Is Karma the Same as Cause and Effect as Presented in the Spiritist Codification?

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Basic Initial Clarifications

The objective of this article is to discuss the title’s subject matter from the standpoint of the research conducted by the author and in light of his own understanding of the Spiritist science. Therefore, all ideas here presented are not intended to reflect the Spiritist consensus on the topic, but instead, and noting again to ensure transparency on this matter, the current perspective of the author(s) of the article based on research conducted and considering the following research model:

  1. Multiple messages obtained through mediumistic means are presented and compared.
  2. The philosophy and theories developed are evaluated in light of the body of knowledge already accepted by the Spiritist science.
  3. The philosophy and theories developed are critiqued from a rational perspective and considering any objective evidence that can be used to reason their validity.

We should also indicate our intention to demonstrate that the paradigm that the Law of Karma as typically presented by common Eastern religions is not quite the same as the Law of Cause and Effect as presented by the Spiritist codification. This is often a source of confusion among Spiritists themselves, hence justifying the comparisons and explanations made here.

Anyone who would like to present evidence or logical arguments that either confirm or refute the ideas here presented is highly encouraged to do so (this is how we do Spiritist science!), as to collaborate to elevating the quality of this work. Dire to question, dire to reason your own beliefs – since unshakable truths are only those which can confront reason face to face in all epochs of humanity.

The Law of Karma

Karma is a key concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Taoism. According to Wikipedia (We value the use of primary sources, but have opted to resort of a wikipedia reference this time as no better primary source has been found that summarizes the concepts we aim to convey as well as the reference below):

“karma means action, work or deed. It also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering. Karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in many schools of Asian religions. In these schools, karma in the present affects one’s future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives – one’s Samsara.” [1]

We should make it clear that the author of this article has limited knowledge of Eastern religions based mostly on common sense knowledge. It is possible that the common sense idea of karma is actually not in accordance to its original teaching and someone truly knowledgeable on this topic would be easily able to clarify any misconception. It is also not the intention of this text to make a reading or interpretation of any scripture or religious knowledge, but simply to compare the popular idea of karma with the law of Action and Reaction as presented in the Spiritist codification.

In this sense, we can define karma as the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. This supposes that future conditions are determined by past actions – a concept we intend to demonstrate not to be the Spiritist understanding.

The Law of Cause and Effect

Now we will present the Law of Cause and Effect from a Spiritist perspective. This matter has been extensively covered by Allan Kardec in the section “Penal Code of Life to Come” of his book “Heaven and Hell”. There, Kardec indicates that:

“Notwithstanding the diversity of the kinds and degrees of suffering which imperfect spirits undergoes, the penal code of the future life may be summed up in the three following propositions:

  1. Suffering is a condition of imperfection.
  2.  All our imperfections and all our misdeeds (which are the practical outcome of those imperfections) find their appropriate and necessary adjustment in their own natural and inevitable consequences – just as every excess is corrected by the malady which is caused by it, and as idleness is corrected by the disgust of life to which it leads – without the need of any special sentence being passed on each particular fault of each individual.
  3. All human beings have the power of freeing themselves from their imperfections through the exertion of their individual wills; all human beings, therefore, are able to avoid the sufferings that are the consequence of those imperfections and to ensure their future happiness.” [2]

We see then a subtle but strikingly different perspective than that offered by the popular view of the Law of Karma. Karma can be understood as the belief that past actions (facts) determine future conditions (states or circumstances). The Law of Cause and Effect as proposed by Allan Kardec based on the teaching of virtuous spirits do not assume this same logical relationship. Instead it proposes that our actions are a reflection of our imperfections and it is the imperfections (not the facts themselves) not corrected in the past that are the cause of future unfortunate conditions (states or circumstances). In other words, a person’s flaws of character caused him/her to make poor choices, actions that simply reflect moral elements of his/her consciousness. As this person dies and reviews his/her life (here understood as a series of choices and actions) from the broader point of view of the non-physical realm, this spirit will understand that certain imperfections of character led it to make certain poor and unfortunate choices. The actions simply evidence the imperfections. Well then, in designing a future existence, this spirit may include physical conditions, certain life circumstances, among other factors that will require it to confront the same moral imperfections which it knows to need betterment. This logic is strikingly different than that of the Law of Karma as it eliminates the element of punishment (for past deeds) and shifts the focus from actions (facts) to states of consciousness. From a rational perspective it also makes more sense as now we have moral conditions (consciousness) determining physical/emotional conditions (circumstances).

The question of number 975 of “The Spirits’ Book” confirms the rationale provided above.

“975. Do inferior spirits understand the happiness of the virtuous?

