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Karma, Self-Effort, and Grace: What is My Destiny and Can I Change It?

by Lisa VanOstrand

Man reaps as he sows. That, in a nutshell, is karma. From a Vedic perspective, karma is a cosmic law that operates as surely as the physical law of gravity. It is the universe's form of justice and it works like this: What goes around comes around. We each have "good" karma and "bad" karma --- but it's all karma. While some religions hold that every being will eventually reach a state beyond karma, a state of total liberation, and others hold that karma is eternal and binding, all religions embrace the principle as a fundamental law of the universe.

We may view karma in all its vast mystery with deep misgivings, even fear, and yet wonder, is it just another name for predestination or destiny? Can we do anything to change our karma? Can God's grace change our karma? What is the relationship between karma, self-effort, and grace?

Karma, self-effort, and grace are equally important and inextricably linked. Take a moment and reflect on your life. Can you find incidents in which you felt the strong influence of unseen forces that seemed to shape your feelings, your thoughts, your circumstances? Perhaps there was a time when you felt an instant liking for someone who later became your best friend or mate. Or a time when, in spite of repeated failures, you continued to try again and again and finally achieved success. What about a time when you mysteriously avoided an accident or misfortune, or knew the truth of a situation from the inner depths of your being?

No doubt you can recall several such incidents in your life. The forces at work in each situation are the influences and interactions of karma, self-effort, and grace. One can view one's life as the interaction of these three great forces. For most of us, there is a need to reduce the universe and its happenings into explicable patterns but know that life can never be completely understood, for no matter how much we may think we understand our destiny, there is an inherent mystery in the universe that is unfathomable. In the same way that the heart continues to beat and the lungs to draw air in and out, all this happens and is the destiny of that organ whether we have knowledge of it or not.

Human beings form a spectrum of levels of consciousness, each one of us being at our own perfect level of consciousness. From the spectrum, everything acts and all actions yield, in time, results. All that occurs, good or bad, comes about through the working together of the forces of karma, self-effort and grace. Influenced by these forces, each individual creates events and lessons for life. Life can be thought of as a university of learning. Through our experiences---or our studies---which at times do seem forced upon us, we move, at our own speed, closer to God. This is the evolutionary plan of mankind and is our ultimate destiny---to know God, the Truth, the Self.

In light of this, we can see that we have the power to create our own lives. We determine our own destiny. If we were not masters of our destinies, then we would be robots and all our actions would be meaningless. We would truly be victims. Understanding that we are not victims but rather co-creators of our lives is where grace comes in. It is grace to know that whatever happens in this lifetime and all others was, is, and will be designed by you, for your evolution, in your own time, and your own way. Thus, grace is built into the very design of evolution.

Knowing this, is there any understanding we can bring to better or quicken our evolution? We know that whatever actions we have performed in the past, we reap the fruit of those actions eventually. Karma, or fate, is nothing more or less than the fruit of past self-effort or action, whether in this life or another. Similarly, whatever actions we perform now creates our future karma.

Karma is created as a result of actions performed in an attempt to fulfill desires. The longing for something sets into motion a whole series of actions, many times unconscious because we are so focused on getting what we want. I recommend that you look at each of your longings and for each one ask yourself some questions. Is what you want something that is worth creating future karma around? Is it so important that you are willing to create seed desires that may result in future births? Could this longing lead you to perform actions that will create suffering for yourself or others now or in the future? It is the absence of inquiry that causes actions that are harmful to oneself and to others.

"What is real? What is everlasting?" This is the inquiry that directs self-effort and action toward creating karma that leads to liberation. It is the inquiry that attracts grace. While desire may be denigrated by some, desire itself is not the problem. Longing, passion, and the drive to create are part of the human condition. Repressing or denying desire leads to a stagnation of energy that can, in the long-term, result in dis-ease. The desire for a mate, for children, for a certain kind of work may be promptings of the divine calling you to fulfill your destiny.

It is not the desire but rather the attachment to desire that binds us. Let your passion and longing lead you to considered action and then wait patiently for the result. Do not be attached to the outcome. Once again, knowing that all things happen in their own time and in their own way, observe what comes to you. Your longing in and of itself will create the expected outcome, it is just a question of time.

For most of us, when our longings do not manifest, we suffer. The Buddha taught that suffering is inevitable, and, I might add, useful. Very often, suffering of some sort --- loss, disease, misfortune --- starts one on the spiritual path. The beauty is that as soon as we have learned our lessons, our suffering will end. A longing may be fulfilled, we may transcend the desire or the attachment to it altogether or death may end suffering on this plane.

When we look for the lessons hidden within desire and suffering, that is self-effort and that attracts grace. There were thousands of people at Bethesda, each one with an illness, a complaint, but to only one Jesus said, "Arise, walk, your faith has made you whole." This was the person who made the effort to reach out, in faith, to God. Have faith that your life is going exactly as you planned and continue to apply your effort toward the only thing that is ultimately real: the evolution of your consciousness.

© 3 Treasures Healing 2004-2014