Karma and Rebirth
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 4th August 1973
There are two basic doctrines which are common to all the religious teachings of India particularly, and also some other parts of the world, and they are named Karma and Rebirth. These doctrines have appeared occasionally in the Western world and not in too disguised a form with the entry of Qabalistic teachings into Europe, particularly through the teachings of that great Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia, who was a contemporary of Moses de Leon who compiled all the Qabalistic traditions which come under the generic title of the Zohar — The Book of Splendour. They were contemporaries also of Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Eckhart, Tauler, it was an absolutely extraordinary age, that late 13th and early 14th century in Europe. Abraham Abulafia taught what was extraordinarily similar to Yoga as the practice for discovering God, and the ways of God and Creation. And in the Zohar too you find this idea of transmigration coming in, definitely coming in. These teachings as far as we know originated somewhere between the lands which lie east of the Caspian and the Fertile Crescent, the Euphrates-Tigris region, and the Himalayas and the Indus Valley. What the original teachings were has never been recorded, either as ideograms on clay tablets or on parchment. It was a great oral tradition, and it was only centuries later, in fact many centuries later, that these two doctrines, which we now know as Karma and Rebirth, took their present intellectual shape and became popularized. What has come over into Europe and the Western world generally is the popular belief regarding those two teachings which prevailed in India. The early missionaries and scholars asked the people what they believed, and the people were not enlightened Holy Ones. It is true they were priests, they were pundits, learned Brahmans, and they were the general populace. So it is in the form in which they expressed their beliefs that these two doctrines named Karma and Rebirth came into Europe and attracted attention, and received acceptance in various parts of modern Europe, by, after all, what is only a minority of the people. It is necessary to know this before we consider the meaning of Karma in depth. Rebirth depends upon the teachings of Karma, together with the belief in the survival of some permanent entity which is called the Ātman or Ego or Soul, or whatever you like. Those two beliefs are necessary in order to produce the ideal of Rebirth, understood as Reincarnation.
First let us look into Karma, because, if Karma were not there and the whole concept and understanding of Karma, Rebirth would disappear also. What is the meaning of this word Karma? Its Sanskrit root is kṛi, and the ordinary dictionary meaning, the literary meaning, as well as the popular meaning of that root is “to do or to make”. A better English word really is “to create”. That is the meaning of the root kṛi, to create, not merely to make or to do. To make implies generally the putting together of certain things and bringing into being a particular pattern, that is making something. To create has this special significance about it, that it is the consequence of a sudden upsurge of creative power which we do not know. It is the unknown, it is the unknowable also, an upsurge of creative power which, going back into itself, becomes the container and the contained of that creative power. It is the type of action which is the origin, as the great teachers put it, both of what they called the spiritual universe, as well as the material universe. And remember that in those days they always separated spirit and matter, because they could not see that matter is actually no other than pure energy. There was not enough scientific knowledge in those days to know this for a fact. All honour to those great Upaniṣadic teachers who in the presentation of their teaching of Brahman rode over all limitations whatsoever and said that Brahman is the Absolute All, material, intellectual, psychological, mental, spiritual, whatever you like to say, as a one reality. Those were the only people who said that. But people normally separated the two. They conceived of two universes, a spiritual universe, which was the paradigm, the prototype of the material universe, and it was assumed that the material universe was drawn out of the spiritual universe and created by great spiritual intelligences whom they personified as beings. You get these great orders of the archangels and the angels, the suras and the asuras, the constructive powers, the destructive powers, the demons and all the rest of it. These were the conceptions which people put out regarding creation and the creative process.
