In Ocean of Theosophy, we find the following quote which was included in one of the passages we have already discussed:

"Reincarnation being the great law of life and progress, it is interwoven with that of the cycles and karma. These three work together, and in practice it is almost impossible to disentangle reincarnation from cyclic law."

Karma and reincarnation have come up numerous times in this phase of discussion, proving Judge's words true. It is very difficult to speak of cycles and periodicity, especially in the theosophical context, without making reference to several other subjects which are deserving of focused exploration. As the Tenets study progresses, we will be attempting to limit our focus to the topic at hand, and will be taking up Karma and Reincarnation together. However, as Judge pointed out in the above passage, the two are integrally woven together with the concept of cycles in general. Nonetheless, it is important to lay a foundation for study, and since periodicity is the common feature uniting so many Theosophical tenets, it seemed prudent to explore it all by itself at first.

It has been difficult to find sources that examine periodicity in the abstract sense, but the chapter that we have studied from Ocean of Theosophy has been a good example. Before we move on to a focused study of Karma and Reincarnation, some questions to consider regarding periodicity:

  • How does a cyclical understanding of phenomena differ from a linear understanding?

  • Which viewpoint was dominant in the late 1800s, when H.P.B. lived? What has changed since then?

  • How does shifting from a linear viewpoint to a cyclical viewpoint affect our relationship with the world around us?

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Interesting questions, Daniel - would you say a little more as to what you mean by cyclical as opposed to linear understanding. I may be quite wrong about this, but In my own mind I've tended to view cycles as linear progressions.  A cycle has a beginning, a middle and an end; it's followed by another cycle and so on.  Importantly, a cycle takes place over time - though we would need to ask just what we mean by time and whether time exists when there are no cycles of life, no change occurring. 

On a graph I would place cycles on the horizontal axis (occurring over time), with the eternal Present - the Time-less with its 'heights and depths' - on the vertical axis.

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Thanks Peter. Your own question is a good one too--I will try to answer it without giving what would look like my own answers to the questions above, but that will be a challenge. I want to hear from others on this, but it may be necessary to clarify.

I understand how a cycle can be viewed as linear, especially if you are looking only at one occurrence or instance of the cycle: Yes, beginning, middle and end. But in a way, you yourself gave the defining feature of the cycle as opposed to a linear process: It starts over again. It is renewed.

For example, a linear view of the life cycle: One is born, one lives one's life, one grows old and one dies.

Cyclically: One is born, one lives one's life, one grows old, one dies, and...one comes back.

One could name many scenarios in the world that can be viewed from both perspectives, with very different results.

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Well, I was really thinking that one cycle after another, whether it be a series of days, years or lifetimes is a linear process - a series of beginnings and endings each following on from the previous. Which is what made me ask.   

Terminology aside, I guess you're asking how does our relationship with the world change when we move from the belief that we only have one life to a belief in reincarnation, which entails having many lives.

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Peter wrote:

"Terminology aside, I guess you're asking how does our relationship with the world change when we move from the belief that we only have one life to a belief in reincarnation, which entails having many lives."

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Yes, that too, but that is only one example. For another example:

Linear: The universe is created, the universe expands until entropy takes over, the universe gradually dies and fades into nothing.

Cyclical: The universe explodes from the cosmic egg, the universe expands, the universe reaches a point of equilibrium, the universe begins receding, the universe compacts into the cosmic egg again, the universe rests for a period, then the universe starts over again.

A mind that looks at human life from a linear perspective will likely see just about everything else that way, too.

A mind that looks at human life from a cyclical perspective might also apply that perspective elsewhere.

No matter where one looks, a glimpse of a cyclic world is transformative when coming from a viewpoint that sees things in terms of linear progression.

Does this change the character of the questions at all?

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You're bringing out a very important aspect aspect of birth, death and rebirth - whether it be for the individual or the cosmos - namely that it includes a movement from within-outwards and without-inwards.

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I was really thinking that one cycle after another, whether it be a series of days, years or lifetimes is a linear process...

It's interesting to question where/when we consider something linear and where/when we consider something cyclical. It seems to me that it has everything to do with our perspective. For anyone who played with a spyrograph as a kid, these images may bring back fond memories! :) I think these provide an intriguing illustration of cycles and the dependency on our perspective.

This is what we see from a limited perspective:

But if we 'zoom out', we might see...

And if we really zoom out, we might see "wheels within wheels"...

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Daniel and Jon - I'll probably regret this, but for the sake of debate:

I'm still not sure how 'cycles' and 'linear' are **necessarily** two different entities, two different processes or two contrasting viewpoints. Yes, 'linear' sometimes means 'extending along a straight line'. But it also means sequential development: progressing from one stage to another in a series of steps.

The examples you've both given all seem to involve sequential stages of development: whether it be the universe emerging from and returning to the egg, the circle rotating along a line, or the circle rotating around the circumference of another circle.

We can say that intuition is a valid contrast to rational thought because the latter proceeds sequentially (linear) whereas intuition can grasp the whole thing or the essence in one go. But I'm not sure we can compare a linear view with cyclic view in a similar way.

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I actually think there's a place for both linear and cyclic in our conception. The visual of cycles being like the threads of a screw is perhaps, in my mind, the most accurate approach. Like you say, there is a progression, even when there are cycles - at least within our experience of cycles (which includes the illusion of time). We have winter-spring-summer-autumn-winter... but the second winter is not the same winter as the first. So we have cycled and moved 'forward'.

But in terms of the movement from one to many and back to one, is there a progression? Wouldn't that mean there would be two "Ones" (the One before the movement to many, and then the One after the movement back from many)?

Or if we look at it as from homogeneity to heterogeneity and then back, can we say there is progression, and if so, what is the difference between the 'first' homogeneity and the 'second' homogeneity?

In short, if we view cycles as beyond 'time', is there still progression involved?

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I agree with Peter and Jon that both linear and cyclical models can and do go together.

Peter wrote:

"We can say that intuition is a valid contrast to rational thought because the latter proceeds sequentially (linear) whereas intuition can grasp the whole thing or the essence in one go. But I'm not sure we can compare a linear view with cyclic view in a similar way."

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I'm not too sure that I was trying to contrast linear and cyclical conceptions as two wholly different and mutually exclusive perspectives. Of course, a lot does depend on exactly what one means when one uses a term, and the term "linear" can be interpreted in different ways, but I hope I have clarified what it was that I was originally driving at. Other interpretations of the term are totally valid as well.

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I think  you guys are caving in too easily.  What in nature progresses in a linear fashion?  I would argue nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  A linear reality is like the 2 dimensional creatures in Flatland believing there is no third dimension.  A linear view is a mere snapshot of a much longer and more complex curve, as Jon's diagram illlustrates so well.  It is a truncated view point and therefore more misleading than helpful.  So I am holding out, at least for now until someone can persuade me that a linear view of life has much reality attached to it.

Perhaps we need to define what is the distinction between a linear progression and a cyclic one. Maybe that could help.

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Gerry,

Your understanding of the term "linear" here seems to be in line with (no pun intended) the way I meant it in the original post and in that interpretation, I agree. However I still see the point Peter was making in light of the way he understood the term.

I think a purely linear perspective is far too limiting. It tends to hem one in. Applied to one's own lifetime, it renders one's existence almost pointless and it tends to make islands of us. Applied to the universe, it does much the same thing but on a larger scale.

A cyclical view, however, opens one up to infinity and offers a way for one to connect with the universe and all other processes going on. It helps us to get out of ourselves while at the same time placing ourselves within a larger framework.

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I like the images Jon! I also like the concept of the screw that you brought up, because it deepens the dialogue here. One example of a cycle can be depicted best by a circle--simply an endlessly repeating process. But the idea of the spiral adds another dimension to the picture, and I think that in bringing this example to the fore, Jon has opened up a valuable avenue for discussion.

Jon asked:

"In short, if we view cycles as beyond 'time', is there still progression involved?"

I think so, though hat answer comes with some assumptions. I'm not sure exactly what it is, in your examples, that is going through a cycle or what the cycle is, but I am carrying on with the assumption that we're talking about the universe, cycling between manifestation/extension and dormancy. Plato's "Being" and "Becoming" come to mind.

