of himself and he cannot get away from it. But just as he may bring some changes about in himself, so there may be a corresponding echo in the karma.
Philosophy never encourages a passive attitude towards the law of recompense, but it does not fall into the error of these misleading schools of thought which hold out false hopes.
No one transgresses against these higher laws without self-injury, quite apart from the punishment which the transgression itself invokes.
Karma brings us the results of our own doing, but these are fitted in the World-Idea, which is the supreme law and shapes the course of things.
There are occasions when it is either prudent or wise to practise Stoic submission. But there are other occasions when it is needful to do battle with the event or the environment.
The old arguments about fate and free will are in the end quite useless. It is possible to show that man has the full freedom to improve himself and his surroundings, but it is also possible to show that he is helpless. This is so because both sides of the matter are present and must be included in any account of the human situation. The World-Idea renders certain events and circumstances inevitable.
To strive hard for a worthwhile aim but to resign oneself to its abandonment if destiny is adverse to its realization, is not the same as to do nothing for it at all but to leave that aim entirely to fate. To eliminate within oneself the avoidable causes of misfortune and trouble but to endure understandingly those which are the unavoidable lot of man is not the same as to let those causes remain untouched whilst blindly accepting their effects as fate.
Only so far as personal planning obtains destiny's sanction will it be able to achieve its goals.
Socrates: "Uncouth, uncivilized, unkind--destiny decreed all those things for me, but I, through perseverance, managed to change a little."
Trying in the wrong way hinders us and trying in the right way helps us. Rebellion against fate does not help; acceptance and correction of fate does.
It is not easy to know when to follow destiny's lead or when to fight it.
When we find inward peace, we cease to struggle with the fates.
The ordination of the universal life includes the ordination of man's life.
We have only to look back and sum up the events of a whole lifetime to read in them the one sure meaning of it all. The future is pre-existent in us from the very beginning. Although it is not so hard-set that a change in ourselves will not modify it by reflected reaction.
He may do all he can to circumvent his destiny but although he can succeed in some particulars he cannot in others. For instance, a person cannot change the colour of his skin. But the kind of experiences which fall to his lot in consequence of that colour are to some extent subject to his influence and character, while his own emotional reaction to them is to the fullest extent certainly subject to them.
Karma does not wholly cancel freedom but limits it. If the present results of old causes set walls around him, through a better character and an improved intelligence new causes may be initiated and other results be attained.
There is no complete freedom but, on the other hand, there is no complete necessity. There is a confined free will, a freedom within bounds. Philosophy makes, as the basis of this freedom in man, both the intelligence it finds in him and the Divine Spirit from which that intelligence is derived.
Those who object to the doctrine of self-determined fate, who put forward an absolute freedom of will, have to show how free will can change the results of a murder. Can it restore life to the corpse or save the criminal from death? Can it remove the unhappiness of the murdered man's wife? Can it even eliminate the sense of guilt from the conscience of his murderer? No--these results inevitably flow from the act.
When we uphold the existence of free will, we uphold implicitly the existence of fate. For enquiry into the way the thought of freedom arises in the mind reveals that it always comes coupled with the thought of fate. If one is denied, then the other is thereby denied also.
What is the use of fooling oneself with stirring phrases about our freedom to mold life or with resounding sentences about our capacity to create fortune? The fact remains that karma holds us in its grip, that the past hems us in all around, and that the older we grow the smaller becomes the area of what little freedom is left. Let us certainly do all we can to shape the future and amend the past, but let us also be resigned to reflective endurance of so much that will come to us or remain with us, do what we may.
Whoever imagines that all his actions are entirely the result of his own personal choice, whoever suffers from the illusion of possessing complete free will, is blinded and infatuated with his ego. He does not see that at certain times it was impossible for him to act in any other way because there was no alternative. And such impossibility arose because there is a law which arranges circumstances or introduces a momentum according to an intelligible pattern. Karma, evolution, and the individual's trend of thought are the principal features of this pattern.
The human will's freedom has its limits. It must in the end conform to the evolutionary purposes of the World-Idea. If, by a certain time, it fails to do so voluntarily, then these purposes invoke the forces of suffering and force the human entity to conform.
