What is Karma?
Background music – “Yesterday”, Lennon, McCartney
Jens Roland Prochnow
Who was I? The Empress Sissi? Napoleon? Or better still Tchaikovsky? Not Goethe, that would be going too far, but maybe Winckelmann? And who before that? A pharaoh, mystery priest or even a martyr? One daydreams half an afternoon away and considers himself extremely important. I am actively involved in a historical world mission, so to speak.
Therewith I avoid one question however. No wonder, for it points to less glamorous results: Who am I? An undetermined being who somehow wangles his way through the world’s necessities, or the sensations which often press despairingly against these necessities. Am I as other people see me? Or is there something else waiting to be discovered – by me as well as by those in my surroundings?
“Give me just one proof of karma!” an acquaintance once demanded, quite excitedly. I was speechless at first, until I realized how deeply rooted is the inclination to ask false questions in order to avoid breaking out of old habits of thought. What kind of proof could be given? A dove fluttering down from heaven? A weeping statue of the Virgin Mary?
Facts of the inner life can only be experienced within the inner life and thus proved. Only when I have lived a certain time with the idea of karma can I arrive at experiences and decide if this impulse is viable. A fact, which I have recognized as true in my inner self, is not arbitrary or “dreamed up”, but just as proven as are other things – although this proof is an individual step in life which no other than myself can take.
Karma means justice, although I live in a world that is not always just. Instead of exhausting myself over the contrast between I and world, I concentrate on the interplay of cause and effect. Is the injustice I experience, the pain I feel, an effect of a past cause? Or the cause of a future effect? Or even – both together? The more intensively I involve myself in this interplay – in calm thoughts or in direct everyday experience – the wider the limits of my self becomes. And If I penetrate so far as to find the effects and causes within my own being, I become Lord of Karma.
Karma doesn’t mean an inflexible mechanism in the works of which my destiny proceeds. The old needs to be lived through, and new karma created. I stand in the world between both, old and new. And the world in me.
Who am I? Who was I yesterday? Who will I be tomorrow? These questions receive a new quality with each level of my perception of cause and effect – karma. “Every soul is born of soul.” From where do I obtain the soul substance from which I am born – or I create myself? From my environment, which is just as soul penetrated as I myself am. And from the being that I once was and one day will be. The images of karma which I form change with the evolution of my own being. They are never static and cannot be objects of faith – only facts of experience.
The ways of karma are sometimes inscrutable: it is a very common convenience to attribute every human failing to “karma”. But karma is not an excuse. The purpose of karma isn’t to explain away actions, but to explain, fathom them. If I can’t understand this fine distinction, I will lose myself in illusions.
Occasionally, though, illusions can be very useful, a necessary helping process which embraces me and gently and cautiously leads me to the reality of the idea.
For who doesn’t like to dream? On the Internet there is a “Karma-Oracle” that can relieve one of difficult decisions and research: To the spectacular question “Who was I in my previous life?” I get the answer: “Astronomer somewhere in the region of today’s Iran around 850”, including a personality profile of me then. Someone very well read in Rudolf Steiner’s works immediately cried: “Harun al Raschid!” Okay, Harun al Raschid then—I can think about who I am now tomorrow.
Why live in today when there is always a yesterday?
This article originally appeared, in German, in Info3. Translation: FTS