If something exists in the pure, ideal realm of Being and the enters the manifest realm of Becoming, it seems to me that it must undergo some change--simply, it must "Become" something else--and even though by definition, no explicit change can occur while it is withdrawn back into the realm of Being, I think such withdrawal and "rest" must in some way allow for the changes to come when it moves once more into Becoming.

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Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 21, 2013 at 12:15pm
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Another way to visualize the 'spiral' view of cycles is, of course, this:

We can also see the symbol for infinity (∞) in here. It's interesting to consider that the very 'structure of life' is based on the 'form' of a 'progressive cycle'.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 21, 2013 at 2:20pm
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I would argue that a linear view assumes no (or few) past antecedents, as if the only causes for an event, for example, are what happened most recently.  The cyclic view is a much more sage like perspective saying, that everything that happens in the manifest world has an almost endless list of cyclic or past influences.  Drawn into philosophy we could say the one life doctrine is a linear view of human life and reincarnation is a cyclic view.  Both cannot be true you have to choose because at their essence they are incompatible.

HPB suggests, I believe that the events that culminated in the two world wars were karmic accounts from the distant past.  In other words the whole story and the deeper causes of these catacylsmic events cannot be explained by recent history alone.  This view is illustrated most dramatically in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana where odd events occur because of causes set in motion in the distant past.

Lastly a linear view will lead to false conclusions and is therefore dangerous to discovering the truth.

There..... I played the devil's advocate.  Your'e turn

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 21, 2013 at 2:36pm
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I think the main thing to consider is that Peter is providing an alternate definition of 'linear', which differs slightly from perhaps the more common definition, which you're using here.

What we see in all events is a cyclic motion of cause-effect, which as you point out is well expressed in the Mahabharata, but what we also see is a 'progressiveness' of events - a 'moving forward' (through duration), such that a cycle, while bringing us around in a 'circle', so to speak, also moves us forward. This diagram from HPB demonstrates this clearly in terms of the cyclical nature of the root-races:

So, while there is a cycle involved, there is also a 'progression' or a 'moving forward' or a "linear" aspect (in this definition of linear), which in the diagram above would be the 'moving upward' to a new plane.

In the threads-of-a-screw analogy, the 'linear' aspect is the 'straight-line' from the head of the screw to the point, while the cycles turn around that 'axis'.

The thing I would throw out there for consideration is that ultimatelyanything linear (even this 'progressive' nature of cycles) can be imagined to be but the subtle curve of a larger circle - that if you 'zoom out' enough, the 'progression' reveals itself to be but part of a much longer cycle within which the smaller cycles exist. So even our seemingly forward motion is but our limited perspective of the curve of an arc (as in the downward and upward arcs of evolution). And then those arcs can be seen as having a 'linear' aspect themselves (the axis of the screw again), but again we could zoom out even further to reveal another, longer cycle, and so on ad infinitum.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 21, 2013 at 12:12am
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Wow Jon how are we going to compete with this?  What if I play Mozart here? live!

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 21, 2013 at 12:16pm
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;)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 21, 2013 at 12:11am
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I think a linear understanding tends to ignore a recurrent cause and effect relationship, lets say in relation to history.  A linear view would mean that each event is original and new without antecedents of any great distance in time.  A cyclic view might say that causes set in motion in distant life times (think Atlantis) have effects cycling into our present circumstances now. Example: (why is childbirth so difficult for humans at this point in evolution, the rest of the animal kingdom does not suffer as much?)  Maybe it is a cause and effect cycle returning?

HPB seemed to predict WW1 and WW2 when she said many accounts would be reset in the 20th century.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 22, 2013 at 7:52am
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I’m using the word ‘linear’ in one of its standard forms of definition as found in the Oxford English Dictionary. One of these is: ‘arranged in or extending along a straight or nearly straight line.’  Another is: ‘sequential; progressing from one stage to another in a single series of steps.’    I’m using the latter definition.

Of the two definitions above.  

The first relates to a direction in space:-   ‘extending along a straight or nearly straight line.

The second relates to a direction in time:-   ‘progressing from one stage to another…’

A cycle takes place over time.  It is not a direction in space.  However, the passage of time is a linear measurement in the sense that one moment leads to the next and so on.  Therefore a cycle inevitably contains a linear dimension and lasts for a definite period.   

In the above figure each cycle has stages of its own: morning leads to mid-day which leads to afternoon; afternoon leads to evening which leads to night; night leads to morning, a new day & so on.  Seven days make a weekly cycle & so on.  In a year, one season (cycle) leads to another.  From winter - the end of one major cycle - the following spring emerges as the life force becomes active again carrying forward the results of the previous yearly cycle. For as long as the energy lasts and can run its course uninterupted one cycle always leads on to the next.  The period of activity could be an incarnation followed by devachanic rest & so on.   In SD II 68-70 the chronological cycles are set out in some detail: it includes cycles which take place over millions of years and which make up The Days and Nights of Brahma, a Year of Brahma & so on.  

Importantly, there are cycles within cycles and there are also overlapping cycles arising from different sources (one such being the karma generated by ourselves).  While each of these cycles will contain a linear element in themselves, the result of their interaction may either enhance or interrupt the current momentum of either one or both cycles.

To my understanding linear is not the opposite to cyclic.  And in the sense in which I use the term above nor is it better or worse as a view than cyclic.   Without a linear (sequential) element to a cycle we don’t have a cycle at all, merely a set of random unconnected events. 

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 22, 2013 at 8:09am
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Peter wrote:

"

I’m using the word ‘linear’ in one of its standard forms of definition as found in the Oxford English Dictionary. One of these is: ‘arranged in or extending along a straight or nearly straight line.’  Another is: ‘sequential; progressing from one stage to another in a single series of steps.’    I’m using the latter definition.

Of the two definitions above.  

The first relates to a direction in space:-   ‘extending along a straight or nearly straight line.

The second relates to a direction in time:-   ‘progressing from one stage to another…’

A cycle takes place over time.  It is not a direction in space.  However, the passage of time is a linear measurement in the sense that one moment leads to the next and so on.  Therefore a cycle inevitably contains a linear dimension and lasts for a definite period."

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Thanks again for clarifying your perspective, Peter. I think it helps us all to better understand and appreciate what you are saying.

I don't think it's necessary to take a word so literally in order to have a useful discussion that makes use of the word, and it appears to me that both Gerry and I are conceiving of the word in a way that is more closely related to the first definition of linear, but not in such a literal way. What I mean by this is that we don't need to be speaking of a geometric line or any other such concrete line. I think Gerry and I are speaking a bit more "along metaphorical lines." (That pun was intended).  ;-)

Of course, I can't speak for Gerry, but we do seem to be understanding each other.

For my part, to continue from the examples I gave earlier, I was sort of thinking in pictures. Of course life itself runs neither in lines nor in circles, not in a literal sense. However, a "linear" view of a lifetime can be depicted diagrammatically as a straight line with any number of points along the way representing various stages or milestones. Because the viewpoint I am calling "linear" does not include returning to life at all, but instead sees life as a one-shot affair, it would make no sense at all to depict this with a circular diagram.

However, the cyclical view of life does make sense on a circular diagram. And in this sense, linear and cyclic perspectives are not compatible at all (going by the first definition of "linear," anyhow--but by the second definition, sure, absolutely they are compatible.)

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 22, 2013 at 8:32am
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Daniel wrote:  I don't think it's necessary to take a word so literally in order to have a useful discussion that makes use of the word.

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Yes, you are quite right Daniel.  My apologies if that's what I appeared to be doing.  I was just trying to open up the discussion to allow for a meaning of the term 'linear' that wasn't solely a pejorative one.  By giving a dictionary definition i was also showing this wasn't an alternative view to the common view, as Jon suggested.  

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 22, 2013 at 10:21am
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Thanks Peter. I think this view of 'linear' is very important for theosophists to understand. The term 'alternative' was the wrong term.

I agree that the fundamental difference between the way theosophy views cause-effect, verses that of science, is the inclusion of other planes, and not the exclusion of a linear aspect. I think we see these ideas quite similarly, in fact.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 22, 2013 at 9:45am
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Dear Friends;

This has been a wonderful exploration.  I am grateful that Peter is bold and courageous enough to state ideas that might be contrary to what others are saying.  If we are to advance our understanding of any idea it will require breaking new ground and exploration of this nature requires new thinking.  So being challenged in our conceptions is exactly what what we hope for in these discussions so that we might all clarify and elevate our understanding.