‘Yes and that happiness is a source of torment for them. They understand that their own deeds deprive them of it. It also leads them to seek a new physical existence to shorten the duration of that torment when death frees them from matter, if good use is made of this existence. It is on this basis that they choose the appropriate trials to atone for their faults. It must be remembered that spirits suffer for all the wrongdoing they have done or which they have been the voluntary cause, all the good that they might have done and did not do, and all the evil that has resulted from failing to do the good they might have done.’ When errant, it is as though a spirit emerges from a fog and sees the obstacles that stand between it and ultimate happiness. Therefore, it suffers more because it understands the full extent of its culpability. There are no more illusions for it. It sees things as they really are.’ ” [3]

 And in the same question, Kardec provides the following comments:

“When errant, a spirit sees all its past lives at a glance and foresees the future promised to it. It understands what it still needs to do to reach that future. It is like a traveler who having reached the top of a hill sees both the road it traveled, and what it still has to travel to reach the end of the journey.” [3]

But these are not the only references that demonstrate the Spiritist understanding of the Law of Cause and Effect, the Spiritist codification contains several references from which a few have been selected  from Kardec’s “Heaven and Hell” to further support the explanations provided to this point:

Every imperfection of the soul produces its own inevitable share of suffering; and every good quality produces, in virtue of the same law, its own natural, certain, share of happiness. The amount of a spirit’s suffering is thus exactly proportioned to the degree of its imperfection; and the amount of a spirit’s happiness is exactly proportioned to the degree of its intellectual and moral advancement.” [2]

“The good, or the evil, that we do is the result of the good or evil qualities possessed by our spirit. Not to do all the good which we have the power to do is evidently the result of imperfection on our part; and, consequently, as every imperfection is a source of suffering, a spirit suffers, not only for all the evil it has done, but also for the good which it might have done, but did not do, during its earthly life.” [2]

“A spirit suffers through the evil that it has done, in order that, its attention being concentrated on the consequences of that evil, the spirit may better understand its imperfections, and be led to amend itself.” [2]

“The duration of a spirit’s correction depending solely on its own delay in working out its own inner reform.” [2]

Now, when things start getting clear and comfortable, it is time to learn some more, right? That’s why  the spirits offer us the following information as further teaching on the “Penal Code of Life to Come”:

“Repentance is the first step towards improvement; but repentance, alone, is not sufficient to deliver the wrongdoer from the consequences of his or her wrongdoing; to effect this result, atonement and reparation are also necessary.  Repentance, atonement, and  reparation are the three conditions necessary for the effacing of a fault and the suppression of its consequences.” [2]

This passage demands additional explanations in light of what has been presented earlier in this article, so let’s cover these new terms in light of what has been described thus far.

What is Repentance

“1002. What happens when individuals acknowledge their faults on their deathbed, however, they do not have time to make amends? Is repentance alone enough in such a case?

‘Repentance accelerates rehabilitation, but it does not absolve it. Don’t they have the whole future ahead, and new opportunities to make amends will always be open to them?’ ” [3]

Repentance is simply a sincere regret. This step then is simply a spirit’s realization of a moral flaw it still needs to rid of. It is an important step towards moral progress, but not the only one. We can understand repentance as the phase when the spirit finally opens its eyes to something neglected until then. We can infer that it starts at the point when a spirit first gain awareness of a moral flaw (leaving the state of  simple and immature regarding the imperfection in question) and is likely to evolve through multiple “iterations” (lives) by which the spirit slowly improves itself. The following passages further clarify this matter:

“Repentance mitigates the sufferings of atonement, because it opens the door to hope and paves the way to rehabilitation; but it is only reparation that, by destroying the cause of our suffering, can annul the suffering which is its effect; the granting of a free pardon to the wrong-doer would be merely the granting of a favor and not an annulling of the cause and consequences of the person’s wrong-doing.

Repentance may begin in the spirit-life or in the life of the flesh, and at any period; if a spirit’s repentance is tardy, it suffers for a longer time.” [2]

“991. What is the consequence of repentance in the spiritual state?

‘The desire for a new incarnation in order to become purified. The spirit perceives the imperfections that deprive it of happiness, and seeks a new existence to be able to make amends for its faults.’ ” (See nos. 332, 975) [3]

“The individual is not simply subordinate to the criterion adopted by the world’s magistrates, who may be seen as skilled surgeons in the treatment or extirpation of social gangrene. Both on and off the earth, the more enlightened the individual, the more responsible he or she becomes through the shackles of his or her own conscience for falling into the thorn bushes of guilt.” [4]

Before we move on, it is worth sharing a passage of Chico Xavier’s book “Thought and Life” which indicates an important complicating factor of the atonement process – we are interconnected and constantly exercising our creative powers.

