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Karma and Grace 2010-Jul-26 at 23:08 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Terry Patten visited Seattle in January, 2009, and during his Friday evening lecture he talked about his view of the Three Faces of Spirit, and, in particular, his view of the Second-Person Face of Spirit.  (If you’re not familiar with this idea, please check out the link… it’s only a few minutes of reading to get an important view on Spirit.)

Typically, when we think about the second-person relationship to Spirit – the I-Thou relationship – we view it as:

  • me, whatever “me” is… my body, my thoughts, my heart;
  • some distance, either spatially or psychically;
  • God… somewhere “over there”

If we take this view, which is the traditional, mythic view of how we relate to God or Jesus or Allah, then we create an unsolvable metaphysical problem: how do I bridge the distance between me and God? In a sense, the whole history of mythic Western Judeo-Christian religion can be looked at as the ongoing attempt to solve this problem.  I’m over here, God’s over there… how do I get closer?

Terry blew that idea up for us in his lecture, when he redefined the second-person face of Spirit as an I-Thou relationship where we still start with “me” – whether that “me” is my body, my mind, my heart, my soul, whatever – and then everything that is not “me” is God.  That means that God, or Spirit, is the chair I’m sitting on, the room I’m in, the other people I see, the trees outside my window, the air that I breathe… everything.  And that field of matter/energy, that actually is Spirit, or God, constantly, effortlessly shifts to contain us and hold us, no matter what we do, no matter what we think, no matter what energies we expend.  The loving all-embrace of Spirit is without effort, without struggle, there’s no way to escape it, there’s nowhere you can be to avoid it, there’s no question of you deserving it or not… because it’s just there, always.  There’s no time and no place – ever – when you’re not literally surrounded by God’s love, from the second-person perspective.

That redefinition of the second-person face of Spirit was, for me and many others here in Seattle, a seminal moment, and one that has not been forgotten.  Terry’s visit was powerful and I know that so many of us remain grateful for it.


With that said, let’s talk about karma.  Karma typically arises in traditions that feature the first-person face of Spirit, the I AM-ness of Buddhism or Vedanta Hinduism.  We don’t often talk about karma, for instance, in Judaism or Christianity… we talk about God’s justice, righteousness, and forgiveness.  And, honestly, I never really could fit karma together with I AM-ness.  Maybe I just didn’t study the texts enough, but it just never clicked for me.  What need is there for karma in a universe in which I identify as and with the Emptiness that is the source of all being… and which I then further let go of in an expression of the nondual nature of reality?

I thought about Terry’s lecture a lot over the following few weeks, and eventually came to see karma not so much related to the first-person or third-person perspective on Spirit, but rather deeply related to the second-person face of God.  If we view God as “everything that is not me”, then we can look at that all-enveloping field as having two interesting properties.

The first property is that of karma.  Karma can be defined as a property of that all-enveloping field which says that every energy that’s sent into it returns to its source.  From that point of view, it’s simple, right?  If I take a positive action, the energy of that is received by the field – without judgment – and eventually is returned to me.  If I take a negative action, the energy of that is received by the field – without judgment – and eventually is returned to me.  Same goes for my thoughts, my intentions, my shadow, my trust… they all have an energetic signature that is received and returned by the all-encompassing field of energy that is God, seen as the Great Thou.

The second property of that field is grace.  I hesitate to limit grace by defining it, but I’ll borrow my friend Alia’s definition for it, to say that grace is the free-flowing force of emergence within that field.  It constantly, effortlessly creates and manifests all that arises.  Some of those creations seem ordinary to us, some seem miraculous, but grace is behind all of them… including, sometimes, a manifestation that seems to alter the cause-and-effect relationship of karma, in ways we can’t understand.

So… the second-person face of God, with karma and grace.  That’s the basis of my view from that perspective.


And then, as I sat with this view of karma and grace for a couple of months, I had another shift.

I found myself uncomfortable looking at energies and actions as negative and positive.  By this I don’t mean to suggest a Green perspective that doesn’t contain discernment between helpful and harmful actions.  Rather, I just came to view all such actions simply as energies that are put out into the world.

From this point of view, with karma as that property of an all-enveloping field which receives and returns all energies, I came to see karma not as that which returns positive or negative actions/energies to their source, but rather as the force that ensures that we will have the opportunity to make wiser and more loving choices, until we figure out what those loving choices are.  If karma does nothing else, it returns you to situations over and over if you choose less wise and less loving actions, until you figure out which choices might be better.

By removing the judgment energy that might define actions as positive or negative, we can see karma as a simple property of manifestation (when seen as the Second-Person Face of Spirit) that ensures that each of us has the opportunity to grow, to learn, to open more, to embrace more, to love more fully, more deeply, more selflessly, more gracefully in every moment.

Karma is not a limitation, it’s not justice, it’s not judgment; it’s a liberation from our unwise minds and contracted hearts.  And that’s the definition of karma that I resonate with… the one that invites us to more love and more joy in our lives.


From this place, where I kneel in gratefulness to the Second-Person Face of Spirit, let me say:

Thank you, God, for karma.  Thank you for never giving up on me.  Thank you for being present at all moments to all of my most unloving and unwise choices.  Thank you for embracing me.  Thank you for allowing me the chance to change, to grow, to refine my soul until I could open up and receive the endless grace that flows abundantly through the energy of the Universe.  Thank you for all of the people who love me and respond to me as a result of the refinement I’ve been blessed to experience, and thank you for the opportunity I have to serve them with and through my love.  May I never doubt your love and the abundance of your blessings.