THE THIRTEENTH LESSON – SPIRITUAL CAUSE AND EFFECT
Life is the constant accumulation of knowledge, the storing up of the result of experiences. The law of cause and effect is in constant operation, and we reap what we sow – not as a matter of punishment, but as the effect following the cause. Theology teaches us that we are punished for our sins, but the higher knowledge shows us that we are punished by our mistakes instead of for them. The child who touches the hot stove is punished by reason of the act itself, not by some higher power for having “sinned.” Sin is largely a matter of ignorance and mistake. Those who have reached the higher plane of spiritual knowledge have borne upon them such a convincing knowledge of the folly and unwisdom of certain acts and thoughts, that it becomes almost impossible for them to commit them. Such persons do not fear there is some superior being waiting to strike them to the earth with a mighty club for doing certain things, simply because that intelligence has laid down an apparently arbitrary law forbidding the commission of the act. On the contrary they know that the higher intelligences are possessed of nothing but intense love for all living creatures, and are willing and ready to always help them, so far as is possible under the workings of the law. But such persons recognize the folly of the act, and therefore refrain from committing it – in fact, they have lost the desire to commit it. It is almost exactly parallel to the example of the child and the stove. A child who wants to touch the stove will do so as soon as he finds an opportunity, notwithstanding the commands of the parent, and in spite of threatened punishment. But let that child once experience the pain of the burn, and recognize that there is a close connection between a hot stove and a burnt finger, and it will keep away from the stove. The loving parent would like to protect its child from the result of its own follies, but the child-nature insists upon learning certain things by experience, and the parent is unable to prevent it. In fact, the child who is too closely watched and restrained, usually “breaks out” later in life, and learns certain things by itself. All that the parent is able to do is to surround the child with the ordinary safeguards, and to give it the benefit of his wisdom, a portion of which the child will store away – and then trust to the law of life to work out the result.
And so the human soul is constantly applying the test of experience to all phases of life – passing from one incarnation to another, constantly learning new lessons, and gaining new wisdom. Sooner or later it finds out how hurtful certain courses of action are – discovers the folly of certain actions and ways of living, and like the burnt child avoids those things in the future. All of us know that certain things “are no temptation to us,” for we have learned the lesson at some time in some past life and do not need to relearn it – while other things tempt us sorely, and we suffer much pain by reason thereof. Of what use would all this pain and sorrow be if this one life were all? But we carry the benefit of our experience into another life, and avoid the pain there. We may look around us and wonder why certain of our acquaintances cannot see the folly of certain forms of action, when it is so plain to us – but we forget that we have passed through just the same stage of experience that they are now undergoing, and have outlived the desire and ignorance – we do not realize that in future lives these people will be free from this folly and pain, for they will have learned the lesson by experience, just as have we.
It is hard for us to fully realize that we are what we are just by the result of our experiences. Let us take one single life as an example. You think that you would like to eliminate from your life some painful experience, some disgraceful episode; some mortifying circumstances; but have you ever stopped to think that if it were possible to eradicate these things, you would, of necessity, be forced to part with the experience and knowledge that has come to you from these occurrences. Would you be willing to part with the knowledge and experience that has come to you in the way mentioned? Would you be willing to go back to the state of inexperience and ignorance in which you were before the thing happened? Why, if you were to go back to the old state, you would be extremely likely to commit the same folly over again. How many of us would be willing to completely wipe out the experiences which have come to us? We are perfectly willing to forget the occurrence, but we know that we have the resulting experience built into our character, and we would not be willing to part with it, for it would be taking away a portion of our mental structure. If we were to part with experience gained through pain we would first part with one bit of ourselves, and then with another, until at last we would have nothing left except the mental shell of our former self.
