Karma: The Eastern doctrine of sin

Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.
– Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune.

The sense-organs are to be known as maya, the sense-domains resemble a dream;
Actor, act and acting, they have not the least existence. – Lankavatara Sutra

Where is karma? It’s in the world of illusion. – Lester Levenson

For the past twelve years, though I’ve looked for this thing called karma, I’ve never found so much as a particle the size of a mustard seed. – Lin-chi

The greatest sin of all sins, the downfall, is the ego sense: “I am an individual separate from the all.” That’s the real fall into mankind. – Lester Levenson

The Upanishads

Even though the Upanishads do not offer a single comprehensive system of thought, they do develop some basic general principles. Some of these principles are samsara, karma, dharma and moksha. These principles form a metaphysical scheme which was shared . . . by most Indian religions and philosophers. Karma literally means action, the idea that all actions have consequences, good or bad. Karma determines the conditions of the next life just as our present life is conditioned by our previous karma. There is no judgment or forgiveness, simply an impersonal, natural and eternal law operating in the universe. Ancient History Encyclopedia

Candrakirti’s Prasannapada: (A commentary on Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika)

Because of attachment to a self and possessions, beings do not overcome birth and death. And why? It is because one views self and not-self that one sows karmic seeds (karma-abhisamskara). Not knowing that all things are utterly empty, the foolish untaught common people seize upon self and not-self; having seized it, they abide in it. Self and not-self are the cause of craving, anger and ignorance. Craving, anger and ignorance are the cause of the threefold karma (thought, speech, action). Discriminating by means of their own minds what does not exist, they say: I have craving, I have anger, I am ignorant. (Conze, p. 14)

Origen (183-253):

“Those who maintain that everything in the world is under the rule of the divine foresight, as is also our own belief, can give no other reply . . . to show that no shadow of injustice can rest upon the divine government of the world than to hold that there were certain exact causes of prior existence, by consequence of which all souls before their birth in the present body contracted a certain amount of guilt in their reasoning nature, or perhaps by their actions, on account of which they have been condemned by the divine providence to be placed in their present life . . . ” (Origen, de Principiis, Bk. III, ch. iii, sec. 5)

“Every one, therefore, of the souls descending to the Earth, is strictly following his merits; or, according to the position which he formerly occupied, is destined to be returned to this world in a different country or among a different nation, or in a different sphere of existence on Earth, or afflicted with infirmities of another kind, or mayhap to be the children of religious parents or of parents who are not religious. So it may sometimes happen that a Hebrew will be born among the Syrians, or an unfortunate Egyptian may be born in Judea.” (Origen, de Principiis, Bk. IV, ch. i, sec. 23)


The stupid one also says: I commit a sin. The sage says: What sort of thing is your sin? All of this is conditioned arising, lacking an essence. When it arises, you already know there is no ego, so who commits the sin and who suffers punishment?

A sutra says: Ordinary men insist on discriminating: I crave, I am angry. Such ignorant ones fall into the three evil rebirths. When beings fall into a hell, from the mind they create an ego. They remember and discriminate, saying: I commit evil deeds and I recieve punishments; I do good deeds and I receive rewards. These thoughts are the evil karma. From the very beginning no such things have existed, yet perversely they remember and discriminate, saying that they exist. This is the evil karma. (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)

D. T. Suzuki: (written in 1953)

The cleansing of sin is, therefore, intellectually seeing into the truth that there is something more in what is taken for the self, and conatively in willing and doing the will of that something which transcends the self and yet which works through the self.

This is where lies the difficulty of the Mahayanist position—to be encased in what we relative-minded beings consider the self, and yet to go beyond it and to know and will what apparently does not belong to the self. This is almost trying to achieve an impossibility, and yet if we do not achieve this there will be no peace of mind, no quietude of soul. We have to do it somehow when we once stumble over the question in the course of our religious experience. How is this to be accomplished?

