We are now in a position to turn our attention to a more practical question–namely, what for us is right and what is wrong? If the main teaching of the previous pages be true–the teaching that God is working out a great purpose and that we ourselves are within that purpose–then obviously, as soon as people reach that level of development at which they are capable of apprehending that truth, the highest good and the greatest wisdom for them is to order their own lives in accord with that purpose so far as they can discover it. All, therefore, that tends to assist evolution, which is the unfolding or working out of God’s purpose, is right and to be practiced. All that tends to hinder or delay evolution is wrong and to be avoided. That is a simple proposition–so simple that it seems at first sight almost absurdly unnecessary to state it. Yet it is probably because this simple, almost self-evident truth is overlooked–possibly because it is too simple to be noticed–that so many learned people often get involved and entangled in complicated arguments when they attempt to discover for themselves and to teach others what exactly is right and what is wrong. On this main point let us keep to this main proposition: namely, that to live and work in intelligent accord with God’s plan and purpose is right; and to live and work in opposition to that purpose is wrong.
What Is The Purpose?
Let us, then, consider what in the main is God’s plan and purpose. The answer to this question, too, is really simple if we can believe that there is only one God and that He is wholly good. The plan is, on that hypothesis, to bring all seemingly separated beings to a condition of conscious oneness with each other and with God. That condition is described in the Christian religion as the Atonement, which simply means At-one-ment. That condition, when it is realized, will be a condition of perfect love, for the consciousness of oneness is love. All, therefore, in our life and conduct that springs from love and is inspired by love is good and right. Contrariwise, all that springs from hatred and is inspired by hatred is evil and wrong.
There are degrees of love and degrees of hatred. We may love more or less and we may hate more or less. We may love at one moment and hate at another moment, or we may love some people in some degree and hate others in some degree. But love and hatred in themselves are qualities which differ in kind from–and are entirely opposite to–each other, the one being always good and the other being always evil. Without going further into detail, that very simple proposition may be taken as a safe guide throughout the whole of life. With that proposition or principle as a guide, we never need be in doubt as to what, broadly speaking, is right and what is wrong for us. However, we must realize that self-satisfaction is not love. Rather love–as it proceeds from God, and as we have to learn to express it in our lives–is self-sacrifice and not self-satisfaction, though there is a lofty satisfaction in sacrificing the lower self in the interest of those whom we love. We never need be in doubt as to what, broadly speaking, is right and what is wrong for us. But to do the right when we see it, and to avoid the wrong when we know it, is a very much more difficult matter–as every one who reads this is well aware.
A Matter Of The Soul
The difficulty arises from the weakness of the soul in the embodied condition at our present state of evolution or development. All through the human stage of evolution we are learning to cooperate intelligently with God’s purpose. We are learning to be godlike on this lowest material plane of nature, which is the plane of life in physical bodies. The animals are in a very different condition, living by instinct. Unlike us, they are not discovering the purpose of their existence and gradually learning to cooperate intelligently with that purpose, which is God’s purpose. They are not self-conscious as we are. We can teach an animal a good deal, but we cannot teach an animal anything about the purpose of its existence, or how to consciously live its life in accordance with that purpose. That tremendous lesson can only begin to be learnt when the human kingdom is entered, and a “living soul” or man is formed (Genesis 2:7).
And that soul in its earliest stages as a living soul or man is very ignorant and very weak. He gradually learns and gradually gains strength. In his earliest incarnations he makes many, many mistakes. He does the wrong over and over again, and suffers for it. He is, in his ignorance, opposing the purpose of God, though he himself is, in essence, a fragment of God dipped down into a body to do God’s work and to learn this very lesson. That being so, God is not angry with him when he makes mistakes–why should He be? The suffering that comes to him when he makes mistakes is not a punishment inflicted on him by God. It is simply the inevitable result of opposing the purpose of God. When someone falls from a tree he experiences pain, but the pain is not a punishment. Nevertheless, because of the pain he learns to be more careful when in the future he climbs trees. So human beings gradually learn not to do the things that have painful results. They gradually learn in this way what is right and what is wrong, what is in accord and what is out of accord with the great plan of God. And by avoiding the wrong they gain greater strength to do the right. But it takes many, many lives on earth, with intervals of assimilation of earth’s lessons in between, to learn the lessons and to gain strength.
Cause And Effect
It is the soul who learns and who grows gradually stronger. Sometimes the painful effects of wrongdoing do not follow immediately upon the doing of the wrong. They may not even follow in the same life. But the soul sees the connection between the effect and the cause, however widely these may be separated, and he makes a note of it. Then, when the lower personality (perhaps even in a still later life) is inclined to do again the wrong deed, the soul sends down warnings, and these warnings are what we call conscience. The soul may neglect to send the warnings or, if he does send them, the lower personality may take no notice of them and do again the same wrong deed. Then more pain follows. This may happen–and often does happen, as we know only too well–over and over again, even when we know that an action is wrong. We must always suffer for such action, even though in the lower personality we may not always be able to connect the suffering with the wrongdoing. But the soul knows, and gradually in this way he gains knowledge and acquires strength, and impresses his will more and more upon his lower personalities in successive incarnations. Thus we grow, wiser and wiser and stronger and stronger. It is all splendidly arranged, and perfectly just. When we are right, then happiness follows.
To be or to do right is to be in accord with God’s plan. And the realization of God’s satisfaction as His plan takes the shape that He wants it to take is happiness. And when we are wrong, then pain follows. To be or to do wrong is to be out of accord with God’s plan, and so not only not to experience God’s satisfaction, but to meet the opposition of God’s purpose to our actions–and that is pain. This law never fails. It is the law of cause and effect, and is generally known as the law of Karma, an eastern word which means action and implies reaction. It is very just, and it is very effectual. Under that law we learn what exactly is right and what exactly is wrong–and, more than that, we learn to avoid the wrong and to choose the right, and so we acquire strength.
That we are still weak in certain respects only means that we have not yet learnt all the lessons of human life. But, though we all are weak in some respects, we must remember that we are not altogether weak. At the stage at which most of us are now we have acquired a considerable amount of strength. We have lived many hundreds of lives already, and in that time our souls have gained a great deal of knowledge and experience, and have acquired many of the qualities which they seek to acquire as the result of repeated incarnations. We do not now behave as savages behave. We could not do so. Nor are we generally coarse, vulgar, obscene, and filthy; still less are we “earthly, sensual, and devilish” (James 3:15). We have long since left those stages behind, and we are not really likely ever to return to them again. But still we need to acquire other qualities before we can pass from the human to a yet higher kingdom. And for this we need still greater strength of will, for we still have to avoid at higher levels the wrong, which for ages we have neither recognized nor sought to avoid.