But, you may say, of what use are the experiences gained in former lives, if we do not remember them – they are lost to us. But they are not lost to you – they are built into your mental structure, and nothing can ever take them away from you – they are yours forever. Your character is made up not only of your experiences in this particular life, but also of the result of your experiences in many other lives and stages of existence. You are what you are today by reason of these accumulated experiences – the experiences of the past lives and of the present one. You remember some of the things in the present life which have built up your character – but many others equally important, in the present life, you have forgotten – but the result stays with you, having been woven into your mental being. And though you may remember but little, or nothing, of your past lives, the experiences gained in them continue with you, now and forever. It is these past experiences which give you “predispositions” in certain directions – which make it very difficult for you to do certain things, and easy to do others – which cause you to “instinctively” recognize certain things as unwise or wrong, and to cause you to turn your back upon them as follies. They give you your “tastes” and inclinations, and make some ways seem better than others to you. Nothing is lost in life, and all the experiences of the past contribute to your well-being in the present – all your troubles and pains of the present will bear fruit in the future.
We do not always learn a lesson at one trial, and we are sent back to our task over and over again, until we have accomplished it. But not the slightest effort is ever lost, and if we have failed at the task in the past, it is easier for us to accomplish it today.
An American writer, Mr. Berry Benson, in the Century Magazine, of May, 1894, gives us a beautiful illustration of one of the features of the workings of the law of Spiritual Evolution. We reprint it, herewith:
“A little boy went to school. He was very little. All that he knew he had drawn in with his mother’s milk. His teacher (who was God) placed him in the lowest class, and gave him these lessons to learn: Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt do no hurt to any living thing. Thou shalt not steal. So the man did not kill; but he was cruel, and he stole. At the end of the day (when his beard was gray , when the night was come) his teacher (who was God) said: Thou hast learned not to kill, but the other lessons thou hast not learned. Come back tomorrow.
“On the morrow he came back a little boy. And his teacher (who was God) put him in a class a little higher, and gave him these lessons to learn: Thou shalt do no hurt to any living thing. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not cheat. So the man did no hurt to any living thing; but he stole and he cheated. And at the end of the day (when his beard was gray-when the night was come) his teacher (who was God) said: Thou hast learned to be merciful. But the other lessons thou hast not learned. Come back tomorrow.
“Again, on the morrow, he came back, a little boy. And his teacher (who was God) put him in a class yet a little higher, and gave him these lessons to learn: Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not cheat. Thou shalt not covet. So the man did not steal; but he cheated and he coveted. And at the end of the day (when his beard was gray-when the night was come) his teacher (who was God) said: Thou hast learned not to steal. But the other lessons thou hast not learned. Come back, my child, tomorrow.
“This is what I have read in the faces of men and women, in the book of the world, and in the scroll of the heavens, which is writ with stars.” The great lesson to be learned by every soul, is the truth of the Oneness of All. This knowledge carries with it all the rest. It causes one to follow the precept of the Son of Mary, who said: “And thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength;” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” When man grows into a consciousness of the truth that All is One – that when one loves God he is loving the Whole Thing – that his neighbor is indeed himself – then he has but a few more classes to pass through before he passes into the “High School” of Spiritual Knowledge.
This conviction of the Oneness of All, carries with it certain rules of action – of divine ethics – which transcend all written or spoken human laws. The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man become a reality rather than a mere repetition of meaningless words. And this great lesson must be learned by all – and all are learning it by degrees. And this is the aim of the present stage of Spiritual Evolution – to know God as He is; to know your relationship with others – to know what we are. There are greater schools, colleges and universities of spiritual knowledge beyond us, but these truths are the lessons taught in the grades in which we are at present. And all this pain, and trouble and sorrow, and work, has been but to teach us these truths – but the truth once gained is seen to be well worth even the great price paid for it.