That we are sinful does not mean in Buddhism that we have so many evil impulses, desires, or proclivities, which, when released, are apt to cause the ruination of oneself as well as others. The idea goes deeper and is rooted in our being itself, for it is sin to imagine and act as if individuality were a final fact. As long as we are what we are, we have no way to escape from sin, and this is at the root of all our spiritual tribulations. This is what the followers of Shin Buddhism mean when they say that all works, even when they are generally considered morally good, are contaminated, as long as they are the efforts of self-power, and hence will not lift us from the bondage of karma. The power of Buddhata (Buddha-nature) must be added over to the self or must replace it altogether if we desire emancipation. Buddhata, if it is immanent—and we cannot think it otherwise—must be awakened so that it will do its work for us who are so oppressed under the limitations of individualism. (Passivity in the Buddhist Life)

Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717):

I saw at this time, or rather experienced, the basis on which God rejects sinners from His bosom.  All the cause of God’s rejection is in the will of the sinner.  If that will submits, howsoever horrible he be, God purifies him in his love and receives him into his grace; but while that will rebels the rejection continues.  For lack of opportunity he may not commit the sin he is inclined to commit, yet he can never be admitted into grace until the cause ceases, which is this wrong will, rebellious against divine law.  If that will once submits, God then completely removes the effects of sin that stain the soul by washing away the defilements which he has contracted. (Autobiography)

“Saadi” Benzamar (one of Yeshua’s Essene masters):

Rebirth?  All know of it, for verily it is true.  Only the ignorant and uninformed can fear the thought of rebirth.  There are those who say that when the body goes into the ground, that all that that being was has been lost and moulders with the worms.  This is not true.  If a person is dead or is no longer inhabiting a body, he must then go over what he has done.  He must decide which lessons he wishes to deal with and proceed to erase the debts that he has incurred.  Then he goes to school.  Sometimes beings decide to come back very soon.  This is not always good, because if you come back too soon—perhaps if it was not a very virtuous life—you have not had time to understand what you have done wrong and to give yourself time to correct.  Therefore it is not good to jump right back into existence, as I know and others know. (Cannon, p. 119)

Karma, causation and existence

The doctrine of karma is part of the overall ontology and soteriology (science of being and salvation) of Hinduism and Buddhism.  These systems assign names to various laws of existence in order to describe them.  However, existence, as they teach us, is devoid of a self-nature, which means that the various laws of existence are also devoid of self-nature. Therefore, although karma appears to operate independently of human beings, it is no more than a word used to describe our own mental processes.

Karma is used in a general way to mean that one’s actions are causes which produce corresponding effects.  But in order to understand causation one must understand will.  The universe does not have a self-nature, which means that it does not arise or continually evolve of itself; rather, its arising and evolution is dependent on something which is its own cause.  This principal or origin or source is beyond all human conceptualization and has no name.  Furthermore, the instrument by which the universe arises and evolves is also dependent on the source: this instrument is the mind.  The mind, mostly unconsciously, wills everything into being.  By mere thought it transforms pure, undifferentiated awareness into energy and matter, much as a celluloid film transforms light into images on a movie screen.

Because the universe is dependent upon our minds, Buddhism needed only an ontology of the mind to explain the origin of the universe.  This ontology is the Twelve-fold Chain of Dependent Origination.

The Blessed One said this:

“And what, monks, is dependent origination?  With ignorance as condition, expectations come to be; with expectations as condition, consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form; with name-and-form as condition, the six sense-domains; with the six sense-domains as condition, contact; with contact as condition, feeling; with feeling as condition, craving; with craving as condition, grasping; with grasping as condition, existence; with existence as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, suffering, and despair come to be.  Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.  This, monks, is called dependent origination.” (Samyutta Nikaya 12.1)

The Buddha defined the self as consisting of five functions, or skandhas.  The first function is form, rupa: this is an image projected by the mind.  The second function is vedana, sensations, which are experienced in the mind as pleasurable, or painful.  The third function is samjna, literally knowledge of characteristics, or discrimination.  The fourth function is samskara, expectations.  The fifth function is vijnana, which is awareness of things through the senses, including awareness of thoughts.  Altogether the five skandhas are all there is to the self.  They function continuously to create everything we perceive as self and not-self—the phenomenal world.

Creation is preceded by expectations, samskara.  Expectations are themselves conditioned by past events, not only in this life but in previous lives.  Expectation and event can be instantaneous, or the expectation can lie latent in the mind for years—even an entire lifetime—until the right moment comes.  When we have an expectation, we think, “Things have been thus, and therefore they will be thus.”  For example, “I observe that people grow old; therefore I will grow old.” Myriad expectations are the sole cause of the continuous evolution of the universe.

The world is only an illusion that we created mentally.  It is not external but in reality within us, within our mind.  The method of creating is by first creating what we call a mind.  We create our mind, which is nothing but a composite of all our thoughts, conscious and subconscious, and the thoughts create the material world.  Every little thing that happens to each and every one of us is created in our thinking.  We mentally set up a thing called time which makes it even more difficult to see things because we think now and things happen years later.  But the only creator there is, is the mind–your mind. – Lester Levenson (1993, Session 1).