In those days they did not know the meaning of words like integration or transmutation as we know them today. They had not enough mathematics and enough scientific knowledge and enough experimentally verified and verifiable facts to understand with the mind the reality which underlies transmutation or integration or creation. Now these things must be very clearly understood by us today if we are to understand just what we mean by Karma and Rebirth. First of all they presented this universe, which is an evolution of the ultimate real, the mystical “no thing” as they called it, the incomprehensible, unimaginable, deity if you like, of whom or of which nothing can be predicated. That mystical “no thing” by some extraordinary process, (they generally call it a wrench in its own being or, as they put it in India, self-limitation) becomes manifest. That which has no appearance whatsoever, no shape, no form, no dimensions, no measure of any sort, becomes self-limited, and because of that constriction it puts out an appearance of itself. So the entire manifested world is an appearance of what which never appears, which remains everlastingly unknown, and unknowable by you or by me. This was how they presented the whole process. That appearance is the totality of the manifested world. Now this creative power, which can make this upsurge sink back into itself and thus produce its self-limitation, its own container in which it itself is contained, and therefore to that extent constricted, this creative act is action in eternity, no space, no time, no limitation, nothing at all. It is without cause, it is a-causal; this is a very important point to bear in mind. Causality does not apply to it. It is consequenceless, it is the Absolute Will, if you like, the Absolute Will at work. And the whole of the process of appearance has been metaphorically, poetically described in India as the līlā, the play, the sport of God the Creator, Brahmā. Remember it is a-causal, consequenceless, there is no reward, no punishment, no adjustments, nothing to make. God is absolute God.
What is the nature of this creative activity? It is of the nature of a pulsation, which is a life/death pulsation, but which I always prefer to call a life/other life pulsation, at an incredible speed. This life/other life pulsation means (because we use the term “life” only in relation to life which is manifest, actual living beings and so forth) a pulsation of being/non-being, a pulsation of finitude and non-finitude. This is action in eternity which has no measure, no dimensions whatsoever but produces all measure, produces all dimensions. But the moment it produces measure and dimensions, space, time and substance and all the rest of it, the laws for the maintenance and subsistence of this appearance come into being at the same time. This is what is known as the order of the universe, Ṛta. As and when the Law is not fulfilled, there is a break, there is a strain, there is pain, there is sorrow. Insofar as it is obeyed, the Law is not abrogated, no one goes against the Law, there is well-being, there is harmony, and so forth. Human beings, after this terrific realization in deep states of consciousness of the nature of this creative action, naturally interpret it, this functioning of the Law, as a mode of equilibration, of balancing up. Now the human intellect came into play and said, “Why should this be so, and why shouldn’t it be like this? Justice demands that it should be thus and thus.” And so the various conceptions of a law which they called the law of Karma (action, remember, is its fundamental meaning) came into being, this adjustment process according to human concepts of justice. And this is where its utter falsity comes in. God does not ask us how I shall adjust matters in the universe, he does not even try to, God is absolute, a-causal. Out of the great religions perhaps only Islam in its presentation of Allah has presented God the Absolute with that terrific, stark, impossible-to-face-and-answer Absoluteness. But you look into facts as they are, and you will see that is closer to the reality than the God that we create in our own image who is going to be just, as we think justice is. Ours is a shop-keeper’s justice. There are the goods, they are worth £2.35, so you pay £2.35 and take the goods. Now, justice, that’s just and fair. You are a saint, I am the world’s worst sinner. We are walking along arguing about this, and so absorbed are we in these cobwebs of how the Divine runs the universe, that finally we take the step that takes us right over the 2,000 foot precipice. Neither God nor our concepts of justice save either of us from coming to the identical end, although according to justice I ought to be punished and the saint ought to be rewarded. No, we both come to the same end, a little bit messy. Bear this in mind very carefully, there is no such thing as justice according to our human, petty little concepts of justice, they apply only in the human context, and that too not in the context of the whole of the human race. What is justice in England is injustice in France perhaps. Certainly it would be injustice in Russia or China or Timbuktu, and vice versa. We must clear our minds of those concepts, these petty concepts of equilibration, of putting things right, squaring the accounts, seeing that both sides of the ledger book properly balance each other.
