30A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

 Dr. Johnson’s Karma
March 30, 2008

In Eastern philosophy the concept of karma is often used to explain the seeming unjustified suffering of  innocent lives.  To some practitioners karma is the universe’s balancing scheme where peoples’ souls accumulate credits and debits.  In the Radha Soami Satsang Beas’ 1939 book, “The Path of the Masters” it claims: “There is no such thing as innocence suffering at the hands of tyranny or cruelty… If not in this life, then in a previous one, that “innocent” person had done something to earn exactly what he is now getting.”  In other words, this is a philosophy that claims there are no victims.

While the notion of previous life experience, karma and reincarnation are but a few of the spiritual foundations of Eastern philosophy, they can be easily misapplied and made to excuse actions that Western thinking perceives as unjust.  The Radha Soami book, authored by Dr. Julian P. Johnson, a California surgeon and "ordained minister of  the church,” who went to India to study Sant Mat with the Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh.  His book is filled with spiritual knowledge garnered at the feet of this Master, a risen adept whose teachings incorporate many Hindu and Buddhist traditions.  Our respectful disagreement with the karmic teachings is predicated upon a belief that while previous life experience informs our present day soul - it does not condemn it.  Dr. Johnson, utilizing the logic of an accountant or Wall Street broker, claims that all we receive in a life is exactly what we have earned in our previous lives.  We garner debits for actions considered “bad” and credits for those apparently “good.”

What this philosophy refuses to acknowledge is that human life and the works of the Divine cannot be considered in the simplistic terms of a monetary transaction.  For unlike an accounting system where agreed upon numbers represent debits and credits, life is far more complex.  If we were to accept Dr. Johnson’s premise we would need also to accept a definition of those things deemed “good and bad.”  Those things worthy of being considered a credit or debit.  This of course requires that some body become a judge - which curiously is another tenet of Dr. Johnson’s wisdom; that we should not judge the actions of other people.   But without the ability to weigh the results of a person’s actions we have no measure for this interpretation of karma.  Thus the Doctor’s  claim that people receive nothing more or less than they have earned, is a contradiction.  Because who is the arbiter of those things “good or bad?”  Who determines if your behavior is a credit or debit?

Anticipating disagreement with the teaching, Dr. Johnson writes: “Do not accuse the Creator of mismanagement of his affairs.  What seems injustice in so many cases is only an appearance.”  Again, we respectfully accuse the Creator of no such thing. We simply point out that this view of karma requires judgment which the Divine has no need of.  Only people need to account for each others’ actions as good or bad, credit or debit.  The Divine, having no reason to question its own Creation, leaves judgment to people.  And with that power in hand, people go forth to make the world into what they believe it should be. 

The problem with a claim that karma is the universe’s system of checks and balance, is that it asks us to accept fate without question.  It begs us to remain docile in the face of peoples’ exploitation of each other.  We are to assume that a child, abducted by war lords and forced to fight an adult’s war, is getting exactly what he deserves.  That a man imprisoned and starved to death by virtue of his ethnic background has, in previous life, brought this fate upon himself.  That thieves who conspire to steal a man’s life savings are merely satisfying a “debt” the man has previously incurred.  Those who claim there are no victims, do so with the ulterior motive to inhibit action.  If we each are “responsible” for our own fate; if we each have brought our suffering upon ourselves - then we have no reason to rise in outrage.  Dr. Johnson would have us believe we are destined to suffer and should accept the same with humility and without question.

But Dr. Johnson’s philosophy and our philosophy take two different points of view.  Each hearkens back to the ancient argument of fate versus free will.  We prefer to believe that while fate paints the infinite paths of life, it is man’s free will that chooses which path to take.  We believe that when a brutal man beats his wife and children, they are victims of injustice and our action to prevent it creates our good karma.  We believe that when one people exploit and enslave another people it is not karmic destiny to do so, but rather the result of a conscious superiority complex inflating the collective ego.  And we believe that it is a God-given Divine right to oppose forces that demand obedience based solely on knowledge or power.  That respect and honor and obedience must be earned by respectful and honorable conduct. 

We will continue to study Dr. Johnson’s teachings keeping in mind that the world in 1939 was a vastly different place.  We had yet to experience the evil of the Third Reich, the relativity of the atomic bomb, or the misery of dysfunctional Marxism.  The modern teachings of karma state that the love we create is the substance of what we are given in later life.  That negative acts do not have to carry forward as debits in an accountant’s book.  That on rebirth we are each given a clean slate with threads of our previous lives woven throughout.  And that Divine love is infinite, all powerful and in no need to judge its own perfect work.  It is only the less than Divine that must do that