The Adjustment Bureau starring Emily Blunt and Matt Damon is one of my favorite movies. I can’t remember exactly how many times I have seen this movie but it must have been at least 5 times. I see many parallels with my life in this movie.
The Adjustment Bureau is primarily about fate versus free will but it is also about the power of love. In the movie there are these “adjusters” who try to keep our lives within certain boundaries or more accurately they prevent deviations from the “plan.” They do their best to prevent us from deviating from the “plan” and sometimes forcefully apply a correction. It seems that there is a hierarchy of these agents (angels) and the ones at the lower levels do not know the big picture. What the lower level agents perceive as deviations may already be predestined by the higher level agents. From this movie I get the message that free will is very limited.
What is my personal opinion? I am absolutely convinced that the general outlines of our lives are pre-determined. We have free will but it operates within the bounds of the general outline. The life frame is set but there are many decision points within the frame. We are not allowed to wander outside of the karmic framework of fate. At the decision points there is freedom of choice but there is also a pre-determined choice—meaning that not all choices look equally viable or probable. In fact, at some decision points you are left with only one choice, and you are forced to take it. Sometimes, the right choice is so obvious that you better take it.
I suppose the frame of life is pretty wide for certain people and very narrow for others. In either case we have limited free will. If we deviate from the pre-determined path at the decision point, new branches will appear in our life frame. The decision points of the new branches will have a different set of pre-determined choices. It is amazing that all possibilities and the corresponding default choices are known to God.
If we have such a limited free will then how is it that God holds us responsible? My short answer is that we have limited free will in terms of choices and actions but we have complete freedom in how we handle the reactions to our actions.
The Law of Karma takes the ‘free will factor’ into account. I think that it is not so much about our choices; rather, it is about how we handle the consequences. Do we face the difficulties in life with courage? Do we have honor and integrity? Do we manage to keep a good attitude? Do we strive for grace?
Karmic debt is acquired when living beings suffer harm caused by another being. There is no doubt about that. It gets complicated very quickly when all the reasons, choices, consequences and the degree of free will are taken into account. Is the Law of Karma that complicated? Yes it is. If there is divine justice then it has to be that complicated.
I believe with all my heart that there is divine justice therefore I also believe that the Law of Karma is very precise and necessarily complicated. The simplicity is in its certainty. I will reap what I sow; I will pay karmic debt. So will you.
There is an interesting aspect of the karmic debt. There is karmic interest. It gets compounded when the justice is delayed. If you consciously delay your karmic payment you will pay it with interest when the time comes. If you do not face divine justice in your current lifetime, you will face it in the next lifetime, and your payment will be much higher than the original debt. This is why it is wise to ask for immediate punishment when you think or know that you violated a cardinal rule of morality. It is also wise to ask for forgiveness and practice atonement if you hurt someone’s feelings. If that person still hates you and cannot forgive, then you are bound to face each other again.
The Law of Karma is symmetric. It works equally well for good deeds. You will get your rewards for doing service and helping others, for putting smiles on people’s faces, for your inventions and your scientific discoveries and for your poetry and music. There is divine justice. You will get your rewards sooner or later, either in this lifetime or in the lifetimes to come.
Coming back to the default (pre-determined) choices at the decision points, those pre-determined choices do not always bring pleasure and happiness to us. Most of those default choices are the enforcements of the Law of Karma but some of them are put in there for our special education. Those special ones do not necessarily bring pleasure either. In fact, they might bring you very painful experiences. In some spiritual philosophies it is said that all suffering is caused by desire or by desire that goes unfulfilled which is another way of stating the Law of Karma. It seems to me that there are experiences designed to move us on a faster track in spiritual development. Those special paths are independent of our karma. Those special experiences are very painful but if you can go trough them with honor and integrity you will be much closer to ‘home.’
I don’t think of the special education experiences as tests. They provide shortcuts in our return journey. The shortcut, the faster track, will be necessarily difficult and full of dangers. While going through the experience we may lose our faith. This is very sad to see. It can happen to the best of us. We get angry at God and lose our faith. It is ironic that the reason you are going through that very painful experience is because God wants you do develop spiritually. We all experienced this. In the middle of the pain and suffering there are two choices: 1) lose faith 2) or say ‘I am in your hands, God! This situation is beyond my control. I have faith that you are the only one who has control, and I accept it and will learn and grow from it.’
I know how difficult it is to keep faith in extreme suffering but please remember why this is happening to you. It may actually be divine justice, you may be paying your karmic debt, but remember, it may also be happening because of the special attention you are getting. How great is it to have the special attention of God? I am willing to suffer if it is going to bring me closer to God.
I see life experiences as manifestations of divine justice and special education. Remember, special education experiences are not tests. This is in clear contrast with some of the religions and philosophies.
In the Middle-East the prevailing view is that the entire human life is a series of tests. The basis of that view is that God judges people’s lives from the outside. In my opinion, God does not judge, God simply loves. God wants us to come home and bring our soul with us. We are lost in the wilderness. We lost our ways. It is true that God sent us into the wilderness in the first place. We don’t understand the cosmic reasons for that. We simply say it is a Liila, a Cosmic Drama. We are players in this drama. We are supposed to go home by discovering our true identity.
Our actions and thoughts are creating endless reactions and we are getting entangled in those reactions. That’s why it is so difficult to find our way home. Entanglements are tying us down, preventing our liberation from bondage.
The secret all sages teach is that we should not own the results of our actions. Let God own those reactions. We are bound by the Law of Karma but don’t forget that the Law of Karma is driven by feeling, or emotional, reactions first and mental, or intellectual, reactions second. The physical pain and pleasure we cause in others registers as karmic reactions too but the feelings create much deeper impressions on the karmic plate.
No matter what happens in life remember that God loves you. No matter how good or bad your fate is, please keep your devotional love alive. Please do not lose your faith. The very act of loving God prevents entanglements.