Karma is action, from the work kṛi to create and to act, action. It is creative power. No one can predict or foresee just what will happen as a result of this creative power coming into play. And that’s that. If we don’t like it we just have to lump it, invent pretty little doctrines like Karma, which of course puts everything right and consoles us according to our self-oriented outlook upon the universe. All those are only harmful to us. Make no mistake about it. So you see this little idea of adjusting things came into being, and associated with it was the perception that there is a thing like growth and change and coming to fruition, and so forth. And the doctrine was propounded that man gradually grows out of an evil state, out of an ignorant state, out of an unhappy state, into a good, a perfect, an everlasting, happy state like you have in the fairy tales, “and they lived happily every afterwards”, and so forth. And in order that that may come to fruitation, as obviously it cannot be done in a single lifetime, therefore that man must be born again and again, climbing step by step till he comes to the top class, gets his PhD, and then frames the certificate on his palace wall in the heavens! I am sorry, I am being very scathing and sarcastic. But really such havoc has been wrought by this misperception of the actual process of life that it is time we just completely cleaned out our minds of these misperceptions and false presentations of what comes under the work Karma. This is a creative process, an action in eternity, within the limited context, within the context, that is to say, of appearance, of form, of shape, of living things which grow, which means which change. And they change according to certain developmental trends, which necessarily take them to a certain climax of perfection of appearance, of form, of organism and so forth. Within that limited context of course some of these ideas which we hold in connection with Karma do operate, and must of necessity operate. But those ideas, whilst they are quite legitimate in that sphere, are bedevilled at the source by relating them specifically to a surviving, a perpetually surviving identifiable entity called me the person, the ego, the immortal soul, the manikin Ātma of the later Upaniṣads. The later Upaniṣads were rather unfortunate that way. In fact the Greater Upaniṣads were responsible for using certain metaphorical expressions, “This Ātma which is smaller than a grain of mustard seed, which is larger than the largest thing that you know, which is seated in the heart, which is the size of a thumb”. Poetic little phrases like that got misinterpreted in terms of “This mysterious something, which is a spark of the Divine.” I know of no spark out of any fire which ever continued, it just sparked and that was the end of it. Phrases like this have been used and the idea of the perpetuation of the identifiable person, the “I am I”, unfortunately came into being. You must remember this very, very carefully, in connection with the process. Everything gets oriented to this little ego. We are all unwilling to give up our own egoistic existence. We cling, not merely to biological life, but to the survival of what the mind postulates as the permanent self. The entity which is always something formed, something limited, something particular, has no option against death, absolutely no option. An entity may come into being, but once it has come into being, it is absolutely inevitable that that entity shall die. It is a strange fact that in Hindu teaching itself you will find this absurdity of the permanent entity coming on, life after life, and so forth, and these rather childish presentations of adjustment of debts and all the rest of it, rewards and punishments and so forth. This very Hinduism has also presented the fact of death in no uncertain terms. God the Father, Brahmā the Creator, goes through his life span of 311 billion and 40 thousand million years, and then he dies! Then after Brahmā, Viṣṇu takes on, goes through his span, and he dies! And then finally Śiva takes on, and finally he also dies! It is extraordinary that they should have presented it. All the Gods die and then there is this marvellous Pralaya, that is to say the sleep of the entire universe, material and spiritual. And then the whole thing starts up again. So of course when questions were asked, “How does the whole thing start up again?”, all sorts of ideas were invented. The Karmic effects of the previous universe come into being now. But if there is an absolute Pralaya with the absolute cessation of everything, how on earth do the Karmic effects of a previous universe come into being? It is quite impossible. People never think, they just swallow, they do not look at what they swallow. Then when they get a belly ache they come for enlightenment, and so forth! But do not swallow doctrines, look at everything with an open mind, neither swallow it nor reject it out of hand. Consider it, but consider it with your own mind free, which means empty of preconceptions, assumptions, biases, prejudices. If you have such a mind in fact you will not ask so many questions. This is the sort of general process by which these two ideas about Karma and Rebirth came into being and found expression in the popular mind. And so everything was just absurdly presented.