If you ask the Yogis what is one’s duty toward God (meaning God in the grandest conception of Him) they will answer “Love Him, and the rest will be made clear to you – and to know him is to Love him, therefore learn to Know Him.” And if you ask then what is one’s duty toward his fellowmen they will answer, simply: “Be Kind – and you will be all the rest.” These two precepts, if followed, will enable one to live the Perfect Life. They are simple, but they contain all that is worth knowing concerning one’s relations with the Infinite Power and with one’s fellow men. All the rest is froth and sediment – the worthless rubbish which has accumulated around the Divine Flame of the Truth. We mention them in this place, because they sum up the idea of the consciousness which all the race is striving hard to acquire. If you are able to make them a part of yourself, you will have made great progress on the Path – will have passed the Great Examination.
The doctrine of Spiritual Cause and Effect is based upon the great truth that under the Law each man is, practically, the master of his own destiny – his own judge – his own rewarder – his own awarder of punishment. That every thought, word or action, has its effect upon the future life or lives of the man – not in the nature of a reward or punishment (as these words are generally understood) – but as the inevitable result of the great Law of cause and effect. The operation of the Law in surrounding us with certain sets of conditions in a new birth, is influenced by two great general principles: (1) The prevailing desires, aspirations, likes and dislikes, and longing of the individual at that particular stage of his existence, and (2) By the influence of the unfolding Spirit, which, pressing forward eagerly for fuller expression and less restraint, brings to bear upon the reincarnating soul an influence which causes it to be governed in its selection of the desirable conditions of its new birth. Upon the apparently conflicting influences of these two great forces rests the whole matter of the circumstances and conditions surrounding the rebirth of the soul, and also many of the conditions surrounding the personality in the new life – for these conditions are governed greatly all through life by these conflicting (or apparently conflicting) forces.
The urge of the desires, aspirations, and habits of the past life, is strongly pressing the soul towards incarnation in conditions best fitted for the expression and manifestation of these likes, tastes and desires – the soul wishes to go on along the line of its past life, and naturally seeks circumstances and surroundings best fitted for the freest expression of its personality. But, at the same time, the Spirit, within the soul, knows that the soul’s unfoldment needs certain other conditions to bring out certain parts of its nature which have been suppressed or not developed, and so it exerts an attraction upon – the reincarnating soul, drawing it a bit aside from its chosen course, and influencing that choice to a certain degree. A man may have an overpowering desire for material wealth, and the force of his desire will cause him to choose circumstances and conditions for a rebirth into a family where there is much wealth, or into a body best suited for the attainment of his desires, but the Spirit, knowing that the soul has neglected the development of kindness, will draw it a little aside, and cause it to be brought into the sweep of circumstances which will result in the man being made to suffer pain, disappointment and loss, even though he attain great wealth in his new life, to the end that he may develop that part of his nature.
We may see illustrations of this last mentioned occurrence in some of the very rich men of America. They have been born into circumstances in which they have had the freest expression of the desire for material wealth – they have possessed themselves of faculties best adapted to that one end, and have managed to be surrounded with circumstances best calculated to give the freest manifestations of those faculties. They have attained their heart’s desire, and have piled up wealth in a manner unknown to former ages. But yet they are most unhappy and dissatisfied as a rule. Their wealth is a weight around their neck, and they are tormented by fears of losing it and the anxiety of attending to it. They feel that it has brought them no real happiness, but has on the contrary separated them from their fellow men, and from the happiness known to those of moderate means. They are feverish and restless and constantly on the search for some new excitement which will divert their minds from the contemplation of their real condition. They feel a sense of their duty toward the race and although they do not quite understand the feeling behind it all, they endeavor to balance matters by contributing to colleges, hospitals, charities, and other similar institutions which have sprung up in response to the awakening consciousness of the race