When we say that everything is karma, is the result of causes previously set in motion, we have to extend our perspective of human karma far into the past; in fact, millions of years, to the very early period when man first tasted of the fruit of knowledge, and began henceforth to learn right from wrong. Obviously, from that long ago time we have had to be fully responsible not only for what we thought and did, but also to share in the responsibility for the effect that our thinking and acting has had on others throughout the ages.
We can see then that every one of the billions of human souls that have been in and out of existence on this earth during those thousands and thousands of centuries must have developed countless attractions and repulsions, and set in motion innumerable causes — causes which at some time, in some place, and under the right conditions, will inevitably express themselves as effects. But karma is by no means a merciless round of reaping and sowing, with never a chance to get out of the squirrel's cage. Not at all. Life, everything, moves in spiral fashion, not in a closed ring or circle. That is where we make our greatest mistake when we first come across the idea of rebirth and karma.
If we assume that everything is governed by universal law, that the cosmos is founded on justice, then nothing could happen by chance; everything must be an expression of the operation of the law of balance, of the law of attraction and repulsion, action and reaction. Pursuing this to its logical consequence, every one of us on earth today must have experienced many hundreds of life episodes since that very early point in man's history when we first recognized the difference between right and wrong in a self-conscious way. Certainly there must be a continuity of reactions, otherwise you would have a crazy universe, without rhyme or reason; and what better way could there be for the permanent soul in us to grow and evolve, and benefit by and through the effects of its past actions?
If we can grasp the long view, it is not difficult to feel the grand sweep of destiny that is moving civilization forward on its evolutionary path. There are bound to be times of terrible suffering because somewhere, some place, we have upset the balance by wrong thinking and wrong action. We can scarcely realize what an immense amount of karma each soul, to say nothing of nations and races, has engendered from long ago — a backlog of karma that must in time expend itself.
There are many more kinds of karma than just the physical aspect which insures that fire will burn and that if we go out in the rain we get wet. If karma is a universal law it must work universally — that is, on the divine, spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical planes. That means that we have a divine karma, a spiritual karma, a mental and an emotional karma, as well as a physical karma. Just as we often speak of man's higher self as well as his ordinary personality, so we can say that there is an inner karma that pertains to his higher self, his guardian angel, that has its source in the divinity within, and an outer karma that belongs to the everyday personality.
At times something inside seems to push us into difficulties. In a way that is exactly what happens: the inner karma, the karma that springs from our higher self, does at moments make itself felt, and we almost feel led in a certain direction, perhaps even a difficult and roundabout way; but the karma that belongs to our personality seems to pull us in the opposite direction. So there is a conflict between the feeling deep inside that a certain path should be followed, and the contrary impulses of the outer nature. How can we reconcile this conflict so that the inner and the outer karma can work harmoniously?
We have to set our sights higher, take them off the lower and place them where they rightfully belong. Once we do this, we shall realize that our Father or guardian angel is continuously sending its impulses into our human self and, if our desire is to live so that the higher has predominance in all our thinking and actions, there will be no undue strain. But when under these inspiring influences we intuit that a particular path is right, if our concentration has been largely focused in our ordinary consciousness, we may feel terribly disturbed. There will be real conflict between the inner and outer karma, a conflict which will not cease until we make up our minds definitely to follow the lead of our guardian angel whose goal is the bringing of light out of darkness and the evolution of the less into the greater.
At first, many think that karma is either good or bad. It is neither it is only our reaction to the circumstances of life that brings either pleasant or unpleasant experiences. Actually, all karma is opportunity. Obviously, if we have lived many, many lifetimes, it would be impossible for an individual to carry in any one incarnation the full burden of his entire past. "God fits the burden to the shoulders" is a law that works universally, for nature is just all along the line and therefore truly compassionate.
The inner karma that originates from the divinity within and operates through our higher self quietly impresses the entire constitution with its influence. When the human self feels the touch of those divine promptings, it would do well to heed them and allow the outer karma as far as possible to conform with the inner. It is when we try to isolate our personality from the radiance from above that there is tension and conflict.
Life is not always a simple straight line of duty — sometimes we are presented with some real problems of decision, but if we can stand aside and view them from the broader perspective, we can be assured that our higher self will never forsake us in time of genuine need. We should be grateful for the kindly impulses that lead us into a new set of circumstances. When the inner karma appears to conflict with the outer, we can take it as a sign of progress, a sign that the personal self needs to look at things from a higher vantage point. That is the reason we have stressed the practical importance of trying to read the daily script of our lives, because our higher self in conjunction with the natural affairs of daily life, is trying to lead us into avenues of experience where the soul can grow in strength and understanding.
We have the responsibility to recognize that all karma is opportunity. I repeat this again because it is the fundamental key to meeting life without despair, no matter what the conditions or situations may be. The so-called pleasant situations may present an even greater challenge than the difficult ones: to handle them wisely, to recognize them not just as recompense for good in the past but rather as a means of sharing our blessings with all. I am speaking here of spiritual values, of course.
The unpleasant conditions in themselves represent a great opportunity because often the most difficult experiences, which at first seem like the bitterest of poison, in the end turn out as the "waters of life." That is because our guardian angel, seeing our growing sensitivity to its behests, begins to impress us more strongly and "push" us into periods of trial. We have all had the experience that when we meet hardship and adversity squarely, they cease to overwhelm us, for the reason that our attitude of courage allows the inner and outer karma to work harmoniously together. Simply put, we have to learn to meet and handle wisely, without thought of ourselves, all the circumstances that flow from our karma — from ourselves.
Everything is karma, inner and outer, higher and lower, spiritual and physical; and the master of the inner karma is the divinity within that resides at the core of our being. The master of the outer karma is your and my human personality. Everything is consciousness, and our whole task of raising the lower by the higher consists in self-consciously transmuting the base metal of our ordinary consciousness into the gold of the divinity within.
The threads of karma are finely drawn, and not one is lost in the larger pattern of our evolution. Therefore, in the final analysis, there cannot be anything but justice, which is nothing other than the adjustment of equilibrium in action and reaction, cause and effect, sowing and reaping. Why do you suppose all great religions and philosophies have stressed this one teaching: the balancing of the scales of destiny? Did not the ancient Greeks use the scales as the symbol of universal justice and Order and Balance — a symbol which we in the West have faithfully preserved? Did not the Egyptians also emphasize this truth in their dramatic scene of the judgment as portrayed in their papyri and temples: the "weighing of the heart against the feather of truth"?
Everything in nature works toward harmony, toward bringing about growth from the less to the greater. Why then should man be an exception? If justice inheres in the physical realms, why not in the moral and spiritual areas of experience?
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1983. Copyright © 1983 by Theosophical University Press)