To Light a Thousand Lamps — Grace F. Knoche

Chapter 8

Karma and/or Grace

The dogma that a savior "died for our sins" has been much misunderstood, for there is great beauty in the doctrine of the incarnation of a divinity in human form: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16). This is the Christian way of saying that the gods took pity on humankind and sent a ray of themselves into the soul of a noble human being so that in his work among mankind he could more potently manifest the light of divinity — not so that he might save us from our sins or wash away the karma of our transgression against ourselves and others. What we have done, we are responsible for. What we think, we must atone for or receive benefit from. There is no absolution except by ourselves. Paul's statement on the universally applicable law of cause and effect, kismet or karma, is refreshingly straight to the point:

If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course. . . .
Make no mistake about this: God is not to be fooled; a man reaps what he sows. If he sows seed in the field of his lower nature, he will reap from it a harvest of corruption, but if he sows in the field of the Spirit, the Spirit will bring him a harvest of eternal life. So let us never tire of doing good, for if we do not slacken our efforts we shall in due time reap our harvest. Therefore, as opportunity offers, let us work for the good of all . . . — Galatians 5:25; 6:7-10 (The New English Bible)

In short, every moment of every day we are setting new causes in motion and reaping effects of past deeds. It is the quality of our motive that has shaped and will continue to shape our character and our future. Because we are one humanity and not separate, we are affecting the destiny not only of those with whom we associate, but also of thousands of others sensitive to our wavelength. If we are altruistically motivated, we shall be sowing in the realms of the spirit; if self-serving, our sowing will be in the field of our personal self. We reap as we sow, for nature reacts impersonally without reference to pleasing or displeasing the sower. The harvest will conform to the sowing since every human being is his own reaper and recorder, impressing what he is on the memory cells of character and, in fact, on every level of his being.

How does this jibe with the idea of grace? As used in the New Testament, grace signifies almost exclusively God's means of granting forgiveness for sin through the intermediary of Christ Jesus. "He that believeth . . . shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Whatever an individual may have been or done, by accepting Christ as his Savior he is assured freedom from guilt and the blessing of God's grace. Read literally, as it is by the more orthodox Christian, it is unconscionable: what kind of justice is this if a reprobate can, simply through accepting Jesus as the only son of God, have his record wiped clean and his character purged of iniquity? Is there no requisite of atonement for wrongdoing? And what about the injury done to others through one's brutal and thoughtless acts? From the standpoint of human, let alone divine justice, it is unthinkable to countenance the remission of sins through God's forgiveness, and this only for believers to boot; it is opposed to all that humanity deems ethical and fair. Interpreted, however, within the context of Jesus' injunction, "go, and sin no more," the verse from Mark becomes profoundly significant, the more so when linked with Jesus' statement to Nicodemus that "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. — John 3:3, 5-7 (Authorized Version)

The story of Saul of Tarsus is an example in point. Reared in the traditions of his people, he found the burden of guilt for past sin becoming intolerable, so much so that he could not identify with his God. As a Hebrew he knew he must earn God's acceptance through moral rectitude and the fulfillment of his commandments. So distraught was he that he took out his anger and despair on those who followed this stranger, Jesus. Then one day while en route to Damascus a light suddenly enveloped Saul, shining with such intensity that he fell down blinded, and he heard the Lord calling to him. After three days he was "a new creature," his sight was restored, the past gone, even in time his name. Had his strong yearning to find meaning in life momentarily opened his soul to his own inner light?

Now, as Paul, he entered upon his new life charged with extraordinary vigor, exhorting all to whom he spoke and wrote to follow the way of the spirit rather than that of the flesh: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Where there is true conversion, a "turning" from the obstructionist ways of the past and a total immersion of the soul in the life of the spirit, he is as one "new born" — not because his past karma is erased but because he himself is inwardly renewed, "born of the Spirit." Henceforth he approaches life with a new vision and a strengthened will.

