Page 34, from Einstein Simplified by Sidney Harris. Copyright 1989 by Sidney Harris. By permission of Sidney Harris.
Page 44, from the Doctor Fun series published on the Internet. By permission of David Farley.
“Am I Blue?” from Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-87, copyright 1986 by Alice Walker, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company and David Higham Associates Limited.
“The Slaughterer” translated by Mirra Ginsburg from The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Copyright 1982 by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. and Jonathan Cape, Limited.
“A Mother’s Tale” from The Collected Short Prose of James Agee, copyright 1969 by The James Agee Trust. Attempts to contact the copyright holder were unsuccessful, and the Houghton Mifflin Company book in which the story appeared is out-of-print. The publisher, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, would welcome any information concerning the status of The James Agee Trust, and regrets not being able to obtain permission to reprint.
Table of Contents
Expanding Our View of Life 7
Answering Life’s Big Questions 17
All Life Is Our Family 39
Vegetarianism, Meat-Eating, and Suffering 54
The Nature of Right and Wrong72
Karma Clarified—The Fairness Machine 82
A Reverence for All Life: Three Short Stories 107
“Am I Blue?,” by Alice Walker 109
“A Mother’s Tale,” by James Agee 112
“The Slaughterer,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer 125
Suggestions for Further Reading 134
It is a significant feature of recent times that we are encouraged to probe, question, and think about every aspect of life. We may remind ourselves this was not always the case. For thousands of years this activity was the prerogative of philosophers and theologians—the people were expected to comply with the opinions and beliefs of their time and place. In the last few hundred years the philosophers and clergy have been gradually supplanted by the scientist.
Now, in our present times, the ideal of universal education encourages each one of us to establish our answers for ourselves. Knowledge, in principle, is equally available to all, and nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in the unregulated flow of information through the worldwide web.
If a guideline for life is to be meaningful today, clearly it has to withstand the scrutiny of logic and reason. It also has to be sufficiently far-reaching and universal so as to remain valid in the context of our technological and multi-cultural societies. We are challenged by the different outlooks and beliefs of our friends and neighbors to widen our perspective and find universal principles that unite us on life’s common ground.
This book asks the reader to open his or her mind to consider what may be for some a new perspective—a universal, spiritual view of life that sits comfortably with a scientific
approach. It is a perspective that helps to resolve some of the great contradictions we all face. The book’s message, that life is fair and we only ever get what we deserve, will not make sense, however, if we look at life through a narrow window. The author therefore asks us to step back and perceive life more broadly. He presents to us the way mystics see life and shows us how their vision complements and enriches a scientific world view.
By “mystics,” he means those people who, throughout history and in all parts of the world, have spoken of a level of spirit that is common to the great religious traditions. They are people who—through direct perception or illumination, not thinking or analysis—have experienced the formless loving power in which all life has its source. Building on our reason and logic, if we take their vision and understanding as our framework, we find that all life is endowed with meaning and purpose.
“Life,” the book says, “does not make complete sense to us because we have no sense of the completeness of life.”
Mystics describe reality in terms of two fundamental principles: love, the very stuff of existence, the positive power that energizes everything; and justice, the law of cause and effect that weaves and dyes the complex patterns of creation and ensures that its fabric never wears away.
The focus of this book is the principle of justice—and most importantly, that correct understanding and application of the workings of this principle are essential if we are to experience the divine potential of the more fundamental and all-embracing principle of love.
Using metaphors drawn from our daily experience, the author describes how the law of action and reaction, of cause and effect, reaches much further than we commonly understand. As he presents us with a vision of the vastness of life and conveys how the principle of justice operates at subtle spiritual levels of which we are not normally aware, he leads us to understand why things happen in the way they do. Looking at life from this perspective, we find that practical questions of right and wrong can be resolved, and we have the basis for a logical and universal moral code.