What will happen to each one of us in the future is not wholly inevitable and fixed, even though it is the logical sequence of our known and unknown past. It is still unset and uncrystallized--therefore changeable to a degree. That degree can be measured partly by the extent of our foreknowledge of what is likely to happen and the steps taken to circumvent it. The ability to evade these events is not a complete one, however, for it is always subject to being overruled by the will of the Overself.
Why not preordain events by using a hard will?
When the belief in destiny is allowed to paralyse all energy and overwhelm all courage, it should be re-examined. When the belief in free will is allowed to lead men into egoistic arrogance and materialistic ignorance, it also should be re-examined.
Had his choice between roads been made differently, his life would certainly have been very different, too. But was his power of choice really as free as it seemed to be?
Is it possible to distinguish between a calamitous destiny which we all-too-obviously fashioned for ourselves and a calamitous fate for which we seem utterly unresponsible?
Until a certain time the course of a man's destiny is within his area of influence, and even of control; but beyond that time it is not.
That which delays the expression of a man's dynamic thought in modifications of his environment or alterations of his character is the weight of his own past karma. But it only delays; if he keeps up the pressure of concentration and purpose, his efforts must eventually show their fruit.
The law of consequences is immutable and not whimsical but its effects may at times be modified or even neutralized by introducing new causes in the form of opposing thoughts and deeds. This of course involves in turn a sharp change in the direction of life-course. Such a change we call repentance.
Is it believable that situations which are themselves the product of man's will and thought should not be alterable by that same will and thought? No!--let him accept his responsibility at this stage of their history as he admitted it at the beginning stage.
Many men unwittingly break the higher laws of life. Others, either knowing of them or believing in them, fail to understand them well enough to apply them personally.
While men are not yet ready for the conscious and deliberate development of their spiritual life, they must submit to its unconscious and compulsive development by the forces of Nature.
If fate is absolute, then is prayer useless? Ought men, like the medieval Sufi, Abdullah ibn Mubarak, never ask God for anything?
Which of us has the power to change the consequences of his former actions? We may make amends, we may be penitent and perform penances. We may counter them by the opposite kinds of good deeds. But it is the business of karma to make us feel responsible for what we do and that responsibility cannot be evaded. In a certain sense, however, there is a measure of freedom, a power of creativity, both of which belong to the godlike Higher Self which each of us has.
What has happened has happened and there is nothing we can do about it. We cannot rewrite the past, we cannot repair our wrong actions, we cannot put right the wrongs we have done, the hurts we have given, or the miseries we have caused both to others and to ourselves. But if the past records cannot be changed, our present attitudes towards them can be changed. We can learn lessons from the past, we can apply wisdom to it, we can try to improve ourselves and our acts, we can create new and better karma. Best of all, having done all these things, we can let go of the past entirely and learn to live in the eternal now by escaping into true Being, the I am consciousness, not the I was.
He submits himself to karma as mutely and as will-less-ly as a sheep to the slaughterer's knife.
Are some faults of conduct, weaknesses of character, quite incorrigible? Give the man enough time, that is to say, enough lifetimes, and he will be unable to resist change and reform, that is to say, unable to resist the World-Idea. God is will in religious parlance.
Does he really choose to do these acts or are they already preordained by fate? Is his activity genuinely free and what he wanted to do or is his liberty a mere illusion and his desire mere reflection?
A man may conquer a continent but himself be conquered by a power before which he is as helpless as a babe--the power of divine retribution. The harvest of his aggressive war will then be gathered in.
If the currents of life are running adversely, if you suffer an irreparable calamity, why not submit and save your energies and your tears, says the fatalist.
In the end, and whether by his own surrender or by outside compulsion, his own personal purposes have to be subordinated to the World-Idea's lines of force.
Must fate (karma) always take its course? Are we helpless automatons? It seems a chilling thought.
If, after exhausting all our efforts, nothing comes of them, then we shall have to accept that as Destiny.
Greek tragic drama shows how event after event may turn against a man at the bidding of a higher power--destiny. It shows how little human will can do to avert catastrophe or avoid disaster when the universal will is set in an opposite direction.
There is a certain amount of destiny in each life as the result of past karma, but there is also an amount of free will if it is exercised. Every happening in our lives is not karmic, for it may be created by our present actions.