What did the Holy Ones themselves teach as regards this process, this universal process, the great becoming process, which is the expression, which is an appearance of this creative energy, this creative power in action? Remember it functions as this pulse of life/other-life, being/non-being, finitude and infinity, at an incredible rate. Unfortunately I have to use the word rate, or speed, which belongs to the limited context, I have no other means of talking of that which vibrates in eternity. You can sense it, if you ever are successful in entering those states of consciousness. I have myself used the term Action in Eternity. But you see if you try to analyse it intellectually, you can easily get tied up in knots and you tie me up in knots too. These things are very difficult to talk about. What did the perfected Holy Ones themselves say, and they were very chary of the words they used? The Buddha probably used the best word in the situation. He called it punabbhava, an again- becoming — that is its literal translation. But what could be the meaning of this again-becoming? If we want to use perhaps what seems to me, anyway, the best modern English words for it, it is a continuous emergent process. It is an emergent process of an extraordinary nature. It is something like, it is a little bit akin to, or shall I say related to, the scientific presentation in the early part of this century of the nature of energy, that it goes out in pulses. It is not like a river or a canal in which the water flows continuously, it goes in pulses, it is an in/out thing. It is a pulsation, a vibrating, in the real sense of the term. This emergence is not a repetition, it is not a repetitious process, it is a perpetually creative process, which means that the outgoing pulse, let us say, is the creating one, and there is a universe. And the indrawing pulse is the disappearance of that universe, being/non-being, being/non-being. But there is no repetitious re-utilisation of old material, because that old material completely disappears in the non-being. Finitude absolutely disappears into non-finitude, infinity. One of the best hints, one the finest clues that I know in the old writings to understanding this is in the Gītā, when Śrī Kṛṣṇa says, “Being and non-being am I, O Arjuna. Death and the origin of all things to come am I, O Arjuna.” Being belongs to the limited, the particular, birth/death. Non-being knows no birth/death. How can non-being either be born or die? It cannot know birth or death. And if Sri Krishna says, “Being and non-being am I”, what is the significance of it? You must go into profound meditation in this connection.
I will admit I was very fortunate when this really sort of flashed into me, somehow the whole thing came clear as light, at once, just about two years ago, a little more I think. ”Being and non-being am I”. “Death and the origin of all things to come”. What is death? This is the important point. Death is the extinction, the absolute extinction of continuity, which puts it in line with pulsation, the life, other-life pulse, so that no such thing as an old survives to go into a new and reappear. Every single pulse of creation is totally new, this is something which the world has to wake up to, and it will probably be a few centuries before the mind of man will ever really get hold of this. You have to experience it. The creation is totally new every time. And it is of such a nature that I can only say that the word timeless applies to it. That is why I say that in this supreme state of samādhi, the ultimate realization of Transcendence, you are actually in the spaceless, timeless depth of eternity. Spaceless, timeless depth of eternity. These phrases are not mere words, they are realizations. Now perhaps the intellect can be a little bit free of its misconceptions, and suggest in the least misleading words what punabbhava could imply, this again-becoming, this creative emergent process, not quite like Lloyd Morgan’s philosophy of emergent evolution. (He was one of our great philosophers in the beginning of this century). He got some feel of it in his philosophy of emergent evolution, just as Bergson did in his way with his creative evolution, he got an intimate touch with the nature of life. But simply because they were philosophers and not religious people who actually were able to experience transformed consciousness, neither of them got this innermost depth which it is possible for man to get hold of. So, this punabbhava, this again becoming.
Bear in mind I said new creation, but when the new creation comes, when it limits itself, it forms certain patterns. And these patterns have certain tendencies inherent in them, otherwise cosmos could never come out of chaos. And these patterns bear similarities to previous patterns in the limited context, not in the transcendent context. In the transcendent context of absoluteness I shut up where that is concerned, I don’t know at all, never can know. But one can see something within this limited context, and because these relationships do exist, because curious bits of evidence, which our conditioned minds cannot explain otherwise, exist, therefore we spin out this idea of a continuity of an identifiable, immutable entity called the immortal soul, or spirit or person, through time and space, till one reaches a fruition, Nirvana, the Kingdom of Heaven, Perfection, the picture is painted to satisfy heart’s desire. What can you do after the picture is painted? After all the marvellous delight and wonder of painting it and all that went into bringing it into being, all that you can do is to hang up this corpse on the wall, and then you worship that which is dead! So beware of the popular presentations, even the well reasoned out presentations, of all the common-or-garden doctrinal presentations of Karma and Rebirth. There is a profound reality which underlies those words, but the way those words have been expounded have hardly any relationship with that profound reality. You must first experience for yourself the nature of this pulsation of life/other life, of finitude/non-finitude, and if you are blessed ever with experiencing that beatitude you will find that, like a flash of lightening cleansing everything, it will clean up the whole of the intellect in a most remarkable way, and free you from a terribly binding, burdensome conditioning. You see in the history of the development of Judaeo-Christian teachings, this problem came up. The Old Testament was supposed to stand for the Law, the Law and the Prophets, and the fulfilment of the Law. But as St. Paul said, “Through Jesus Christ there came Grace”.
