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The Karma of the Malaysia Airlines Victims

The two crashes of Malaysia Airlines airplanes awaken thoughts about life and death and about karma and predestination. Also, inevitably, about the world's – or the gods' – injustice. “If God were good, how could he let such evil unjust things happen?” We'll get back to that later.

The two airplanes crashed one after the other. We don't yet know why the first one went down and possibly never will. The second one was shot down over Ukraine, probably by separatists supported by Russia.

But the point of this article is not why or how, but the fact that almost six hundred people, including whole families and young children suddenly, violently, lost their lives through no fault of their own. Some would say, Yeah, the world sucks. Others that it was karma, or that it was preordained. This raises the questions: is there such a thing as predestination, or karma?

Let's look at definitions.

Predestination: “In Christian theology, the doctrine that God has ordained what will happen, especially with regard to the salvation of some and not others, as in Calvinism.”

Predestined: “1. (of God) destine (someone) for a particular fate of purpose. 2. determine (an outcome) by divine will or fate.”

Karma: “(in Hinduism and Buddhism) the sum of a person's own actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as affecting their future fate.”
[Oxford English dictionary – eleventh edition]

According to these definitions, predestination and karma are different – although one could argue that they are so similar as to be almost indistinguishable: predestination by karma? Let's take a look.

According to the concept of karma, what you have done [or not done] in a previous “state of existence” [stop waffling, Oxford - read: in a previous life] can affect your future fate (read: this life). That's reasonably clear, but raises many questions. Simply put: if you did something bad in a previous life it will come back to haunt you now – in this life: in other words, something bad will happen to you. If you did something good, something equally good will happen to you. In both cases, this involves other people. If I killed you before, you will kill me now – at least if you didn't already kill me the last time.

But that isn't only simple, it's simplistic; it must be much more complicated than that. Perhaps you don't want to kill me in this life, which would only complicate your own karma. So maybe you would prefer to forgive me, even help me out of the karmic jam by giving me the opportunity to do something really good to me, like saving my life. Objection: still simplistic, although a mite less so.

In Thornton Wilder's “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” a small group of disparate people die when a primitive bridge they happen to be on collapses. Wilder then reviews each person's life and finds karmic connections which lead them to that bridge together at that moment. Predestination or karma? Both in this work of fiction. But there were hundreds of individuals on the Malaysian airplanes, and there are no known threads which could possibly tie all their lives together. The first was caused, possibly, by a technical failure – lack of oxygen, for example. We may never know. The second was shot down; we know that. So in one case an accident, in the other deliberate. Simply bad luck because the passengers and crews happened to be in the wrong place at the right time? It looks like it.

So what about their karma? Most of them would have been destined to live around 75 years or more. But that age frame was destroyed. So their karma had no chance to be fulfilled.

Rudolf Steiner, in the karma lecture in this issue, said that such things pose a problem for the gods. They must rearrange the karmic schedule, so to speak – although the example he uses is a railroad accident.

As they survey this previous earthly life the gods must say: There is something that has not taken effect as it should have done. Causes are there which have not been utilised or turned to account. — And now the gods can utilize these unused causes, guide them to the human being and so strengthen him inwardly for his next earthly life. The power of what existed as a cause in a previous incarnation can manifest all the more forcefully in the incarnation following the present one. If such a catastrophe had not befallen the person in question, he might have appeared again in the world in his next incarnation with inferior faculties or very possibly with faculties of quite a different kind. A change has been wrought in him to the end that karma may be adjusted. But he also comes into the world endowed with special qualities; his astral body is reinforced, as it were, because unused causative forces are at work in it.

If we take these words seriously, we can understand how the karmic stream of their lives was brutally interrupted by events which were not predestined, but which happened. And if we consider all the other people they would have interacted with had they lived out their normal lifespans, and whose karma is also affected by their absence, we realize that such things are much more complex than we can possibly imagine. Nevertheless, such unjust incidents do not prove that the gods are unjust, only that men are. And the same gods are doing their utmost, we hope, to achieve a just balance.

Without wishing to complicate your life even more, dear Reader, I must advise you that three presuppositions are needed in order to avoid shaking your head in disbelief:

1. A spiritual world exists beyond and beside the physical one.

2. The human being is a spiritual being as well as a physical one, and as such is also part of that spiritual world, from whence he comes and to which he goes.

3. Reincarnation and karma.

Frank Thomas Smith - September 1, 2014