This deadly doctrine of karma seems to leave us no loophole. It catches us like animals in the iron trap of fate.
A higher power than human will rules human lives. Yet it does not rule them arbitrarily. Even though man does not control its decisions, he does contribute toward them.
The law of recompense is not only one to compel man to right thought, feeling, and conduct. On a higher plane, there is the Overself. Were there no rewards for goodness and no punishment for wickedness, either here on earth or somewhere in a death-world, it would still be a part of man's highest happiness to express the compassion that is, through the Overself, his purest attribute.
We need not dally idly in the stream of happenings because we believe in destiny. The Overself is deeper than destiny. The Overself is omnipotent; the related links of the chain of Fate fall to the ground at its bidding; it is worse to disbelieve in the Overself and its supremacy than to believe in destiny and its power--not that the Overself can outwit destiny, it merely dissolves it.
In the final chapter of A Search in Secret India, I provided some hints of the cyclic nature of life, writing of how "every life has its aphelion and perihelion" (paraphrase). Now the time has come to particularize this statement and cast some light on the great mystery of fate and fortune. The knowledge of this truth renders a man better able to meet all situations in life, both pleasant and unpleasant, in the right way. "With an understanding of the auspicious and inauspicious issues of events, the accomplishment of great Life-tasks becomes possible," taught a Chinese sage. According to the Chinese wisdom, Tao, in its secondary meaning, is the divinely fixed order of things; under this there are four cycles of history. The first two are "yang" and the last two are "yin." This law of periodicity refers to individual lives no less than to cosmic existence. Every human life is therefore subject to periodical changes of destiny whose inner significance needs to be comprehended before one can rightly act. Hence the method of grappling with destiny must necessarily vary in accord with the particular rhythm which has come into the calendar of one's life. Every situation in human existence must find its appropriate treatment, and the right treatment can only be consciously adopted by the sage who has established inner harmony with the law of periodicity.
The sage seeks to do the right thing at the right moment, for automatic adjustment to these varying fortunes. This is called, in the Chinese Mystery School teaching, "mounting the dragon at the proper time and driving through the sky." Hence I have written in The Quest of the Overself that the wise man knows when to resist fate and when to yield to it. Knowing the truth above of the ebb and flow of destiny, he acts always in conformity with this inner understanding. Sometimes he will be fiercely active, other times completely quiescent, sometimes fighting tragedy to the utmost, but at other times resigned and surrendered. Everything has its special time and he does not follow any course of action at the wrong time. He is a free agent, yes, but he must express that freedom rightly, because he must work, as all must work, within the framework of cosmic law. To initiate the correct change in his activities at the incorrect time and amid wrong environing circumstances would be rash and lead to failure; to start a new and necessary enterprise at the wrong moment and amid the wrong situation of life, would also lead to failure. The same changes, however, if begun at another time and amid other conditions, will lead to success. The sage consults his innermost prompting, which, being in harmony with truth, guides him to correct action in particular situations accordingly. We can neither dictate to him as to what he should do, nor prescribe principles for his guidance, nor even predict how he is going to respond to any set of circumstances.
The proper course of action which anyone should adopt depends ultimately upon his time and place both materially and spiritually. In short, human wisdom must always be related to the cosmic currents of destiny and the divine goal. Man must be adaptable to circumstances, flexible to destiny, if his life is to be both wise and content. Unfortunately, the ordinary man does not perceive this, and creates much of his own unhappiness, works much of his own ruin. It is only the sage who, having surrendered the personal Ego, can create his own harmony with Nature and fate and thus remain spiritually undisturbed and at peace. As Kung-Fu-Tze (Confucius, in Western parlance) pithily says: "The superior man can find himself in no situation in which he is not himself." The wise man defers action and waits if necessary for the opportune and auspicious moment; he will not indulge in senseless struggles or untimely efforts. He knows how and when to wait and by his waiting render success certain. No matter how talented he be, if his circumstances are unfavourable and the time inopportune to express them, he will resign himself for the while and devote his time to self-preparation and self-cultivation and thus be ready for the opportunity which he knows the turn of time's wheel must bring him. He puts himself into alignment with the hidden principle which runs through man and matter, striking effectively when the iron is hot, refraining cautiously when it is cold. He knows the proper limits of his activity even in success and does not go beyond them. He knows when to advance and when to retreat, when to be incessantly active and when to lie as still as a sleeping mouse. Thus he escapes from committing serious errors.
