You who have eaten today, who slept in a clean bed last night, who at the touch of a button can see the news of the world taking place before your eyes, no doubt have felt your heart wrung by the misery of starving people and cropless villages in other places. Seeing children with bloated bellies staring numbly, unaware of flies crawling on their eyeballs, appalls us even though we miss part of the picture: we do not hear the swarming flies or smell the stench of decay that are so familiar a part of it. We also fail to sense fully our kinship with these people who, like ourselves, are members of the human family; that they are, in fact, ourselves, another aspect of the humanity we share.
Meeting these conditions as a child, before the barriers of prejudice and custom have surrounded our perceptions, we find ourselves wondering ever afterward: Why is this me and that another? The contrast between our lives and the unspeakable conditions surrounding the majority of our humanity horrifies us when we think about it. So much so that we generally avoid thinking about it and turn away, because we are uncomfortably aware that our worth is blatantly insufficient to justify the disparity. If we do permit ourselves to dwell on the subject, we also have to face the possibility that our present situation is not a permanent one, that indeed it could all too easily be reversed. We who are (at least physically) favored today may well be forced — unless we earn a continuance — to learn the lessons of privation tomorrow.
Many will react by saying: "Ah, but I don't believe in reincarnation, so there will be no chance of that." Come now, be honest! If you were one of "them" now, today, would you feel that way about it?
One of the hardest things we have to accept is the fact that terribly unpleasant things happen to decent, kindly people. Our immediate reaction is one of shock — shock that nature can so fail to balance what to us seems to be obvious discrepancies. We have all seen and heard the rationalizations of those who minister to the spiritual needs of their respective flocks, and we have listened to their attempts to reconcile the incongruities of life. Many of us unquestioningly accept our situations, for we lack vision of the larger picture. Let us consider the implications of the prevailing climate of thought in which we live, and in what way this reflects the natural laws which govern the universe. In spite of all we see, there is in all of us a persistent instinct, or intuition perhaps, pointing to justice as a primal, the primal law of nature; the universe is evidently a balanced organism with just enough variation on its uniform themes to allow for the autonomy of individual organisms to act freely within the limitations of their brand of consciousness without upsetting the whole. We sense that things work constantly to readjust, to harmonize, to restore disturbed equilibrium. Indeed, if there were not basically balance and continuous restoration of balance, none of our physical laws would be reliable. We are surrounded by evidences and clearcut proof that is the norm, a rational thing to expect, and that deviations from it are temporary.
Where then is the justice that makes for such stupendous differences in human destinies? Where is the balance between feast and starvation, between the intellectual thrill of discovery and superstitious ignorance, between the elation born of spiritual vision and the numbness of uninspired mechanism? Balance surely does exist, there truly is justice, though we are too shortsighted to glimpse the long-range vision.
There are among us so many kinds of people: some have not risen very much above animal status, are preoccupied only with the immediate pleasure; there are others who, having human mind, may pervert their talents to ignoble ends — these are the cruel and unfeeling. It happens that we see their handiwork and wonder how such deeds can ever be atoned; it also happens that we see extremes of suffering and wonder how such horrors could ever have come about. There are among us also individuals with a sublime destiny, whose presence is an inspiration, for they have grown sublime.
To serve the variety of human types and human lots of life, nature has a vast array of resources to supply the needs for each one's next step in evolution. There are thus circumstances to fit every case. Besides the karma generated by the individual, either through merit or a secret choice for the soul's experience, each one is subject to the karma of the group he helps compose: the family, the tribe or nation, the race, even the human family as a whole. There is also karma on every level of experience: physical events bring physical effects; emotional upheavals eventuate in emotional disturbance and in time work their way to the surface in physical results; likewise intelligent choices bring effects to the mind, and also surface in the visible world in time. Most potent and all-pervasive are the products of spiritual purposes, for they permeate the nature, suffuse the consciousness and eventuate in far-reaching destinies involving greater spheres of influence than any personal desires. Thus we are born where we belong among the companions who helped us make the circumstances we now return to.
There will not always be a technological culture such as we now have nor is this necessarily to be desired. We cannot always expect the kind of education we possess today; other circumstances may at times be more useful to the soul. Not that privation is necessarily a helpful condition to us, for crises of consciousness — through which awareness grows and comprehension widens — may be quite unrelated to the physical condition; but it is not an impossibility either. Our inmost yearning for total understanding brings us through the tortuous passages of life, some of which will no doubt be straits of our own making that we should be loath to imagine now. The Buddha's "awakening sights": old age, disease, and death, must certainly come home to each of us before we grasp the fullness of human experience, but the form they take must depend on ourselves. Whereas Gautama transformed into divine compassion the very sight of suffering, more blunted senses may demand firsthand experience of plights unspeakable, for many of us may consort with evil unawares, or willingly condone, even cause it. Nor can we exclude the very real possibility that we shall many and many a time be entertaining angels unawares, superior spirits of our human kind, to our eternal advantage and perhaps, if we sufficiently desire it, be of help to them.
This can happen and certainly will when we shall have aligned ourselves with the bright intelligences governing our universe, once we are willing and able to aid them in their task to raise the quality of our world by infusing it with the serene and steadfast power of divine love and compassion; in due time to alleviate all suffering.
Deep within our inmost hearts we know that there is truth and that justice prevails in nature; we feel intuitively that virtue shall be rewarded and wrongs be redressed. Only, we want to see it happen, now, immediately. It is our lack of understanding of the long range of causes reaching out of the distant past that causes our impatience. Nature works steadily along its lines of least resistance. It may take many a turn before the perfectly symmetrical culmination of a train of universal events comes full circle to neutralize all actions and bear all sentient beings into a balance of divine perfection.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1983. Copyright © 1983 by Theosophical University Press)