A New Age requires New Theory|
Eastern views of change rest on the idea of karma. Karma is only another name for causality within the domain of mind. It is usually considered to be a form of moral causality. Traditional expressions of it are : as you sow, so shall you reap ; an eye for an eye.
Karma is usually understood to operate in a deterministic way, with no room for chance in important matters. I reject this traditional manner of thinking about change as being inadequate. Modern times require a new theory of human causation.
The traditional religious path through life is fairly predictable, with all the main steps of achievement known in advance : the seeker just has to follow in the footsteps of past masters and sooner or later he will arrive at his goal. His ‘destiny ’ seems to be assured and set. The seeker knows that his character is inadequate, with many deficiencies. He focuses on the concept of Being, and Being requires him to transcend his character (or, as it is more traditionally put, to transcend his ego).
My journey has been different. Chance has been important to me at some major points of my life. During the time of my soul search my dreams told me that I would never achieve anything by following tradition – I had to tread a new path. I am an existentialist, and existentialism was the needed starting point for creating a new path. A new age requires a new way through life.
The existentialist is following a path that is still being created. This path centres on the transformation of character. There are no reliable rules to guide him ; he has to discover by his own efforts, in analysing the boundaries within which his mind works, what rules do in fact exist. The existentialist has to carry out his explorations into spirituality whilst living in society. When the spiritual life is lived in society then nothing is certain. The new-age task of transforming one"s character centres on Becoming, not Being. Hence one"s ‘destiny ’ may change as one"s intuitive responses to life change.
Is Karma a Moral Law ?
Many writers uncritically consider it to be so. For any person, consequences flow from what he does, from his actions. These consequences seem to verify the moral view of karma. However, reflection on childhood experience suggests an alternative view.
The child often misinterprets his social relationships, particularly those involving the parents. Whence the child becomes confused. Because of childhood confusion, a person is not to blame for the effects of that confusion, and so moral judgement is misleading and inappropriate.
In my view, karma contains both moral and psychological components. The moral components create boundaries ; these boundaries are the justification for moral rules. The psychological components can move the person beyond these boundaries.
If karma were just a system of moral laws, it would create problems for a changing society. As man evolves, his relationships evolve too. Therefore the moral problems that he faces will evolve in tandem with his relationships. Morality has to be linked to psychology.
Theories of psychology expand and become updated as awareness and sensitivity increase in thinkers and other creative people. Yesterday"s problems had yesterday"s answers : these problems and answers may not be relevant for today. It is not enough just to update psychological ideas. There has to be a process for updating morality too. The process which updates morality is the psychological process of abreaction.
When social abreaction produces moral reform this occurs because the backlash of abreactive hate has not been worked through but remains as a permanent state of mind in the person. When, however, the person has assimilated the backlash then he has moved beyond morality to the psychological perspective.
I turn to the issue of how psychological karma operates. I relate it to dialectics.
I use the term ‘dialectics’ in the Hegelian sense. It represents a movement of thought through three stages. First there is the opening idea, the thesis ; then thought switches to the opposite conception, the antithesis. Finally both stages are blended together in the third stage, the synthesis. In moral ideas, if the thesis is a concept of goodness then the antithesis is a concept of badness. If the thesis represents some badness, the antithesis is that of some goodness. The synthesis is the resolution of the conflict.
Consider the life of an important concept. It has a dialectical existence – both the good and the bad aspects of it are experienced before it is assimilated (or synthesised). Desires require concepts in order to be thought about and expressed, and these concepts are changeable ; therefore desires are dialectical in their activity. There is the repetitive sequence : presence of desire, frustration of desire, and the resolution of the conflict. The desires change themselves through the resolutions.
Emotions have a different role. It is their valuation that is important. All emotions can have both good and bad valuations, depending on the situation and on the person.
