Compass Newsletter Autumn 2014 No. 26
In a world that offers an App for almost everything, we appear able to click, swipe, tap, our way through life. This may bring substantial advantages to the world but lets not be deceived into thinking they are little more than convenient intermediaries. The thing that can offer true opportunity of advantage and change to the world is ourselves. The great names of the past, Spiritual, Philosophical, Scientific, gave to the world something that resided in themselves, what they really were. No matter how humble we think ourselves we are able to affect mankind in many ways, maybe not in ways heralded by triumphant media driven proclamations or acknowledgements but in the simple daily acts in which we all engage. Maybe not seeing the end results, for they may not be for us to see, but doing the best that is within us in whatever situation Life delivers. At some point our gaze will be turned inwards. “Know Thyself” was written above the entrance to the temple at Delphi.” Shakespeare’s Polonius says in Hamlet
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man….”
Do we know ourselves? How easy do we surrender the limitations of what we can do to the, click, swipe or tap we think can change the world? Is there an ‘App’ that provides generosity of spirit, care, compassion, love? Or can we change the world, humanity, through understanding ourselves and, through understanding ourselves, understand others. Striving to understand ourselves, striving to understand humanity and how interconnected we all are, how interconnected everything is. What happens to one happens to all and there are no inconsequentials.
By Sarah Belle Dougherty
Human life is full of inequities. Seemingly undeserved differences in material conditions, opportunities, and abilities have an overwhelming impact on the course of our lives. Why should one person be born to hardship and struggle, or mediocrity, while others come into the world with material advantages or talent? Our destiny may also be shaped by the many natural and man-made disasters which kill or bring suffering to hundreds of people without any apparent cause on the part of the victims. Less spectacular but more pervasive are relatively common events, such as car accidents or cancer, which intrude into our lives, striking one and not another, often with no discoverable reason — “chance” events. Is there any reason behind these disparities which make up individual lives?
Although we often speak of chance, few of us really believe that we live in a chaotic or random universe, as our actions and habits of thought show. Not only basic scientific research and knowledge, but our own day-to-day decisions take physical cause-and-effect relationships for granted. There are also non-physical causes and effects, but because we are so caught up in the appearance of things as reported by our senses, and in the materialism of modern culture, we often do not realise that the physical world is only the effect, the outermost shell or body, of our real environment. Actually the cosmos, like ourselves, is composed almost entirely of grades of consciousness-substance that are not perceived by our senses. Certainly the major, most influential parts of us are our mind, emotions, desires, habits, and insights — these are what make the person, not merely the physical body. The universe, too, is not a machine or a mere conglomeration of physical particles, but alive and conscious throughout. It is formed of a multitude of living organisms, every point, every grouping, the living expression and vehicle of a spiritual entity. Every such point of life is not only an integral part of a more inclusive entity, but at the same time is formed of countless entities less developed than itself. The universe is a limitless webwork of interconnected lives, all acting and reacting on each other, and on themselves as well.
This universal action and reaction, or cause and effect, is karma, a Sanskrit word meaning action. Though some religious traditions present it as the action of a cosmic being, karma is actually universal and impersonal, an inherent tendency in nature. Every act, thought, or feeling is an impulse which reverberates throughout the universe. The universe then reacts as a matter of course, and sooner or later the force rebounds upon its source. Activities in harmony with natural patterns maintain and reinforce that harmony which then is reflected back on the actor; activities in conflict with the patterns of nature create disharmony which also is reflected back on the actor. It is not punishment or reward — such a view simply projects our own feelings onto the natural process by which balance is restored when individuals, using their free will, channel energies.
Because we do not see the immediate cause of our character, circumstances, and associations, our joys and sufferings, we are apt to explain them as chance or the will of some being outside ourselves. The inequalities in human life, however, are caused by people themselves, individually and as groups. This goes unrecognised when we view ourselves as completely new at birth, instead of as the expression of a divine monad or consciousness centre with a past as long as that of the universe itself. Such a monad which has reached the self-conscious egoic stage of its inner unfoldment, has lived many lives on earth as a human being. In them it has built up, from within itself and by reacting to circumstances, particular characteristics and reinforced certain abilities and lacks. Further, each person through contact with others has set in motion causes which attract him to particular groups of people in order to experience the effects. As members of groups, we have been involved together in actions and thoughts which must have their consequences. Each human being is born with many tendencies and relationships awaiting the opportunity for expression and modification in a new set of circumstances. Considering the many causes we set in motion even in one lifetime, it is small wonder that there is such a variety of conditions in the world.
