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Dec 21, 2006 02:05 PM
by carlosaveline

Is Karma Merciful?

Mercy is not opposed to Justice, and...the fullest justice is the same as the fullest mercy. Some take the meaning of Mercy to be permitted escape from the results of wrongdoing; but this would not be Justice, nor would it be merciful to those injured by wrongdoing. We should remember the definition of Karma: an undeviating and unerring tendency in the Universe to restore equilibrium, which operates incessantly. Karma is inherent law and its operation must therefore be impersonal. Some might take this to be "merciless," but that would only be because they desire escape from consequences that are unpleasant....I should say that Karma is Mercy itself, for do I not know that nothing can prevent me nor any other from obtaining what is his by law, exact and unerring?
—The Friendly Philosopher, p. 30
True Forgiveness is Mercy; it is an opportunity to mend one's ways and grow. But what is "true forgiveness"? Professor C. S. Lewis suggests in his essay "On Forgiveness" that "there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing." He writes:
Forgiveness says "Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology, I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before." But excusing says "I see that you couldn't help it or didn't mean it, you weren't really to blame." If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense, forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites....What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some "extenuating circumstances."
Our concept of merciful law is the law that excuses our wrongdoings and allows us to escape the ensuing consequences. The "mercy" aspect of the law of Karma is that unlike man-made law, it gives us innumerable opportunities to improve. Karma is justice. We may hide in the cave or at the bottom of the sea, but it is not possible to dodge Karma.
However, often there are circumstances beyond our control. The law of Karma takes into account all the "extenuating circumstances." Karma is action and reaction. However, this reaction is not mechanical but takes into account the motive, the inner state of the person and the weight of his past Karma. For instance, when a mother, who wants her child to grow up to be an upright and honest person, is severe with him, the law of Karma takes into account her "good motive," while meting out karmic consequences for her severity. Similarly there is a difference in the karmic merit won by a person giving charity for earning name and fame and another person with no such ulterior motive. Similarly, the inner state of a person is the deciding factor. For instance, there is a difference in the karmic consequences reaped by a person losing his temper because he was tired or frustrated, and another person, who had no such problems. But the inner state of a person is the sum total of all experiences and circumstances of a given life as well as those of earlier lives. A stingy and unkind person often has the background of a difficult childhood or an exposure to severe poverty. So also, our mental, moral and psychic constitution is ours under Karma, from previous lives. A person born with an especially strong tendency towards gossip or sensuality or greed has to fight harder to curb these tendencies than another who is not burdened with the weight of his past Karma.
The law of Karma also takes into account the person's state of knowledge or ignorance. The Karmic responsibility is in proportion to his knowledge. The more the knowledge—of right and wrong—the less will be the "mercy" of the law. For instance, the severity of the karmic backlash in case of a Bhikkhu stealing bread when hungry would be more than in the case of an ordinary man—because a Bhikkhu has taken up the discipline to control his lower appetites. This might be the principle behind the stories about a great karmic backlash for a trifling sin. For instance, Bhishma's having to lie on the bed of arrows in the Mahabharata war, is said to be the consequence of his killing a chameleon just for sport as a young boy.
Another meaning of mercy is compassion. Compassion is not just pity. It is an all-embracing universal love for all that lives and breathes. It aims at "Universal" good. It cannot make "B" happy at the expense of "A." Compassion is that aspect of the law, which desires growth of every being—even if it entails suffering. The ultimate aim of this law is that all creatures acquire perfection. Pain that is experienced in the process of growing up must be seen in the correct perspective. Happiness or unhappiness should not be our criterion for judging the law. Individual unhappiness may be the discipline taken up by the Ego to eliminate defects and to acquire fortitude and sympathy. Mr. Judge writes:
And were it not for the perfect mercifulness of Karma—which is merciful because it is just—we ought long ago to have been wiped out of existence. The very fact that the oppressor, the unjust, the wicked, live out their lives is proof of mercy in the great heart of Nature. They are thus given chance after chance to retrieve their errors and climb, if even on the ladder of pain, to the height of perfection....Nor is the shielding from necessary pain true mercy, but is indeed the opposite, for sometimes it is only through pain that the soul acquires the precise knowledge and strength it requires. (Echoes of the Orient, Vol. II, p. 233)