Thanks for each and every one of you.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 22, 2013 at 10:32am
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I wanted to pop in and just say that I second what Gerry has written here. I hope that as this discussion has proceeded, I've given enough room for different perspectives.

Naturally I wrote the original post from my own viewpoint and the questions reflect this, but above all I want to assert that when we pose questions here, there are no "right" and "wrong" answers. This is not a class or a quiz, but a discussion and we are here to learn from each other.

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Permalink Reply by Peter on January 22, 2013 at 7:55am
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I’m not sure that a linear view necessarily means a view that limits one to one’s own life time or that it assumes no past antecedents except perhaps causes which happened most recently.   It might do for some people, but that would depend on other factors relating to our overall beliefs or understanding of why we are here and what life is about.   Even at a scientific level, which considers only the physical plane, a linear series of causes and effects can stretch back 5mins, 5 years, or 500 million years.  Both science and theosophy talk in terms of cycles.   However, as I understand it, what distinguishes Theosophy from Science is not that one has a linear view of cause and effect while the other does not, but rather that Theosophy takes into account other planes of existence, particularly consciousness, when it analyses the chain of cause and effect.  Theosophy also takes into account the role of Karma that is generated by our own actions when seeking to understand cause and effect.

Below is a description of the chain of cause and effect which leads to suffering.  It is the Twelve Nidanas as taught by the Buddha.  This translation by the Mahatma KH:

"At the time the blessed Buddha was at Uruvella on the shores of the river Nerovigara as he rested under the Boddhi tree of wisdom after he had become Sambuddha, at the end of the seventh day having his mind fixed on the chain of causation he spake thus: 'from Ignorance spring the samkharas of threefold nature -- productions of body, of speech, of thought. From the samkharas springs consciousness, from consciousness springs name and form, from this spring the six regions (of the six senses the seventh being the property of but the enlightened); from these springs contact from this sensation; from this springs thirst (or desire, Kama, tanha) from thirst attachment, existence, birth, old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection and despair. Again by the destruction of ignorance, the Sankharas are destroyed, and their consciousness name and form, the six regions, contact, sensation, thirst, attachment (selfishness), existence, birth, old age, death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection, and despair are destroyed. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering."  Master KH in Mahatma Letter No 10

It is due to the strong linear element inherent in that chain of cause and effect that we end up bound on the cycle of rebirths according to Buddhism.  And it is because of that same linear element that the buddhists believe the chain can be broken.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 22, 2013 at 10:00am
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OK. Here is a couple of ideas of gentle refutation of the idea.   The linear view of action breaks down from both a spatial and from a time perspective..  Linear meaning straight line (line oriented) is absent in the natural world.  Nothing grows in a straight line because a multitude of different forces demand adaptation and change in the progress of growth.  So a linear model of growth simply does not find much representation in the natural world.

Secondly the sequential aspect of linear progression is also erroneous because no set of actions happen in a vacuum but instead are impinged upon by energies and forces from numerous past antecedents, often which cannot be explained by any action or cause in the viewable past.  Examples:  winning the lottery,  car accidents, earth quakes and various other reversals of fortune just cannot be explained by a linear, sequential model. 

A linear view of time or space indicate a truncated view of a larger pattern and therefore represents a partial truth rather than the whole truth. Plato teaches us that  truth is obscured by that which is partially true or what appears to be true.  This is the problem with the linear view..  It is not that is wrong but that it is misleading.  There is a subtle difference here.  Theosophy encourages us to seek the universal view, the complete view, the whole view and to transcend the partial one.

Please correct me where this line of reasoning has gone wrong.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 22, 2013 at 11:12am
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I think your first paragraph accidentally supports Peter's explanation, when you say: "in the progress of growth". The term 'progress' is exactly the meaning Peter is using. He's not saying that things happen in a straight line, or that causation happens simply like this: "cause-effect-cause-effect-cause-effect..." - all he's saying (in my understanding) is that there's a 'progressive' nature to causation - i.e. things move 'forward', step by step.

So, however complex or 'non-linear' may be the cause-effect relationships, is there not still the experience of having moved 'forward' from one cycle to the next? January 22, 2013 is not the same day as January 22, 2012, because there has been a 'forward' movement. We cycled around the sun, but we also progressed (which is what the wave-diagram Peter shared indicates) - or we might say, we cycled around the sun, but the sun also moved in some direction and thus the path the Earth traced wasn't a circle/ellipse, but rather a corkscrew-looking spiral through space.

I think, though, what we really come down to here is a question of how one understands and experiences Time itself and much of what we're discussing is applicable only from within our experience of time. If we examine HPB's explanation of time we do see the idea of "successiveness" or "progression" (which is the definition of 'linear' that Peter is using), but we are also told that this experience is an illusion:

"Time is only an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration, and it does not exist where no consciousness exists in which the illusion can be produced; but “lies asleep.” The present is only a mathematical line which divides that part of eternal duration which we call the future, from that part which we call the past. Nothing on earth has real duration, for nothing remains without change — or the same — for the billionth part of a second; and the sensation we have of the actuality of the division of “time” known as the present, comes from the blurring of that momentary glimpse, or succession of glimpses, of things that our senses give us, as those things pass from the region of ideals which we call the future, to the region of memories that we name the past. In the same way we experience a sensation of duration in the case of the instantaneous electric spark, by reason of the blurred and continuing impression on the retina. The real person or thing does not consist solely of what is seen at any particular moment, but is composed of the sum of all its various and changing conditions from its appearance in the material form to its disappearance from the earth. It is these “sum-totals” that exist from eternity in the “future,” and pass by degrees through matter, to exist for eternity in the “past.”"

So in this view there is a successiveness to our states of consciousness, which would be a sort of 'moving forward', would it not? And if so, is not that experience of time 'linear', in the sense of a succession (i.e. one step after another, one moment following another, etc.)? And is there any reality to this experience of duration we call time, or is it mere illusion?

The other question to ask would be: can something you do now create an effect in the past? Or is that effect restricted to happening in the future? If karmic results only flow in one direction (i.e. if a cause can only become an effect in the future and not in the past), then we establish a 'linear' progression of karmic action, however complex it may become.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 23, 2013 at 3:29am
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Gerry,  here is a general reply questions.  If I have time I will answer some of your specific points in another message.  This is just my understanding:

Everything in nature, visible and invisible is cyclic.  This is the second fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine.  There are periods of activity and sleep, expansion and contraction, up and down, day follows night, seasons alternate & so on.  Nations and races rise and fall, materially and spiritually.  This is why it is right to ask whether there is a linear element or view at all, and you/we are right to question it and explore it.  HPB supports your view, in part, when she says in the Collected Writings:

"Evolution does not proceed in a straight line; no more than any other process in nature, but journeys on cyclically, as does all the rest. The cyclic serpents swallow their tails like the Serpent of Eternity. And it is in this that the Indian formula, which is a Secret Doctrine teaching, is indeed corroborated by the natural Sciences, and especially by biology."  (CW VIII 122  “The Origin of Evil”)

But we should keep in mind that in her article, from which I have quoted above, HPB was combating a very materialistic view of evolution which a) considered only physical development as its primary basis and b) proposed that the fundamental law of nature was that evolution proceeded in one direction only, namely from unity to an unending and ever increasing diversity, ‘the scattering of the whole into the many’.  Hence HPB’s remark about the serpent swallowing its tail, for Theosophy maintains that the One becomes the many, which becomes the One again.   This happens on a regular basis and is symbolised by out-breathing and inbreathing of the universe.  In each cycle of manifestation of the underlying Life wave a particular stage of development is reached and then the life force is withdrawn, then follows another cycle as the next stage of development is reached & so on.

All I am suggesting is that we cannot rule out a linear element in the unfolding of life through cyclic development.  Nor is it necessarily anti-theosophical or misleading to include the linear in our understanding of cycles. The progression of cycles takes place over time as I’ve attempted to represent in the figure (image) in earlier message.  Each cycle (the major one’s at least) involves a stage of development that leads on from the previous cycle and lays the foundation for the next.  Therefore a cycle necessarily involves a linear progression of some kind both within itself (in order to reach the goal of that cycle) and in relation to the chain of cycles of which it is one of a series and which has an overall goal.   According to the teachings, whatever our karma, our personal merit and demerit, there will be a sixth root race, followed by a seventh; there will also be a fifth, six and seventh round; and after the pralaya that will come at the end of the seventh round, there will be an even ‘higher’ stage of cyclic development with a series of stages and goals of its own.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 23, 2013 at 10:33am
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I’ve sought to respond to your very good points below, Gerry.   I’m not going to continue this particular thread on ‘linear and cyclic’ after this for it’s more important that we explore HPB’s views on cycles, not mine.  But please do respond if you wish, as I have no wish to have the last word.

