This is a transcription of an audio lecture you can download for free: Machinery of the Soul 09 Karma and Liberation AUDIO . It has been edited and enhanced for additional clarity by the original author. There is also an accompanying pdf: Machinery of the Soul 09 Karma and Liberation PDF .
Karma is a popular word and concept today. Everybody seems to talk about it and some way or another, yet it appears to be very difficult to pin down what someone truly believes about karma.
Certainly, there many people who reject it. Yet, in popular culture today, there seems to be a notion of something that is holding the world together, when we hear people say things such as: “what comes around goes around.” Karma is a notion that brings with it, a type of order to this life that we live.
What I want to do today is explain karma from a general standpoint. Also, we are going to investigate some of the original Buddhist scriptures in the Pali language that talk about what karma is from the Buddhist perspective.
Karma itself is a Sanskrit word. Pali it is a very similar word, Kamma, instead of Karma. It is the same concept. Karma means action, to act, and that is where the root of that word comes from.
Karma: (कर्म Sanskrit, literally ‘deed’; derived from कृ kri, ‘to do, make, cause, effect.’)
Can we can grasp the idea of karma? That there is a causal principle, causality? That there is the Law of Cause and Effect?
Karma means that things happen because there is some cause to them. From that perspective it is very simple. When you look at this in terms of spirituality, it implies something more than just something physical.
If I drop a ball, it falls to the ground and makes a noise. That is a physical cause and effect. When we talk about it in terms of a spiritual work, then we need to think about how cause and effect goes beyond this physical world, beyond this three-dimensional world where we have a common experience within. Such understanding is where it really becomes important. When we look at the world in a very superficial or naïve sense, without a lot of reflection, without a lot of studying or meditation, we cannot discover the reasons for all our situations in life. There is so much confusion, and we do not know a lot of things. We just have this constant experience, full of issues; we have problems, we try to do things; sometimes they work out and sometimes they do not work out.
Sometimes we think we want something, some goal, and when we end up getting it, it was not what we thought it would be, or we did not provide the result or happiness that we were looking for.
So, this concept of karma, while it is a Sanskrit word and related to the eastern traditions, the concept itself can be found in all real religions in different ways. In the Bible it says,
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” - Galatians 6:7
A lot of people might believe in those words, but when something very unfortunate happens to us, something very tragic, we may question it. It is easy to accept unfair things happening to other people, but when it happens to us, we feel something terribly wrong happened in the cosmos.
It is difficult to look at the way the world is, and all the terrible, tragic things that are going on in the world. When you connect that realization with the doctrine of karma, which says that everybody gets what they receive because of their own causes that they put into the world, it becomes very difficult to accept.
When you look around you see a bunch of very unfair things. When you really look anywhere, you see unfair situations. It certainly appears that way. We do not really need to think too much about that. That is mostly what the news is filled up with, all sorts of tragedies.
How do we reconcile that, the apparent unfairness or inequality of life, with this idea that actions matter, that karma exists, and that everyone receives the results of their actions?
The doctrine of karma states that we should try to do good things, because then we will have good results. We should not do negative things because those have negative results. It seems so easy when we talk about it conceptually with broad strokes.
Reality is much more difficult. You see the difficulty in those who have tragic things happen to them. They lose their faith, or they lose any notion of an orderly cosmos; they will say it is just not fair, and they will scream obscenities at the world, saying the world is terrible. They may curse God or something like that, because this tragedy happened to them, to their family. That is when we are really tested.
It is very easy to believe in karma when you worked hard and received lots of good results. Let us say you wanted to become a millionaire, and you became a millionaire based on your efforts, on your work. Perhaps you are a celebrity and you talk about how good karma is. What about the other people that worked incredibly hard, and nothing but tragedy came as a result? How does that work?
Samael Aun Weor writes in Tarot and Kabbalah,
“Buddha said there are three eternal things in life: 1. The Law (Karma), 2. Nirvana, 3. Space.”
It is a very deep statement. It means that karma, cause and effect, is something very intrinsic to the whole universe. This space that we could call the Universe only exists because it is completely interwoven with causality, with karma. Just like you cannot have one side of a coin, you always have two sides of a coin, one side does not exist without the other. What we are saying here is these three aspects are interdependent. Space and karma are two things that are interlinked, they do not exist outside of each other, they only exist in relationship to each other. The third aspect is Nirvana. Nirvana is this pure type of space, we can say.
When we think of nirvana, we think of heaven or something very spiritual. It is – but that space is not physical, but psychological and spiritual space. We are not in nirvana, and the opposite of nirvana, in Buddhism, it is samsara. Nevertheless, nirvana and samsara are intrinsically the same thing. When karma becomes purified, samsara is nirvana.
When there are actions that are impure, then nirvana becomes samsara. Impure actions are actions based on anything other than true understanding of reality. Thus, impure actions are those based on ignorance, and, all action based upon ignorance will create suffering.