It is simple: positive actions produce positive results; negative actions produce negative results; no action goes unanswered; and the principle of perfect justice links everyone and everything through all time and space. At the individual level, once we understand that we only get back from life whatever we give, it makes sense to act positively if we want a positive, happy life.
Since killing is an action that always carries its consequence of pain and suffering, a life of non-violence—including not eating animals—is a natural outcome of this understanding. Vegetarianism is also the preferred choice for many who simply choose to live in harmony with what they sense to be the essentially loving, or positive, nature of creation. Compassion, the active concern for the well-being of all life, is the crossroads where we can lift our human lot to a higher experience of being. It is our opportunity to give ear to the divine instinct within each one of us and, through the way we live, transmute the principle of balance and perfect justice that rules the world into the experience of love.
Before asking the reader to consider what may be for many a new perspective, the author questions some assumptions that underlie our common perceptions of everyday life. Next he sets about providing a more comprehensive picture of life, including those aspects which we cannot readily see. With this foundation hethen turns to the implications of divine justice for everyday life, and discusses the importance of carefully choosing what we eat to sustain ourselves. Research on the health effects of meat-eating is also presented to support the book’s arguments relating to vegetarianism.
Also included are two essays which expand upon the central themes of Life is Fair: morality and the law of karma, or divine justice. The first essay examines the nature of right and wrong, and how a “moral compass” would work if such a device actually existed. The essay on karma—“The Fairness Machine”—will be of particular interest to
those who want to know how the moral law of justice ensures that we always reap the consequences of our actions.
The Society is privileged to include at the end of the book three short stories by distinguished authors: the Pulitzer prize winners Alice Walker and James Agee, and a winner of the Nobel prize for literature, Isaac Bashevis Singer. With striking literary accomplishment, each author conveys a message about the oneness of life. It is a fact that by whatever measures we use to define ourselves—by species, culture, gender, lifestyle, or convictions—we also separate ourselves from all others. We remove ourselves from those we think are not like us. If they suffer, it means nothing to us for they are something else, beyond the reach of our compassion. We are who we are. They are who they are.
Why do we suffer when someone we love is suffering? Because we feel connected to them. These stories are included in the book because each one takes us across a barrier we might not normally cross. They draw us into the heart of the other’s experience and raise the question: are the fears, the confusion, the joy, and the love felt by others so different from our own feelings?
In the conviction that a respect for all life marks an important step on the road to self-knowledge, it is with great pleasure that the Society presents this clear and modern explanation of how the moral law of justice works.
Radha Soami Satsang Beas February 1998
Expanding Our View of Life Question: Master, the most helpful thing I have received from your lips is when you said, “You get only what you deserve.”
Answer: What I mean by “we get only what we deserve” is that whatever we have done in the past, we have sown certain seeds to deserve what we are getting now. We reap what we have sown in the past, and now we deserve it. Therefore, we should always do those actions of which we want to reap the desired results.
Master Charan Singh, The Master Answers1
Calvin and Hobbes Watterson. Reprinted with permission of Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.
Life is fair. We get what we deserve.
To many people, these are outrageous statements. How could life possibly be fair when there are so many obvious injustices? Babies being born blind. Murderers escaping punishment. Nefarious swindlers prospering at the expense of innocent victims.
Yes, it is indeed difficult to imagine that life is fair. But consider, for a moment, that it is true. Is it possible that life appears unfair only because we are not seeing the completeness of life? Could a limited view of existence be the reason why we fail to see how, and why, every living being gets precisely what it deserves—no more, and no less?
If we came to believe that the correct answer to these questions is yes, then every aspect of our life would take on new significance. We could no longer blame fickle fate or happenstance when bad things occur to us. We also would find it easier not to blame others when life isn’t to our liking. We would take a fresh look at everything we do and think, with the knowledge that whatever we send out into the world, both the good and the bad, one day will return to us in like measure.