Gerry:  The linear view of action breaks down from both a spatial and from a time perspective..  Linear meaning straight line (line oriented) is absent in the natural world.  Nothing grows in a straight line because a multitude of different forces demand adaptation and change in the progress of growth.  So a linear model of growth simply does not find much representation in the natural world.

Peter:  Jon has already answered this and has put my view clearer than I can!  I am using the term to mean sequential, one stage following another.  With regards to your reference to  ‘a multitude of different forces’ - see below.

Gerry:  Secondly the sequential aspect of linear progression is also erroneous because no set of actions happen in a vacuum but instead are impinged upon by energies and forces from numerous past antecedents, often which cannot be explained by any action or cause in the viewable past.  Examples:  winning the lottery,  car accidents, earth quakes and various other reversals of fortune just cannot be explained by a linear, sequential model. 

Peter:  I agree; as far as we know not everything can be explained by a sequential model.  However, that doesn’t mean that nothing can be explained by such a model.  It also worth noting that the examples you give above may not even have a cyclical explanation.   As HPB writes:

‘…we are taught that it so happens sometimes that the Karma of a personality is not fully worked out in the birth that follows.  Life is made up of accidents, and the personality that becomes, may be hindered by circumstances from receiving the full due its Karma is entitled to, whether for good or for bad.’  (CW IV 572)

Or, as the Master says in his letter to Sinnett:

‘Accidents occur under the most various circumstances; and men are not only killed accidentally , or die as suicides  but are also murdered -- something we have not even touched upon.’  (ML 21)  

Might you also apply your objection to cycles themselves?  If nothing can develop in a straight line sense because it would have to adapt to different forces which demand growth and change, and if a sequence or progression of stages can never take place because it would be impinged upon by energies and forces from numerous past antecedents, then why should curved lines or cyclic development fare any better?   And if one can, why can’t the other?

Theosophy teaches us that as the life wave passes from globe to globe that one round follows another whether we want it to or not and despite all the billions of years of antecedent causes and their variety of effects.  The same goes for races.  Whether it is rounds or races, the first is followed by the second, the second by the third and so on up to seven in a progressive sequence.  Then a similar series occurs again at a higher level.  Therefore there must be some higher power or powers which ensure the sequential progression of each stage irrespective of the individual monads evolving and developing in that stage and the karma that those monads set in motion.  We refer to these higher powers as Dhyan Chohans, Manus etc.

At the level of the individual, if there was no linear element at all in the chain of cause and effect there would be no value in right view, right action or in any spiritual practice.  For the effects of all causes would simply be random and unpredictable, leaving one cause no more likely than any other in taking us forward on the path.

Gerry: A linear view of time or space indicate a truncated view of a larger pattern and therefore represents a partial truth rather than the whole truth. Plato teaches us that truth is obscured by that which is partially true or what appears to be true.  This is the problem with the linear view..  It is not that is wrong but that it is misleading.  There is a subtle difference here.  Theosophy encourages us to seek the universal view, the complete view, the whole view and to transcend the partial one.

Peter:  I agree in the sense that all our views are partial views whether linear, cyclic, hierarchical, based on the seven principles or whatever.  All our knowledge is relative to the plane of consciousness we act from and to the particular stage of development humanity as reached as a race.

As an aside and not to endorse one view or another, the Secret Doctrine states that Nature geometrizes universally in all her manifestations.  So it’s not unreasonable to seek to understand nature’s workings through the use of circles, dots, lines & so on. 

…we see Cosmic matter scattering and forming itself into elements; grouped into the mystic four within the fifth element-Ether, the lining of Akasa, the Anima Mundi or Mother of Kosmos. " Dots, Lines, Triangles, Cubes, Circles" and finally" Spheres"-why or how? Because, says the Commentary, such is the first law of Nature, and because Nature geometrizes universally in all her manifestations.’  (SD I 97)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 23, 2013 at 11:34am
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Dear Peter;  maybe this is a vain attempt to get the last word but.....I can only reply by retelling the story of Gandhi's visit to the King of England during the years of the Independence movement..  He was wearing his typical  extremely simple home spun loin cloth.  When a British reporter asked, "Mr. Gandhi aren't a bit under dressed for the occasion?" He replied, " I am sure the King is wearing more than enough for the both of us."

You have said enough here for both of us.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 23, 2013 at 11:58am
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Good discussion guys. Really interesting to explore these ideas and consider cycles from a myriad of perspectives. Thanks.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 23, 2013 at 12:08pm
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Yes - too wordy by far.  You can see how absolutely absurd it would be for me to even consider taking up tweeting!  I had wondered about not replying further on this, but you had raised such good points I felt it would be disrespectful not to at least try and address them.

It was a mistake on my part to say i didn't wish to be the last word as this has put you in the uncomfortable position of feeling or looking like you were wanting the last word if you responded.  I had it in mind that I didn't see myself as having the final word on which view was correct but I put it in a very clumsy and amateurish way.  My apologies.

ps: the first two images in the message above are photographs of snowflakes. The other is bismuth crystal.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 31, 2013 at 12:24am
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Actually tweeting might be good training for you Peter.  We should all be so disciplined in our communications.  Now if tweeters could just learn to spell!

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 25, 2013 at 11:56pm
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Peter quoted the Mahatma Letters:

"‘Accidents occur under the most various circumstances; and men are not only killed accidentally , or die as suicides  but are also murdered -- something we have not even touched upon.’  (ML 21)"

Maybe this is an aside but I have often wondered if the invention of the nuclear bomb was such an "accident". It came to mind since Gerry brought up World Wars I and II.

And there, too is some cyclic mojo for ya: History repeats itself!

Permalink Reply by barbaram on January 26, 2013 at 9:32am
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The concept of accident has been a troubling subject for me in the light of Theosophy because it contradicts the Law of Karma.  With any situation, there is always constellation of forces, propelled by multiple karmic reasons, which culminates into an event.   In the world of cause of effect, there does not seem to be room for accidents;  otherwise, how could karma be an universal law.  It would be helpful to hear others' understanding on this matter.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 26, 2013 at 9:49am
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Barbara,

Thank you for this post!

This has puzzled me, too, for quite some time.

Everything I have studied regarding the Law of Karma would indicate that every event is simply the result of many preceding causes--and presumably, this indicates a universe with no beginning and thus no end. When Karma is described as "The Law of Cause and Effect," it is hard to avoid this conclusion.

But then, that would simply be Determinism, wouldn't it? And determinism, to my mind, seems to go along with a mechanistic, materialistic universe, which H.P.B. and her Masters railed against.

So something must give, right? And it seems to me that that "something" is, at the very least, preserved in free will.

In order to remove determinism from the Theosophical picture, there must be some room, somewhere, for chaos--in other words, for randomness, for something that transcends mechanistic determinism.

In an earlier discussion, Peter mentioned that the Lords of Karma are intelligent. They must, then, have some measure of free will, too, must they not? This comes with the suggestion that the Law of Karma must ever compensate for the shifting wiles of free will exercised by other conscious beings.

It seems there are but two valid perspectives: Either karma is flexible and intelligent, in order compensate for a universe populated by beings with free wills, or determinism reigns supreme, which would render karma a superfluous concept--after all, what need is there for karma in a universe in which all is already decided in advance?

I hope my ideas have shed some light on the subject instead of simply making a mess of things. Just know, dear Barbara, that in this questioning, I for one am with you.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 26, 2013 at 12:01pm
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We're taught that the term "chance" has no place in theosophical philosophy, and this I see as completely reasonable in light of the doctrine of karma, but I think the term 'accident' is used in a different manner. If we look at the dictionary definition, accident means something quite different than chaos or coincidence or random or the like:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accident

For instance:

an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance, or

an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance

I believe Daniel is right in that determinism does not fit with theosophical teachings, and that the key is free will. An 'accident' may simply be an 'improbable event'; one that was somewhat unlikely to occur (in terms of sheer probability - for example: how many of us have seen someone wholly unlikely to commit some certain act, whether good or evil, surprising everyone by doing what could not have been predicted of them?) or it may mean simply 'unplanned', so to speak. And to me this could come about due to the way in which the will is able to act from one plane to another, and the way it can be 'hijacked', so to speak, by the personality - causation on the lowest plane continuing along, not blindly, but incessantly driven by countless acts of will originating on other, higher planes.