All these three things (karma, space, and nirvana) are different ways of looking at the same thing. They do not exist independent of each other, they exist interdependently.
Karma is very important, and we should begin to reflect how it is working in life, in the world. It is not something you can put to the side too much. On the other end it is also something extremely difficult and almost impossible to completely understand. We cannot put karma inside of our intellect and try to rationalize every little thing that happens to everybody in the world. That is where a lot of people get tripped up, because they read about karma, and they try to intellectually fit their ideas of how it can work. Karma is beyond our intellectual capacities. Our intellectual capacities are just like a little ant. The intellect may seem very powerful in this society, but in terms of spiritual pursuit, the intellect is actually a very low form of understanding.
In prior lectures we have talked about liberation. We are not pursuing these studies just as a spiritual lifestyle, or spiritual way of being, just as an end to itself. We talk about a spiritual path and level after level of consciousness that we want to attain. We do this not because we want to be selfish or egotistical about it, but because such a path returns us to is our real nature. Through our spiritual work, we are returning awakening consciousness with the wisdom of experience.
Unfortunately, we do not remember our true nature. We lack wisdom. We have ignorance right now, we have darkness. We need to make light inside of ourselves, which is consciousness.
In these teachings, we are working on a path, we are looking to transform our state of mind, working to awaken our consciousness. We can talk about all sorts of spiritual practices, meditation, self-observation, transforming energy, etc. in order to work on our condition. We have a certain condition in our life right now, and that condition, this life, is a representation of our karma. We want to work with our karma in a way to eliminate it, to purify it, to get rid of it, as opposed to living a lifestyle that is adding to it. With that being said, we are looking for liberation, liberation from karma, liberation from samsara.
Approaches to Liberation
We see three essential approaches that people try to find liberation with.
Maybe they consider themselves spiritual, maybe not; maybe they are sort of materialistic or have no thoughts about spirituality. In either sense, everyone is working for something. Right? A better job, more money, more freedom, more prestige, making your parents proud; working for something; working on a condition - you are working to liberate yourself from your current condition.
The first approach is basic denial or ignorance about what needs liberation. This is to say, we do not believe we have anything to change about ourselves. It is a belief that the way we are is it; we do not need to change; there is no need to make any changes regarding who we are. The impulses that we have, the thoughts that pop into our mind, the emotions that we have: we should take them at face value and just express them.
It seems like a nice theory. If you have a thought, why not express that thought? If you feel hurt or angry towards someone, why should you not express your anger towards them, if that is who you truly are?
The premise of this approach is the notion that you already know who you truly are. From there, all of the thoughts and emotions, impulses, etc., are expressions of a real, true self.
What if we inquire about our self-nature? What if we look to see within our self? If we can see, even in a small way, that there is something else related to us, if there is something beyond these incessant types of thoughts, ruminations, negative thinking, then we should question it, “Are these types of thoughts I engage in really help me get what I want in life? If I want to be happy, are these types of thoughts are the way I am going to achieve that?”
Even basic, materialistic psychology says that you can change. You can go to a therapist or any other way of working on yourself for self-change. We know that thinking is a pattern, a behavior of mind, and it can change. We can absolutely change our life. This basic idea does not require a spiritual definition. In terms of materialistic psychology and psychotherapy, a certain level of change can occur. It cannot bring about our liberation from karma, but, it can be very helpful, for some people, to achieve a certain level of change. Yet, we need to go beyond, far beyond, the limits of modern psychology.
There are so many people who think they are not the problem with life and everybody else is. They always believe that everyone else needs to change, “they need to get out of my way’, “everyone is making problems for me…”
Yes, there may be someone in your life who is screaming in your face, or there may be someone in your life who is being very petty, and in a very superficial level they are causing you some problems. But if you look back, peeling back just a couple more layers of your psychology, you will often see that you have a relationship to that person, and you are feeding into their response. It is like the phrase, “they are pushing my buttons.” And we blame them, when we are the ones who have the buttons, we are the ones who have those sensitivities, those insecurities.
It is too easy to blame the other person. What we are saying is not about being morally good or bad. We all have our issues. We are also not saying we need to feel bad about ourselves because we have them. We should continuously reaffirm something like: ‘May I take responsibility to change those things about myself which cause me to suffer. May I not look to manipulate the world to prevent it from bringing out my worst elements. May I instead change my inner condition in order to be at peace with the way the world is.’
There is a great quote by Shantideva that says something like, “It is better to put leather on the soles of your feet, than to try to carpet the whole world.”
If we are working in a very naïve sense, without any reflection, we tend to want to have the whole world change for us. There is often a basic denial, or ignorance of why we have problems. If we do not look inside, we end up blaming everyone else. That is one way of describing basic denial or ignorance.
