Understanding Karma
by Dena Merriam

Since my early years I have been intent on understanding more deeply the workings of the law of cause and effect. By understanding this complex and subtle law of life, I thought, I will address circumstances, events, relationships and behavior patterns in my current life with greater awareness. Of course, one doesn’t need to see into the distant past to know the issues one must work on.

Over the course of many years, I came to see the behavioral patterns I wanted to change and knew that I had carried them with me from the past. But seeing my previous births helped me to understand better the work I have been called to do in this life and helped me see a path forward for the future.

My first premonitions of a previous birth came to me when I was around thirty as my then husband and I were becoming more distant from one another. I cannot say that I understood what I was seeing or handled the insights in the best manner, but a door opened, and that door was not to be shut again. Some years later, I began having vivid, full-life recollections of a birth just previous to this, and then of one previous to that, and then a birth before that one, and so on, going back in time several hundred years.

This experience gave me insight into how one life weaves into the next and into the next, sometimes deepening patterns of behavior until a conscious effort is made to change. For example, I remembered several lives where I felt my voice as a woman was muted. I felt I didn’t have control over my life as decisions were made for me, not by me. It was no wonder, then, that in my current life I found myself forming an NGO called the Global Peace Initiative of Women to help raise the voices of women globally. But it took a lot of effort on my part to get to the point where I could raise my own voice and be heard. It was as if my current life was a culmination of aspirations from the past, where I could bring to fruition something I could not even imagine during an earlier time.

I also came to understand that the law of karma is not a system of punishment and reward but a way the universe seeks to rebalance itself. Actions, words, and even thoughts are energies put forth that reverberate and eventually must be neutralized in some way. Every action causes a reaction, so says the law of physics, and just as there are physical laws that govern the universe, there are also spiritual laws. This law of return could take one lifetime, a hundred years or a thousand, depending on so many factors.

A key teaching for me was the collapse of time, because on any given day we may be working through samskaras (imprints from the past) from many different time periods. We are in fact a culmination of all we have been. I also discovered a new relationship with death, which I came to view as a passage into another dimension for rest and renewal and a time to set the blueprint for what comes next. There is no external authority determining our course. It is we who set the course of our journey, most often unconsciously. But we can do it more consciously and begin to set our future course in the direction we desire. If the past has determined our current life, our current life is setting the blueprint for the next. And it is far more important to focus on the future than the past: Who do you want to become? What relationships do you want to resolve? What patterns of thinking and behavior do you want to change? Each life offers us an opportunity to address these issues, to overcome what we are most unhappy about, in terms of our own character and circumstances. It is important to remember that we all sail our own ships. We just have to become more conscious of that truth, awaken our will and make the changes we want. It is, after all, our own striving that brings about the results.

Perhaps the most inspiring and heartwarming lesson from my experiences is the endurance of love, the love of dear ones we meet again and again but most especially the love of our guides and teachers who patiently and unceasingly appear to guide us to the higher course. Whether we see them or not, whether we recognize them or not, they are there, for everyone.

After writing my first book, which traces my journey through a number of lifetimes, I thought I had seen everything I was to see. But some years later, I was again back in time, only much further back, to a totally different era, which I wrote about in a second book. It was not the outer descriptions of life events that touched me so deeply but rather the teachings that I received from a woman master, teachings that perhaps I hadn’t understood at that time.

My story is everyone’s story, because we all have had such a great variety of experiences. We have all been rich and poor, experienced different ethnicities and religions, lived in various parts of the world, been male and female, but the real question is what does it all lead to? What do we do with our life now? How do we integrate all the experiences from the past and begin to more consciously direct our future? And most importantly, can we spread the love we have received and experienced so that we may be vehicles of upliftment for others?

MerriamDena Merriam is the author of When the Bright Moon Rises, My Journey Through Time, The Untold Story of Sita, and Rukmini and the Turning of Time. A renowned international interfaith leader, she is the founder of the Global Peace Initiative of Women and has been a student of Paramahansa Yogananda for 45 years.


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