In the case of a murder, we're taught that the individual murdered will continue to live in their 'astral' for the duration of what their natural life would've been, had they not been murdered (before the 'chord is snapped' and the regular after-death process is allowed to properly begin). Same is said of suicides. So this would seem to indicate that there was a 'plan' for the life, but that through the act of will (or might we say misuse of will) of some individual this plan was derailed. Perhaps this is what is meant by 'accident' - merely an unfortunate or unforeseen/unplanned event due to the ignorant use of will.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 26, 2013 at 12:51pm
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Thanks Jon.

I am still having trouble reconciling all of this, though. Perhaps I am simply looking at this from "within the box"--one box or another, or maybe even several--but it appears to me that either there is room for chance/chaos, or there is determinism of some kind, but that these two pictures are mutually exclusive.

I think a pertinent question here is: Just what is free will? What is its nature? From which plane (or planes) does it act or originate?

Jon, I think, revealed an important piece to this puzzle with the following:

"And to me this could come about due to the way in which the will is able to act from one plane to another, and the way it can be 'hijacked', so to speak, by the personality..."

With this, we can consider free will to be acting from more than one plane at a time--there is the will of the personality and there is the will of Atman, or the Monad--perhaps there are still other loci of free will?

So it seems that we are pinning free will as the "wild card" here, the thing that buttresses the law of karma from binding the universe into utter determinism. But what, then, determines how free will eventually operates?

If there is no room for chance in the universe, then there must be some agency or force that restricts even free will, ensuring that it acts in certain ways--but then, that is still essentially determinism, is it not?

For example, perhaps the highest part of ourselves has a will that is inextricably linked with the highest divine will--that acts always in accord with that will--but this seems deterministic to me. It means that no matter what, things will ultimately play out according to the larger plan, more or less. It would imply that free will is really an illusion, since it is guaranteed to act within certain bounds.

However, if that is not the case, then free will is truly free, with no larger, higher force impinging upon it--then what is it that ultimately determines how it acts? It would then be, for lack of a better term, chaotic, at least as far my finite mind can grasp at this point.

I'm getting repetitive here, but am I making sense?

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 26, 2013 at 12:59pm
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But then the more I think about it, I see other parts of the picture:

Maybe free will is truly and utterly free, but it does also operate in a universe with other laws serving to regulate the effects of any causes that centers of free will set in motion.

For example, there may be a plan for one's given incarnation, a plan which is disrupted by the murder of that person's body--but in that case, there is a contingency plan in place--the person waits out the term of their incarnation in the astral, then eventually reincarnates again, and follows another plan adjusted to compensate for what has now occurred.

So free will can bring about whatever it wants, within its own limited sphere of activity, but that sphere of activity exists within a larger field governed by higher laws, so that no matter what happens within the sphere of free will, there are ways to compensate for it?

This seems to resolve the discrepancy.

Type, type, type...answered my own question with stream-of-consciousness posting.... ;-)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 26, 2013 at 3:47pm
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Now that I've gone on a metaphysical tirade, how about a practical illustration...

Let's say there's a guy named Jon, who laid in bed Friday night and planned out his Saturday. Then he woke up Saturday morning, intent on fulfilling the plan, but alas, there were unaccounted for emails to reply to. And then a skype call came in. And then discussions on Nexus to reply to. And so he sits, at 5pm having exercised his will all throughout the day, but having not even remotely followed his original plan. ;)

Because ours isn't the only 'free-will' in operation, there must be a certain level of 'unpredictability' to our lives that arise from the free-will exercised by others. So we're only ever relatively free to follow our plans. :)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 26, 2013 at 3:36pm
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Good points Daniel. Your questions are all ones I've asked for years as well, while trying to unravel the mystery of "free will".

Ok, so, fair warning in advance: this may end up being a bit too metaphysical and 'out there' ;), but I'll try to explain the way I understand this...

I suspect the 'key' to unwrapping this difficulty resides in the relationships between planes.

We might say, for instance, that within the seemingly 'closed system' of any one plane there is a sort of 'determinism' active. We might say that there is a flow of cause-effect specific to each plane (related elsewhere as "lines of evolution"), and that if we isolate and look at any one of these without considering the others, we might see a sort of 'self-contained determinism' (simply in the sense that the laws that govern the flow on that plane are unchanging for the duration of activity therein, and thus there can be nothing that occurs in that stream of cause-effect that is not restricted (governed) by those laws, and thus, in a sense, predictable - i.e. without any 'outside' influence that flow should be theoretically subject to complete predictability).

But the kicker - the part that forces us to look past 'determinism', without the need for the introduction of randomness or chance - is that operations can and do occur from one plane to another (i.e. from within without). Because of this, the sheer 'determinism' of the stream of cause-effect on any one plane is subject to 'influence' from other, higher planes. Think of it a little like water flowing through a sealed pipe - that flow would be entirely predictable - but add countless joints in the pipe where other pipes enter with varying and relatively non-predictable flows (from a vantage point within the main pipe), and suddenly the predictability of flow in the main pipe is severely lessened.

If we approach planes in the sense that each has its own flow of causation, but that from higher to lower the operations of one plane filter down to effect lower planes, then we can have both predictability and 'accident' (or levels of unpredictability). When we see that the planes are hierarchically endless (i.e. there is never a highest plane nor a lowest), then we can see a relativity in operation such that there is seeming 'chaos' (from any limited perspective) within a boundless system of (hypothetically) perfect predictability (i.e. governed by 'absolute' law).

One way to grasp at this, I think, is to consider applying aspects of chaos theory to theosophical metaphysics. Here are the basics of chaos theory:

Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general. This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable. This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.

One thing chaos theory doesn't take into effect is planes (since it is an entirely materialistic theory). But notice the idea here about "initial conditions". Now, in the theosophical philosophy, when we start talking about the interrelation of planes, we can see that the "initial conditions" on any given plane are being constantly modified by incessant causes arriving from other, higher planes. So, imagine chaos theory, but add in the idea ofnew 'initial conditions' arriving every instant from uncountable sources (individualities), and we might glimpse the idea that while any system is in one sense 'deterministic' (governed by strict laws), they are definitely not entirely predictable.

It is said that the exact duration of the day of Brahma is known and can be calculated, and yet it is said that the exact details of our immediate future cannot be predicted. And to me this illustrates the interplay of predictability and unpredictability in a system - i.e. brahma's day is determined by laws imposed on the system from 'beyond it' (i.e. from higher planes), while within that determinism there is room for dynamic unpredictability. Just as we can predict the exact whirlings of an electron (timed exactly) such that we can build the world's most accurate clock from it, but we cannot predict how the aggregation of particles is going to interact with neighboring particles (i.e. quantum unpredictability). Here we have to 'poles', so to speak, of utter predictability between which reigns relative unpredictability.

We can see within these ideas that will, operating on any plane operates within the limits imposed by the laws governing that plane. It thus makes free-will only ever 'relatively free will' in manifestation. Ultimately, I view this as caused by the interaction of infinite individualized sources (monads) of will, all operating together - the collective totality of will is therefore 'absolute free will', but the actual manifestation of will in any one individualized source acting within any one system is limited because it is only one of many and its will is not above those others. One eastern idea is that when one reaches 'enlightenment' one attains the power of Brahma - i.e. the power to create or uncreate the entire universe at will - but this is not under the will of the individual but is rather the (abstract) will of the totality.

So, in any case, this is basically how I currently view some of these ideas after far too many years of battling with them ;). Take with a grain of salt, as this could be nonsense, of course.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 26, 2013 at 4:20pm
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Wow, Jon!

I think I was trying to say something close to what you wrote here, but you explained it a lot more clearly than I would have been able to.

I think some of the mysteries of will simply can't be grasped by our finite minds.

Something I want to point out about my posts is that when I wrote of "chaos," the concept I was trying to frame is that which you described as "unpredictability," which comes a lot closer to the mark. When we hear the words "chaos" or "random," we often think of something that is inimical to the idea of an ordered universe and in that sense it was a poor choice of words on my part.

