KARMA & THE ETHICS OF THELEMA
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”
Wayne W. Dyer
Not all popular wisdom is wisdom; and in my life I seek to question everything until experience speaks for itself (to the best of my ability to remain neutral), not bound by the expectation of fulfilling a cognitively biased truth. Wisdom for me is an extraction from many different singular sources, rearranged into oneself hand in hand with experience. This essay is not going to be a long analysis comparing and contrasting Buddhist and Hindu doctrines and ethics with every line of Crowley’s writings – Frater IAO131 has done a thorough job with ethical themes in Thelema, and Erwin Hessle has written a solid composition on what it means to Do what thou wilt. The purpose of this essay is to share what I’ve learned about ethics and Karma AS a Thelemite who has had to face my own faults. My hope to anyone reading this blog is that they can relate and find some insights to apply in their Work.
Here is what my experience has shown me in matters Karma:
- No negativity “comes back to bite me” if I act for the sake of the act, i.e. honestly without guilt.
- Others may treat you as they’d like to be treated, but that is not always how you wish to be treated, no matter how far you go out of your way to understand them.
- Some don’t treat you the way they’d like to be treated at all no matter how well you treat them.
Here are my understandings of the points above:
1. Ethics, as mainstream society understands them to be, are constructs in order to imbue us with a sense of “shoulds” and “should nots” to keep our acts aligned with the relative harmony of any given society.
I posit that the nature of ethics lies firstly in the differentiation between acts and intentions, secondly in the evaluation of whether an act aligns with a society or culture, thirdly whether an act aligns with intent, and lastly whether an intention aligns with one’s Great Work.
The benefit/damage of any intention depends on the Sephirotic/Qliphotic balance of the individual, and therefore an intention with the least amount of inner conflict is a better one. Hence, the transcendence of ethics into aesthetics. Thelema is very much a system that focuses on the purification of intentions in order to keep an individual from restricting his potential and higher self. We then act (or not act) based upon our intent. In this way, living ethically becomes self-liberating, without promise of “negativity coming to those who do you harm” or “positivity coming to you” because you think you’re doing God’s work by giving some money to a hobo. This is how savior complexes begin. What you are really receiving is a lesson from yourself to yourself in generosity and gratitude. That although you can not know for sure whether he will use the money to help himself, or kill himself, you have done your work in letting go, and planted a seed that will blossom when you are shown the same generosity one day.
On a more abstract note, the Crowley quote “It is necessary that we stop, once and for all, this ignorant meddling with other people’s business. Each individual must be.” applies not only to obvious interference but subtle ones.
I was sitting outside on the steps having a cigarette break with my husband, and saw a limping crow amongst a murder, all searching for food individually. The others did not help the injured crow, nor was the injured crow crying out for attention and pity. We humans unlike animals, with our variety of hoarded resources have the capacity to help one another, but only in ways we can (and as our balance allows) – when we cannot, but still try to “treat others the way we wish to be treated,” we are actually acquiring negative Karma. We begin to resent the world and frustratingly ask, “why do they not help me when I have given everything to help others?” This problem in our society today has even evolved into “Why are they not helping [insert arbitrary group here] when I have worked so hard to help [said group]?”
2. This brings us to a neat transition into the next observation. Negative Karma has a way of reinforcing ideals which cannot be met, sending one spiraling into more negative Karma. The first step “off the path” has a lot of potential to disorientate, especially when it happens quickly from lack of mindfulness.
The problem occurs when we have expectations of the actions of others. These expectations arise when we are not acting from balanced intention, and project our discontent with ourselves externally to other people.
When we do NOT “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we are attempting to rebalance our past acts made from imbalanced intentions. Unfortunately, this never works because we need to console ourselves internally, not project them externally.
Ethics only exist in context of a goal – in this case, the Great Work, which relies on individual rectification, i.e. the “orbit of each star.” One must remember that “There are no ‘standards of Right’. Ethics is balderdash. Each Star must go on its own orbit. To hell with ‘moral principle’; there is no such thing.” A.C. As humans, unpredictability unnerves us – it is a glimpse of a truth we all know but hide to ourselves; that ultimately we have no control over anything. We would like for people to fit our ideals, and we would like to pretend that somehow the universe is on our side, rewarding the “good” and punishing the “bad.” Karma in popular wisdom, and even in Thelemic circles has devolved as a concept, placing the priority to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes instead of promoting Each Star finding and going with its own orbit. The argument I hear most often is that Thelemites “need the liberty” of having their toes not stepped on in order to find their orbit – but it is from the Law that Liberty shines through, and I daresay it will be their first task as a Thelemite to protect their own feet.
It would be nice if everyone avoided stepping on anyone’s toes, you say. But would it? This may be positive Karma for some and negative Karma for others.
57. DE NECESSITATE VOLUNTATIS. (On the Necessity of the Will)
And how then (sayest thou) shall I reconcile this Art Magick with that Way of the Tao which achieveth all Things by doing nothing? But this have I already declared to thee in Part, showing that thou canst do no Magick save it be thy Nature to do Magick and so the true Nothing for thee. For to do nothing signifieth to interfere with nothing so that for a Magician to do no Magick is to commit Violence on himself. Yet learn also that all Action is in some sense Magick, being an essential Part of that Great Magical Work which we call Nature. Then thou hast no free Will? Verily, thou hast said. Yet nevertheless it is thy necessary Destiny to act with that free Will. Thou canst do nothing save in accordance with that true Nature of thine and of all Things, and every Phenomenon is the Resultant of the Totality of Forces; Amen. Then thou needest take no Thought and make no Effort? Thou sayest sooth; yet, art thou not compelled to Thought and Effort in the Way of Nature? Yea, I, thy Father, work for thee solicitously, and also I laugh at thy Perplexities; for so was it foreordained that I should do, by Me, from the Beginning.
3. By following one’s orbit, one avoids negative Karma anyway. But before we know our Wills, we can only escape Karma by means of a strict regimen like this system, or that of the Noble 8-Fold Path. This helps us not step off the path and spiral down into negativity. You can only beat the system if you can master it.
We create our heavens and our hells, and I’m inclined to believe the existence of an afterlife is absolutely irrelevant to my existence. Depending on the definition of reincarnation, I either believe in it or don’t – I believe parts of us are reborn all the time, and we are constantly changing. This is the view from “below.” However, I believe in this one lifetime of mine, that the present is all that exists, and if we look at the timeline of history from “above”, we will not see linear reincarnations, but everybody and everything in manifestation all at once. Magickal memory is therefore not tapping into the past, but tapping into the planes above. Similarly, divination and premonitions are also getting a glimpse from above. Synchronicities become a sign of alignment with the above; a sign that one is manifesting these things by means of magick, with all things being under Will.
So woe is he, who feels the world treats him unfairly – but once we learn to be grateful for the pain and disillusionment that has triggered our transcendence, we are forced to understand suffering in a multi-faceted way. Sometimes we have no choice but to bring others pain. The same pain that we face can either weaken us or strengthen us and it is up to the responsibility of the individual star to decide that. All else is out of our hands.