Karma can be described as the law of cause and effect: our every action sets into motion causes which at some point result in an effect of like quality. This statement, however, implies that the operation of karma is like an external, mechanistic moral ledger or a spiritual law court where an all-knowing judge ordains punishment for our misdeeds and rewards for the good we do. But the gods do not judge us or think in terms of rewards and punishments. Indeed, their constant love and encouragement toward selflessness informs every aspect of us with a spiritual grace.
Why, then, do we often feel besieged by fate — so downtrodden and unworthy? Do we really merit the suffering we sometimes endure? And how can we be so alone in a vast and seemingly indifferent universe? The key to understanding our feelings is to recognize their source. The idea that we are alone, separate from everyone else, is the result of our conscious identification with our personalities, with the everyday consciousness-center which worries and exults, which suffers the devastation of personal loss and tragedy as well as the happiness of success and fulfillment. On the other hand, the idea that we are gods, beings of divine light harmoniously linked to all, flows forth from our own inner divinity, infilling us with the brilliant and uplifting passion of spiritual love that shines forth from — and powerfully links us to — the very heart of being.
The many layers or shells of matter which coalesce around us — be they of a physical, psychological, or even a spiritual type — do not really define or limit us in any way whatsoever. They are but the frothy, insubstantial, temporary mediums we use to facilitate the ongoing process of growth — the continuously more perfect expression of our limitless inner potential. We take up, use, and cast off these outer garments again and again as we reimbody from earth-life to earth-life. Ultimately we outgrow one set of garments and exchange them for others more appropriate for the grander being that we can then express. Thus, after mastering the consciousness experiences of the mineral realms, we express the forms and thoughts of the plant realm, and then on to that of the animals, the humans, and the gods.
Since we are constantly changing our mediums of expression and interaction — our bodies of all different types and degrees — it is obvious that none of these temporary forms is really ourselves, the true enduring individuality that continues from life to life and from eon to eon throughout solar and galactic reimbodiments and beyond. No, we can more properly be seen as a chain of action, an endless chain of causes and effects which at present manifests as ourselves. By constantly acting and interacting with each other we steer our unique course through eternity. Our individuality consists not in separateness, which is impossible, but in the uniqueness of our choices — in the infinite stream of causes which has led us to become who we are now.
Thus karma applies equally to microbes and men, to atoms and universes. We progress as an imperishable karmic stream, an individualized, evolving vortex of the universal urge to learn and grow in self-conscious compassion. Accordingly, the purpose of any being is not perfection of form nor attainment of the substantial and temporary, not a state or particular level of accomplishment. Rather, the goal of a worthwhile life is a direction — to move ever toward a fuller expression of unselfish love for all. In the truest sense, then, we can never free ourselves of karma — nor would we want to — because it encompasses and sustains all that we are, all that we have learned and expressed, and all that we may become in the future. By consciously directing our individual karmic stream of action — ourselves — in harmony with the will and love of the gods, we become their partners in nurturing the spiritual growth and sustenance of the universe.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press)