That "unpredictability" is where I get stuck--it can also be described simply as pure, creative essence, and could be thought of as analogous to Parabrahm. Speaking of initial conditions, this unconditioned source is where the initial conditions of everything ultimately come from, right? Right there, at the very threshold between the manifest and the unmanifest is where this is all ultimately decided, is it not?

And what could possibly constrain Will operating at that level? I would posit that not only is that Will unfathomable and thus unpredictable to us, it is so far beyond any boundaries at all that there's no way to know or predict--no law that determines how that Will should operate or what it should manifest. Not until Parabrahm limits itself, becoming finite and triggering manifestation. Before that, there is simply potential.

In a word, chaos (just as good/bad a word as any, since it "could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude").

And at that threshold, I think the lines between order and chaos break down along with all other lines, merging together in ways we can scarcely imagine.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on January 27, 2013 at 3:25pm
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Hello,

The way I see, at least for now and I may be totally wrong, is that the circumstances in which we find ourselves are results of seeds that we sowed in the past, like we are born into a particular family, involved in particular relationships with different individuals, associated with a particular ethnicity, doing different lines of work, etc.

It is our reactions to the different situations where free will comes into the picture.  For instance, say, I walk to the park and run into someone I used to know and our relationship was less than amiable.  This is moment where choice  comes in because there are many ways I can to relate to this event - do I run away, do I act indifferent, do I act hostile,  do I talk about our past issues, do I relate to the person with loving kindness, etc. etc.    The situation is karmic; it offers an opportunity to undo past misunderstandings or mistakes.   My behavior to this person creates new karma.  In other words, we are reaping the results of our actions every moment and creating new causes all the time.   The free will lies in how we live our life everyday and how we deal with every situation.   As we grow, our reactions to the external world change and our karma follow similar patterns.

This still does not address the subject of accidents.  Regarding the idea that there are numerous forces on the different planes which could interfere with physical events, thus we cannot look at karma from one-dimension angle, I would think that there must be some resonance between the forces on different planes which culminates into an event.    Things are not isolated, coming out of thin air.  The law of attraction and repulsion must play a huge role in any manifestation, precipitated by the flow of karma. 

Well, I think this is not something I can understand with my finite mind. 

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 22, 2013 at 11:09am
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This is great Peter. Thanks. :)

I think 'linear' has become one of those taboo words. What is interesting to me is to attempt to consider it outside of our experience of time, and in relation simply to endless duration. Is there a perspective outside of our past-present-future experience of time from which even the progressive nature of cycles would be seen to be illusory?

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 23, 2013 at 12:03pm
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How does shifting from a linear viewpoint to a cyclical viewpoint affect our relationship with the world around us?

Just speaking for myself, but when I began to explore the idea that we are currently on an "upward arc", which leads back to our original source, and started contemplating the idea of a 'return journey' of the pilgrim-soul back to the essential One Self, I began to view the very purpose of my life differently. I began to see less value in acquiring material things/comfort/etc. and more value on what is happening within, spiritually. This really shifted the focus of my life, and has established a more holistic approach to the 'purpose of life'. It's also changed the way I view humanity as a whole, and my role as one of many.

Basically, my entire 'value system' has been overhauled by the concept of cycles.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 25, 2013 at 11:46pm
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I thought of another example of linear vs. cyclical views that seems pertinent in the world we live in today:

The cycle of consumption--and it is, after all, a cycle, no matter how we might view it. However, many people take a truncated perspective of it, to the detriment of the planet. That view is:

Buy something, use it, throw it away--end of story. Without looking past this at all, many people buy new things that they really don't need and just as easily throw away the old one. But there is more to this than such a perspective takes into account:

What materials and resources were consumed in producing the item? In shipping/distribution, in marketing it, in advertising it?

For how long will it be truly useful to me, if at all? Other considerations that might fit here are also Theosophical in nature, for example: What aspect of my nature does the item cater to? I.e., is its sole function to satiate an ephemeral desire? What effect will that have on me, and having served its purpose...

...can it be disposed of safely or in such a way as to allow its materials to be used again for something else? Can the item be returned to nature to complete a round of the consumption cycle and start a new one in a reasonable amount of time?

As a society, we produce so much plastic junk that:

-Serves no truly valuable or lasting purpose

-Caters only to our lower desires, and then

-Can't be recycled easily, and so sits in a landfill taking up space and polluting the planet.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 29, 2013 at 12:44pm
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Daniel wrote:  I think a pertinent question here is: Just what is free will? What is its nature? From which plane (or planes) does it act or originate?

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This is my understanding - our free will acts on the terrestrial plane as this is where we generate our karma.  The organ of free will is the lower manas which acts in conjunction with kama. The lower manas is a ray of the Higher Ego (Manas proper, the Individuality).  This ray is pure at birth but become ‘soiled’ through its contact with the kama (desire) principle.   Kama is the force of volition and will (derived from the universal sakti/force).  When lead by kama (desire) the lower manas gravitates downward to earthly desires.  It is up to the lower manas (the mind or the personal ego) to take control of the reins and guide that force in the right direction i.e. in harmony with universal law.  Whatever choice is made generates karma (good or bad) which affects future incarnations.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 30, 2013 at 4:05am
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It might have seemed strange to see free will related to the mind (lower manas) and the principle of kama (not to be confused with karma) in the above post.  On looking through the Collected Writings of HPB this morning I came across the passage below, which might throw a little more light on the subject.  It’s worth recalling that theosophy asserts that evolution proceeds in rounds and races.  There are seven Rounds, each containing seven Root Races.   Our current humanity is in its 4th Round and collectively has reached its 5thsub-race of the 5th Root Race.  Here is the passage from HPB:

'. . the gradual development of man’s seven principles and physical senses has to be coincident and on parallel lines with Rounds and Root-races. Our fifth race has so far developed but its five senses. Now, if the Kama or Will-principle of the “Fourth-rounders” has already reached that stage of its evolution when the automatic acts, the unmotivated instincts and impulses of its childhood and youth, instead of following external stimuli, will have become acts of will framed constantly in conjunction with the mind (Manas), thus making of every man on earth of that race a free agent, a fully responsible being—the Kama of our hardly adult fifth race is only slowly approaching it.'    (CW V 144)

Manas (mind) along with the Kama Rupa (vehicle of desire) was awakened in humanity in the 3rd Root Race of this 4th Round.  Manas only becomes fully developed in humanity in the next, the 5th Round.  The above passage indicates that the development of our free will is intimately connected with Kama which is the principle undergoing its major development in this 4th Round, under the direction (hopefully) of mind.   

Theosophy says that Manas proper, the Higher Ego is a god, a kumara, Divine and omniscient on its own plane.  Hence, being too pure it cannot act on this, our terrestrial, plane.  Therefore it projects a ray which, clothed in matter and thus forgetfull of its origins, gains experience in the terrestrial world.  Those experiences that are worthy of assimilation into the Higher Ego are absorbed during Devachan - the period of rest between incarnations.   This ‘ray’ is what is termed the lower manas (our common idea of mind) and in conjunction with kama is the core of the personality - the alter ego of the Higher.

Corrections and improvements welcome.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 30, 2013 at 7:49am
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What of the concept of uniting the Kamic will with the will of the Higher Ego, by way of yoga and/or ceremonial magick?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 30, 2013 at 12:33pm
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Daniel;

Would you mind offering a brief but essential explanation of what you think of when you think of yoga and ceremonical magick?

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 30, 2013 at 1:55pm
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Daniel asks: What of the concept of uniting the Kamic will with the will of the Higher Ego, by way of yoga and/or ceremonial magick?

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Daniel, It seems to me your question above is really about method, which is a different question to the one I was responding to, namely, 'what is free will, its nature and from which plane (or planes) does it act or originate?'  So, my response is more about who or what choses rather than whether a particular method is valid or not.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 31, 2013 at 12:36am
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One thing seems to be clear, and that is the will must be purified.  Is it engaged on behalf of a separative self or is it engaged for the benefit of others?  This is the core question to me.  Philosophically this has to do with the examination of our motives for why we do things or proceed in different directions, practices etc..  Are our spiritual practices done to improve our own lot or to uplift humanity? What is our real motive?  When we ask ourselves these types of questions it is very humbling and we get a better idea from which notion of "self" we are currently operating from.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 30, 2013 at 2:30pm
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I suppose it would be helpful to delve deeper into what we mean with terms like "kamic will" or "the will of the Higher Ego". It's difficult, I think, to make these distinctions without any real first-hand knowledge of exactly how/where will originates in the complete human being.

