karma, incarnations, and the birth chart
Upon bursting forth from the womb
The passing moment was imprinted
By the celestial seal
And the universal soul inspired in you
The touch of immortality.
The word karma has by now earned itself a respected place in our language, having been accepted into the modern-day lexicon. In popular use, karma means "fate," yet this usage is simplistic and compromises the dignity of the original meaning.
The literal meaning of karma in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language from which it came, is "action" or "act"; that is to say that any action-physical or mental-is karma. Deeds are physical karma, and thoughts, emotions, desire, imagination, and will are mental karma. Mental action precedes physical action, or actually creates it; that is, every deed or act is preceded by an initial thought.
Yet karma is not only action; it is also the result of every action, because the result is actually an integral part of the action. Every phenomenon has a cause. The spinning and the spinner-or the cause and the result-are intertwined, and herein originates the law of karma, which is actually the law of causality.
The world is driven by the law of karma, which is a natural law to which all other natural laws are subordinate. The law of inertia, the law of cause and effect, and the law of reward and retribution are all contained within the larger law of causality.
Exodus 21:22 expresses the law of reward and retribution blatantly: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," meaning that whoever harms will be harmed, no matter when, where, or by whom. Good deeds bring reward, and bad deeds bring punishment. An eye for an eye means that for every action, there must be a response, which will always be identical in degree and similar in kind. What we did for someone or harm that we caused someone in a former life will come back to us in this life or a life to come, just as a boomerang returns to its thrower. The deeper meaning of this concept is that certain difficulties that we experience have their origins in our soul's readiness to experience in this life injustices that we inflicted upon others in past lives, in order for us to learn from this.
At the foundation of the law of karma lies the belief that life is an ongoing experience that is not limited to one incarnation. In order to find the cause of a certain event that happened to us, it is not enough to look in the present life; we must also examine previous lives. Life does not end with the death of the body; the soul is eternal and continues to live. What happens to us in the present may be the consequence of something that happened in the near or ancient past.
Our mental, physical, familial, and economic conditions are all the consequences of all of our past lives, of our accumulated karma.
This world has no chaos or caprice; things don't happen by coincidence. There is a logical sequence of actions and consequences, with a connection between what we have done in the past and what will happen to us in the future. It's not a matter of payback or punishment handed down from above. It's not that injustice or discrimination are being manipulated by some transcendental force, making one or the other of us rich or poor, happy or miserable.
Each of us is responsible for our own deeds, and as such, for the results of those deeds; herein lies justice in its purest form. When our vision is limited, we fail to understand this law, so that we define what happens to us as simply "our fate." Yet if we understand that our present life is only the blink of an eye in relation to the entire life of our soul, then we can understand that there is a karmic scale upon which everything is measured and weighed.
The universal law of karma operates everywhere, all the time, without a break, and with scientific precision. It operates on both the physical and the mental level, and it is actually a means of achieving universal justice and cosmic balance. It is a law that places every one of us in situations that enable lessons to be learned-lessons necessary for our spiritual development.
Karma can be divided into three categories:
Sanchita: This term refers to the reservoir of karma-good or bad-that we have accumulated over many incarnations. In each incarnation, only some of this reservoir is activated, as activation of all of it would overwhelm us both physically and mentally. Part of this karmic backlog is embodied in the character of the individual, in his or her qualities, tendencies, talents, aspirations, and desires.
Prarabdha: This is considered fate, or the karma that we must withstand in this life. There is no escaping prarabdha, and it is unchangeable. Prarabdha is the part of karma that is incumbent upon each individual to complete or to balance in this life. This karma is determined prior to birth by a person's soul; the chosen karma must happen, and is experienced by the person as fate.
Kriyamana: This is the karma that we create in this life, and we deal with its consequences later. This karma goes into our overall "karmic bank account," or sanchita. Our objective in this life should be to create good karma and endeavor to avoid creating bad karma. If we "collect points" for good deeds, then we can add them to our positive balance, whose fruits we can enjoy in the future. If we "use up our credit," then we'll be in karmic debt, which we'll have to cover in the future. Each of us has freedom of choice and free will at any given moment, and these determine our deeds; today's deed-karma becomes tomorrow's fate-karma.
As long as we reincarnate, we are subordinate to the law of karma. The karmic patterns with which we must cope can help us grapple with our fate with understanding, patience, and reinforced energy.
Each of us must be born again and again until we reach self-knowledge, or the true and eternal self, which is the godhood in each of us. Our souls contain all of the potential godly energies, and the reason for the soul's entry into the physical world is to provide the experiences necessary to activate these energies and transform them from the potential to the actual. The repeating physical embodiment of the soul happens, among other reasons, so that spiritual lessons such as love, compassion, tolerance, moderation, balance, humility, purity of heart, giving, and devotion can be learned.
The imprints of everything that an individual has ever experienced are absorbed and stored in the consciousness. The consciousness does not need the body, and does not wear out with the perishing of the body that the soul "wears" in each incarnation. These imprints are activated throughout the incarnations, and the end of the cycle of incarnations is anticipated only when the soul has evolved-when it has experienced and learned enough in the physical world, and no longer has the will to be reborn, which is the force that drives it to come back and assume a physical form.
It is incumbent upon the soul to reach a level of consciousness that goes beyond the dictates of either karma or illusion, both of which are created in the world of three dimensions. The fundamental objective of reincarnation is the soul's improvement and evolution, and the number of times that a person must return and be born depends upon the degree of improvement that the soul takes upon itself in each incarnation.
One of the main motivators for a soul to begin anew is its need to experience freedom of choice. The soul needs a physical body, because only in the physical world does it occupy a position of choice, which it did not have when it was a part of the pure cosmic consciousness.