But why aren’t we consciously aware of the past causes we have set in motion if we must live through their consequences? The answer lies in the complex, compound structure of human nature. During our life we tend to identify almost completely with our personality and body, but our personality or everyday psychological self does not survive death intact any more than our body does. When the spiritual aspects withdraw from this psychological vehicle or personality after death, the forces holding it together dissipate and it disintegrates into psychological “atoms” which circulate through nature as the physical atoms of our body do after death. When the time comes for us to be reborn, most of this mental-emotional substance is gathered together again and reformed into the new personality, the recombined elements having no remembrance of the human being that utilised them before. Nevertheless, because these atoms bear the impress of qualities and tendencies stamped upon them in the last embodiment, the “new” personality tends to be the direct result and continuation of the previous one. At the same time, we are much more than we express in any one life, and carry within ourselves a backlog of karma from former lives which is awaiting the proper opportunity to manifest. Because of this variety of karmic possibilities, our present personality is not formed only by the immediately preceding life: certain tendencies may be held back while other more ancient chains of causation are brought forward. We are affected by this karmic heritage we do not understand or remember because we have become it in ourselves.
But we are more than psycho-mental beings. Our spiritual aspects are enduring and retain the record of our past. If we centred our consciousness on these levels, we could know our past lives — though we might find this a very sobering experience indeed. As our everyday consciousness becomes more universal, it gradually grows toward its parent, the spiritual monad, until eventually we will pass consciously through death and reimbodiment, and be able to know the causes of the events which befall us.
If everything has a cause and nothing results from chance, some people conclude that we must be trapped by the past into a predetermined, inescapable fate. Such a view overlooks the fact that we are not creatures only of matter or mind, but fundamentally identical in our inmost reaches with cosmic divinity. Because of this, every entity in nature has free will, although its freedom is limited by its degree of evolution and by other entities around it. Of course, our past, the character we have created for ourselves, our habits of thought, feeling, and action, are powerful forces, and it is easy to drift along the route of least resistance in ourselves. But if our desire and commitment are strong enough, we can change. While we must inevitably deal with the consequences of our actions, we need not be controlled by them. New karma arises constantly from our reactions, motives and attitudes, and at every moment we are different, a new self-creation. The personality who receives the effects of past karma may be quite changed from the one who originally made it, just as the mature person is usually different from what he was as a teenager, though he must deal with the consequences of the teenager’s decisions. His present perspective may allow him to meet creatively even unfortunate effects of his past, transmuting something potentially negative into an opportunity to learn and grow. By starting causes of a more harmonious quality we can mitigate the effects of, and perhaps find positive aspects to, much of the former disharmonious karma we have made, and plant seeds of a new kind for the future. Far from fatalism, karma allows us to choose and make our destiny, giving us the opportunity to control our life and circumstances by controlling ourselves and how circumstances affect us.
Sometimes karma is also misinterpreted as a rationalisation for callousness and for maintaining a status quo of suffering and injustice, individually or socially: “These people have brought their difficulties on themselves; it’s their karma, and I won’t interfere with divine justice.” Such reasoning ignores the fact that it is not only a person’s karma to experience misfortune, but also to have someone there in a position to help. By choosing to remain aloof from the plight of another, we create self-limiting karma for and in ourselves. As parts of one organic unity, identical in essence with each and every other part, it is our responsibility to assist others to the best of our ability: compassion and fellow-feeling for all is the pathway of growth and the expression of what is truly and nobly human.
