One of the definite gains that human knowledge has made in the last half-century is the certainty that we live in a universe governed, not by blind and irresponsible chance, but by law and order. Not that we understand all of its workings, for we do not; neither do we catch as yet the significance of much that we do know. Nevertheless we are assured that this all-governing universal law is not some implacable outside power of which we and all else in creation are the helpless pawns. Moreover, while everything in the cosmos seems to act as if in accord with a stupendous master-plan, man appears to share in the intelligence of the Master-Planner himself.
If the above be true, then there must, first of all, be a great Cosmic Intelligence responsible both for the Plan and for its working out; and secondly, our human intelligence, because of its ability to recognize to some degree the workings of the Divine Planner, must be considered as partaking of His nature and attributes. In other words, we find ourselves scientifically convinced of the reality of both a God of the universe and a corresponding godlike element in man himself. Our traditional religious faith is in this respect being transmuted into knowledge by the findings of science itself. Furthermore, since the cosmos appears to us as a continuity with no finality in sight, in short, as a "going concern," it follows that its past, like its future, must of necessity be mirrored in its present.
It is in the study of the life-processes attending embryonic development and the metamorphosis of the lowly caterpillar and nympha into lovely winged creatures such as butterflies, moths and dragonflies, that our scientists have been brought most inescapably face to face with these basic facts. Unless our minds are crystallized around some pet dogma, we cannot deny the validity of the deductions of their pioneer researchers to the effect that, while an organ is being formed, the simple embryonic cells of protoplasm are definitely moved about and remodeled in detail by an intelligently guided force or forces, according to a pre-existent plan — the conclusion being unavoidable that behind the scenes there must be an intelligent and foresighted Planner.
Plain logic leads one to the conviction that there is in the universe one fundamental law from whose workings all things have resulted and to which every being is subject from birth to death. This has been variously called the Law of Action and Reaction or of Cause and Effect, the Law of Consequences — or Karma, to use the accepted Sanskrit term. Whatever the name, it is expressive of the fact that every action automatically brings about a corresponding reaction; in the language of the Buddhist poet, "effect follows cause as the track follows the wheel" — the whole universe thus representing an endless, unbroken chain of interlinked causes and effects.
Each individual human being then must have his own stream of experience — or karma if we like — his own special linkage of cause and effect, which he by his own actions has created, producing his present character and personality. Every one of us then is precisely what we have made ourselves. While there undeniably is a "destiny that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may," what really matters is always, first and foremost, how we personally react to whatever that destiny brings us. It is the result of this reaction, and it alone, that goes to swell the main stream of our experience; the rest is left behind. A sobering concept, for it means that no longer can we fall back on any scapegoat on which to lay the blame for our failures. Left without a single valid alibi for not living up to our best potentialities, the responsibility for our future is placed squarely where it belongs: on our own shoulders, for our future is in our own hands here and now — except as it is to be affected by our own past.
As for the manner of working of cosmic law, it would appear to be quite automatic. Wherever the harmony of the universe is in any way disturbed it sooner or later is automatically adjusted, this process of restoring harmony constituting a basic habit of universal nature.
Man's position is by no means that of a mere puppet caused to move by an inexorable fate. His status is rather that of a co-worker, a co-creator even, one who cooperates in the working out of the divine plan, the Master-plan. Whether a man does this consciously or unconsciously, he is more like a vice-regent than a mere agent; for in any given situation he possesses freedom to make his own choice among several different lines of action.
All this adds up to an entirely new concept of what man really is. It is a concept that dignifies the human being, revealing his true status in the evolutionary scheme as being only "a little lower than the angels," with endless potentialities for future development. It also shows man that everything that goes to make up the stream of his present life belongs there as a tie with his own past. By such ties is a man bound to the results of his past action, just as in the future he will be bound to those of the present. The purposes of our present human phase of evolution cannot then be accomplished save through the ceaseless turning of the Spinning-wheel of Destiny, whose revolutions will cease for us only when we are ready to become something more than man. (As of now, we need hardly concern ourselves with this remote contingency!)
Once a man realizes that those who are closely connected with him during his life are in reality but continuing an association out of the past, and that that association will probably endure far into the future — once he grasps that concept, he is bound to experience a radical change in his attitude toward his associates. This long-range view gives a completely fresh perspective. He sees plainly his and their mutual relationships as fellow pilgrims destined to accomplish together the long upward climb toward the culminating point of human evolution. Pursuing the thought still farther, even his so-called enemies must belong also to his karmic stream, to accompany him until what ever disharmony exists between them is resolved.
This, I think, must be why Jesus was so insistent on the duty of forgiveness, "even unto seventy times seven"; and why on a certain occasion he declared that if a man on his way to worship should remember that he has pending a quarrel with another, he must first go and set that matter right before daring to enter the temple with his offering. It follows then that it is simple common sense not to allow feelings of hatred, anger, resentment, envy, malice, or any other of that ugly brood, to continue to dominate our relations with our fellows — even though we may not as yet have reached the point of being incapable of such emotions in the first place. Especially is it important not to approach the portals of death under the cloud of some unresolved inharmonious relation with another.
It is a challenging fact, but one that experience amply proves, that if one party to an estrangement succeeds in eradicating from his heart all rancor towards the other, replacing it with genuine good will, a corresponding softened attitude is likely to result on the part of the second individual. This has happened even when the two parties were separated by hundreds of miles of distance and had had no communication for a long time. Apparently one cannot make a definite forward move without affecting for good those with whom he is inwardly connected.
So much for balancing the books after having "gone into the red" in our human relationships. What about those in which the balance is always favorable? Such bonds become something to be cherished, something infinitely precious and fruitful; they are to be cultivated to the best possible advantage of everyone concerned, just as one lovingly works to develop to the full the beauties of a favorite garden. Life itself is recognized to be increasingly rich and full and eminently worthwhile; for one learns to view it, as from the mountain tops, in its proper, long-range perspective, and to recognize the endless opportunities and possibilities it presents.
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A handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty of forest. I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high. — Fiona McLeod