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Karma: Rhythmic Return to Harmony
By V. Hanson, R. Stewart, S. Nicholson
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 1990 Theosophical Publishing House
All rights reserved.
Karma in Motion
Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion states: "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." This is sometimes thought to be a statement of the Law of Karma. But Newton's three laws of motion consider only physical force, matter, and motion. Karma includes life, consciousness, and motive as well as physical force and matter. This article considers analogies between the limited laws of motion in the physical world and the all-inclusive principle of karma. It seeks by considering the laws of physical motion to gain increased understanding of the universal principle.
Imagine a large, heavy, steel ball at rest on a perfectly level plane. Imagine further that there is no friction between the ball and the plane. The ball will remain at rest until some force makes it move, but if it has once started to move it will continue to move indefinitely until something stops it. So said Sir Isaac Newton in his first Law of Motion, sometimes called the Law of Inertia, a law which has been verified countless times and seems to be common sense.
Now let a man somehow exert a force on this ball to push it in a certain direction. Let him continue to push the ball in the same direction for a long time. As long as he keeps pushing, the ball will move faster and faster. How fast it will finally move depends on how hard and how long the man pushes. This is according to Newton's second Law of Motion. Since this system is frictionless, when the man stops pushing, the ball continues to move in that direction.
Now suppose that the man who worked and pushed so hard, finds that he made a mistake and pushed the wrong way, and really wants the ball to go in the opposite direction! The ball now has "within it" the momentum which it stored when the man first pushed, and this momentum carries it steadily on in the direction of that first pushing in exact proportion to how hard and how long the man pushed—and if he pushed hard and long he will have to push exactly that amount in the opposite direction before he can stop the ball.
It all works out with absolute exactness. Knowledge of these laws is the basis for the calculations of forces to send space capsules on their way. Knowledge of the same laws enables us to calculate exactly what length of burn, generating a certain force, will slow, accelerate, or change direction a certain amount. One astronaut in flight remarked that we owe it all to Isaac Newton.
The laws seem to be absolute, and they apply not only to a single object and force but to any system of many masses and forces. Although first stated by Sir Isaac Newton they have been realities from the beginning of creation. They are part of the nature of things—or at least of the nature of force and matter.
Many people believe that there are correspondences between physical and spiritual laws. Let us first consider correspondences between these first two laws and wider fields.
The law of karma is often compared to Newton's third Law: "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," but perhaps even more interesting correspondences exist with the first two laws, and often those who quote the third law as an illustration of karma misunderstand Newton's meaning.
In laboratory experiments, and in the steel ball illustration two factors are involved: force, in the example, applied by the man pushing, and matter, in this case a steel ball. Let these two correspond to life and form or spirit and matter, or, in our illustration, to the unit of life or consciousness called a man linked to his bodies or personality represented by the steel ball. Let us assume that this life or consciousness functions within the body, or the steel ball, and not externally in the same way that the engine functions inside a car.
When such a unit of life, or consciousness, is starting its series of incarnations, it is attached to a body which as yet is at rest, like the ball, for no force has yet acted through it. The boundless level plane on which the ball can be pushed in any direction corresponds to nature, which will allow us to move in any direction we want—if we work hard enough. As astronaut Eugene Cernan said, "Things may come with difficulty but nothing is impossible to man."
The unit of life, the human being, looking out through the senses of the body, sees things he or she desires. This causes a person to work, to strive to obtain them—to move toward them. Suppose he or she is attracted to wealth. He wants it. He works for it. He struggles and pushes toward it. Perhaps he does this for many lives. In doing so he is building an ever greater momentum in the direction of wealth, for nature gives to man that for which he works. When he obtains it however, he may find that it does not give him the happiness for which he had hoped. He ceases to push and strive toward the goal of wealth. He may continue to coast effortlessly, carried along by his past efforts, but his desires will soon be attracted to another goal and he will begin to try to move in a new direction. However, all his past effort over a long time has built a momentum in the direction of wealth and this keeps him moving in that direction until, after long struggle and pushing against circumstances which seem to frustrate his every effort to move in the new direction, he eventually stops the movement and is free to move in another direction. If this analogy holds, these forces are not merely equal to, they actually are the forces he himself has generated and is now opposing. The more strongly he struggles to stop the ball and move toward the new goal, the more violent will be his conflict with these forces of the past, but the sooner they will be overcome. A believer in karma would say that he is working out his karma.
The shifting of the individual's goal in life usually is toward a nobler goal and comes after some sort of "revelation" or expansion of consciousness. In the nature of things it is then that one tries to move in a new direction and meets the forces generated earlier, which might be called one's karma. Perhaps in this lies an explanation of the phrase, "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." We consider one whom the Lord loveth to be one who has seen a great goal, such as the service of humankind, and is struggling toward that. Such a person is therefore probably facing momentum and forces he or she created when moving in other directions and struggling toward less noble goals. The struggle to overcome this momentum would be the chastening.
When individuals perform "wrong" acts, which cause pain to another, they do it only because they know no better. It is not wrong for them. They are ignorant, as yet. If the karmic consequence of pain returned to them immediately they would probably resent it, fight against it, consider the world unfair. They would learn nothing and would probably make the same mistake again. If however, the Lords of Karma defer payment, so to speak, until they "change direction" and then allow them to meet the consequences of their acts, they may then be in a condition of mind which will enable them to learn from the experience of pain and replace the ignorance, which made them perform the wrong act, which with wisdom will prevent them from making that mistake again.