Life is Fair says this is exactly how life works. But if we are to understand how justice operates in the world, we must first study life’s big picture. We cannot examine life only from the point of view of the material sciences. We must also look at life from a spiritual perspective. Then we will learn that as human beings we are in a unique position. Like no other living beings, we have the capacity to understand the subtle laws that govern the world. With this knowledge, we can then make choices that will lead us toward the harmony and happiness every person seeks in one way or another.
Just as the material sciences provide explanations for many of the things that happen to us, so does the spiritual perspective explain why we suffer or why we are happy. It shows us that there are good reasons for everything that happens to us. We get what we deserve. And this way of understanding pins the responsibility for what we do, and what happens to us, squarely upon ourselves. Any distress we cause to others—whether human or animal—is registered in the atmosphere of our consciousness, where it returns to us in the form of storms of pain and misery. If we get blown off course on the way to the Land of Happiness, that squall is of our own making.
Once we come to accept that the law of cause and effect governs all life, both physical and metaphysical, we see that every thought and action assumes a moral dimension. All that we do and think leaves its mark. A long journey is made of many short steps. The overall course of our life is determined by decisions made every instant. Moment by moment, an unceasing flow of mental and physical action carves the channels through which the ship of our self sails in the future. Our loftiest goals and most down-to-earth activities are seamlessly linked.
In a similar fashion, readers will find an intimate blend of philosophical issues and practical concerns in Life is Fair. In almost the same breath there may be talk about both carrots and the cosmos, about the nitty-gritty reality of the food we keep in our refrigerator and the ethereal nature of spiritual reality. Still, underlying the words on all the pages is one basic assumption: whatever we do in life, we usually do because we think it will make us—or those around us—happy.
If this is true, and it seems obvious that it is, then it is important to know what produces happiness or peace of mind. Unless this is known with certainty, our efforts to move in that direction unknowingly may be leading us the wrong way.
Deserve more happiness? Become more deserving.
Science is beginning to come up with some intriguing partial answers to the all-important question of why some people are happier than others. Studies of sets of identical twins (some of whom were raised together, and some apart) have found that one-half or more of our tendency to be happy is fixed at birth. That is, at least half of the happiness we experience as an adult apparently flows from genetic influences, and the rest from other causes.
J.B. Handelsman 1996 from The New Yorker Collection. All rights reserved.
It is a sobering thought to realize that factors beyond our control produce so much of our happiness (or sadness). I’m born. Zap! Fifty percent of my tendency for future joy and sorrow is determined before I even take my first breath. Can this be fair? Only if our life is part of a continuum of existence that began long before we were born and will continue long after we die—if not for eternity.
This immediately moves us into a broader view of life than our everyday experience usually is able to provide. We need a perspective that encompasses far more than the minute slice of existence with which most of us currently are familiar.
There is more to life than meets the eye
If you are one of the many who believe there is no evidence for any sort of reality beyond the physical world, it may be helpful to remember that even to understand material reality we have to expand our horizons. Even matter has various levels which cannot readily be known. The page on which these words are printed appears to be solid when viewed with the human eye. Delving deeper with the aid of a powerful microscope, this piece of paper would take on a completely different appearance. And at the most basic sub-atomic level, science tells us that the “matter” of this page consists of ethereal waves of pulsating energy.
If we challenge the existence of the spiritual world because the tools we use to understand material reality do not demonstrate it to us, we may be reacting like a person who denies the sub-atomic reality of this page because he cannot see it through a magnifying glass.
Life is Fair, therefore, asks you to temporarily suspend some of your assumptions about reality. Entertain the possibility that there is more to life than meets the eye, and that this “more” can be known by conducting the proper experiments. For the most part, we see our life unfold, but fail to realize what produces the circumstances that surround us: our health, our wealth, our loves and hates, our joys and sorrows. If we apply the proven method of scientific investigation—rigorous testing of hypothesized truths—to spiritual existence, perhaps we can understand life in a more holistic and meaningful way.
