The Fire of Self-Realization
What is the goal of evolution? Is it simply the proliferation of life-forms and the development of species complexity? Or, as a mechanical process, can evolution have any goal at all, which after all requires some sort of conscious intention? Clearly, evolution presents a progressive unfolding of life, intelligence and consciousness, just as leaves, flowers and fruit evolve from a seed.
Self-realization is the real goal of all life. All creatures are striving to unfold their particular potentials, which are not simply outer capacities of movement but inner feelings and perceptions. Behind all evolutionary striving is an effort to further the manifestation of consciousness.
The universal principle is not survival of the fittest but survival of those who are most aware. Awareness at an inner level creates the capacity for adaptation at an outer level. Survival of the fittest is a rule only for carnivores. Yet even on that level, small creatures who know how to hide themselves can outlast large creatures who cannot adapt.
Self-realization, however, is not simply the realization of our isolated creature-based potentials. It is the self-aware, self-creating universe discovering itself within its own creatures. It is the universe becoming aware of itself, the individual recognizing his or her unity with the All. The individual carries the sacred fire, which is the seed of universal consciousness. This is the seed of the Self, the God-seed hidden in the heart in the form of the sacred fire.
Karma as an Evolutionary Force
Karma, therefore, is an evolutionary force. Our own human karma is part of the evolution of consciousness on the planet, not simply part of our own personal growth and development. Karma prods us to a greater sense of unity by making us responsible for all that we do both to ourselves and to others.
As karma is an evolutionary force, there is nothing fatalistic about it. It is a natural power designed to ensure the full development of consciousness in creatures. Karma, we could say, is the self-rectifying power of the self-creating universe. The individual remains the vehicle for its workings, but karma is not simply working for the sake of the individual.
Behind the unfoldment of karma is not a mere deterministic judgment of good or bad actions, but a conscious force for the growth of intelligence. Karma compels us to develop our awareness, not simply internally but in the field of action where it really counts. It makes us cognizant of our dynamic interrelationship with all of life. We cannot eat, breathe or think apart from other beings or the universe. In everything we do we partake of the universe and the universe partakes of us as well. Each one of us is a sacred offering to all life, just as life is continually offering itself to us in various forms from food to breath to relationship. The question is whether the fragrance of our offering is sweet and uplifting or whether it is bitter and obstructing to the upward flow of life.
When we act with unity, not dividing ourselves off from others but seeing our Self in all beings, then there is no binding karma. What binds us to karma is our personal limitation of the universal creative force. If we let our actions follow the universal force, then our action is no longer restricting but becomes liberating. Action with the awareness of unity creates the ‘fire of karma', which burns up all negative karma.
Today we must redefine the spiritual quest in an environmental way, as the urge of all nature to grow in consciousness. The spiritual urge is not just a human urge but the evolutionary imperative inherent in all life. We can only develop spiritually if we recognize our greater unity with all. We can only liberate ourselves if we become one with the entire universe.
Yet if karma is an evolutionary force, then there is a positive goal to its development. It is not merely sharing a common suffering but developing a common joy, in which we help others become free, independent and happy in their own natures. Evolution is an expression of the very joy of life from which creation naturally arises, what Yoga calls ‘Ananda' or Divine Bliss. We must follow this deeper bliss if we want to discover true happiness and understanding in life. That true delight is not a personal achievement but the joy of unity, the power of love. If we look to the wisdom of karma, it will take us to that greater oneness in which all our sorrows disappear, in which the very possibility of sorrow will cease to exist.
Karma as an Ecological Teaching
The law of karma contains an important ecological teaching. It shows that our individual action is linked to the fate of the entire world. As we act, so our world becomes. As we act, so the world reacts and shapes us in turn. Karma represents the self-harmonizing power of cosmic intelligence that keeps the evolutionary movement aligned with its greatest good. As the planet is a single organism, our individual actions affect the entire web of life, which works to return us to harmony when our actions become harmful. While we might experience this harmonizing action as pain, it is only meant to awaken us to our deeper connection to life and the need to act for the greater happiness of all beings.
A spiritual or ‘yogic ecology', an ecology of the soul, must base itself upon an understanding of the law of karma. It requires that we cultivate a consciousness of the sacred as the basis for all our interactions. We must recognize consciousness as the unitary force behind life and all its different ecosystems. We must recognize the evolution of our own individual consciousness as part of a greater evolution of the universe. This is not to deny our own individual development but to facilitate it. Our true Self is what unites us with all. Its body is the entire universe and its action is the very movement of life.