to the reality of the Brotherhood of Man and the Oneness of All. Before the end comes, they will feel in the depths of their soul that this success has not brought them real happiness, and in the period of rest which will follow their departure from the physical body, they will “take stock” of themselves, and readjust their mental and spiritual affairs, so that when they are again born they will no longer devote their entire energies toward the piling up of wealth that they cannot use, but will live a more balanced life, and will find happiness in unexpected quarters and will develop more spiritually. This is not because they have been impressed with the sense of any special “wickedness” in abnormal money getting, but because the soul has found that it did not secure happiness in that way, and is seeking elsewhere for it, and because it has lived out the desire for wealth, and has turned its attention to other things. Had the Spirit not exerted its influence, the man might have been born into the conditions tending to produce wealth, and yet not have been made to see the one-sidedness of such a life, in which case it would have continued to be possessed of such an abnormal desire for wealth that it would have been born again and again, with increasing power each time, until it would have become practically a money demon. But the Spirit’s influence always counteracts abnormal desires, although sometimes several incarnations have to be lived through before the soul wears out its desire, and begins to be influenced by the Spirit to a marked extent. Sometimes the Spirit’s influence is not sufficiently strong to prevent rebirth into conditions greatly favoring old desires, but in such cases it is often able to manage affairs during the life of the man, so as to teach him the lesson needed to call a halt upon his unbridled desires, by bringing him into the, sweep of the Law of Attraction and causing certain pain to befall him – certain disappointment – certain failures – that will cause him to realize the pain, disappointment, failures and sorrow of others, and to bring upon him a course of living which will help to unfold his higher faculties. Many of the sudden strokes of “misfortune” are really brought about by this higher principle of the man, in order to teach him certain lessons for his own good. It is not necessarily a higher power which makes a man realize these lessons of life, but it is generally his own higher self – the Spirit within him – which brings about these results. The Spirit knows what is really best for the man, and when it sees his lower nature running away with him, tries to swing him from his course, or to bring him to a sudden stop if necessary. This is not as a punishment, remember, but as the greatest kindness. The Spirit is a part of that man, and not an outside power, although it is of course the Divine part of him, that part of him in nearest touch with the great overruling Intelligence which we call God. This pain is not brought about because of any feeling of righteous indignation, revenge, impatience or any similar feeling on the part of the Spirit, but is akin to the feeling of the most loving parent, who is forced to take from the hands of the little child some dangerous thing which may injure the little one – it is the hand which draws back the child from the brink of the precipice, although the little one screams with rage and disappointment because its desires are frustrated.
The man or woman in whom the Spiritual Mind is developed, sees this condition of things, and instead of fighting against the Spirit, yields himself or herself to it without friction, and obeys, its guiding hand, and is thus saved much pain. But those who know not, rage and rebel at the restraining and guiding hand, strike at it, and attempt to tear away from it, thereby bringing upon themselves, bitter experience made necessary by their rebellion. We are so apt to resent outside influence in our affairs that this idea of restraint is not pleasant to us, but if we will only remember that it is a part of ourselves – the higher part of us – that is doing this directing, then we may see the thing in a different light. And we must remember this: That no matter how adverse circumstances or conditions seem to be for us, they are exactly what we need under just the circumstances. of our lives, and have for their only object our ultimate good. We may need strengthening along certain lines, in order to round us out – and we are apt to get just the experiences calculated to round out that particular part of us. We may be tending too much in one direction, and we are given a check and an urge in another direction. These little things – and great things all mean something. And then our interests are bound up more or less with those of others, owing to the laws of attraction; and our acts may be intended to reflect upon them, and theirs upon us, for our mutual development and ultimate good. We will have more to say on this subject a little later on.