"Kamic will" does seem like possibly a bit of a misnomer to me, as, in my understanding, the will does not originate from the Kamic principle, but moreso that it directs the Kamic principle. So, I suppose we could say that our will can be utilized from a place of ignorance wherein the kamic element in us is predominant (which would seem to be the case among most of humanity - as Peter says, this is our condition in the fourth round). But Kama can also be directed 'upwards', so to speak, being used (by the will) as aspiration instead of as base (or personal) desire. In this sense, I don't see it so much that there is or has been a 'separation' of our power of will that now needs to be 'united', but rather that our will is merely being misdirected or misused. And so I would see that our efforts need simply to be redirected, or the focus of our will shifted. Perhaps this is what you were getting at, but using different terminology.

The question of method is certainly a difficult one. I have a subtle sense that one day I will see more clearly which efforts have been truly helpful on this path and which were either unhelpful or merely distractions conjured by the personal self. And this is where I think method goes hand in hand with the philosophical study. If a method is founded on mistaken notions then it may ultimately be proved to be unhelpful, and I think this could be said for much of what passes under the name "yoga" in our world, and though I have less understanding of it, I would guess the same could be said for ceremonial magick (I'm assuming there is an array of methods or practices that could be thought of as existing under this umbrella). Ultimately, each individual pilgrim will work through, and experiment with many methods as they progress; it is a very individual experience in that sense.

It does seem to me that yoga (in its ultimate sense of 'union'), whether it be raja or jnana or another yoga, are ultimately exercises of the will, and it seems to me that one of the goals, or perhaps the primary goal, is to bring this will into a one-directional, concentrated or focused 'stream', so to speak, such that one becomes more able to self-consciously act in accordance with the Higher Self, or rather to align one's will with the impersonal "desire" of the Universal Self.

I can't speak to ceremonial magick in this regard, simply to due my own ignorance, but I suspect that the same goal must underlie the motivations of the practitioner -or, I should say, I would hope the same goal would be present in the motivations, as that (the nature of the motive) seems to me to make the difference as to whether one will be successful or not.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 30, 2013 at 8:58pm
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I'll answer to several points in one go, here:

Peter wrote:

"Daniel, It seems to me your question above is really about method, which is a different question to the one I was responding to, namely, 'what is free will, its nature and from which plane (or planes) does it act or originate?'  So, my response is more about who or what choses rather than whether a particular method is valid or not."

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My question was not at all about the validity of any given method. I asked, "what of the concept," not "what of the method." Perhaps I was not clear enough. Peter, in your previous post you made what I understood to be the suggestion that will originates from kama-manas, from our lower principles. By asking my question regarding uniting one's lower will with one's higher will, I was introducing (in what I hoped would be a less-confrontational way) the idea that our will does not, in fact, truly originate from kama-manas, or the idea that perhaps, as we ourselves are "compound beings," perhaps we actually have more than one will....this in line with Jon's statement that:

" 'Kamic will' does seem like possibly a bit of a misnomer to me, as, in my understanding, the will does not originate from the Kamic principle, but moreso that it directs the Kamic principle."

This is a bit more in line with my own understanding. It is certainly my experience that kama-manas has a "will" (of sorts) of its own, or at least certain strong tendencies that seem on the surface to have the characteristics of a will. It certainly knows what it wants! However, that which I truly consider to be one's will is something above that, something that brings kama-manas to bear, or at least it should.

Jon brings up the point:

"In this sense, I don't see it so much that there is or has been a 'separation' of our power of will that now needs to be 'united', but rather that our will is merely being misdirected or misused."

and later writes:

"...and it seems to me that one of the goals, or perhaps the primary goal, is to bring this will into a one-directional, concentrated or focused 'stream', so to speak, such that one becomes more able to self-consciously act in accordance with the Higher Self, or rather to align one's will with the impersonal "desire" of the Universal Self."

If one can speak of a "Higher Self" (as opposed to a lower self), then there must be room in the picture for the concept of separation. I myself experience a separation in this power of will, or perhaps it is more of a "fluctuation" between higher priorities and lower ones. Whether or not this separation is actual is one thing, but under what are now normal conditions in this world, there at least seems to be a separation between the self that appears to exist at the level of kama-manas and the Higher Self above that. I can attest to this apparent fragmentation from personal experience. This may well be just an illusion. So:

Gerry asks:

"Would you mind offering a brief but essential explanation of what you think of when you think of yoga and ceremonical magick?"

"Yoga" means "union" and, as I see it, it is essentially the process of unifying one's lower self (personality, kama-manas) with one's Higher Self (Atma-buddhi-manas). At least, this is what it looks like to us before we've actually accomplished the task. However, as Jon has astutely pointed out, there is no true separation and the real task is more one of a shifting in orientation or alignment, bringing the various aspects of ourselves into harmony under the direction and guidance of the true will which originates from ourSelf at the level of Atma-Buddhi-Manas. So from this perspective it's not about coming into union but more about coming to perceive the union that already exists.

Ceremonial magick as I see it is indistinguishable from yoga. It has been called "The Yoga of the West." Different techniques and tools from those that are more commonly associated with the term "yoga," but ultimately the same process. Anything in ceremonial magick that does not directly contribute to bringing about this union is a distraction at best and a disaster at worst. Unfortunately CM gets a bad rap in Theosophical circles, but we had that discussion elsewhere and as I mentioned earlier in this post, my concern in bringing them up was never one of method--it was simply a roundabout way of bringing up the concept that our true will does not originate in kama-manas. After all, if there exist several sets of techniques for bringing one's Higher will into active expression, then that will must exist, must it not?

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 30, 2013 at 9:35pm
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Thanks Daniel. I get the sense that overall we're looking at this question and the essential 'goal' in the same way. I struggle with terminology, of course, and with my own lack of true understanding as to the source of will and its true role in our constitution. I suppose whether we phrase it in terms of union or in terms of focus or shifting of orientation or concentration, etc., we're really getting at the same fundamental problem - that our sense of self and therefore the use to which our will is being directed is at present in some way limited or misdirected.

I think looking at it in terms of separation is valid in one sense, as that is essentially the illusion we're all coming at this problem from (i.e. we all do think we're separate, and that our "higher Self" is something different from "me", etc.). So, the approach of 'union' does seem fitting to our situation. I think it may be somewhat inaccurate though, to say that our will is 'separated' in this way, and overall we do want to begin leaving behind concepts that rest on the idea of separation and begin trying to conceptualize from a perspective of unity (as much as possible).

If our sense of self is 'separated' (or we're under that delusion) I think our will is still essentially whole and one. For instance, when we go to sleep tonight, our will continues to operate on higher planes wherein this sense of separation either does not exist or is at least substantially less. So, even through the course of a day our will may operate both through a 'lower' and a 'higher' self (or, rather though one self in both its higher and lower aspects), or both through a situation in which 'separation' seems to exist and a situation in which it does not. So I would venture to say that our will is one aspect of our being (sourced, I believe in the highest cosmic principles - without will, how else would any vehicles at all be formed?) but that this will is utilized through different aspects of our being in different ways, more or less limited in accordance with where our sense of self resides.

We can thus tie this into the concept of cycles if we see that the will acts on various planes, moving from higher to lower and back to higher through one 'cycle' of waking/sleeping (or life/death), and 'following', so to speak, the movement of our 'identity' (i.e. our sense of self) as it moves from higher to lower. It remains as 'one will', holistic, and yet operates through an array of aspects of our being following a cyclic trend.

I think, overall, this isn't saying anything different than you've said, just perhaps in different wording. And language is certainly tricky in these subjects.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 30, 2013 at 10:03pm
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Jon wrote:

"We can thus tie this into the concept of cycles if we see that the will acts on various planes, moving from higher to lower and back to higher through one 'cycle' of waking/sleeping (or life/death), and 'following', so to speak, the movement of our 'identity' (i.e. our sense of self) as it moves from higher to lower. It remains as 'one will', holistic, and yet operates through an array of aspects of our being following a cyclic trend."