“The fault committed operates in our mind a state of perturbation which do not simply gather the mad forces of our repentance, but also the waves of grief and accusation of the victim and all of those who associate with the feeling, instituting disharmonies of vast proportions in the centers of the soul, to reverberate on our own instrumentation.” [5]

What is Atonement

“Atonement consists in the sufferings, both physical and moral, that are the results of a spirit’s wrong-doing – whether in the course of the same earthly life in which it has done wrong, or in the phase of spirit-life succeeding it, or in a new earthly life – until all traces of the spirit’s wrong-doing have been effaced.” [2]

Although the term atonement might suggest the idea of punishment, in reality, no punishment understood as the infliction of a penalty as retribution for an offense is involved. Repentance alone doesn’t free up the spirit from a moral flaw; it simply “opens its eyes”. The spirit is still pray of its own imperfections and will naturally suffer its consequences. At this state, the spirit will demonstrate ill tendencies relative to the imperfection(s) in question. It may still make mistakes (wrong-doing, sin, miss the mark, etc.), although sensitive to them – it now knows better, even if intuitively. A classic passage of the bible illustrates what we are talking about here.

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” [6]

 No wonder the spirit suffers for its present state. It feels regret, perhaps remorse even.  It may wish to go back in time and make different choices. It longs to make amends. We all have been there! And here we must say that no one gets everything right the first time. We first crawl, then we walk, then we run… Nature do not evolve in big loops and this is how we progress as well. So forgive yourself and forgive others. Remorse is never necessary.

“Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning, anyone can start over and make a new ending.” [7]

If in the repentance phase the spirit learned about a flaw of character, it is in the atonement phase that it effects changes to its own moral values by confronting situations in new reincarnations that puts it in direct contact with the moral elements it aims to revise. As it still have imperfections, confusion, suffering and perhaps errors may still certainly come true. However, through its own will and effort, its moral dispositions are slowly perfected; a process Spiritists call inner-reform. The understanding of this broader reality allows us to appreciate the vicissitudes of life, instead of complain about them. No one should consent to suffer, hoping to “resolve” past debts and acting as if it deserves to suffer. The value of atonement is not on itself, but on the direction it provides the spirit to implement inner transformation. The appreciation of vicissitudes we mentioned should be understood as the possibility to face life’s “problems” simply as opportunities to demonstrate solid learning in the realms of justice and charity. In fact, a life without such opportunities might be desirable by some individuals when in the physical realm. However, from the perspective of the spirit, such life would be unproductive and meaningless. “The Spirits’ Book question 988 indicates what we are talking about:

“988. There are individuals whose lives are perfectly calm, who have nothing to do for themselves and are exempt from all worries. Is their good fortune proof that they have nothing to repent from any former existence?

‘Do you know many such people? If you think you do, you are mistaken. Such lives are often only calm on the surface. A spirit may have chosen such a life, but after leaving it, it realizes that it has not helped it move forward, and it regrets the time it has wasted in idleness.’

‘Bear in mind that a spirit can only acquire knowledge and elevation through activity, so if it sleeps without a care in the world, it does not advance. It is as though it (according to your world) needs to work, but goes off for a stroll or goes to bed with the intention of doing nothing. Bear in mind that each of you must answer for voluntary uselessness, and that such uselessness is always lethal to your future happiness. The sum of that happiness is exactly proportionate to the sum of the good that you have done, while the sum of your unhappiness is always proportionate to the sum of the wrongs you have done, and how many you have made unhappy.’ ” [3]

What is Reparation

Reparation consists in doing good to those whom we have wronged. Those who, through lack of power or of will, do not make reparation, in a given life, for the wrongs they have done in that life, will be brought again, in a new earthly life, into contact with the parties they have wronged in that former life, and under conditions which they will themselves have chosen beforehand, and which will have been contrived in such a way as to give them the opportunity of proving their devotion to them, and of enabling them to do them as much good as they formerly did them harm.” [2]

Inserted in a historical religious context that for centuries has overemphasized values of meekness, patience and charity, we might not be used to seeing justice as a regulating factor of cosmic balance. Well, it is through reparation that a spirit finds its enduring freedom and glory. Reparation does not entail suffering, but redemption. A former thief or corrupt man may be a generous medical doctor who brings health to many. This is what we see through the following final excerpt from “Heaven and Hell”:

There are faults of which individuals may be guilty, but which do not cause any direct and personal injury to other people; in such cases, the reparation of a fault is accomplished in one or other of the following ways: – by doing, in a subsequent incarnation, what they ought to have done, but did not do, in a former one, whether by discharging duties which they neglected or did not see to be incumbent on them, or by fulfilling missions which they failed to fulfill in that former life, or by practicing the virtues which are the opposites of the vice in which they then indulged; that is to say, by being humble if they have been haughty; gentle, if they have been harsh; kindly, if they have been unkind; hardworking, if they have been idle; helpful, if they have been useless; temperate, if they have been dissolute; setting a good example, if they have set a bad one; and so on. It is thus that a spirit progresses by turning to profitable account the experiences and the lessons of his past existences.” [2]

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma

[2] Kardec, Allan. Heaven and Hell.

[3] Kardec, Allan. The Spirits’ Book.

[4] Xavier, Francisco Candido. Action and Reaction.

[5] Xavier, Francisco Candido. Thought and Life.

[6]Holly Bible, Romans 7:19, New international Version.

[7] Quote from Xavier, Francisco Candido.

 

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