The second is Hedonic pursuits. Hedonic is the root of the word hedonism. By this we are not just referring to salacious types of sexual pursuits, we are referring to the notion that point of life is to simply enjoy its pleasures.
In this approach, life itself is just a pursuit or game to find the most enjoyment possible. It is to just do things that make you feel excited, things that are very pleasurable, things that you like to do. It is like saying that the point of life is just to work, and then go on a great retirement vacation to the beach. For others, they will say, its about enjoying family life.
Listen, there is nothing wrong with taking a vacation or having a good, happy time. We absolutely need that, but that is not a way to liberate ourselves. That is just a temporary thing. To just be working all week, just to focus on the next weekend, so you can get a little bit of freedom from this condition that you are in… working for the next vacation, by the time you get there it is over before you realize it. That type of situation is not anything permanent. It is completely impermanent. We should be doing something healthy for ourselves, it is good to take a vacation, but it is another thing to say that it is the point to life.
Creating a family can be a very beautiful thing – but even that is temporary because everyone grows old, gets sick, and dies. You cannot say that it is a liberation, it is just a temporary situation. To have a nice family is very wonderful, but frankly speaking, there is no spiritual doctrine that says that creating family is the point of life.
False Doctrines or Rationalizations
From a religious perspective, heaven or nirvana is often viewed as the ‘final vacation.’ Therefore, the point of life is to get to a type of permanent joyful state by doing work here in life.
Others view the bliss of meditative absorption as a final state of happiness.
However, the Buddha states that even the blissful states that can be achieve after death, or in meditation, are temporary. Only when we use those states to acquire ‘wisdom’ or ‘gnosis’ can we transform our nature and realize true happiness.
This type of confusion is an example of the third flawed approach to liberation.
This is the trickiest one. People get stuck in the other two all the time, but those who are within the first two categories are often not too concerned about a spiritual pursuit, or spiritual lifestyle.
Today you can find ten-million things on the internet, and vast majority is superficial at best and dangerously wrong at worst. There are a lot of theories in the world, ways to make yourself feel good, which makes them very popular. There are very new ideas that have no relationship with any of the ancient spiritual traditions. We should be very cautious.
Also of course, there is a lot of common orthodox religions today that say if you want to get to heaven you need to do x, y, and z. Whatever sect you are related to it might be different. Sometimes it would be that you need to receive certain sacraments, others say that you need to believe, and no matter what you, do you can just believe in something, and that it is all you need.
The Buddha On Karma
We are going to talk more of what Buddha said about karma through quoting several scriptures from the Pali. Pali is related to the most foundational and oldest traditionally accepted form of Buddhism. We understand that Buddha taught three vehicles or levels of teaching: Shravakanaya, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The Pali texts represent Shravakayana.
False Doctrines of ‘Inactivity’
The Buddha talks about the false doctrines of ‘Inactivity’. So, this falls in that third category we talked about, false doctrines. The beginning of this scripture he says,
“Monks, there are these three sectarian guilds that – when cross-examined, pressed for reasons, and rebuked by wise people – even though they may explain otherwise, remain stuck in [a doctrine of] inactivity.” – Anguttara Nikaya, 3.61
What he is talking about here, the doctrine of inactivity, means a set of beliefs or actions that is not putting someone on the path to liberation. In this sense, inactivity means not cancelling their karma. Remember, karma means action. In this scripture, the Buddha is talking about three sectarian guilds, which are ancient schools of Indian philosophy. Regarding these schools, some of them we have some information about, some of them have been sort of lost, we do not know much about them, but in many ways they postulated ideas similar to modern ideas about spirituality. We are not going to talk about historical figures related these guilds, these philosophical schools that existed in India. We are only going to examine the ideas mentioned in the scripture.
The first type of doctrine of inactivity is the following, ‘There are brahmans and contemplatives who hold this teaching, hold this view: ‘Whatever a person experiences – pleasant, painful, or neither pleasant nor painful – that is all without cause and without condition.’ -Anguttara Nikaya, 3.61.
This is basically what we already talked about. There are people who do not believe that karma exists at all. They believe that everything exists without an ultimate cause. Where do we find that in today’s world? We find that in the status quo materialistic understanding of the cosmos.
The scientific, academic status quo says that the universe appeared from what we call the big bang. They say it is not possible to know a reason as to why it occurred, because everything that existed before that, we have no knowledge of. Even if that big bang happened exactly the way they think it happened (which no one was there to witness), science (by definition) has nothing to say about why it happened.
Obviously, the cosmos appeared in some way. We are not fundamentalist saying that the world was created in a literal seven days. Nevertheless, we question the scientific status quo regarding the origins of the cosmos.
Models of physics have no teleological aspect – they just are descriptions of how things occur, not why. Their conception of the universe is 100% without meaning. There is no purpose, zero purpose. It is just happening. There is nothing that science could ever say about that – not because science is not good enough, but because the enterprise of science was not constructed to answer that type of question.
