There is a humorous but instructive story in which a young man asks a wise, older gentleman for advice: “How is it that you have such good judgment?”
The sage slowly reflects, and then says, “Good judgment is born of experience.”
Not entirely satisfied with this answer, the young fellow pursues his questioning: “Well, how do you get experience?”
The voice of wisdom replies dryly: “Bad judgment.”
Simply put, this is the essence of the law of karma. Through ignorance, which causes us to act with bad judgment, we err and suffer. Slowly over time we acquire the experience to know, for example, that if we put our hand on a hot stove, we’ll get burned. Eventually, when faced with this option, the good judgment born of experience will remind us of our past suffering, and we’ll avoid it.
Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that all of life’s experiences are for our education and entertainment. “But,” he added a little ruefully, “how few are either educated or entertained.” In this never-ending school of life, we will keep drawing lessons, moving up grade by grade, until we perfect our understanding to reflect God’s wisdom.
The enlightened teachers, or satgurus, who come to help us find spiritual freedom, know what lessons we need in order to expiate our karma. Through their guidance and grace, they can prepare us for the challenges our karma has drawn. Our teachers can’t, however, take the tests for us, nor shield us from them. When the lessons come, we must face them ourselves.
There is a story from the life of Lahiri Mahasaya, one of the great gurus in our spiritual lineage, in which he is walking home with one of his disciples after bathing in the Ganges. At a certain point, Lahiri stops and asks him, “Can you tear off a piece of cloth from your dhoti?”
The disciple, not understanding his guru’s request, continues on. After they walk a few more steps, a brick from an overhead terrace falls and grazes one of Lahiri’s toes. Unperturbed, Lahiri tears off a strip of cloth from his dhoti and, with the help of his disciple, binds his bleeding toe. His disciple asks, “If you knew that this was going to happen, Guruji, why didn’t you avoid it? Then you wouldn’t have suffered this injury.”
The Master replied, “That is not possible. If I had avoided it, I would have had to suffer the pain at another time—with interest! I have to receive what is destined; therefore, the earlier it is completed, the better it is.” In truth, Lahiri was an avatar with no karma of his own, but he was teaching the disciple and all of us the lesson of willingly facing our karmic tests.
When we err in judgment and bring suffering to ourselves, the best response is not to despair or to wallow in self-recrimination and guilt. It’s far better to rejoice in the fact that through experience we’re learning the life lessons we need, and are taking our next step toward inner freedom.
Wishing you joy on your journey,