I use vanity as an example. There are numerous situations (all different from one another in some way) where vanity can be good, and numerous situations where it can be bad. I picture karma as a pendulum swinging in a spiral (rather than a circle). A synthesis of a good use of vanity plus a bad one becomes the starting point for a further exploration of vanity. Since situations are numerous so too there are numerous syntheses of the valuation of vanity. Karma swings between the good and the bad usages, each swing being different from the one before. Since the world is always changing so there is no end to this process of repeated syntheses within the human mentality.
It is not the emotion that is synthesised but the valuations of it. Emotions are not dialectical ; their intensity varies but not the nature of the emotions themselves. The difference between desire and emotion, from a point of view of understanding the way that karma works, is the difference between will and feeling : desires operate through will (or will power), and emotions operate through feelings. Will can act in a dialectical way but feeling cannot.
By considering the roles of desire and of emotion I see that it is concepts and expectations (or valuations) that are important. These concepts and expectations operate in a dialectical manner. Psychological karma is nothing more than the consequences of these concepts and expectations. Therefore such karma is dialectical in its operation.
In the moral perspective, good experiences are traditionally viewed as being the reward for previous good behaviour ; bad experiences are punishments for the bad things that the person did in the past. This perspective is too simplistic. Bad experiences are often just the negative aspect of the dialectical process. Non-dialectical thinking leads to the idea of karma as being reward and punishment. Dialectical thinking leads to the idea that karma (both good and bad) is a problem to overcome, that is, karma is not just reward and punishment but is instead an odyssey.
Two Views of Causality
To facilitate the understanding of my views on psychology and ethics I split causality or karma into two types, which I call ‘linear ’ (or ‘moral ’) and ‘dialectical ’.
Consider ethics. Traditional views of ethics assume an absolute division between good and evil. A good cause can only produce a good effect. A bad cause can only produce a bad effect. There can be no mixing. So the effect is similar in kind to the cause (goodness and badness are opposite kinds of effect). Hence any good effects that happen to a person are interpreted to mean that he has acted from a good cause. Whereas if bad effects happen to him then he has just himself to blame for acting from a bad cause. Moral judgement is easy and clear-cut.
This idea of causality matches the physical world. Everything is governed by law ; in the physical world the law is that of nature, and in the world of humanity the law is that of karma (the traditional view of it). This is reflected in the occult saying ‘as above, so below ’. I call such causality linear. Linear causality means that there is continuity between the cause and the effect. One cause can only produce one kind of effect. Because this form of causality emphasises moral effects, so I also call it ‘moral causality ’.
A dialectical causal pattern is different, since the thesis is opposite in kind (or nature) to the antithesis. Hence dialectical causality produces two kinds of effect. For example, an insight into a psychological problem causes the abreaction of guilt. In the sequence of the abreaction, the catharsis and the resentment that follows it are opposite kinds of effects. Because this form of causality emphasises psychological effects, so I also call it ‘psychological causality ’.
Psycho-analysis reveals that emotions are neither good nor bad, they are simply responses to underlying unconscious ideas. It is the context that determines whether an emotion is good or bad. Goodness and badness represent judgements, and such judgements are contextually relational (or ‘relative’ in the tradition usage of relativity – I avoid this usage since I use ‘relativity ’ to mean something different).
However, abreaction complicates these issues. Good and evil have different meanings to the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.
The difference is this :
Good and evil might be relational in the analytically conscious mind,
but they are treated as being dialectical by the subconscious mind.
The laws of abreaction are deterministic in their operation and dialectical in their mode of functioning. In my view, dialectical karma is psychological in its orientation and is patterned on the way that the subconscious mind works, since much of the content of the subconscious mind creates psychological determinism – and karma (whether moral or psychological) is just another name for determinism.
Hence karma becomes dialectical in its functioning when it mirrors the subconscious mind.
Karma and the Subconscious Mind
Why does karma follow the subconscious mind?