The spiritual perspective underlying these arguments arises from the experience of unity at the heart of life. The reader is asked to consider that the separations we commonly make—such as between mind and matter, people and animals, heaven and earth, God and the creation—limit our understanding of a far-reaching moral law.
The experience of unity challenges our usual presumption that a big difference exists between the world “out there” and the world “in here”; that is, between rocks, clouds, trees, animals, and all the rest of the physical world which we see, and hear, and touch with our senses, and the seemingly vastly different inner reality of our thoughts, fears, joys, loves, and desires.
Going beyond reflections of reflections
If the cosmos is indeed a whole, you might well ask, “Why does everything appear so fractured?” Perhaps this simple experiment provides the beginning of an answer.
Stand in front of a large mirror and hold a small mirror in your hand, the glass facing toward your reflection. You will see a hand holding a mirror, which contains an image of a hand holding a mirror, which contains an image of a hand holding a mirror, and so on, apparently without end. Amazing! One hand and one mirror produced all of these myriad reflections. Appearances certainly can deceive.
Similarly, we can think about the world outside—or inside—of ourselves, and then think about those thoughts, and then think about the thoughts about our thoughts. If we keep on in this fashion, we may even become a great philosopher, or a theologian, or a madman. Yet no matter how long and how intensely we may reflect upon images of mirrors within mirrors, or ponder thoughts about thinking, the simple reality of what lies beneath appearances will elude us.
We need a higher perspective.
You can supply that broader vision yourself in the case of the mirror within the mirror, because you know that you’re the one producing the illusion. When you lower your hand, the images inside the images disappear. You’re left with a single reality. However, when thinking about thoughts, or feeling feelings, the situation is more complicated. Where is the vantage point on which we can stand and clearly see our own self?
Here’s the problem: How do I figure out what life is, and therefore how I should live—which includes how I behave toward other forms of life—when I can’t even figure out what or who is doing the figuring? This conundrum drives many to rely on faith as the answer to life’s biggest questions.
Don’t have too much faith in faith
All in all, faith is an over-rated virtue. At its best, faith is a promissory note for truth—an I.O.U. to be grasped until the hard coin of certainty is handed over. At its worst, faith gives its holder the illusion of possessing something substantial. A mirage is mistaken for reality. Since different people often have faith in completely contradictory beliefs, clearly some faith is well-founded, and some faith is groundless.
Faith is like a signpost that can be made to point either way at a fork in the road. You can have complete faith that you are travelling in the right direction, but if it turns out that you’re on the wrong road you’ll never get to your destination. Anyone who has become lost while driving a car knows this.
Truth, then, has to lie down one path or the other. If one accepts that there is an objective reality independent of any individual’s perception of that reality—and both material science and the spiritual world view tell us that there is—then it seems impossible that completely opposed explanations of existence are both right.
So rather than relying on a signpost that swings in one direction, then the other, a detailed map of the surrounding area would be a better guide. Using the map to explore the territory yourself clearly would be best of all, since then you would have no doubt about the correct route. Such is the method of science, moving from faith to facts.
Weather always is fair
The scientific method has had tremendous success in laying bare the mysteries of the world “out there.” We enjoy the advances of science every time we turn on a microwave oven, use a computer, or talk by phone to a friend halfway around the world. Science accomplishes so much because it assumes that life is fair. The world makes sense. Nature is not arbitrary. There are laws waiting to be discovered through proper investigation, and then used to our advantage.
Consider how our view of the weather has changed during the past few decades. As a child, many readers will remember looking at a barometer to tell whether or not a storm was coming. With a change in air pressure, the pointer would move closer to either the “fair” or “stormy” marks on the dial. Yes, there were weather forecasts on radio and television, but they seemed barely more accurate than consulting the primitive barometer hanging in the kitchen.
Now we are accustomed to seeing remarkable satellite photographs on the nightly news. In the western United States, for instance, the weather man or woman can point to a storm system developing many hundreds of miles away in the Gulf of Alaska, overlay a diagram of the prevailing high altitude air currents, and tell viewers that the next few days are going to be cold and rainy. And usually he or she is right.