It is a beautiful truth anciently known that for every utterly sincere move made in the direction of one's inner divinity, it responds in kind and a radiance shines upon the heart and mind of the aspirant. Without question, sustained effort to renovate the life through earnest aspiration and cultivation of the will for unselfish goals allows a "clearing" to occur and the voice of intuition to make itself heard. Whether this be the voice of the Lord or other deity, or that of one's inner god, is immaterial. "Go, and sin no more" has many applications, but woe to the individual who does not try to live up to the obligation assumed: to merit the grace of divine acceptance.

Most important, an act of grace, whatever its source and however experienced, by no means implies an abrogation of the law of karma, or that the follies and errors of former days are erased from our individual Book of Destiny. Whatever we have done or omitted to do before our transformation must be resolved, in this or in future lives — and this ought to be happily met, for affliction is a welcomed opportunity to clear the slate and set to right ancient wrongs. Equally significant, all that we have longed to do and to be, all the silent, unrecognized yearnings to be a light in the darkness of our environs, are faithfully entered on the imperishable records of eternity, to return in due season as blessings, a gift of grace for ourselves and others, flowing forth in strict harmony with karmic law.

We can view the dogma of Jesus' "dying for our sins" from another perspective. The fact that great teachers are sent forth at cyclic periods to work among this or that people suggests that they come for a sacred purpose: to stimulate aspiration in the souls of all who will heed the call. The appearance of such an incarnation of a divine radiance marks the descent of a divine energy on earth which coincides with the upsurging call from human hearts. The intersection of human and divine cycles thus has a twofold purpose. As the spirit-soul of the chosen vessel fuses with divinity there occurs an explosion of such tremendous potency that the lightning of the gods bursts upon mankind, to energize our thought-world with divine-spiritual magnetism. It has happened in the past; it will happen again when we call it forth.

There is a linkage of karmas all along the way, a linkage between the god-worlds and ourselves. Tradition has it that divine beings or avataras enter earth as a kind of underworld, and thus "die" to their own high realms, and by so doing undergo an initiation — a majestic thought. In deliberately taking birth among earthlings, a part of them dies — there is a "dying for our sins," literally and metaphorically. Like a stream of light and compassion across human destinies, they leave their impress. By virtue of their having left a portion of their divine energy in the world, in a certain mystical sense they take on part of humanity's karma. While it is we who must liberate ourselves, everybody who turns toward the light within and is touched thereby — be it ever so slightly — to that degree links his karma with that of the Great Ones.

If, then, we are responsible for "saving" ourselves, God does not predestine human beings to a life of either eternal heaven or eternal damnation. Yet we cannot leave it at that, for there is a grain of truth in the concept of predestination, in that we have predestined ourselves from the past to be what we are now. This implies that certain karmic lines of events and of character are foreordained — not by some god or being external to us, but by ourselves. As Shakespeare says: "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will." (Hamlet, Act V, scene ii) That divinity is our own deepest self; we are the ones who shape our destiny with our free will. How we meet the events and circumstances of life, and the relationships among our fellow humans, is in our hands every moment. In the process we are shaping and reshaping our character and future destiny. Nothing can happen outside of the laws of karma; and as each of us is our karma, we are the fruitage, the result, the expression of our entire past. Each of us therefore is the recorder of our own karmic destiny.

The Passion of Christ represents a profoundly sacred experience undergone by every savior willingly, as an act of pure compassion, that the ideal of spiritual conquest might be firmly enshrined in the consciousness of man. The Gospel narrative is a story of the human soul, and Jesus represents the divine climax of what every person on earth may one day achieve — the bringing to birth of the Christ-sun within his own heart. This does not imply a promise of victory without merit; each must achieve self-mastery by individual effort. Though we may be spirits in chains, we are spirits, not chains, and no power on earth or in heaven can imprison forever the human spirit. While history chronicles the tragedy of human failure, a higher history testifies to the unconquered human spirit, for the passion and triumph of a Christos delineates the sunward path that every human being must eventually choose.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition