Sunday, March 08, 2009

Karmic Actors, and Forgiveness

I've recently been listening to a lot of Asha Praver's talks and classes, which are all available to download from the Ananda website. A couple of points really caught my attention as a very elegant description of, well, everything that truly needs to be summed up:
  1. The spiritual path is a continual process of becoming aware of and understanding the laws of cause and effect at progressively subtler levels. I find this fascinating for the sheer range of human experience it covers, i.e. all of it -- from a clueless jerk who doesn't understand why nobody likes him, to a guru who can describe the karmic path of your soul across lifetimes.
  2. This learning is part of the overall quest to seek joy and avoid suffering. This sounds like a rather selfish cause, and at a lot of the lower levels it does manifest that way, but the point is that you eventually realize that only divine joy and not worldly joy will really achieve this fully. So it's okay. :-)
In the course of this quest, our souls try to have literally* every possible experience, trying to figure out what will make us actually, lastingly happy. The more we do so, the more we learn and the more we evolve spiritually. Paramhansa Yogananda teaches that if we have no desire to do a particular thing (e.g. commit murder) that is only because we have done it enough in the past that we've learned it doesn't work. And absolutely everything that people do, including both committing murder and being murdered, is a continuation of this learning process.

I like this because I try to make a habit of learning whatever I can from whatever happens in life, whether good or bad. But it also has important implications for the topic of forgiveness, which I think is a major lesson that's been trying to work its way through my life for some time now. David Praver spoke about this at the service today, specifically about just accepting whatever comes as being for our own ulitmate good, learning, and enlightenment.

This isn't to just completely condone any and all actions, of course. If someone hurts me, I should still find the best way to resolve the situation, and not just give up and take it. If I'm being cruel to someone else, I shouldn't justify it, but try to catch myself in it and make a change. But I suppose that's because I've already had -- somewhere in the past -- the experiences of just giving up, or of being mercilessly cruel, and now I'm ready to start doing better.

The important point in terms of forgiveness is to recognize the essential role other people play in this process, even if it seems horrendous or hurtful. Tormentor and victim are each going through their own necessary experiences, while at the same time acting as a foil for the other. And they will each flip and take on different roles for different experiences, if not in this lifetime then in another. A movie wouldn't be very interesting without a villain for some conflict, even though that actor isn't inherently an evil person and may play the hero in the next movie.

Deepak Chopra makes this point beautifully at the very end of Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment (a parallel to his Buddha book that I wrote about previously). The narrator is an old Himalayan yogi who met Jesus and has been sharing his story with us:

Sometimes I went to the bright line etched between this world and that. I met Jesus there. We never talked but simply bathed in the radiance that conquers all illusions.

I didn't tell Thomas about these journeys. He would have believed me. But he never would have believed that Jesus brought Judas along.

"You are a great soul," I told Judas. "You were willing to play the villain on earth. You must love Jesus very much."

Judas was modest about accepting praise. All he would say was, "The earth is God's child. How could I not help a child?" It was understood among us that without Judas, there couldn't be this new thing, Christianity.
[pg 249]

Isn't that a glorious way to look at Judas? "You must love Jesus very much." May we all aspire to see that level of good in everyone around us.

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* This is one of those things that is easier if you accept the idea of reincarnation, but which still conceptually "works" even if you restrict it to just one lifetime. For instance, I've at various times noticed myself in one relationship acting out the reverse role of the same issue from a previous relationship. Even if one role felt very foreign to me, it was as if some part of myself had to check, and try it out, just to make sure.

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