The key to understanding the present lies in recognising that everything has a cause and will have an effect. For the universe and all in it have been formed by their past activities. We each have shaped ourselves through innumerable lives into exactly who we presently are, and by our thoughts, actions, and desires now we form our future self. By our reactions to those around us we are setting up a pattern of causes that will have to be worked out in future relationships with those people. And just as we are the great storehouse of our past karma — our traits of character, tendencies, abilities — so is every other entity in nature its own karma. As human beings, we are part of greater entities — the earth, solar system, galaxy — which create their own karma. This larger karma affects humanity as a whole, just as our individual actions affect the smaller lives which compose our bodies. There is an interaction and reaction among all things, for the universe is a unity, a living organism, not a collection of superficially related parts. Each part affects the whole at every instant, and is affected by it, and it is these karmic interrelations that make the universe function as it does. Our lives have an impact on everything within and around us; what we choose to think and do and feel is not limited in its effect to ourselves or to those we know. If we can see beyond the narrow, self-centred aspects of ourselves and live in accordance with the wider interests of the many beings which surround us, we will become a positive influence of planetary extent, creating karma which is a present and future benediction.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1984. Copyright © 1984 by Theosophical University Press)
“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
By Ingrid Van Mater
Not long ago a group of us were having a discussion when a young man from Jamaica asked, “How can man elevate himself?” He said, “We look around us and also we study man’s record in past ages, and all through we see wars, murders, and cruelty. It seems that man is doomed to destroy himself, to become victimized by life’s dark and selfish forces. When do we hear of positive values?” He went on to lament his background and the fierce competition he had encountered in school. “But,” he reflected, “one day I asked a friend how he managed to be so peaceful and calm, and he said, ‘because I have learned to accept me.’ This set me on a new train of thought and I began to reconsider many things.”
Accepting ourselves, the wholeness of our being, and trying continually to discover the realness within, without worrying about being like someone else, or worse yet, trying to outdo someone else, is a good starting point. It is clear that competitiveness has gone beyond all reasonable healthy limits. In striving to get ahead, many are content to trample on other people to reach their goal. Such an attitude divests man of his innate dignity, and negates the moral and ethical principles belonging to the human estate.
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We are what we think. We are also what we think we are. And therefore we can be what we know we are, deep within ourselves, for within us is all the wisdom of the universe. We cannot convince another, but it is worth every effort to try to persuade ourselves that life is positive and hopeful to the degree that we make it so. Whatever we may think, and however we may mentally try to deny or ignore the fact, we are primarily on a search to find and ultimately to become the nobility that we are in our highest aspect, and to understand and follow the path to our inner sun. The marvel of this search is that each one is his own pathway while endeavouring to fulfil the spiritual destiny common to all. Have you ever observed the path of sunlight on the ocean as the sun begins to set? It suggests this paradoxical truth: as you walk along the beach you discover that the path is directed towards you and follows you as you walk. Yet all see the same golden path from wherever they are.
What a strengthening thought it is that the sunlight of truth is within us and that at any moment we can invite the force of divinity into our lives and so ennoble our thoughts and actions. As we learn from numerous examples of inner human triumph, no burden is too great if we can maintain the right attitude, and this is, of course, where we fail many times. The impingements and demands of society often make us feel like an ant about to be crushed, but, as someone rightly said, “What’s wrong with being like an ant? An ant is capable of carrying a burden many times its size.” Each of us has a greatness within that far surpasses anything that happens to or around us, and an indomitable spirit that no one can destroy.
Quite unexpectedly incidents happen along the road of life that reinforce one’s faith in the goodness of humanity. Some time ago a television commentator named compassion, integrity, humility, and unselfishness as the qualities of true greatness. His words were arresting in their simplicity and optimism. He told of a blind cabinet maker who, through the feeling in his hands, turns out beautiful work, comparable to the finest. This takes perseverance, optimism, and the right attitude in himself. The commentator closed with the thought that greatness has little or nothing to do with rising to the top; there are bad people who are in the limelight and great ones — great by reason of what they are within themselves — whom the world may never know. These quiet ones, with their inner nobility and steadfastness, are the real heroes.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1982. Copyright © 1982 by Theosophical University Press)
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” W.B. Yeats
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