Personally, I find the processes of science extremely enjoyable. Yet I also I understand its limitations.
There are some scientists, not all, who are trying to pretend that there is some meaning you can find in their conceptions of the universe, and they rail against people who have religion. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of people in the world today who have no sense of purpose in their life. They feel they have no purpose to be here.
Our society takes the status quo story of creation, a meaningless of creation, and says, ‘You should not feel depressed about the meaningless of life. Something must be wrong with you because you should be content with your purposeless existence. Even though there is no purpose to the universe and there is no reason why you are here, just enjoy life. Soon, you will die, rot, and be completely gone forever and after that the sun will explode and the earth will be gone forever. You should not be sad about that though. And if you continue to be sad you can go to therapy and get an antidepressant hopefully that will fix it.’
I am also not trying to vilify people who are going to therapy and taking antidepressants – only that many people on them are attempting to damper their existential dread through modifying brain chemistry, which never truly works.
If you really take what a philosophically consistent materialist is saying about the universe, that there is no purpose to any of it, it is all just randomness, why wouldn’t you be depressed about that?
Especially if your life is full of pain and suffering. The response to this existential dread is the popular motto: “I will just do whatever it is I am doing and just have some fun, and live a nonsensical life, whatever, nothing really matters.”
So, that is what this scripture is pointing to in our modern life. We may not call them brahmans and contemplatives today, but many philosophers and scientists say these things. This is the default perspective in the world today.
Some people still find a lot of value in traditional forms of religion and spirituality, but that comes with whole other constellation of ideas that seem out of date for some people. They do not feel at home in that world traditional religion, so then by default they find themselves in a world of the scientific status quo where nothing matters.
What Buddha said about these ancient schools ring just as true in today’s world. So, this is nothing new. What we should do is really think and reflect about how much of our ideas and what our sense of self might have in relationship a meaningless world view. In other words, we may still hold this view in certain ways because we have been sort of soaking in it for so long, so we need to reflect on that.
We are the Result of Karma
To counter this view, let us read from the Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta, which says,
“Beings are the owners of their kamma [karma], heir to their kamma, born of their kamma, related through their kamma, and have their kamma as their arbitrator. Kamma is what creates distinctions among beings in terms of coarseness and refinement.” MN 135
So that is the Buddhist perspective. It is the exact opposite of today – everything is karma.
We Have Some Freewill
The second false doctrine of inactivity is,
“There are brahmans and contemplatives who hold this teaching, hold this view: ‘Whatever a person experiences – pleasant, painful, or neither pleasant nor painful – that is all caused by a supreme being's act of creation.’Anguttara Nikaya, 3.61.
This one is maybe a little bit more controversial in the western world. Most western religions and some eastern traditions as well, talk about a ‘creator God’. That creator God is responsible for all of creation because that creator God is completely omniscient, completely omnipotent, it does everything.
So, the question always comes up, why do bad things happen to good people if God is benevolent? Why would a benevolent God allow these things to happen?
It has become so repetitive that you have become numb to it, because you can look at the tragedies, look at the things that are happening, earthquakes, hurricanes, all the suffering in society, etc. Why is it happening? How could God allow this to happen? It is a very difficult question and I will not pretend that I could just say a couple of words and convince you. But you need to begin to see that there is a whole other purpose to this situation. This whole scenario on earth is not simply here for us to have a great time, or to just have a nice vacation our whole life. That is not the purpose of our existence.
The purpose of our existence, like I said at the beginning of the lectures, is to develop our inner wisdom, our consciousness, to know ourselves completely as a being. Not as a physical body or personality, but as consciousness. In order to do that we have to go through a lot of experiences. This also becomes difficult to resolve if you believe that you only have one life. The phrase ‘YOLO’ (you only live once) is completely against almost all forms of religion. Modern Christianity has thrown away the idea of multiple lives, but all the ancient forms of Christianity did not. You find it in Judaism, you find it in Kabbalah, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Pythagorean metempsychosis, it is in Greek, etc.
So, this idea that we just have one life to resolve all our problems, all our situation, and all this confusion, chaos, and that our complicated mind that we have was produced just in the first in the fifteen or twenty years of our life, is false. How could your mind be so complex by the time you are teenager? If you look at it that way (that you only live once), you will have to say that ‘everything that I am is related to my physical body and to the experiences I had growing up.’
So, reflecting your life, of course, that may solve a lot of problems. Experiences as a child form certain patterns of our personality that later cause problems, for example. However, our childhood does not account for the full totality of our psychological shape. Every parent can see that their children have different character traits immedately, well before they are imitating their parents.
