From subatomic particles to galactic clusters, nature gives evidence of a magnificent balance like a great orchestra blending countless keynotes into the music of the spheres. Listening to this music even for a moment, we realize that disharmonies will eventually blend within the greater harmony as a natural progression in the development of the Whole. In the process of overcoming disharmony, individual players will learn something from their errors and become attuned to the greater scheme of the melody. Wise men of India called this compassionate process of learning karma, the law of action and reaction. Sir Edwin Arnold in his Light of Asia expressed it this way:
. . . my brothers! each man's life
The outcome of his former living is;
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes,
The bygone right breeds bliss. -- Book 8
If we are players in this divine orchestra, where are the conductors? We are composite beings, a whirlpool of forces amidst the greater sea of life in which we are immersed (see "The Seven Principles of Man," Sunrise, April/May 2001 for further details of our inner constitution). The enduring part of us, our higher self, animates the material forms and energies with which we are more familiar, and sends us forth periodically on the journey we call a lifetime. As the conductor of our individual symphony, it exactly balances the joys and hardships we face, so that hopefully our understanding will have increased at the close of each life. Our daily experience here and now is an unrolling day by day of a karmic score or script, if we have the eyes to see it. Reading this script enables us to appreciate more of the purpose that our higher self is trying to communicate each second as it urges our footsteps along the path to greater awareness of the oneness of being. As James A. Long put it:
in our struggles toward a fuller understanding, we begin to realize we can develop the ability to read the unfolding karmic script of our lives. When we work with this, then we find ourselves better able to feel out the situations as they arise, and deal with them more intelligently. We can think of it as a Book -- the Book of records as the Koran calls it -- in which is inscribed in its entirety our individual life. Each of our days, representing a page of so-called karmic merit and demerit, will contain the signposts, the impellings and repellings, the conscience knocks, and even the intuitions that are there to be utilized. Once we are able even slightly to read the daily script of our experiences, we realize something else: that there is a direct relation between the quality of a reaction and the quality of action that brought it into being. This is not going to be spelled out, but if we keep in mind that our major task in the long run is to unfold fully the divine values within us, we will know that the process of transmuting the lower by the higher self must be accompanied by a continued effort to improve the quality of our attitude in every circumstance. -- Expanding Horizons, pp. 24-5
Religious and philosophical teachers have offered various insights towards developing our ability to read this daily script. Discussing a few of these signposts perhaps will stimulate our own efforts.
Developing positive attitudes: In these days of uncertainty in world affairs, it is easy to slip into the habit of becoming absorbed in the darker sides of life. Yet to discern the patterns of the daily karmic script which our higher self is trying to communicate, we should take a positive attitude toward our experiences. Rather than asking "Why me?" we could develop the habit of asking what our inner self is giving us the opportunity to learn. We might start by looking for the best aspect of every person and situation, rather than thinking and talking negatively about others and world conditions. A friend once described this habit as looking for "the Saint George and not the Dragon" in whatever we meet. This is no easy task when the people or problems which aggravate us most are close to us and there is no ready avenue of retreat.
One simple practice we can follow to help strengthen a positive attitude is greeting each day for the unique opportunities it offers, and in the evening reflecting on what we have learned from the day's activities. In such tranquil hours we can make a real effort to empty ourselves of selfish and irritable thoughts, hurt feelings, and the jangle and pressure of our lives, keeping in mind the words of Marcus Aurelius:
In the universe, reverence that which is highest: namely, That to which all else ministers, and which gives the law to all. In like manner, too, reverence the highest in yourself: it is of one piece with the Other, since in yourself also it is that to which all the rest minister, and by which your life is directed. -- Meditations 5:21 (trans. Maxwell Staniforth)
In the privacy of our deepest being, let us renew our vow to live up to the best of ourselves and to work each day for the betterment of all peoples, no matter how they have behaved towards us.