The same applies at the other end of the country in Florida. Late summer and early fall is hurricane season. Satellites are able to detect tropical storms brewing in the warm waters of the Atlantic, and track them as they occasionally grow to hurricane strength. A hurricane’s path can be predicted quite accurately. Lives and property are saved because of the advance warning provided by the weather service.
Hurricanes, along with the rest of the weather, have natural causes. Meteorologists know how a hurricane develops and why it travels in a certain direction. The strength of its winds and the path it takes are determined by impersonal forces that can be known precisely in theory, if not yet in actuality.
All of us know that weather doesn’t just happen. Sunny warm days and cold blustery nights each have their roots in the laws of nature. These laws are absolutely fair since everywhere in the universe, so far as scientists know, they operate in exactly the same way. The weather in America is caused by the very same forces as the weather in Asia.
“Outside” weather, then, clearly is fair. Not that fair days always greet us when we rise each morning, but in the sense that climate is produced by objective laws of nature which work the same way in every part of the world.
How’s the weather inside today?
For most people, the inside weather seems to be a different matter entirely. “Inside weather,” you may ask, “what does that mean?” These are the climatic conditions within ourselves: the sunshine of optimism and the clouds of gloom, the fog of depression and the clear sky of joy, the blustery winds of anger and the calm air of serenity, the lightning bolts of pain and the warm winds of pleasure.
Who can say that they haven’t had thoughts like these at one time or another: “I didn’t deserve this.” “I’ve been doing everything right; how could this happen?” “Other people get all the luck.” Or, “Things are going too good for me; something bad is bound to happen.” Behind each of these thoughts is an assumption that life is some kind of dice game, and probably an unfair one as well.
Not only does chance seem to determine how we feel and what happens to us, but some people appear to play with loaded dice. They seem to get much more out of life than they deserve, while others get much less. If we applied such thinking to the weather, it would be akin to saying that the Sahara desert is being cheated out of moisture by the Brazilian rain forest. Or that an earthquake which hits Japan happened by chance.
Those ideas would be laughed at, rightfully, by climatologists and geologists. Rain patterns and earthquakes don’t just happen, or happen “unfairly;” they occur for logical reasons. So whenever we look upon the delights and miseries of our life as being unjust or undeserved, it is because we assume there are no laws to explain them. We presume that the way the outside world works is quite different from what we feel within.
Maybe it is wrong to make such a division between the clearly lawful physical world, and the seemingly much more capricious mental world—the arena in which we feel joy and sorrow, love and hatred, contentment and desire, and all the other experiences that come with being human. While the mind certainly operates with more complexity than does matter, perhaps the same basic laws of existence underlie both. A fit of rage may not be so different from a passing squall.
As with other subtle truths, however, this isn’t readily apparent. Recall that a reliance on appearances would have us believing that the sun goes around the earth, as people assumed for many millennia. So it is understandable why many find it difficult to believe that the internal world of thoughts and emotions is as lawful and determined as the external world of air, water, and minerals. Yet almost everyone would agree that like the weather out there, the weather in here—in our consciousness—always is changing. No one feels the same all the time. Everyday language reflects this fact. In describing the patterns of our lives, we often sound like meteorologists.
“I’ve got a black cloud hanging over my head,” utters a sad person. A man who can’t conceal his happiness is greeted with, “Well, here comes Mr. Sunshine.” When recalling a particularly moving event, a person may speak of being “flooded with emotion.” “Did somebody rain on your parade?” we ask an acquaintance who appears letdown.
Still, even though the words used to describe external and internal weather are similar, there are clear differences in the reality reflected by those words. If we don’t like the weather where we are living, two choices are open to us: move to another location, or change our attitude. Can’t stand the snow? Move to a warm place. Love raindrops falling on your head? Move to a rainy place. Or if moving isn’t an option, we can try to accept the conditions around us rather than complain about them.