If we will stand still, and calmly consider our past life (the present life, we mean) we will see that certain things have led to certain other things, and that small things have led to great things – that little turning points have resulted in an entire change in our life. We may trace back the most important thing in our life to some trifling incident or occurrence. We are able to look back and see how the painful experiences of the past have strengthened us, and have brought us to a larger and fuller life. We are able to see how that particular thing in the past, which seemed needlessly cruel and uncalled for, was the very thing which has brought us to some great thing in the present. All that is needed is the perspective of years. And if we get so that we are able to see this, we will be able to bear with a far greater degree of philosophy the pains and disagreeable occurrences of the present, knowing that they mean ultimate good. When we cease to think of these things as punishment, or a wanton interference of some outside power, or the cruelty of Nature, and begin to see them as either the consequences of our own past lives, or the result of the Spirit’s directing hand, we will cease to protest and struggle as we have been doing in the past, and will endeavor to fall in with the working of the great Law, and will thereby avoid friction and pain. And no matter what pain, sorrow or trouble we may be undergoing, if we will open ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit, a way will be opened out for us – one step at, a time – and if we follow it we will obtain peace and strength. The Law does not heap upon a back more than it can bear, and not only does it temper the wind to the shorn lamb, but tempers the shorn lamb to the wind.
We have spoken of our interests being bound up with those of others. This also is a principle of the law of Spiritual Cause and Effect. In our past lives we have attached ourselves to certain others, either by love or hate – either by kind action or by cruelty. And these people in this life have certain relationships to us, all tending toward mutual adjustment and mutual advancement and development. It is not a law of revenge, but simply the law of cause and effect which causes us to receive a hurt (when a hurt is needed) from the hands of someone whom we have hurt in some past life – and it is not merely a law of reward for good, but that same law of cause and effect, that causes some one to bind up our wounds and comfort us, whom we have comforted and helped in some past life. The person who is caused to hurt us, may have no intention of doing so, being a perfectly innocent party, but we are brought into conditions whereby we receive pain from the acts of that person, although he be unconscious of it. If he hurts us consciously, and still in obedience to the law, it is because he is still on that plane, and is willing to hurt us, and is brought by the Law of Attraction into a condition whereby we may receive hurt from him. But even that hurt is calculated to benefit us, in the end, so wonderful is this law of cause and effect constituted. Of course, if we once reach the position where we see the truth, we do not need so many of these lessons, and their necessity having passed, the law allows us to escape that which would otherwise, have given us pain.
The above mentioned condition of affairs may be illustrated by the case of one who in a past incarnation deliberately won the love of another, for selfish reasons, and then having gratified the desire willfully threw aside the other one, as one would a worn-out toy. While not pretending to explain the exact working of the law in any particular case, we have been informed by those who have watched these matters from a higher point of view, that in such a case as above mentioned, the betrayer would probably in this life, fall violently in love with the person who was the victim in the last life, but the latter would be utterly unable to return that affection, and the former would suffer all the pain that comes to one who loves in vain, the result being that he would be brought to a realization of the sacredness of human affection, and the unkindness of trifling with it. It will be noticed in this case that the person causing pain in the present life is a perfectly innocent party to the whole thing and thereby does not start new causes and effects.
Those whom we have loved and have been friendly to in past lives are very apt to be connected with our present life, being kept near us by the law of attraction. The people who are brought into close relations with us are, in all probability, those with whom we have been close in past lives. Sudden likes and dislikes, so often observed between people, may be accounted for on this theory of rebirth, and many of the occurrences of our every day lives come under this law of spiritual cause and effect. We are constantly bound up with the lives of others, for pain or happiness, and the law must work out its course. The only escape from the complete working out of the law is the acquirement of the knowledge of the truth on our part, and the consequent modeling of our lives on the lines of this higher truth, in which case we are relieved of the unnecessary lessons, and we ride on the top of the wave, instead of having it submerge us.
Let us beware how we start into operation this law of cause and effect by Hate, Malice, jealousy, Anger, and general Unkindness toward others. Let us be as Kind as we can, in all justice to ourselves and others, and let us avoid feelings of Hate and a desire for Revenge. Let us live on, bearing our burdens with as much grace as we can summon, and let us always trust in the guidance of the Spirit, and the help of the highest Intelligence. Let us know that all is working together for good, and that we cannot be deprived of that good. Let us remember that this life is as but a grain of sand in the desert of time, and that we have long ages ahead of us, in which we will have a chance to work out all our aspirations and high desires. Be not discouraged, for God reigns, and all is well.