The reason why we are here today is not just because of this life, this childhood. That is a big thing to accept if it is something foreign to you. It is a foreign concept to modern Christianity, yet, most of the other religions and history always talk about multiple lives. In fact, there is a good reason to believe that a part of Christianity focused so much on this life in a short period of time is because the pendulum had swung so far to the other side, which is to believe ‘I had an infinite number of lives ahead of me so I should not do any spiritual work. I will just do what I do today; I got this problem right in front of me right now and I will solve all these issues and hopefully next life there is something better.’ So many people are stuck in that perspective and they need to be told that they do not have an infinite number of lives, they still have a certain number, still have certain opportunity; do not waste it! Maybe in the next life it will not be better, it will be worst. Maybe right now is your greatest opportunity. So, there is this pendulum on both sides there.
What the Buddha is saying here is that not everything that happens is because God said it has got to happen that way. If you can accept that, you may need to reconfigure your understanding of God.
Why would God allow things to happen otherwise? It has to do with free will. If we do not have free will, then what are we? We are just a puppet of God? So, if God does not allow us to have free will, we cannot develop consciousness. God needs to allow us to make mistakes. God is not a dictator.
It is the same thing when you watch parents parenting their children. Some parents hover over their children too much and they do not allow their children to learn the skills of communication, negotiation, problem solving, because the parents are always afraid. Such parents solve all the problems for the kid, and the kid grows up without any of the skills of communication, negotiation, and learning how to solve problems. That is not good for the child.
You can get that kind of perspective of trying to figure out how to handle our own existence. We have to reflect and meditate upon our problems.
Karma is Not Fatalism
As a quote in relationship to this, that karma is not fatalism, Samael Aun Weor writes,
“Karma is the law of compensation, not of vengeance. There are some who confuse this cosmic law with detriment and even with fatality [fatalism], believing that everything that happens to the human being in life is inexorably determined beforehand. It is true that the acts of the human being are determined by inheritance, education, and the environment. It is also true that the human being has free will and can modify his actions to educate his character, to form superior habits, to fight against weaknesses, to fortify virtues, etc.”- Aztec Christic Magic
So, neither is our life completely ruled in every small way by God, by some supreme being, but also our karma is not a track that we have no choice about. We have choices. We have karma that is going to come to us one way to another, according to the law, but we have the ability to make choices to transform that situation. This is very important.
Sometimes people say that certain situations “had to happen that way.” That is usually not the case. For example, “This bad thing had to happen to me because then something else happened to me that was good.” Certainly, that may have been the case - something bad happened to you and you reflected on yourself, then something good happened. In this scenario, you learned something good, but it is not necessarily true that it was the only way that your life could have unfolded.
There are two sides to that: it could have been worse, or it could have been better. It could have been different, but whatever it is, is based upon our actions, our decisions based on who we are, based on our reflections. What it means is that situation could have always be worse, and it also means that it can also be better.
This is something liberating. Even though you might have a lot of mistakes in your past, it does not mean you are preordained to have misery in your future. You can pay your karma in certain ways before it returns in the form of pain. So, you can transform your karma. If you do something wrong to something or someone, it does not mean you will have it come back to you in the same exact way no matter what. There is a possibility that you can transform that situation, transform that karma. We are going to talk about that a little bit more as well.
Related to that is the third thing that Buddha states,
There are brahmans and contemplatives who hold this teaching, hold this view: ‘Whatever a person experiences – pleasant, painful, or neither pleasant nor painful – that is all caused by what was done in the past.’-Anguttara Nikaya, 3.61
This is another modification to what I was just saying. For example, sometimes something happens to us and we say “oh it just my karma. There is nothing I could do about it.” Actually, that might not be the case. You might of not have a karma from your past life that caused a situation to unfold in a certain way. You might have just messed up in that moment.
The reason why I bring that up is because when you say, “oh, it is just my karma,” then you are not reflecting on what happened there. Maybe you were just not paying attention. Maybe all the signs were there for you to avoid that painful circumstance, but you were too stubborn or too dull, so then something happened that was not pleasant. If that is the case, it is not because of something in the past that forced you to act that way, that forced you to make that mistake. Once again, the more you dive into these things, although everyone talks about karma, no one is really studying it to see how we use it. Sometimes we use it to make us feel good when we should not be, or to feel bad when we should not be, or to excuse our behavior. We must study and reflect on everything.
The scripture is saying that we have karma, but we also have free will, we also have these situations in our life brought about by someone’s else’s will, somebody else’s actions, and we need to know how to respond to it. That might not be your karma – but simply the ill will of someone in this life. If someone goes crazy and starts hurting people, does that mean that every one of those people had karma and they needed to pay it? Or is it that person just went crazy conflicting pain and suffering? Did those people deserve that? There is something else to these types of things and it is what we call the Law of Accidents. Because we have free will, I can choose to go do something really crazy, terrible things and nothing is going to stop me. God’s hand is not going to squash me just because I am doing it. That is easy to prove because people are doing these crazy things.