Both abreaction and karma begin in infancy, perhaps even from the moment of birth. Abreaction is always in feeling mode for the infant (that is, the infant is always experiencing suggestion). It derives happiness from being suckled. And happiness often begins the process of abreaction. During abreaction, as happiness fades and is replaced by guilt and resentment, so the infant cries in its distress. The mother neutralises abreaction by giving psychological comfort.
The reality of abreactive guilt (as well as that of hunger) is the reason that the infant is attention-seeking and cries so much.
Attention-seeking as a response to abreaction can recur throughout a lifetime. The child is not immune from abreaction. When it is excited, the child explores the world. When narcissism fades and guilt arises the child runs back to the parent for psychological support. Later, perhaps from puberty onwards, the fascination with the material world outweighs abreactive sorrow, so attention-seeking now becomes based mainly on vanity and narcissism. In old age, when the person has been shuffled off to an institutional home and has little inter-action with other people, abreactive guilt again generates attention-seeking needs.
Abreaction causes distress to the child. However, abreaction also arises from the distress experienced by the child in its social conditioning. This distress is generated by psychological confusion. This confusion creates the need to have fixed beliefs and strong prejudices. Fixed beliefs shelter the child from the sorrow of a human life. Yet those same fixed beliefs create determinism and future karma.
For the adult undergoing a psycho-analysis, abreaction (when generated through insight into a problem) relieves confusion. Abreaction detaches both moral and immoral feelings from the person"s memories. (See article Catharsis and Suggestion). Hence abreaction is a psychological sequence and not a moral one. So when karma follows the subconscious mind then that karma is operating psychologically and not morally.
In effect, when caused through confusion, abreaction is karma. When abreaction is generated through insight into a problem, then this is ‘old karma’: the individual is working his way through the consequences of events that happened long ago in the present life. When abreaction occurs in feeling mode then this is ‘instant karma’: the individual is working his way through current feelings of sensuality and power.
Components of Karma
Using these ideas I can explain the difference between the moral and the psychological components of karma. Abreaction involves only problems created in the present life and not problems inherited from previous lives. The reason for this lies in the difference between anxiety and fear. Problems in the present life usually orientate around anxiety ; when we die, this anxiety is transformed into fear by removing the component of vanity (anxiety is composed of vanity and fear ). Then when we are reborn again on Earth, the problems that we bring with us are orientated around fear.
Abreaction involves the release of anxiety, not fear. In the present life we bring attitudes and character traits from past lives, but not anxiety. Therefore problems from past lives cannot be changed by abreacting them. Problems from past lives are only changed by facing up to the fear and working through it : this is the domain of moral karma.
In considering the problems that a person has,
there are two possibilities:
a) If anxiety is present then dialectical karma is operating.
b) If fear is present (and anxiety is absent) then moral karma is to the fore.
A problem may be mixed and contain both components of karma. I may have an ‘attitude problem’ towards authority : this is moral karma. The specific situation in which this attitude occurs may generate dialectical karma too, if that situation causes me anxiety.
Insight into a problem can resolve dialectical karma,
but not moral karma.
For the spiritual seeker, karma (especially dialectical karma) is a problem to be overcome. Why is this ? . Karma affects both identities of the person (both his social identity and his identity as an individual ) ; this connection causes dialectical change.
The chaos that appears in times of rapid social change is due to the change in social values caused by social catharsis being superimposed on fixed traditional values.
The person comes under the impact of traditional values conflicting with modern values : this conflict occurs within the mind of the person and so can cause mental chaos and perplexity. This chaos usually undermines freedom : his social identity swings towards authoritarianism or dependency under the impact of the abreaction of guilt, and his individual identity veers towards intolerance or being separative through the abreaction of pride.
This chaos produces the irony of modern times : the social flexibility of catharsis ends by generating mental rigidity.
People riding the crest of catharsis can be intoxicated by the glamour of success, until they drop back down into the trough of reaction. Therefore spiritual development cannot be based on karma alone ; only by rising above dialectics, above karma, to awareness and understanding can a spiritual idealism be maintained.
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Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.
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