I absolutely love this Van Gogh painting. It is called “Sower with Setting Sun”. It is simple but holds a very deep message.
We reap what we sow.
Every so often at an unintentional level of awareness; while walking, waking at night, or doing something else random; an explosive revelation of understanding takes me by complete surprise, and I consider something very deep that makes so much sense it overwhelms me with the “truth”. Soon after it is lost and quite difficult to conjure up again. It is like a sheet is pulled back, or the lights are turned on. However, it is gone in a flash. I’m only left with the memory of having a brief moment of understanding of a higher truth.
One topic that came across a few times is the relationship between Grace and Karma. Since today is Veterans Day and most of us think of selfless service when we think about the Veteran population and what they have done for our country, I feel inspired to write about it.
Afterall, acting in Grace really means acting in self-less service. It’s outside of the Karma wheel.
Whether or not you practice religion of any sort, most of us have heard the story of Adam and Eve, the apple, and original sin.
The Christian tradition teaches that we are born of sin and cannot escape it. We will always be sinners. Jesus died for our sins so we can be saved.
What in the WORLD does that mean?
As a young girl in Catholic school this sounded incredibly daunting. The art and wall hangings at school and church looked dark and ominous. The music was heavy and full of what seemed like cryptic messages. I thought I would burn in hell for all eternity if I didn’t repent for fighting with my brothers. Jesus died for me to be here, wasn’t I grateful? How dare I sin?
These tenets are a lot for anyone to grasp. So many of us don’t and eventually either mentally or physically check out of the church. Those who do not check-out and spend their days on their knees with the rosary are likely not faring any better, however I think the idea is that they will go to heaven by suffering now.
Heaven is everlasting peace. It is a way out of this world of suffering. But escaping Karma and the wheel of action that creates action is not about suffering. In fact, suffering keeps you trapped in the Karmic circle.
I am using the word “Suffering” for lack of a better word to include any unpleasant feeling that you would rather not have. Suffering is the word that the Hindu and Buddhist traditions use in their texts to describe this sentiment. A chief principle of these teachings is that suffering can be eliminated through non-attachment.
Non-attachment is another term to pause at.
What is Non-Attachment? “Non-attachment means moving through life without letting things, people, or places have such a hold on you that you make wrong choices. Don’t Let Things Own You. No one’s perfect“
Non-suffering takes place when we become unattached to any outcome of our actions whether or not those expected outcomes are good or bad. Non-attachment is to accept that being here on earth, in the flesh, enjoying the sunshine, enjoying taste, sight, sound, and anything else our 5 senses can enjoy WILL including suffering, hurt, let down, mistakes – a big ol’ hot ugly mess! Non-attachment means to take it all in as it happens. Let it go when the moment passes. Be in the next moment as that one happens – and accept that one too.
Unpleasant experiences are to be expected. Doing something to avoid any type of suffering will only cause more suffering because you are doing something with the expectation of feeling a certain way. This is the same (other side of the coin) as doing things to feel good, because doing something to feel good is an attachment to the outcome too and an attempt to not feel “bad”.
Non-attachment allows feelings to pass. Accepting this and doing the right thing no matter what all of the time is Grace.
Grace does not mean being a doormat. Grace does not mean putting forth effort where it is not received or is fruitless.
Fruitless as in a tree that is not bearing fruit. When there are other trees nearby to nurture and prune, it is literally fruitless to put forth pruning effort. It is not to say you should rip it out and kill it (unless it’s killing something else that is alive since you are the gardener). It is to say if you spend 4 hours pruning the fruitless tree and become too tired to tend to the fruit bearing ones, no good service was done.
Being fruitful is to use our energy in ways that will move life around us positively, remembering what serves the purpose of greater good vs. what is a fruitless.
To think about what you are doing and the effects of your action, without concern about how it will affect the way you feel. To always do the right thing. To live in Grace.
The central tenet is to avoid being attached (by your own feelings) to the outcome, but use your energy in ways that do the greatest good.
Sowing seeds in the spring to harvest later and live through the winter is important. It behooves us to do the best we can to keep the garden growing and prolific. The intention of gardening may be food to live, however; taking pride in the outcome is where we are toeing the line because we are [again] attaching to an outcome. Pride is one of the Seven deadly sins for a reason. It is not to be confused with self-respect.
It is not a sin to feel good. It is a sin (or our own self-inflicted suffering) to be attached to the outcome of what we do. We cannot avoid being human and feeling good or bad about things that happen. But letting that pass is where we will begin to feel free and enjoy life.