So, just because all this pain and suffering exists in the world that does not mean God does not exist. It does not mean that the universe is just a random chaotic existence. It just means that things are not quite what we want them to be. They are not as simple. There is a bigger picture. It does matter that we suffer, and we can individually, and collectively do better. We can transform our situation. If we transform our state of mind, we impact every single person that we come across in our life. It could be hundreds, it could be thousands. If all those people can change just a little, suddenly we are talking about millions, then billions of people. It is absolutely possible.
This thing about karma is that things are not so simple. We tend to like a doctrine that puts it out very simply and black and white – this is good, this is bad, etc. etc. etc. We like that, we may adopt that type of doctrine because it is not too complicated, but nothing in life is like that. Nothing! That is why we are constantly confused. Even simple things like computers, phones, are complicated! Why would karma be applied in this very black and white way? It is not.
Three Types of Action
In addition to that, Samael Aun Weor writes, “
In life, there are three types of action.
First are actions that are the outcome of accidents, or simply, they correspond to the law of accidents.
Second are actions that are the outcome of karma.
Third are actions performed by conscious will; these are truly characteristic of initiates, masters, those who already have an individual, conscious will.” -Beyond the Mind (lecture)
So, accidents happen, and suffering exists because people behave wrongly. It was not divine law that they were supposed to act that way and it was not divine law that they had to suffer that way. In this world there is something called free will. It would be worse if there was no free will. That is the freedom that we have, the ability to do good and to do bad.
Second are the actions that are the outcome of karma. I have talked about what karma is not. What does it mean that if there is some karma that we have? What would that mean? Well, a lot of times these are situations where we try hard, we are very rational and well thought out, we want a certain outcome and we have a good plan. However, the result is that it just did not work, and the person next to us tries just as hard and their situation works out well. We might try five times, but end up failing every time. Now, something like that might be karma. I am not saying that it is, but there is something there where the person feels like they are getting a punishment. Maybe in a previous life they treated others in a bad way, and they are learning something psychological about that situation. In any case, karma is paid and then goes away. Persist in doing your good works so you can pay your karma.
Karma is very involved with the people that are close to us in our life, our family, our partners. That is why some people that get together are very attracted to each other and feel pulled to each other. Then they start antagonizing each other and hurting each other and create pain, suffering, drama that everyone goes through. A lot of times it is tough when there is a break-up, etc. and we cannot figure it out. There is pain with the person and there is pain without the person, that might be karma. It is a situation where you are paying, it is not about the physical situation so much, but it is about the emotional pain that you are going through, and you are learning about yourself based on what is going on. That is how karma is applied a lot. Karma may be applied in physical situations, it might come through poverty, that is not to say that everyone that is poor has a karma to pay, but it could be a part of that.
The thing is that you do not know until you have some intuitive experience that will tell you. Otherwise, you are sort of unsure. You always need to work on yourself, work through your life without complaining about it, without protesting. Whether it is a karma that is being applied or it is just a mistake that you made in this life, it does not matter because you should just always work on yourself, reflect on what your situation is. We have practices, we have meditative techniques, we have dream yoga, we have dream analysis, etc. which can give you some intuition about identifying a certain situation as karmic. You just have to keep working and doing good things, asking for forgiveness. Things can be forgiven.
Jesus, in Christianity, talks a lot about the forgiveness of sins. What most forms of Christianity get wrong is that you can be forgiven by just believing in Jesus, or God, and that is enough for everything to be forgiven. From the Gnostic perspective, forgiveness of sins occurs when we have comprehended the nature of our sins. You can do something very bad, because our state of mind is terrible, then be sorry that you did it, but you do not comprehend what actually happened. The forgiveness of sins means, when something is forgiven you do not have to pay with pain. It means you are forgiven, these cosmic beings, God, the Lions of Karma take that karmic energy and do something else with it. But If you did not comprehend why you did it then why would you be forgiven of it? You can just go do it again because that state of mind has not been understood by yourself. So, the forgiveness of sins happens after you comprehend why you did it. If you comprehend why you did it, you can ask for forgiveness, ask for help to not be a certain way, “I understand what I was doing, but I am not that way anymore.” Again, we have practices, and prayers related to that.
So, it exists. Karma is not just a mechanical law; you do not get forgiven “just because.” That does not make any sense. Karma is like an energy. If you see a child on a swing set and they are swinging very high with lots of energy, and suddenly they scream for help because they cannot stop, what do they have to do? They are too afraid to jump off, they are screaming, what would you do to help them? Somehow, you would have to get in front of them and take all that energy to stop them. So, when something is forgiven, something has to take all that energy. Let us say that I did something terrible. There is that energy, not physical, but it is an energy that is waiting within the superior dimensions. It is an unresolved situation that needs to play out and it is going to play out. Unless some other energy transforms it. In this sense the swing, or pendulum keep on swinging until something else can stop it.
