The Bible tells us to found our house upon a rock, this "rock" being the philosophy which underlies our concept of life and the way we feel we should handle daily events. For each of us this will be a unique and personal path that we follow to achieve that inner peace we call happiness. Fortunately, however, we are not without signposts that travelers ahead of us have left on the road of life. If we are wise enough to look for them and learn from the experiences of others we will find richness of wisdom and inspiration in religious scripts, books, and myths — in the form of keys that enable us to cope with the inevitable ups and downs of existence.
Two concepts that profoundly change the way one leads one's life are karma and reincarnation. These two mutually supportive ideas, when accepted into our hearts become a beacon that lights all future actions. Reincarnation, because it gives us time, eliminates the panic that the thought of a finite life can bring. Much agony is associated with the struggle for existence where an eternity in some heaven or hell depends on the imperfect actions of each minute of a single lifespan. Thus the confidence that time gives is a wonderful gift. We can do what was left undone, we can learn from past failures, and we can always have a second chance so that the anxiety of unfinished business need not be ours.
Upon the comforting structure of eternity the idea of the universal law of karma rests easily. Karma, a law which holds true for all manifestation, from atom to cosmos, is stated simply in biblical terms as "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," or more impersonally by Newton as "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." The justice underlying this law cannot be denied: we set causes in motion by our thoughts, actions, and endeavors, and the results come back to us as surely as the sun rises and sets each day while the earth rotates on its axis.
It is said that the idea of karma is both compassionate and harsh, depending on the way we view the events as they happen. If things are comfortable for us we are happy, if difficult we complain. Assuming that every living thing is a divinity clothed in a material shell — a vehicle, taken on by the indwelling spirit to enable it to function and thereby evolve — it becomes easier to understand that what happens to us has value only insofar as it changes us for the better. The external events of life, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are not a factor in how we choose to act. When a tragic event occurs in our lives, it is wonderful to know that at that moment all the past that brought it into play may be over: what matters now is how we deal with it. We can accept it with equanimity and make the best of it, thereby giving no additional impulse to the old causes that set the present result in motion, or we can stir up the currents and bring about new causes to be dealt with at a future date. Accepting the fact that we make our own karma and have to deal with it does not mean that we should look at others' burdens and coldly shrug our shoulders and say "that is their karma." No! It is their karma certainly, but how we act is our karma and we should feel at all times the compassion and understanding of one fellow human being toward another. If we fail to do this we are making for ourselves new unhappy karma that we shall have to deal with.
Play up and play the game,
For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks — not that you won or lost —
But how you played the game. — Grantland Rice
Precisely! how we feel about an event and how we think about it is entirely up to us. No one but ourselves can make us happy or sad, peaceful or glad. Pain may be inflicted on the body but the pain we feel in our soul is the consequence of our own folly. What happens to us is always our own karma, brought on by past actions and played out at a given time. Our inner divinity knows our strengths and weaknesses and metes out just what we are able to bear. In the inner world of our true self we garner the essences of each experience and are changed accordingly: we lived yesterday and are here today, and yet we are not the same — we have grown! It is within that self too that the "memory" of the previous hours, years, and lifetimes is stored and determines (though not consciously) the way we act. We act and react in accordance with ourselves alone!
Since the whole of the material world around us is infilled with divinities, all living through the vehicles needed for their specific grade of evolution, all striving to achieve perfection for their particular level of existence, it becomes clear that life as we know it is not the end. In the soul's quest for godhood we are, as human beings, giving birth to our divine potential.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1984. Copyright © 1984 by Theosophical University Press)