Karma and self-will

The word, karma, signifies action.  Whenever we decide to perform an action, we exercise self-will.  Self-will is motivated by craving, or as Lester says, the attempt to satisfy desire:1

Desire initiates the whole cycle. Way back in the beginning, it started with a thought of lack. Then there was a desire to fulfill the lack. The desire caused thought, the thought caused action. Since the action does not fulfill the desire, the desire and action are increased, keeping it going until we are spinning in an endless cycle. All our present thinking is initiated by something from the past.  Our total feelings now are all from the thoughts and actions of the past.  So, all thinking is now motivated by something that has already happened.  Action and reaction go on and on that way and we are caught. – Lester Levenson (Keys, Session 28: “Karma”)

There is a popular belief that karma punishes or rewards, but in reality, punishment and reward come from our own expectations.  The reason that we punish ourselves is this: behavior based on selfish desires brings with it a bad feeling called domanassa.  The bad feeling engenders a feeling of aversion (patigha) towards oneself, experienced as shame.  When one feels ashamed, one expects ill fortune, and expectation being volition, one has in effect willed ill fortune upon himself.  In the same way, selfless behavior brings a good feeling called somanassa.  It is experienced as well-being and peace of mind, and by the same operation, one has willed good fortune for himself.

That expectations are the cause of events is demonstrated by people who, in defiance of laws of probability, win the lottery multiple times.  The following story about Wayne Lyle’s lottery wins appeared in The Globe and Mail (Nov. 23, 2001):

Defying odds of one in 2.5 billion, a 48-year-old bachelor in British Columbia has won a lottery prize worth $2.2-million two years after winning a $1-million jackpot. Wayne Lyle said yesterday he expected to win something when he bought a ticket for the B.C. Cancer Foundation lifestyle lottery. He always wins something, he said. But he never dreamed he would win the big prize again. (italics added)

Mike Lindell’s improbable life, told in his autobiography, What Are The Odds?, is more evidence that far more is going on behind the scenes than what human understanding can explain.

Karma and rebirth

Birth seems like a lottery: some beings are born into wealth and some are born into poverty; some have loving parents and some have selfish parents.  However, we choose the conditions of our birth, and we choose the ones that will provide us with the optimum environment for growth.

Dolores Cannon was a hypnotherapist who induced thousands of people to return to past lives.  In her book Jesus and the Essenes (1992) she tells how over many months she took one subject back through a score of lives, until the subject was experiencing the life of an Essene, born in Qumran in the first century B.C.  This person, “Saadi” Benzamar, turned out to be one of the masters of Yeshua and his cousin, Yohanan (John the Baptist).  Benzamar instructed them in religious law from the time they were eight until they were fourteen, and again when they were seventeen.  When Cannon asked him about scriptures that said that people could go to “frightening places” when they died, he said,

“Then [if this were to happen] this is something that this person has died expecting to see.  For there is nothing there but what you create yourself.  And in so believing, so it shall be, for thoughts and beliefs are very strong.” (p. 117)

Cannon again asked about hell during another session, at a time when Yeshua was very young and had been taken out of Judea.  Before leaving, Joseph and Mary had first gone to Qumran, and so the Essenes knew everything about him at that time.

S: It is said that he shall spread the word and he shall take the suffering of the world upon his shoulders. And through his suffering we shall be saved.
D: We shall be saved from what?
S. From ourselves. With the way that it is now, the way that it stands, one must always, through un-striving gain the step up the ladder, as it were; whereas with divine intercession and asking for assistance or blessing, you may take the steps up the ladder more easily.
D: Does this have to do with rebirth?
S: With rebirth, yes. With reaching the perfection of the soul, yes. For it says that a man must again be born. This is in some of the prophecies.
D: In order to attain perfection?
S: To attain heaven.
D: Some people say that when you’re saved, it means you are saved from your sins and you will not go to hell.
S: (Interrupting) There is no hell other than that which you create yourself. It is the image that you project, that you foresee. This has always been known, that the suffering that occurs, for the most part, is here. So when you die, what you suffer is through your own need or desire to suffer.
D: They say that God will send you to hell to punish you.
S: No one punishes you but yourself! You are your own judge. Does it not say, “Judge not others, lest ye yourself be judged”? It says, Judge not others; it does not say, Judge not yourself. You are your own judge. (pp. 209-210)

Thus it is clear that Yeshua and all of his disciples knew the truth of reincarnation, and this being the case, the first founders of the Catholic Church also knew.  Origen wasn’t the only one.2