At our stage, we cannot trace back the effect to its cause. We are advised to accept the woes of birth. Certain karmic consequences are irreversible. Birth in a male or a female body is an example of irreversible karma. On the other hand, a person born with a weak constitution can take steps to improve his constitution. The future is determined by how we react to the given situation. Do we rebel and sulk, or do we try to make the best of the situation? A handicapped child's and a normal child's efforts cannot be compared. Similarly, our best may not be much by worldly standard, and yet, Karma will reward by providing a better apparatus or better environment in subsequent incarnations.
We must learn to imitate the Law. Whenever we are tempted to condemn or criticize, we must remember that the inner state of the person is known only to the Law of Karma. When we see a wicked person, we must regard him as one whose boots have become heavy with mud and give him a helping hand to come out of the situation. "The soiled garment you shrink from touching may have been yours yesterday [i.e., in a previous life], may be yours tomorrow [in a subsequent life]." For instance, if in this life we are not greedy, it is no guarantee that we may not have been so in a past life or will not be so in a future life.
Interdependence is another merciful aspect of the law. We do not progress in isolation. We derive benefits by virtue of being part of the whole. On the material plane, we enjoy the benefit of various electrical gadgets, transport system, communication system, etc., although we did not invent them. The same holds true on the intellectual and spiritual planes. Thus:
The particular individual in whom the final illumination appears is called a genius, an inventor, one inspired; but he is only the crown of a great mental work created by unknown men about him, and receding back from him through long vistas of distance. Without them he would not have his material to deal with. Even the poet requires innumerable poetasters to feed upon. He is the essence of poetic power of his time, and of the times before him. It is impossible to separate an individual of any species from his kin....On the mental steps of a million men Buddha passed through the Gates of Gold....(Through the Gates of Gold, pp. 12 and 31)
It suggests that a great writer or poet derives benefit and inspiration from the work of other poets and writers who went before him. A well-developed language is ready for him to use. Similarly, Buddha attained to enlightenment deriving inspiration from scriptures like the Vedas and Upanishads and the teachings of great beings who went before him.
More specifically, another individual can help us mitigate or overcome unfavourable karma. The aphorisms on Karma (U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 21) suggest:
Karmic causes already set in motion must be allowed to sweep on until exhausted, but this permits no man to refuse to help his fellows and every sentient being. (Aphorism 12)
The effects may be counteracted or mitigated by the thoughts and acts of oneself or of another, and then the resulting effects represent the combination and interaction of the whole number of causes involved in producing the effects. (Aphorism 13)
Mr. Judge mentions in Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita that we are born in the company of those with whom we have set up strong karmic affinity.
In reassuming a body...other beings once known to the man arrive into incarnation at the same time, and bring into action affinities, attractions, and powers that can only act through them and him. Their influence cannot be calculated. It may be good or bad, and, just as he is swayed by them or as his sway the other being, so will work out the Karma of each....These effects, divergencies and swayings are well known to occultists....This law is both an angel of mercy and a messenger of justice, is also a means whereby nature saves men often from damnation. (pp. 67-68)
Mr. Judge explains: Suppose in some past life a person had established a deep and interior intimacy with a friend. Death separates them, and in subsequent lives he pursues pleasures while this friend seeks truth and wisdom. After many lives they meet again and the old intimacy asserts itself. Then the former friend has a strange power to touch his inward life, and wakes him up to search for truth and his own soul. It is the unexpected affinity, and by its aid nature works his salvation.
Great spiritual beings called Nirmanakayas remain present in the invisible atmosphere of the earth and "people their current in space with entities powerful for good alone," alleviating to an extent the misery of humanity.
 [From "The Theosophical Movement", a monthly magazine published in Mumbai, India, July 2004 issue]


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