What if the garden fails after all that work? It could. This is where expecting bad events as a part of life fits in. What if a hurricane blew through, or some crazy invasive bug species descended upon the crops?
If the garden tending included pride, the destruction would be a set up for disappointment (suffering). If the garden tending was done with grace, self-respect and included non-attachment… you get the point.
It does not mean that since it could happen that you give only a small hoot all year and go fishing every afternoon.
It also doesn’t mean that going above and beyond is a great act of heroism either. Taking out every single last weed or being obsessive about testing the soil or water when there is no evidence it needs it would be a waste of energy. You will deplete yourself.
Knowing the sweet spot of where to quit for the day and revitalize the body with activities that fill you with joy (maybe that is fishing) is the way to feel satisfied and full of life in this karmic dimension.
Filling your own tank so you can fill the idiomatic tank of the realm around you is where the beautiful balance lies. Right in the middle. A little bit of effort, a little bit of ease. Just enough to yield the best results.
Karma means action and action motivated by compassion is good. To complain that what happens to you is just the result of your karma is lazy. Instead, confidently recalling the advice that, “You are your own master,” you can change what happens by taking action. ~ Dalai Lama.
I’m going to switch lanes here, but not the direction. The Lord’s Prayer in the Christian sector has recently come to mind while contemplating the relationship between Grace and Karma. Particularly the line “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”
Consider that line…
On a surface level it means saying “sorry” and the other person saying “I forgive you”. But when you consider this automatic response that we are taught as kids and take Karma into consideration, this line from is incredibly powerful and takes on a much deeper, spiritual meaning.
I forgive but don’t forget
A popular saying. What does it mean to you?
If you have a sound mind and memory, forgetting is not possible.
Consider whether or not ‘forgetting’ is with good intention. Meaning that all ill feeling or suffering you have felt prior to forgiveness is completely gone. Your heart is truly light and empty. When a situation conjures up the memory of what you ‘forgave’, is there a lack of reaction in the body and mind? If there is no reaction, that means you have really forgiven. Grace is present.
Forgiving but not forgetting could also mean that you will not make the same mistake twice. That would be toeing the line as well. If any feelings come up (positive or negative), whether or not you are aware of it; you are stuck in the karmic circle. Grace is not present.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Think about that again if you have never really considered it deeply before.
If you have not truly let go by forgiving someone, your body or mind will react with an unpleasant feeling. If you haven’t really let go, YOU (not the other person) will suffer.
You will be free and forgiven (hence, not suffer from the pain of sin) when you forgive and let go. No one can do that for you.
That is Karma. The only way to travel outside of it is to act with Grace. With self-less service.
In the beginning of this blog I wrote about original sin and the Christian teaching that Jesus saved us by dying on the cross.
If we strip away all the religion, artifacts, dark art and music; and consider the message – I can see Grace and self-less service in it all.
From the article The Distance Between Grace and Karma with regard to the teachings of Jesus:
In calling His followers to a new approach that extended beyond the rule-keeping of the Law, He later said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (5:43–44 NKJV). In other words, Jesus was saying, “You don’t have to respond to evil with more evil. Instead you can respond with good.” Karma would dictate that we should always reward evil with evil, and only reward good with good. But the law of grace demands a new approach, one that directly opposes karma.
You do not have to be a Christian to agree that a spiritual man who we now call Jesus was on this earth about 2000 years ago. This man preached kinder ways. This man was content living as an example of not being attached to an outcome and consistently doing the right thing.
This man did not put forth extra effort where it would not be understood (he did not mingle with the rich and powerful). He took time for himself to fill his own cup when it was needed. And most importantly, He ultimately showed us that it is possible to not suffer through accepting whatever life threw at him with Grace. He did this on the cross. It was his ultimate sacrifice.
This was the ultimate self-less service. It is not because Jesus was special, au contraire; He taught us that we all have this amazing power to do the same. And we do! That is how he saved us.
Beautifully enough, not so dissimilar to how our nations Veterans saved us. Through. Self-less service. Grace.
Grace offers us a way out of our ego’s grasp. With grace, we do not have to earn our salvation. In fact the effort to earn it is precisely what we most want to avoid. Instead, we surrender to the will of the One who knows us better than we know ourselves and wants to give us something beyond our imagination. Grace sets us free from spiritual anxiety that everything we say and do might determine our final destiny.
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