What I am trying to explain is that if we have proper comprehension, we have God, the Lions of Karma, our inner Divine Mother that can help us work with that karma. But it does not come because they snapped their fingers, because something must take that karma and transform it into something else. It is not something we can do. God can do it, but only when we comprehend and repent.
We should know that just because we do something bad it does not mean that we are doomed. If we were doomed there would be no point to any of this stuff. Presumably, we are here because there is a path and it is possible to walk it.
The third type of action are those actions performed by conscious will. This means we are doing something based on consciousness. Meaning, not desire, not fear, not anxiety, not ambition. What do we actually do that it is not based on any of those things? It is very difficult to even understand what I am talking about. If you think about it, everything you do is based on getting, obtaining something. It takes a lot of reflection, a lot of work on ourselves to know when our mind, our consciousness is wrapped up in these egotistical elements. In Buddhism, they are called kleshas or aggregates.
What is our pure Essence? We have our pure essence, our pure soul, and then we have all this garbage on top of it. It is like a buried jewel in a landfill. That is who we are basically. That jewel is precious and so beautiful, even though there is so much garbage on top of it, we can still see how beautiful it is once we find it.
We still have a connection to our Essence. We sense that, but we also sense that there is a lot of garbage. It is kind of like having a light source where you can put a filter over it to change its color, making it dimmer, darker, cloudy. That is who we are. We have this very pristine light, we know how to get to it, but it is covered up with so much garbage.
What real action is, is action that is of pure light, pure consciousness. What we always have is some impure mixture. Sometimes, we are more egotistical, sometimes we are less egotistical, and we need, want to work towards being less. That is good, but then there is this type of action which is just pure. That is exemplified in all the prophets, all the avatars. We see the way that they talk, the way that they are present, we can get a unique feeling about them. We see a truly great being transforming the world. We see that it is coming from pure consciousness. It is not coming from their body, it is not coming from their neurons, or chemicals of their brain. They are speaking with their consciousness through their body, and it is beautiful when you look at that great being that has transformed the world and taught a beautiful doctrine.
We are all capable of that. We should know that we have the exact same capacities. They might be different than our condition, but in principle they are no different than us, and we are no different than them. Any Angel, Deva, any God was at one time in the same condition we are in right now. That is beautiful. It means that there is a lot that we can develop into and aspire to.
False Doctrine: Non-Discernment
We also find people who do not have any discernment. They just do not want to think about it.
Sanjaya Belatthaputta said to me: ‘If you ask me: “Is there a world beyond?” If I thought that there is a world beyond, I would declare to you “There is a world beyond.” But I do not say “It is this way,” nor “It is that way,” nor “It is otherwise.” I do not say “It is not so,” nor do I say “It is not not so.” DN 2: Samaññaphala Sutta
In other words, people who just do not want to think about this stuff. They are not going to make any effort to think or talk about it. By doing that it avoids the problem of figuring out what it is. We find it interesting that this was written over two-thousand years ago and we find people today in the same exact way, not wanting to think about it.
Another thing that we talked about was the immediacy of results,
“There are, headman, some brahmans and contemplatives who hold a doctrine and view like this: 'All those who kill living beings experience pain and distress in the here and now. All those who take what is not given... who engage in illicit sex... who tell lies experience pain and distress in the here and now.’ […] "So, headman, when those brahmans & contemplatives who hold a doctrine and view like this say: 'All those who kill living beings experience pain and distress in the here and now,' do they speak truthfully or falsely?“ – "Falsely, lord.“ – SN 42.13
So, what buddha is talking about here is that you can do some bad stuff in this life and it does not mean that you are going to have the karma for it in this life. You can do some great things in this life, but it does not mean that you will see the results in this life. So, there are lots of people with lots of power and they are doing things that are no good, karma will not instantly smite someone just because they did something. It is not how karma works. We need to take a long-term view of that. Again, that is for us and for everyone else.
Sometimes we ask, how does that happen? Why is this person allowed to behave that way and cause such harm? We also need to remember, when we think we are getting away with something because we do not have immediacy of results. If we are behaving in a certain way, or falsely accusing other people, gossiping about people, lying, cheating, robbery, all sorts of things, in another life those things will happen to us. Other times, even in this life-time it may come back to us. Understand that what is happening in this life might not be based on what we are doing in this life.
Axioms of Karma
I am going to wrap this up with a couple of axioms; other things to remember.
Karma is paid not only for the evil that is done, but also for the good that could be done, yet is left undone.