When a cannonball is shot from a cannon, the explosion causes a force to act on the ball and shoot it from the cannon's mouth. If this is the action, then the reaction of which Newton spoke is the force which pushes back on the cannon and causes it to recoil. His third law, applied to this case would mean that the force acting on the cannonball is equal to the force reacting on the cannon, and that they act in exactly opposite directions. This has an interesting correspondence, for just as the action of firing the shot cannot be performed without reaction on the cannon, so individuals in this world cannot perform actions which do not react on others. They must create karma with one or many others, or with the whole world, on whom their actions produce an equal and opposite reaction. As with the gun, someone has to absorb the recoil. Acts may be of hate, of love, or mixtures of the two, but whatever they are they act and react, and these actions and reactions are always equal and opposite.
In this example, action which shoots the ball in one direction makes the gun recoil, and this reaction or recoil is absorbed into the great mass of the earth, disturbing the whole earth's motion and equilibrium. The shock wave of big guns being fired can be felt to shake the ground at considerable distances, as the earth patiently absorbs the shocks. When the action has been performed, the earth's motion has been altered; it may have been accelerated, reduced, or pushed sideways. This alteration to the earth will be too small to measure but the motion of the ball may be very fast. Eventually the ball will hit the earth again and stop. When this happens it returns its energy to the earth; equilibrium is restored, for it exactly neutralizes the disturbance to the earth's motion, made when the gun was fired. The ball may be in the air for a relatively long or short time before it hits the ground, but eventually the disturbance to the earth's motion will be neutralized.
There are correspondences between this example and the law of karma that emphasize the reality of the unity of humanity for, whether we like it or not, everyone in the world is affected by every individual action, as the whole world is affected by the firing of every gun. Let the firing of the cannon in the example correspond to an act performed by an individual. This greatly affects that person as the explosion greatly affects the cannon ball, and it slightly affects the whole world. The condition of imbalance exists between the individual and the world until the karmic consequences are met, just as the ball hits the earth and equilibrium is restored.
The timing of the reaction is of crucial importance. When does this karmic reaction which restores equilibrium occur? There are references which suggest that at great sacrifice to those who perform the work, karmic consequences may be held back. The moment of impact of the cannon ball, which could be devastating to the individual, may be delayed until the individual is strong enough and in a condition to profit by facing such shocks. One such reference in Light on the Path says:
... try to lift a little of the heavy karma of the world; give your aid to the few strong hands that hold back the powers of darkness from obtaining complete victory.
It may well be that in the early stages of human evolution, and probably today also, people are creating more karma of a destructive, painful type than of a constructive, helpful type. Perhaps in some way, at the cost of untold sacrifice, great Intelligences, Lords of Karma, take some of these ugly, painful forces and store them in their own consciousnesses until humanity and its individuals are ready and able to face them. When that time comes, their sacrifice will be over, and the world, which could be overwhelmed if karmic settlements were promptly and automatically made, will literally have been saved. Perhaps such are the Lords of Karma and this is part of their function.
A later reference in Light on the Path describes a time when the individuals reach a stage where they can force the karmic consequences of their earlier selfish acts and take back the load which the Lords of Karma have been carrying for them. It suggests that there will now come a great clearing up and an opportunity for learning from this karma of the past as we do our part "to lift a little of the heavy karma of the world." Henceforth we will not be shielded but must face the full karmic consequences of our acts. The passage is an interesting reversal of the way the law of karma is usually stated:
Out of the silence that is peace a resonant voice shall arise. And this voice will say: It is not well: thou hast reaped, now thou must sow. And knowing this voice to be the silence itself thou wilt obey.
It is said that when individuals complete their human pilgrimage they are no longer the slaves of karma; they reach a state of karma-less-ness. This happens, it is said, when their actions are completely selfless and their wills (sublimated desires) are one with the One Will. Ordinary actions are self-centered and may be compared to the cannon ball flying within the earth's gravitational field. It is the self-centeredness which eventually draws the reaction back to the doer, just as it is the earth's gravitational field which eventually draws the cannon ball back to earth. The completely unselfish action of the Adept, however, is not drawn back and neutralized. It might correspond to shooting a capsule into space which does not return and neutralize itself in earth impact. The laws, possibilities, and limitations of such selfless acts may correspond to completely different phenomena as the weightless world of space travel is completely different from our gravity-bound life on earth.
This article has considered only some details of karma. It has made no attempt to cover the whole sweep of the great law. The examples have been extremely simplified in order to make principles stand out. Only closed systems with two or three factors have been considered. Such simplification is used in early experiments in laboratories where students are learning to understand basic laws. The problems of engineering and physics, which they will study later, involve using these laws in complex open systems with many bodies, forces, actions and reactions, all interacting on one another. The painstaking application of the simple law to one part after another of the complex gives one the capacity to understand, balance, and control the resultants of such interconnected factors. Similarly, there may be principles considered in this article which can be used first to understand, and then partially to control the enormously complicated interacting systems of life which surround us with countless individuals, forces, actions, and reactions. Perhaps this article may suggest further correspondences. It seems a fruitful field. The correspondences have not been suggested as mere intellectual games but as ideas with practical yet spiritual significance.CHAPTER 2
Karma as Organic Process
As no cause remains without its due effect from greatest to least, from a cosmic disturbance down to the movement of your hand, and as like produces like, Karma is that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently, and equitably each effect to its cause, tracing the latter back to its producer.
Excerpted from Karma: Rhythmic Return to Harmony by V. Hanson, R. Stewart, S. Nicholson. Copyright © 1990 Theosophical Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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