Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of February 23, 2015

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Lessons of Karma

(The Way of Integrity: Part 2)

Now we turn to looking at how and why integrity matters. We begin with a particular and relatively external view, namely that of karma, or reaping what you sow. A straightforward cause and effect action applies, though the effects can sometimes be long removed from the causes and therefore hard to recognize. Yet many are easy to see. If we do not take good care of our body, we will suffer the physical consequences sooner or later. If we do not treat our friends well, we will lose our friends. If we deal dishonestly in business matters, no one will trust us. If we cheat on our spouse, we will end up without a spouse.

All that seems obvious; the causal connections are evident. Yet karma also concerns the not-so-obvious effects of morality and its lack. Greed invites greed. Anger invites anger toward us. Cheating gets us cheated. Lying gets us lied to. It takes time, and long observation of the results of our moral lapses, to learn the lesson of cause and effect, to take it to heart enough that it begins to moderate our behavior and thereby raise the level of our integrity.

We can ask whether integrity based on fear of the consequences of bad behavior is truly integrity, given that it arises from a self-centered motivation. At least from a functional perspective, though, it works. Eventually we want the deeper integrity based on higher motivations. But as a starting point, fear of consequences is a notch up from self-centered, desire-driven actions, and thus moves us in the right direction.

On the flip side, if we sow positive actions, we reap positive benefits. Generosity is a case in point. The result of an act of generosity is usually that we feel good about our actions and about ourselves, and we benefit the recipient of the generosity. If we are generous, the law of karma teaches that others and the universe will be generous toward us.

However, what if we give mainly in order to feel good or to attract generosity, and not so much to do good? Here the key factor of karma comes in, namely intention. The nature of our intentions in what we do shapes our karma. If we have positive, selfless intentions, the effects will generally be positive. If we are generous in order to feel good, then we have our reward and no further benefits accrue to us.

But as the saying goes, good intentions are not enough. Here another key factor of karma (and integrity) enters: responsibility. This entails knowing our capabilities and limits, and doing what we can and should, as needed, and as the appropriate situation and opportunity arises. Good intentions driving responsible actions form the high road to positive effects, to good karma.

The causal connection between living an unhealthy lifestyle and the resulting health problems seems clear. But the law of karma also teaches that if, for example, we cheat, and even if no one else knows we cheat, then sooner or later we will be cheated to a similar degree. If that is true, then it must be due to some mechanism buried deep in the structure of how the universe works, a mechanism we call karma.

Perhaps this is not so surprising, if we consider that another name for the law of karma is justice. We expect the universe to be just. We know that our lives are full of uncertainty and we may wonder how the universe determines which of its many possibilities to manifest to us. We hope and feel it is not just random, that there is justice, that there is karma, that what happens to us is somehow meant for us, that how we live matters.

But is it true? Does our being really attract our life? This then is part of our inner work: to notice the results of our actions and attitudes, both short-term and long, and to learn from what we notice. Certainly that can help us live with more intelligence, with more compassion, and with more integrity.


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