According to the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical writings, the task on behalf of which the soul departs from the soul of the Creation is its will to achieve the good of the Creator out of merit, not out of charity; as such, it is "poised at the starting line" of the path of incarnations to begin the "race." Its goal is the capacity for giving, and it will reach the finish line when it has learned to give only in tandem with the body, which, in Kabbalistic terms, contains within it "the will to receive for its own sake." Only then can the soul create completeness, or "the will to receive in order to give." When this task has been achieved, the soul no longer has need of physical embodiment.
In the breaks between lives, we have a broader vision than we do during our sojourn on Earth, and we process our understanding of all of our earthly experiences. This knowledge helps us choose and plan what we will experience the next time around.
The dilemma of "all is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given" is solved when we accept reincarnation. Before each incarnation, we decide, aided by the cosmic forces, what objectives we want to fulfill, what lessons we still need to learn, and which path will balance our karma. Karma, even when manifested as a difficult fate, is the result of our soul's freedom of choice and free will. Karma is revealed when the time is right in order to give us an opportunity to balance and to repair.
When we try with all our being to change events or situations in our lives, but do not succeed in doing so, it is a sign that such events were planned in advance by our soul so that it could experience them. We have agreed in advance to rise to the task or challenge. Bereavement, illness, accidents, loss of property, and other painful events have their source in "repair work" that was planned in advance, whose purpose is to create an opportunity for spiritual growth and progress. The birth experience causes us to forget these choices, but understanding the meaning of suffering enables us to draw from these pre-made choices as a source of strength and an impetus for personal development.
The way we react to situations and events also depends on freedom of choice. Responses such as anger, grudges, self-pity, fear, regret, self-blame, blaming others, and so forth cause energy blockages and a renewal of negative karma. When we repair negative emotions from the past, we repair the events that gave rise to them, bringing closure, and thus helping to balance the karma. A spiritual approach and understanding and positive thoughts help us overcome negative karma, and we can accelerate the process of completing our karma by living a pure life.
Diligent souls that wish to "close their karmic account" as quickly as possible can decide before birth to take on many difficult experiences, as "suffering purges one's sins" (Talmud, tractate Brachot 7b). Thus we can settle in our minds the contradiction of "the righteous suffer, the wicked thrive" (Talmud, tractate Brachot 7a). Souls that have achieved a high spiritual level often take upon themselves the travails of Job, while souls that are less developed spiritually often choose a life in which the emphasis is on the material and the gratification of the body.
It is important to point out that even souls that have achieved a high spiritual level for several incarnations can experience setbacks in any given incarnation. In addition, occasionally, after several incarnations of hard work and a heavy yoke, or of extraordinary demonstrations of giving or leadership, a soul may decide to "take a break" and go for a simpler, easier life with few irregular events.
Freedom of choice enables the soul to choose a unique path that is right for it. Earthly existence is a training period; there are souls that choose a particular path over several incarnations in a row for the purpose of perfecting certain abilities or talents, while other souls choose to go for a range of experiences, throwing themselves into these varied experiences anew each time around.
The condition of one's karma at the time of one's death is what largely determines the soul's decisions for future incarnations. Our experiences form the right character for fulfilling dharma, or our correct direction in life, which in turn is determined by our goals.
Thoughts and aspirations from past lives can determine the characteristics in our present lives, and tendencies from the past can blossom into talents in the present. Good deeds done in the past give us "credit" for good life circumstances, and conversely, past bad deeds can be the cause for unhappiness in this life. All of our experiences from the past build our present consciousness.
Choice of a certain scenario of life requires being born in a particular planetary configuration; therefore, one is born at a time and a place that are compatible with his or her soul's karmic choice. So a birth chart, or horoscope, is actually a photograph of a soul's karma, showing the picture of all of a person's lives and revealing influences of the past and possibilities for the future.
A birth chart shows symbolically a person's basic life patterns, potential, qualities, talents, and problem areas. Through understanding the various factors in the chart, we can discover a person's energy patterns at all levels-physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The chart also reveals a person's past patterns, mental impressions gathered, and how this person is now a result of what he or she did and thought in past lives.
A person is actually the product of his or her consciousness throughout all of his or her incarnations, and the birth chart is therefore a map of that consciousness. The chart shows the limitations that a person sets for him- or herself in this existence, yet also the means available to him or her for progress and development. The use that a person makes of these means determines to what degree he or she will fulfill his or her potential, and this in turn depends upon freedom of choice.
One can overcome trials and get through challenges-symbolized in the chart by disharmonious planetary influences-and achieve whatever goals one has set for oneself, yet this can only be done with effort. A person with a powerful soul and spiritual energy will succeed. In this regard, the expression "The stars do not control our destiny" (Talmud, tractate Shabbat) is fitting, as it refers to an individual with an evolved soul who takes upon him- or herself spiritual discipline, leads a life of pure thoughts and ethics, and possesses high awareness and heightened cosmic knowledge. Such a person soars to great heights, releasing his or her soul from the bonds of the material world, so that the influences of the planets and signs do not affect him or her.
Humans were created in God's image, and what humans and God have in common is the capacity for Creation. The thoughts of the Creator brought about and still bring about the ongoing creation of the universe and our world. Humans too have the ability to create their world. Our thoughts create our reality. If we change the nature of our thoughts, then we can change ourselves, release ourselves from limitations, and expand the limits of our consciousness. If we avoid negative energy, apply our consciousness with perseverance to the highest energetic frequencies, and connect up to cosmic consciousness, then we can release ourselves from the bonds of karma and from the cycle of incarnations, and our soul can move through the infinite reality and express itself limitlessly.