The point is that Grace does not annul the Law at all. What Jesus Christ did was to introduce a new dimension into the religious consciousness of those people who lived in the Middle East, a new dimension, a dimension which was far from absent in the Qabalah itself, grace, mercy, loving kindness, hesed is the word in the Qabalistic teaching. It is precisely what Jesus Christ brought into prominence. In the Law, hesed had as its counterbalancing feature gevurah which is judgement. The Qabalistic teaching had the mediator rahamim, compassion, note very carefully, compassion, which mediates between loving kindness, mercy, absolute forgiveness on the one hand, and absolute justice as defined by man, on the other hand. The working of Karma in the real sense includes all these things, but unfortunately as presented in India it does not include all these elements. The original Veda had the whole teaching, just as the original Qabalah had it, but it was forgotten. So this compassion, rahamim, is also named tiphereth, beauty. This rahamim or tiphereth is the Son of the Father in Heaven, the Transcendent, the Absolute, of which nothing can be predicated. When the Son comes into being, he comes into being in each and every one of us, when this consciousness, this awareness of grace unifies, integrates: mercy, forgiveness, on the one hand, loving kindness with judgement, stern judgement, on the other hand. When that is integrated, then the Son, the Christ-consciousness, as it is called, comes into being. This is also the compassion which characterizes the Buddha nature, the mahākaruṇā of the Buddha nature. And it is always associated, symbolically only, with the heart. Now, how does Karma operate? No longer as the hundred pence for the one pound note, no longer at all. Both aspects operate. Do you remember that marvellous parable of Jesus, the fellow who comes at the last hour, and gets paid the same as those who came and worked through the day from the first hour? Strange are the ways of life, we have to understand and learn from them all, somehow understand and get this real flash of inspiration regarding this life/other life pulsation, being/non-being, finitude and infinity. Once you get that right it clears the intellect of all its misfunctioning. The intellectual machine does not work properly. Once you get this it will work properly. Then all the misconcepts of Karma will disappear, and with them will disappear this idea of the permanent entity. There is no permanent entity because the nature of creation is this pulsation, in which the totally new comes into being.
It is an extraordinary fact that in very recent years, the last fifteen years, great scientists and mathematicians, (they are actually mathematical physicists as such) have presented a new conception of the nature of what we call matter. Our conception of matter, due to our experiencing matter in the way we do experience it, is that it is hard, solid, impenetrable, continuously there, and so forth, that’s how it is experienced by us through our senses. Therefore, as far as our sense perceptions and the instrumentality of our sense organs are concerned, we cannot know any different from just this fact. But as you all know the beginning of the century saw the breakthrough into the world of the atom, that microcosmic world where the laws of the macrocosmos were no longer obeyed. The causality, action, reaction, reward, punishment in terms of Karma, and so forth, do not hold in this intra-atomic world. This element of free action, a-causality and so forth, comes into play. And it is of this world that the macrocosmic world is composed. But the macrocosmic world as observed by us seems to follow the laws of causality as presented in classical physics and classical mechanics, the science of mechanics. Newton was the one who formulated the three great laws of motion of which the last one was that action and reaction are equal and opposite. If you press again this bookcase with a certain force, that bookcase is pushing back at me with an identically equal force. That is why there is no movement, or there is no such thing as my finger breaking through this piece of wood. That is the classical law in mechanics. In the world of the atom that thing does not hold.