This is interesting--it is as if, throughout the day, our consciousness undergoes a cycle that in many ways reflects the longer cycle that brings us through a lifetime--from the morning "birth" of waking to the nocturnal "death" of sleep. And, furthermore, these daily cycles also reflect the even longer cycle of involution/evolution: As we wake, our consciousness descends from higher planes into this material world and at night it does the opposite while our body rests.

In this and many other ways is humanity a microcosm of the whole universe.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 30, 2013 at 10:17pm
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Absolutely! It really opens up the philosophy when we start making these kinds of correspondences and seeing the 'large' mirrored in the 'small'. I think we can learn a lot from exploring our waking/dreaming cycle.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 31, 2013 at 9:04am
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I clearly didn’t grasp the meaning intended in your brief post, Daniel.  Sorry. 

I think there are some very interesting points raised in all the messages.  There may well be many kinds of will or merely the one will which operates on different planes - that’s something to be explored.  For example, Universal Law could be seen as Universal Will, which the Ah-Hi (the dhyan chohans) have no choice but to obey, as they have no free will of their own.   I’m really trying to understand what Theosophy means by ‘free-will’ in relation to Karma - which was our original question - not what is meant by will in general which is a much broader question.

To clarify then -  as I understand it, in Theosophy the organ of free will is the lower manas, the personal ego.  This is the agent (of the Higher Ego) that can act either with universal Law or against it - generating what is called ‘personal karma’ in the process.  Our free will is free only within the Law.  While free to choose, it suffers the consequences of going against universal harmony.

This personal ego also has kama as part of its make up. The question is whether the mind loses itself in its identification with the kama principle or is able to disentangle itself from it.  It asserts its free will as it disentangles itself from the selfish desires and volitions of kama.   As HPB writes:

This “Mind” is manas, or rather its lower reflection, which whenever it disconnects itself, for the time being, with kama, becomes the guide of the highest mental faculties, and is the organ of the free will in physical man.’  (CW XII 358, my emphasis)

However, as HPB also states:

‘Remember that Kama, while the parent of bad passions and emotions, helps you to evolve, by giving also the desire and impulse necessary for rising.’  (Inner Group Teachings, p58).

So the dark side of kama may well be the result of what we have made of it up to now, rather than what it is in itself. This ties in with the quote I have already given:

‘Now, if the Kama or Will-principle of the “Fourth-rounders” has already reached that stage of its evolution when the automatic acts, the unmotivated instincts and impulses of its childhood and youth, instead of following external stimuli, will have become acts of will framed constantly in conjunction with the mind (Manas), thus making of every man on earth of that race a free agent, a fully responsible being—the Kama of our hardly adult fifth race is only slowly approaching it.’  (CW V 144)

HPB also refers to the Kama Rupa as ‘the will body’.  When describing what principles are left after the death of the body and dissipation of the linga-sarira she says:

‘There now remain the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh principles: the body of will; the human soul; the spiritual soul, and pure spirit, which is a facet of the Eternal.’   (CW VI 109)

The kama principle as our kama rupa is also referred to by the Mahatma M as “the centre of energy, volition - will”  and which is derived from “the Universal Sakti - the Will Force, or universal energy”, (Letters to Sinnett, no.13 ; T. Barker Edition).

So, whatever other kinds of will there may be,  the free will of the lower manas (the ray of the Higher Ego) and the will force of the kama principle are intimately connected and are both derived, ultimately, from the universal.

In terms of union with the Self, here is a quote from the Mahatma M, from that same letter, discussing the seven principles:

‘[The individuality] to run successfully its seven-fold downward and upward course has to assimilate to itself the eternal life-power residing but in the seventh and then blend the three (fourth, fifth and seventh) into one -- the sixth. Those who succeed in doing so become Buddhs, Dyan Chohans, etc. The chief object of our struggles and initiations  is to achieve this union while yet on this earth.’ (ML 13)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 31, 2013 at 11:52am
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Thanks Peter. These quotes are invaluable. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for me ;)

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on January 31, 2013 at 12:44pm
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Thanks Peter.

In your post, you repeatedly emphasize the word "free" in free will, and I am glad you did this. It helps clarify a lot.

Yes, I do suppose that our higher will (that of our Higher Self) would itself be either in harmony with or identical to the universal will, and thus would be different from what we think of as free will. Put into this context, I now understand what you were trying to get across.

Your post really harmonized the various viewpoints that have been expressed here so far. Thank you for that.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Peter on February 1, 2013 at 1:28pm
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When we look at the nature of free will in relation to the seven principles we begin to get a glimpse of what the stakes are and the difficulties involved.  The current state of the kama principle (and therefore of kama-manas) both individually and collectively is that it ceaselessly runs out towards the senses and reinforces our sense of selfishness and separateness, and this comes to colour, if not poison, our whole thinking and attitude to life and others. The karma we generate from this must surely be enormous.  We have to consciously lift our sight heavenward, so to speak, to 'that' which encompasses and includes all beings, and as best we can work to help others do likewise - each in their own way. 

                 'Fix thy Soul's gaze upon the star whose ray thou art..'  

                                          (The Voice of the Silence.)

Permalink Reply by Peter on February 8, 2013 at 4:42am
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The extracts below are from William Judge's chapter on 'Kama and Desire' and are particularly relevant to our discussion on Free Will.  

'Kama and Desire' by William Judge

"The passions and desires are not produced by the body, but, on the contrary, the body is caused to be by the former. It is desire and passion which caused us to be born, and will bring us to birth again and again in this body or in some other.  It is by passion and desire we are made to evolve through the mansions of death called lives on earth. It was by the arising of desire in the unknown first cause, the one absolute existence, that the whole collection of worlds was manifested, and by means of the influence of desire in the now manifested world is the latter kept in existence. . . 

"This fourth principle is the balance principle of the whole seven. It stands in the middle, and from it the ways go up or down. It is the basis of action and the mover of the will. As the old Hermetists say: "Behind will stands desire." For whether we wish to do well or ill we have to first arouse within us the desire for either course. The good man who at last becomes even a sage had at one time in his many lives to arouse the desire for the company of holy men and to keep his desire for progress alive in order to continue on his way. Even a Buddha or a Jesus had first to make a vow, which is a desire, in some life, that he would save the world or some part of it, and to persevere with the desire alive in his heart through countless lives. And equally so, on the other hand, the bad man life after life took unto himself low, selfish, wicked desires, thus debasing instead of purifying this principle. On the material and scientific side of occultism, the use of the inner hidden powers of our nature, if this principle of desire be not strong the master power of imagination cannot do its work, because though it makes a mold or matrix the will cannot act unless it is moved, directed, and kept up to pitch by desire. . .

"The desires and passions, therefore, have two aspects, the one being low and the other high. The low is that shown by the constant placing of the consciousness entirely below in the body and the astral body; the high comes from the influence of and aspiration to the trinity above, of Mind, Buddhi, and Spirit. This fourth principle is like the sign Libra in the path of the Sun through the Zodiac; when the Sun (who is the real man) reaches that sign he trembles in the balance. Should he go back the worlds would be destroyed; he goes onward, and the whole human race is lifted up to perfection. . .

"The God within begins with Manas or mind, and it is the struggle between this God and the brute below which Theosophy speaks of and warns about. The lower principle is called bad because by comparison with the higher it is so, but still it is the basis of action. We cannot rise unless self first asserts itself in the desire to do better. In this aspect it is called rajas or the active and bad quality, as distinguished from tamas, or the quality of darkness and indifference. Rising is not possible unless rajas is present to give the impulse, and by the use of this principle of passion all the higher qualities are brought to at last so refine and elevate our desires that they may be continually placed upon truth and spirit. By this Theosophy does not teach that the passions are to be pandered to or satiated, for a more pernicious doctrine was never taught, but the injunction is to make use of the activity given by the fourth principle so as to ever rise and not to fall under the dominion of the dark quality that ends with annihilation, after having begun in selfishness and indifference."

(From The Ocean of Theosophy by W. Q. Judge)

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on February 14, 2013 at 9:52am
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Thank you for sharing these paragraphs with us, Peter. I think these are important points. It suggests that right relationship with desire is not necessarily cut and dried. "Desire" is often seen as something to be discouraged on the spiritual path, but these paragraphs point to something different than simple negation.

I think this selection is equally applicable to the discussion on Karma.