There is Grace and there is Karma. Karma is Grace kicking butt. When Jesus said, “Father, Forgive them, they know not what they do,” he was being Grace in action, compassionate and kind–on a cross: the inevitability of goodness crushed beneath the weight of power lusting for power, and, also, the power of unrelenting Grace at work in the way Grace works.
Jesus died, and nothing changed. Everything remained tightly in place with the mighty running roughshod over the helpless, and the people playing their games to gain the advantage over one another and get ahead. The milieu, the sitz im leben, the matrix, the umwelt, the gestalt of the social order was what it had been, and would be, across time and place.
And, within that environment, Karma was at work making weal and creating woe. The general welfare was depressed and desperate. Kings were being poisoned by their close advisors. Coups were overthrowing rulers. Deceit and deception were being broadcast throughout the land in every land. Nothing was what it appeared to be, and everything was exactly what you might expect, given the universal discarding, dismissal and denial of the good on all levels.
Yet, all the while, something was stirring in the darkness–as it always does. Grace was about. The idea of justice was coming to the surface of consciousness.
From close to the beginning of human existence, the soft values have been sown among the people–all people, every people–along with the hard values. Justice, mercy/compassion, peace, kindness, gentleness, beauty, goodness, love, generosity, etc. have always been mixed in with ruthlessness, cruelty, meanness, littleness, pettiness, greed, hatred, vengeance, vindictiveness, lying, duplicity, etc.–with the hard values having the upper hand by virtue of their propensity to destroy everything in sight. But, the soft values are the most determined and pliable of things, and cannot be eradicated, even though they suffer silently out of sight, always looking for an opening to break out and come forth as boon and blessing upon all of life. Grace is forever at work in everything that happens everywhere, whether it is apparent or not.
One of the manifestations of Grace is in the idea of a better life in a better world that will not be silenced or forgotten. It is the work of the soft values rising like yeast in the dough of hard values, to alter, transform, demolish and replace the old world with the new. The hope is old past remembering: “The old has passed away! Behold! The new has come!” Grace is Karma’s way–Karma is Grace’s way–of balancing things out and giving the heart at the center of life and being a chance to shape life after its own image.
Karma is the force of Grace in the service of life (And the Tao is the force of Karma/Grace, Grace/Karma seen as One, The Way of Tao is the Way of Grace/Karma, Karma/Grace in action). “You have to pay the piper.” “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” “What goes around, comes around.” “You reap what you sow.” “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” “Your chickens will come home to roost.” “There is always a day of reckoning.” “There are no free rides.” “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” These are all ways of talking about Grace using Karma to kick butt. They say nothing about the Grace of forgiveness, or any of the other soft values.
Karma is a natural force working within the framework of life so that things become just what they are. Forgiveness (and all the soft values) work also within the framework of life to create a space for possibilities that could not exist without the nurture and cultivation of “something more” than the hard values can conceive or produce.
The Grace of Karma and the Grace of forgiveness, etc., work to produce a world that is more than the world is capable of experiencing on its own. On its own, the world is rocks smashing into rocks, where “every action creates an equal and opposite reaction” world without end, amen. But there is more to Grace than that. Within that scheme, Grace brings the soft values into play, and introduces what we might think of as a spiritual level of complexity in the world of physical matter.
“Spiritual” is a felt reality that is invisible in a different way than physical matter can be invisible. The invisibility of physical matter is dependent upon us devising mechanisms to “see” what we cannot “see” with instruments that are currently available, depicting wavelengths that are beyond our present perception. We may well develop ways of “seeing” spiritual realities (like “heart,” “soul,” “mind,” “meaning,” and all of the values, principles and character traits), but my bet is with things remaining in the “felt sense” spectrum of human experience and not coming into the “hard-and-fast facts” spectrum.
The spiritual is the felt sense of the Way of Tao being Karma/Grace, Grace/Karma at work in our experience of our life and our world. It has to be “taken on faith,” “believed” in order to be seen, to the extent that it can be seen, heard, to the degree it can be heard, understood to the level that it can be understood. With the entrance of the spiritual into our life experience, we enter into The Mystery of more than we can know, of more than can be thought, grasped, comprehended, explained, expressed, communicated. It is an experience of wonder, of Grace, of what we cannot say.
And, in this way, the spiritual, The Mystery, is like dark matter. We posit it as being “there,” but we cannot prove it, or know more about it than “it is.” So we fold it into our ever-expanding theory of existence, and await further reflection, realization, insight and understanding. This is where theories based on “belief” and “taking things on faith,” depart from theories that are doctrines and theology, and form the ground of religion. A theory that is open to further experience, experimentation and reflection is quite different from a theory that closes itself off from those things and seals itself into a world where the future must be the past forever, unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable through all eternity.
Long before Jesus was born, and in the centuries following his death, the idea of democracy was coming to life in the collective mind of human beings, being tested here and there, being refined and clarified, and burst forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States–continuing to be further refined and clarified to this day. Soft values imposing themselves in a world run by hard values. Grace coming forth through Karma.
Karma exhibits the value of the soft values. History is a reckoning of life preferring soft to hard. Look at the places where hard values have ruled and at the places where soft values held sway. Where has life languished and suffered? Where has life excelled and thrived? History favors the soft side. Karma does, as well.