Your karma led you into this horror but your cleared sight can now lead you out of it. This will act as a healing. The conjunction of your character, temperament, and qualities with the time, surroundings, and history being what they were, the result was what it was. Now the more you can displace the so-called freedom of the ego, submit to the call of Overself, the more you will share the greater possibility which it hides.
The yearning to free himself from the limitations of personal destiny and the compulsions of outward circumstance can be gratified only by losing the sense of time.
Karma comes into play only if the karmic impression is strong enough to survive. In the case of the sage, because he treats life like a dream, because he sees through it as appearance, all his experiences are on the surface only. His deep inner mind remains untouched by them. Therefore he makes no karma from them, therefore he is able when passing out of the body at death to be finished with the round of birth and death forever.
The view that karma operates like an automatic machine is not a wholly true one; this is because it is not a wholly complete one. The missing element is grace.
The privileges of enlightenment can only be justified on the basis of karma--"My own, my own, shall come to me," as the poet intuited.
He will be content to leave the mutations of his future in the disposal of the higher power. He knows that it is rendered secure by his obedience to, and conformity with, the higher laws.
Man may attempt to defy his destiny, but unless he has emancipated his spirit, it will get him.
It is sometimes asked, why should the Overself, through its grace, interfere with the workings of its own law of consequences? Why should it be able to set the karma of a man at naught? If the recurrence of karma is an eternal law, how can any power ever break it or interfere with its working? The answer is that the Overself does not violate the law of consequences at any time. If, through a man's own efforts he modifies its effects upon him in a particular instance, or if the same is brought about by the manifestation of Grace, everything is still done within that law--for it must not be forgotten that the allotment selected for a particular incarnation does not exhaust the whole store of karma existing in a man's record. There is always very much more than a single earth-life's allotment. What happens is that a piece of good karma is brought into manifestation alongside of the bad karma, and of such a nature and at such a time as completely to neutralize it, if its eradication is to be the result, or partially to neutralize it, if its modification is to be the ended result. Thus the same law still continues to operate, but there is a change in the result of its operation.
There is no other judge of your deeds than the law of recompense, whose agent is your own Overself.
Even if human karma were rigidly implacable and against it human will sadly impotent, divine Grace is still available and divine Mercy is yet accessible.
Do your best to mend matters, the best you can, then leave the results to destiny and the Overself. You can't do more anyway. You can modify your destiny, but certain events are unchangeable because the world is not yours but God's. You may not know at first what events these are, therefore you must act intelligently and intuitively: later you can find out and accept. Whatever happens, the Overself is still there and will bring you through and out of your troubles. Whatever happens to your material affairs happens to your body, not the real YOU. The hardest part is when you have others dependent on you. Even then you must learn how to commend them to the kindly care of the Overself, and not try to carry all the burden on your own shoulders. If it can take care of you, it can take care of them, too.
The working of a man's karma would never come to an end if his egoism never came to an end. It would be a vicious circle from which there would be no escape. But when the sense of personal selfhood, which is its cause and core, is abandoned, the unfulfilled karma is abandoned too.
The law of recompense has no jurisdiction over the eternal and undivided Overself, the real being, only over the body and mind, the transitory ego.
On this question of fate and free will, Ramana Maharshi was the supreme fatalist. He once said, "Make no effort to be active or to renounce activity for your effort is your present. What is predestined to arrive will arrive. Leave things to the Supreme Power, you cannot choose to renounce or to keep."
If a man comes into alignment with the Overself-consciousness, he is compelled to give up his earlier position of free will and free choice--for he no longer exists to please the ego alone. The regulating factor is now the Overself itself.
How wonderful it would be if a man could fall asleep one night and wake up in the morning finding himself fully enlightened, that is, someone else!
What we have yet to learn is that destiny makes its chesslike moves according to our thinking and doing. Whoever will offer himself unto the Overself, and will be blessed by its benediction so that he becomes as one inspired, may then perceive this strange figure at his side working for the good of man.