And now this new conception that has been presented is something of this nature, that if you take the microcosmic particle, the intra-atomic thing, it does not exist merely as such, it is continuously throwing out what is called a virtual particle, ejecting it and immediately afterwards reabsorbing it. In other words it has a life rhythm of its own, it has a pulsation of its own. These physicists openly declare that the entire universe is alive, and the mathematical physicists can calculate all this. They arrive at these conclusions through their mathematical calculations. It takes place at the rate of something like a hundred thousand million million million times a second. That is the rate at which we, these solid, material bodies, these good, strong, silent, reliable, hefty men and these charming ladies, and so forth, actually exist materially! A hundred thousand million million million times we exist and we disappear out of existence! In what space and time do all the particles that compose us disappear when we go, and where? The one wonderful lesson that we learn out of this is that, “I don’t know, I just don’t know”. And it is a marvellous state to be in, a state of perpetual wonder. Twenty years ago I was quite certain about the law of Karma, I was not quite so certain about Rebirth, the popular belief and the popular presentation, and the presentation of Rebirth in any reincarnational form to me now is just utterly nonsensical, it is a misleading form. It was nearly forty years of great intellectual distress, struggling with this problem, and then the reincarnational picture went out, but not the reality underlining it. The reality underlining it is this miraculous, this wonderful thing, this pulsation, which is not a reincarnation, it is just perpetual incarnation again and again, and that is the marvel of it. If you say again and again, you are caught up immediately in the concept of time and space. These are the difficulties of talking about it. But if you really appreciate the difficulties your intellect becomes freed of the misperception of it, and when you are talking with somebody you can always counter whatever mistaken statements may be made. This is a very deep thing. Look into some of the implications. If this is the nature of existence, obviously there is nothing whatsoever for me, this funny little cocoon, this will-of-the-wisp which I call “myself, the spark of God which is immortal in me”. I am clinging to something which does not exist. When I am drowning I catch hold of empty space and say, “Ah, now I shall be held up by it”. If I do know that it is space, I will be held up by it, but because I misconceive it and think it is some solid anchor, I drown. That is what happens to us with doctrines and dogmas. This is the great difficulty. There is nothing for me because there is no permanent me to deal with, even if there is something which we may legitimately refer to as “I myself”, whilst this pattern is here, for purposes of identification. It is useful to say “I” or “Phiroz Mehta”. If I gave a false name I might be had up for attempting to do something wrong, against the law, then Karma certainly would descend upon me with swift retribution!! Nothing for me whatsoever. If we cannot start that way, the religious life and whatever we do and name as the religious life or the yogic life is irreligious, a falsity. When this misconception of a petty self is out, the soul is pure. And then Grace operates.
Shall I put it in a symbolical form? When there is no more self here and I give up, as I say, completely give up, “I don’t know”, then the Lord says, “That chap’s done away with himself, I’ll give him the world. There you are, my friend, take it and enjoy it, it is all yours.” That is the meaning of Grace. And there is peace, there is happiness. When the misconceptions are out, the reality is allowed to play freely in me. As long as I cling to doctrines and dogmas and want teachings, want instruction, which is all tied up in the prison house of ideas and rigid conceptions, then I am my own jailer, my own tormentor. Let them all slip away.
In the Skanṭa and the Maḍreya Upaniṣads it is said that the body is the Temple of the Most High. The Dweller in the Temple is no other that Śiva, the Dweller in the Temple is not Phiroz, or M… or B… or S… or anybody. And if that Dweller in the Temple is this ultimate creative power and reality, a-causal, consequenceless, absolutely free, what place has my potty little doctrine of Karma or Rebirth in that Transcendent context? St. Paul — “Know ye not that ye are the Temple of the Most High?” So you see, what is important for the holy life, for the fulfilment and flowering of whatever is trying to flower through Man, is to let Transcendence take over. I, the isolatively self-conscious, separative ego, am the usurper sitting on the throne, or pretending to sit on the throne of the Most High. And the end of any usurper, as in Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel, is Death, the wages of Sin. But you live, and may you live, really live as Life would live you. That is the art of living.
