Karma

Question: I was wondering how the Course would address the issue of karma. I know, for example, that sickness is guilt made manifest, so guilt plays a unique part in what the East calls karma. Have you or someone else written an article about this topic?

Answer: Karma—the Indian notion that actions in past lives determine our condition in this life—is now a familiar term in the West. While there are no references to karma in the familiar published Course, there were several in the original dictation. One of these references simply assumes the truth of karma:

Your [Helen's] instability and his [Bill's] weakness have resulted from bad karmic choices, and your relationship now is crucial for the future….Both of you are correcting where you have failed before. (Urtext)

This says that Helen is unstable and Bill is weak because of choices they made prior to this lifetime, and that through their present joining they are correcting their past errors. Another passage, while not mentioning karma, describes a similar scenario:

Retain your miracle-minded attitude toward Rosie [Helen and Louis' maid] very carefully. She once hurt both of you, which is why she is now your servant. But she is blessed in that she sees service as a source of joy. Help her straighten out her past errors by contributing to your welfare now. (Urtext)

So, according to this, in a past existence, Rosie hurt Helen and Louis. This resulted in her being their servant now, and by serving them joyfully and well she can "straighten our her past errors." Their job is to have a miracle-minded attitude toward Rosie and let her serve them.

The rest of the references to karma, however, are negative. I'll go through these one by one:

"Vengeance is Mine sayeth the Lord" is strictly a karmic viewpoint. It is a real misperception of truth, by which man assigns his own evil past to God. The "evil conscience" from the past has nothing to do with God. He did not create it, and He does not maintain it. God does not believe in karmic retribution at all. (Urtext version of T-3.I.3:1,4)

This refers to a popular understanding of karma as the balancing of the scales of justice, administered by God or heavenly beings. If I hurt Helen and Louis in a past life, God will punish me by making me their servant in this life. In this view, God acts like the conscience of the cosmos, but His is an "evil conscience," one that vengefully pursues me and is responsible for all the bad things in my life.

The clear message in this paragraph is that this has absolutely nothing to do with God. The implication is that we are trying to pin on Him a process for which we ourselves are responsible. In other words, the "evil conscience" is ours. We are unconsciously punishing ourselves for our past mistakes. We are the vengeful conscience of our own personal cosmos, even if consciously we aren't aware of this and try to lay the blame at God's doorstep.

I told you I forgave you and that meant all hurt and hate you have ever expressed is cancelled. I need the children of light now and I am calling you to be what you once were and must be again. The interval has vanished without a trace anywhere. You who live so close to God must not give way to guilt. The Karmic law demands abandonment for abandoning, but you have received mercy, not justice. (Shorthand notebooks as recorded in Absence from Felicity, pp. 222-223)

Here is how God really thinks. Rather than paying us back for our hurt, hate, and abandoning, He forgives. He grants mercy. As a result, the interval in which we wandered off on dark and hateful roads simply vanishes "without a trace anywhere." While we are inclined to "give way to guilt" and pursue ourselves mercilessly for our misdeeds, God is the great defender of our innocence, Who would simply cancel out our mistaken past.

About the question of karma—most theories of reincarna­tion are essentially magical, and the whole question [of reincarnation] is not really necessary to religion at all. The chief value of the con­cept lies in its helpfulness in counteracting the idea of hell, a belief that is hard for the ego to relinquish. As the symbol of separation, the ego cannot escape guilt—feelings, and fear of punishment is inevitable. Do not dwell on these fearful thoughts.

One of the main dangers of karmic theories is the tendency it induces to engage in the genetic fallacy, overlooking the truly religious fact that now is the only time. (Shorthand notebooks as recorded in Absence from Felicity, p. 295)

This passage foreshadows what Jesus would later say in the Manual, that the notion of reincarnation is not necessary to salvation, and not an actual part of the Course. The key to this passage lies in the definition of "genetic fallacy." It is actually a logical fallacy, in which someone argues that a belief is incorrect simply because of where it came from; for instance, because the person who originated it has questionable motives or credibility. Here is an example of this fallacy that I found online: "The current Chancellor of Germany was in the Hitler Youth at age 3. With that sort of background, his so called 'reform' plan must be a fascist program."

Jesus makes this apply to karma with a masterful switch, in which he shifts the focus of the fallacy from beliefs to persons. In this view, to commit the genetic fallacy is to argue that a person is incorrect simply because of where he came from, because of his past. "The current Chancellor of Germany was in the Hitler Youth at age 3. Therefore, he must be a fascist."

Jesus calls this idea that our past actually makes us what we are "magical." What makes something magical is that in it, a cause produces an impossible effect, an effect that just doesn't follow from the cause. When I wave my hand (cause), why should the dove disappear (effect)? The effect doesn't fit the cause. In the same manner, when I make a mistake in the past, why should that determine who I am (effect)? The effect doesn't fit the cause. Why? Because my mistake has no such power. Only God has power to determine who I am. And He determined that my real nature is eternally innocent.

So, to summarize what we've seen, I am picturing two lines, one of karma and one of no karma, both running in parallel. On the line of karma, I made choices in the past, and those choices did determine my present condition, but only because I held onto them and punished myself for them, only because of my magical belief that they had the power to create me in their image. At the same time, on the line of no karma, God has constantly cancelled out those choices, constantly forgiven me, in the knowledge that my choices have literally no power to create me. He knows that He created me, and in doing so gave me eternal holiness. No matter what I've done, that holiness always remains my true condition. It always remains my present reality. And I can always lay hold of it in that same present—now.

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