Self-responsibility: Instead of constantly blaming other people, the government, God, or fate for the problems which befall us, let us pause for a moment to reflect that we ourselves have generated the circumstances of our lives. It is choices we have made today or in days long gone that have landed us now in difficult (or pleasant) circumstances. We should also be mindful that we are part of greater environments -- families, nations, races, earth, and cosmos -- and have had a hand in making the present state of the world in past lives when we may not have lived as responsibly as we are trying to do now. Such reflections help us develop some measure of acceptance of circumstances, encouraging us to seek lessons from all aspects of life while doing our best to alleviate the suffering we see around us. The development of patience, balance, understanding, and endurance that such an approach implies is hard to achieve, however, especially when the values of aggressive self-interest and emphasis on the externals of life are highly prized by our culture.
We must keep in mind as well that the power of an inner vow to live up to the highest of ourselves may invite an acceleration of karmic challenges to prove such a promise is not ill-founded. Far from a sheltered life being the natural result of religious and ethical sincerity, we may find ourselves in outwardly difficult circumstances which, if successfully met, help build inner strength. Buddhist monk Sogyal Rinpoche spoke of this in his own unique way:
Sometimes when you enter the spiritual path, when it really touches deeply, it stirs up a lot of things. That's why I always tell my students that it's very important to remember this process is a mere purification, and not to give up. . . . When you scrub the dirt out of yourself, it becomes more messy than before. But if you stop in the middle, it becomes worse! That's why, when I wash dirty socks, I really love it when the dirt comes up, because I know it's being purified.
In the sense that all the suffering is seen, because we see life not just related to this life but always connected with the life before, whatever we've committed in the past, in that Karma, or in this life, sometimes the truly powerful teachings stir it up and bring it to the surface. If you're really able to face and work with that in a meaningful way, actually you can finish with a lot of negative karmas which you might otherwise be suffering or experiencing for many lifetimes. We can finish them. We see suffering as an ending of a particular pattern. -- Parabola (18:1) Spring 1993, p. 95
Such challenges, when met with a positive attitude, have increased potency to teach us lessons we might have overlooked in more comfortable circumstances. Illness, infirmity, or economic hardship, for example, may open vistas of which we may previously have been completely unaware and allow us to empathize with others.
A sense of humor: Let's not forget this most powerful aid to development. If we can see the funny side of difficult situations or people, we can more easily maintain our balance and not get wrapped up in the negatives. Scientists tell us that laughter activates the body's inbuilt mechanisms that help with healing and well being. We all know how it lifts our spirits when someone makes us laugh in difficult times. Many of the world's religious teachers show such a light touch. The Dalai Lama always punctuates his lectures with laughter even when discussing outwardly sad topics. It is not always appropriate to talk philosophy when we or others are having a tough time coping with life. But we can try to maintain a positive attitude and supply a light word or happy look at the right time, which can help more than all the philosophy books under the sun.
Dharma: Dharma, from the Sanskrit dhri, means "right religion," "justice," "conduct," "duty," as well as the essential characteristics, quality, or peculiarity of each individual's road of learning. Each of us has our natural duties relating to livelihood, attitudes, and relationships which are prescribed for us by our higher self in each lifetime. One person may pursue the dharma of a doctor, another of a laborer or a housewife, any such occupation providing the opportunity for soul experience appropriate for that individual. Our obligation to ourselves and others is to fulfill the needs of each daily situation, no matter how humble, as best we can without anxiety about the outcome of our actions. In this way we gradually build the strength of character that enables us to empathize with others along their roads of learning.
The Golden Stairs: One of H. P. Blavatsky's teachers gave fine advice which applies to developing greater understanding and the ability to be of service:
Behold the truth before you: a clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for one's co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the Teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of TRUTH, once you have placed your confidence in, and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it; a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defence of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the secret science (Gupta-Vidya) depicts -- these are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Divine Wisdom. -- H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings 12:503
The ability to read accurately the daily karmic script arises from an enlightened attitude towards life. By consciously shifting our focus of concern from lower to higher aspects, we slowly attune ourselves to the natural state of universal harmony. This requires courage because we need to face ourselves as we really are and be prepared to act in defense of what we believe is right, rather than leaving our ideas at the level of academic discussion. By judiciously and attentively watching for the lessons life is trying to teach us, our ability to express the balance within ourselves and in nature will grow, and also our capabilities to help others and bear a greater understanding of life's mysteries. We thus add our energies to the positive forces protecting and guarding humanity.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)