Meaning, there is an opportunity in front of us where we should help someone, but we chose to not act. That could be just as bad as inflicting harm on somebody. In other words, sometimes it is bad to speak up, ‘butt-in’, thinking you know how to solve some problems; sometimes you need to be silent. Let other people work things out. Sometimes you do need to speak up. Sometimes you might need to learn how to say something in a skillful, beautiful, sincere way to help someone or situation to calm down. To know how to do that is extremely difficult. That is exactly the work. To reflect, to meditate, to learn how to do this.
Each evil action is a bill of exchange that we sign in order to pay in the next life.
When an inferior law is transcended by a superior law, the superior law washes away the inferior law.
So, this is why the forgiveness of sins or forgiveness of karma is possible because we can do superior acts that pay for other negative things that we have done. So, we should endeavor to do that. We build up a spiritual bank account. If we have a mistake, but we also have currency in our spiritual bank account, we may still have to pay for that mistake, but it will not be so bad. But if we have nothing in the bank and we do something wrong, you can be sure that you are going to pay with a lot of emotional, psychological, physical pain. So, someone that goes around not doing good for anyone else, the smallest thing happens, and they are suffering a lot.
The Lords of Karma in the Tribunals of Objective Justice judge souls for their deed, for concrete, clear and definitive facts, and never for their good intentions.
This can be very controversial, meaning if we wanted to do something really nice for someone if we ended up doing something harmful towards them, then that is what matters. It is like that saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Most of the time a lot of us have good intentions. It does not happen often where we are plotting something evil against someone, at least that is not my experience, in any case it is the results that matter. A lot of times we like to wash our hands from the bad results, you may have good intentions towards helping someone, but then you blame the other person for the negative results. So, we need to be very mature and look at what are the results. The thing about intention is that it is necessary, we always need a good intention, we should never have a bad intention, but that intention is basically free. So, if we ever have bad intentions towards somebody, that is really a problem that we have for ourselves. The good intention is always free; having a good intention for other people doing well. It is just never enough, because it is the results that count.
Results always speak for themselves. Good intentions are worthless if the facts are disastrous.
Questions & Answers
Instructor: We will end there, do you have any questions? I can take them now.
Audience: If we already have the Essence, why is karma necessary?
Instructor: That is a good question. The question is, why do we need to go through this if what we need is not the ego? The situation is bigger than what I presented in this lecture. In relation to the book of Genesis, it talks about the fall. There was some other condition of humanity and then they fell. Through that fall, they become knowledgeable of good and evil. So, there is the difference between the pristine consciousness, that gem that I was talking about. There is one characteristic that needs to be developed and that is self-cognizance, self-wisdom. In a baby you can see the pristine consciousness because they do not have a personality, they do not have an ego present, they are an infant, especially the first couple of years. You can see in their eyes, you can see their beauty, we all have exactly that. There is the difference between the pristine consciousness that does not have the wisdom of its own nature versus that pristine consciousness that also has the wisdom of its own nature as that consciousness.
There is a innate type of ignorance. It is like a virginal type of ignorance. We have a soul that is not developed, but that also has ego. We need to get rid of the ego, but also develop our soul. They are two different things.
The ego is karma that we get for bad actions. So, when we are tempted to be angry, feel anxious, or afraid and we go into a rumination expending a lot of psychological energy, we are actually strengthening negative patterns in our mind. That is our ego. So, we are using energy to build more ego and that builds up our fear and the next time that happens we are more fearful, more anxious, angrier, all those things.
We need to learn how to comprehend that, eliminate that, and when we eliminate that we extract something, we extract a significance: “Why is this happening, why do I always go towards that fear, that hatred to others, or hatred of self, anxiety… why do I always go there? Why do I see it in the wrong way, and I understand it and now I see things in a new way?”
It is this little drop of wisdom that you have now that you did not have before. That is your wisdom. You have built up your wisdom, atom by atom. You pulled back all those pieces but with wisdom now.
Right now, we have the ego, but it is not just one thing. It is like we are bottled up in ten thousand glass jars, and whenever we are inside one of them, we see the world in that way, through stained and dirty glass. When our jealousy is invoked, and we see someone beautiful with a nice car, nice job, a nice lifestyle, we are actually living inside a little jar of jealousy. We see through those lenses. The same goes for all our egotistical elements, such as fear, hatred, pride, lust, etc.
When we learn how to comprehend our mind, we break that jar, and our consciousness is liberated. It is the same symbol as the genie coming out of the lamp. We are actually the genie, our own consciousness.
So, through the experience of making mistakes we build the ego and karma. Karma and ego are two sides of the same thing. When we comprehend our mistakes, we can eliminate the ego. We then begin to return to a pristine level of consciousness, but with one added drop of wisdom and knowledge for every egotistical element we eliminate. That is the process of the knowledge of good and evil. That is why we say gnosis is our salvation. Gnosis is a Greek word that means knowledge. That is the basis of Gnosticism.
Gnosis is the special transcendent knowledge granting us liberation.