Our spiritual practices must be recast in an ecological light as a human expression of cosmic intelligence for the greater evolutionary process. If we forget the ecological basis of spirituality, then we easily lose contact with the very forces of the universe through which alone we can grow. We lose our necessary foundation in the Earth that provides the support for our ascension into the light.
Our Collective Karmic Crisis
Our present planetary crisis, our crisis in consciousness, is also a ‘collective karmic crisis'. We are setting in motion long-term negative karmic consequences by our civilization out of harmony with life. Such powerful collective karmas can bring about deep disturbances in the world of nature, including alterations at geological and climatic levels that can go far beyond what our species can control. The coming century looks like an era of karmic rectification for the devastation already wrought by our current spiritually immature civilization. We need the wisdom to take us through this coming fire of collective experience and help minimize its potential destruction as nature once more demands that the soul within us comes to the front.
The problem is that our culture does not believe in karma. We don't teach the law of karma in our schools and or even many of our religions are ignorant of it. Many who speak about the law of karma act in violation of it as well. We think that if we make money or become famous that we have achieved the goal of life, regardless of the karmas we have set in motion for ourselves or for our world.
Our soul is a karmic center of consciousness that we must face sooner or later. When we die, the only thing that goes with our soul is its karma. The bodily self does not continue but the soul - the sensitive core of awareness within us that allows us to feel happiness or sorrow - goes on to wherever its karma may lead, which we must eventually experience. If you have harmed your world in one life, you may have to return in the next in order to rectify the wrong that you have done, which pains the soul, even if the outer mind can ignore it.
If you really want to avoid pain and suffering, not only in this life but in the continued existence of your soul, you should strive at every moment to act with an awareness of the law of karma and its consequences. This is a sobering consideration unlike the promises of easy happiness, quick salvation or instant enlightenment. While these fantasies appeal to our desires, they do not address the actualities of how the universe works, and leave us cheated and deceived in the end when the inevitable effects of our karma must manifest.
Presently our species has not yet seen the worst of what its collective karma has created. We blindly imagine that our consumerist civilization can continue, with affluence and pleasure for everyone, or at least for our own country. Yet if we look deeply at all, we can easily see that our growing social and environmental problems must continue until we remove their cause in our wrong relationship to life. To evolve as a species, we must face and transform this collective karma.
The Action of Enlightenment
The truly enlightened or Self-realized individual brings higher forces to the Earth from the power of his or her liberated consciousness. That is how individual enlightenment can uplift the entire world, even without any overt external actions. Such individual enlightenment, however, is not the enlightenment of the separate self-which is a contradiction in terms - but that of the soul, our universal being which is inherently one with all. It does not occur through denying or ignoring karma but through reaching a level of action that is no longer external or bound by time. An enlightened individual becomes a secret Sun, pouring the radiance of awareness out to all beings. His sacred fire is that of the sacred heart of all beings.
One cannot be free of karma without becoming everyone and everything. That is why we hear of great saints and yogis in the wilderness befriended by wild animals. They did so by honoring the sacred presence in all beings, not by regarding themselves as more enlightened or better than other creatures.
One is reminded the story of Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of South India, who liberated his own cow when the animal died. When his disciples asked him how the cow called Lakshmi had fared, he replied that she had achieved Self-realization. Not believing that a cow could attain such an exalted spiritual state, they asked if she gained complete Self-realization or just a higher, presumably human birth. Ramana replied that it was the same Self-realization that any human being could achieve, and which few even dedicated disciples ever reach. At his ashram today, there are not only shrines to Ramana and his great disciples but also to Ramana's favorite animals - a cow, a dog, and a crow. Such sages are aware of the soul in animals and can communicate with them just as easily they can with other human beings.
While few of us can reach the state of supreme enlightenment, we can all bring aspects of enlightenment into our daily lives. We can bring a unitary consciousness into our greater environment, establishing our relationship with all aspects of the conscious universe from greeting the Sun in the morning to remembering the stars at night. We must respond to the evolutionary message of our karma, which is to take responsibility for our world and look upon all creatures as our own Self. All nature will support us in this endeavor if we recognize its movement as the expression of our own soul.
Author: David Frawley