The reality of harmony and law and order is not a reality which is the consequence of a mere putting together. It is a reality of perpetual creativeness, of creative action. This creative action works itself out in our own lives through the psyche. From what has gone before we may say that if there is no justice, no reward, no punishment, no consequence for what we think and say and do, then we might as well just give up everything and go wild. Or one may say, “I can do anything I like and get away with it if I am powerful enough, clever enough, knavish enough, skilful enough.” It is totally impossible to get away with anything. There is no external justice here, no external spiritual or psychological police force or court of law or anything which deals with the whole situation. In all this we must never forget one fundamental fact. All through our lives, every single thought and feeling, every word, every action produces its impress upon one’s own psyche. Any thought, any idea, any emotion, any stimulus, impulse, energy which comes to us, anything which rises up from within us, in fantasy, in imagination, in desire, and so forth, is continuously registering in the psyche. And it registers in the psyche not statically but dynamically because it is a living energy. Karma is not therefore some external mechanism to produce an equilibration for the good we do or the wrong we do, and so on. Karma is the living reality of the functioning of energies within myself. They are all in my psyche. They constitute me. Therefore the least misleading way of regarding Karmic forces, Karmic energies, is this. I am my Karma, my Karma is me. They are not two different things. Just as all the bodily conditions in the living body, my heart, my liver, bloodstream, the food I take, and so forth, are all living forces which are continuously affecting the body, so too every single thought, feeling work, action, every stimulus is a living force in my being. Since it is a living force in my being, inevitably it works itself out. It is as simple as that. This is how Karma works. No one can escape it.
Our trouble in trying to understand Karma, trying to intellectually twist Karma to fit our particular desires, what we call justice in terms of equilibration, produces unanswerable situations. Take the case of a Torquemada, or a Hitler, or a Genghis Khan or somebody. How are you going to dole out the reward or punishment for what they have done? Hitler was responsible for the destruction of thirty million lives. Are you going to apply the Mosaic Law, a life for a life? Hitler will come thirty million times, we will have to go through all the trouble and bother of catching hold of him, trying him, sentencing him, executing him, and then there will be all the emotions and upsets which will be aroused in millions of people. Who is going to adjust all that? But of course it cannot be adjusted, it should be perfectly obvious that it cannot. If that sort of thing were the case, poor old Mother Earth would have to have a lifespan of thousand of millions of billions of years in order that these wretched people’s Karma may be worked out. It is as ridiculous as that, as impossible as that. But see it this way, whatsoever one does, thinks and so on, is a living force inside oneself, I myself am immediately affected by it. We all know, we knew this long, long ago in fact, that any emotional state immediately produces various secretions in the body. Adrenalin comes out and this, that and the other happens. Whether it is fear, whether it is love, passion, anger, whatever it is, immediate chemical reactions take place in the body. There is an effect produced. I am talking purely of the physical side at the moment. And the person who gets angry very easily and cannot control himself one day has an apoplectic fit. There’s his Karma working itself out. The person who indulges himself in this, that and the other way, if he indulges himself in the wrong way, uses his sense functions in the ill way, then sooner or later the effects of it all accumulate, he has a stroke or an ulcer or goodness knows what.
So you see, we do not escape our Karma. We cannot counter our Karma in the manner in which we imagine that we could counter it. This is where the presentation in all the religions texts of the past is slightly, if not in some cases considerably, faulty. Take for instance the Buddhist-Hindu presentation, they are both alike in this manner. If thoughts of anger and hate arise in you, then counter them with a thought of loving kindness. Go through an intellectual process of reasoning which will make you see that this anger, etc., was an evil thing and so you counter it this way. It sounds very good but this sort of presentation is a presentation born of the analogy with physical experience. If the jug of milk upsets on the table, bring a cloth immediately and wipe it out like that, and lo! the table is clean and everything is all right. But living energies do not work out that way, you cannot counter it. Where these living energies within the psyche are concerned, every attempt to counter it produces the state of conflict which gives rise to another situation of difficulty, of disharmony. This is something which is not generally known. If one pays attention in such a manner, in the right manner, and sees that psychical energy working itself out, it does not work itself out in the sense that it is exhausted. Observing the psychical energy at work does not exhaust the psychical energy, it transforms it. The stuff is there, everlastingly there, your psychical energy, it is your sole strength. This is a point which I believe has not been properly looked into. This is where mindfulness has its supreme meaning, this sammā sati, the mindfulness is just precisely this kind of thing. It is not a setting going of countering forces because that merely perpetuates conflict. This is extremely important, this is where we have gone wrong all along the line, through the ages. Very few there are who have come clean out of it and realized perfection. You will see this manifest in hundreds of cases. People live, or strive to live, the good life, overcome evil, fight the good fight, and all that sort of stuff and nonsense. It is sheer nonsense really, you cannot fight any good fight. Goodness and fighting are irreconcilables. You cannot have wars for freedom, honour, justice, they are totally irreconcilables.
So, one observes and in that process of observation the transformation takes place. Those people who arrive at a sort of a state of saintship and are regarded as saints by ignorant devotees who are just lost in admiration, those people inside themselves are consumed. They are consumed with their passion, their trouble, but they have the ability to put on the appearance of quietude and serenity and calmness, and the uncritical, blind multitude is deceived by them. Occasionally they come out with the fact, with the truth. Then the cat is out of the bag. For twenty five years, for fifty years they lived as celibates, beyond all passion and all the rest of it. Did they? Who has kept note of what went on and what goes on now in their minds? If you sometimes are able to watch them in a social gathering, you might see sometimes just that flash of a glance in their eyes when they see a woman which gives the whole secret away. This is the fact, let them deny it if they can, if they dare. Let us have no illusions about it. The Truth burns, it sears but the Truth heals. “The Truth shall make ye whole.” And in that is the purity, the happiness and the real sanctity, then it comes.
These Karmic forces within us work themselves out in terms of conflict unless and until we learn this art of watching them in the right way. See the psychical energy bubbling up, working up. Watch its progress, and watch it not merely coldly, intellectually, as a scientist looks on at an experiment in the laboratory, but watch it feelingly, with a warm sensitivity, being with it completely, because it is you, not outside you. It is only the intellect that projects it outside for the sake of looking at it. You can only look at a thing. One’s own task is to maintain poise. Now maintaining poise means not indifference, it means essentially being free of all our preconceptions, our standards, our assumptions, our judgements, “Oh, but the Master himself told me…” Never mind what the Master told you. What do you understand, because it is your psyche which is working? The Master may have told you, “You can eat this and you will be all right,” but you ate it and you got a belly ache! Where now is the Master’s telling? You have got to be extraordinarily commonsensical, the thing we lack most in the world. Really we are sadly lacking in good sense all along the line. So live with it, live through it and you will find that this psychical energy which was hitherto functioning, just to use the common-or-garden word, devilishly, has now become angelic. It is the same psychical energy. You cannot destroy it, you cannot throw it out, you can through your intelligent, poised watchfulness let it get transformed. You do not transform it, don’t you ever try to, because you will try to transform it according to your own petty little intellectual preconceptions, and they are no use, they are another set of saṁkhāras, as the Buddha used to say, quite rightly. Let it transform and it will by itself come right. And do remember, whatever comes is the right thing. If you find yourself saying, “But surely I was told that it will come right, but it hasn’t come right.” You know why you say that? Because you have a standard. You want it to come just this way but not that way. But the Lord God said, “No, thus shall it be unto you, my dear.” What then? So Karma works itself out, fully, continuously, unceasingly, at an extraordinary rate.
Now, one other point in this connection and we will finish with this whole subject of Karma. Recall what was said earlier on this matter, this pulsation, this life/other life, life/other life, being/non-being, being/non-being pulsation. Karma therefore is in the immediate now, because of this pulsation. And with every pulsation it is a new creation, a new universe at once present. So Karma is in the immediate now, and this infinitesimal fraction of a moment breeds the next infinitesimal fraction of a moment in which the new universe is present, and that new universe in that sense is the worked out, the fully worked out Karma of the old universe. This is what happens to us also. I know one of the great objections, I had to raise it myself in my own mind! Now in my old age I am paying for all the follies in my youth. Having sown wild oats in my youth, now I pay the penalty in creaky bones and failing eyesight and what not, you know the usual conventional way in which these things are put! Why then this time lag, this time gap? Think carefully, I, the ordinary human being, am extremely slow of perception. I am incapable of registering this incredibly rapid pulsation, of appreciating that the very next pulse is different from the old pulse. It all seems to me like just a continuous flow, I cannot see the pulsation at all. I am able to be conscious of it only in terms of a continuity, a continuous flow, and it is only when that point is reached where it is impossible not to see the difference that I say, “Oh, I see, this is the effect of that cause of thirty or forty years ago.” So this is how we talk in terms of past Karma, present Karma, future Karma. But if you get free of the equilibration idea, if you get free of the reward/punishment idea, and if you are really awake to the action process, creative action in eternity, then you will begin to get the right understanding of Karma.