Buddhism teaches that the cause of rebirth is the ego-soul’s attachment to existence: “Throughout beginningless time the ignorant have been transmigrating along the paths, enveloped in their attachment to existence” (Lankavatara Sutra, Sagathakam).  Furthermore, according to a sixth-century master, there is no such thing as a karmic error in the matter of rebirth:

The sutra says: “Though there is neither the self nor the person, good and evil deeds are not thrown out.” It is said: “Those who maintain the five precepts obtain a human body. Those who maintain the ten virtues are assured of rebirth in a heaven. Those who uphold the 250 precepts, examine emptiness, and cultivate the path will attain the fruit of the arhat.” If one commits a great many wrongs, commits errors and the deadly sins and is covetous, hostile and indulgent, he will obtain only the three evil rebirths. This will be his destiny. Thus, the principles are free of any discrepancies, just as a sound and its echo are in agreement, or the real thing and its reflection are as they should be. – Dhyana Master Chih (Broughton, p. 50)

But how exactly does karma accumulated in one life condition the next?  When he said the following words in 1965, Lester Levenson could have been quoting from Between Life and Death–a book Dolores Cannon would write twenty-eight years in the future:

What we go through is determined by what we have gone through.  This is the law of compensation, or karma.  In-between physical bodies, we choose a certain part of what we have been through to go through the next time around; we set up similar situations, hoping that this next time we will transcend them.  You always get another opportunity–ad infinitum. (Session 28: “Karma”)

But although it may seem that we are condemned to keep repeating our mistakes forever, we can put a stop to it simply by choosing to let go of desire:

You can mentally undo karma by mentally undoing desire.  Karma is caused by desires that remain in the subconscious mind.  Dropping desire drops all thoughts of it. If you take desire out of the subconscious mind, the seeds of karma are no more there.  This is the fastest, the very best way of undoing karma.  If you let go of things mentally, you let go of them forever.  Then you don’t have to experience them.

When you are fully realized, you’ll look at the world and you’ll see only a singular oneness in everything and everyone.  And you’ll see that it is all nothing but your very own Self.  And the Self is only the Self.  So, what happens to the world is that you see it as it really is; you look at it as the rope instead of seeing it as the snake.  Then you are out of karma and there is no more karma. (1993, Session 28: “Karma”)

Bodhidharma taught the same lesson in the sixth century:

The Royal Pardon of Quiescence

Because the Dharma can give me fearlessness, it is a source of great security. It is like someone who commits a capital crime and is to be beheaded, but then his king grants him a pardon and instantly he has nothing to fear. It is the same way with beings. They commit the ten evils and the five deadly sins and must fall into a hell, but the Dharma-king issues the royal pardon of quiescence, and so they are freed of all of their sins. If one is a good friend of a king, and he ventures off to another country and there kills men and women, and he is seized there, and they want to avenge their grievances, that man is trembling for fear because he has none to help him. Suddenly he sees his great king and is instantly released. If someone breaks the precepts, commits murder, sexual transgressions and theft, and he fears he will fall into a hell, when he sees his own Dharma-king he will obtain release. (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)

Karma as sin

The Judeo-Christian equivalent of karma is sinful thoughts or deeds. When samskara, expectations, are conditioned by karma, they form what is called karma-abhisamskara–events you have willed to happen to you in the future. These are considered to be defilements. Catholic mystic Jeanne Guyon used this very word when she wrote, “God then completely removes the effects of sin that stain the soul by washing away the defilements . . .” In Buddhism one must transcend the defilements in order to enter nirvana, just as in Christianity the soul must be cleansed of the defilements of sin in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

If we understand karma-abhisamskara as expectations formed by patterns of thought established over many lifetimes, the way to transcend them becomes clear. We transcend expectations by recognizing that thoughts are no more than habits acquired by long use.3

The ego doesn’t like to hear that it doesn’t have free will; but the ego itself is a product of karma. – Lester Levenson

Buddhists transcend the self through renunciation and detachment from the self and from the world. This is accomplished by seeing that both are illusions. When the final awakening comes, one attains identity with the Supreme Self, and all karmic defilements adhering to the self are seen as never having existed. In the same way, when Christians attain sanctification, or union with God, all of the defilements of sin adhering to the soul vanish.

Perhaps now the wisdom of the Buddha’s teaching can be better understood, so I will again list the Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Origination:

Name and Form
The Six Sense-domains
Aging, Death and Suffering

Original sin and the legacy of shame

In Judaism the original sin was when Adam disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The arising of self-will is at the root of mankind’s suffering and mortality. However no one seems to understand why God warned Adam not to commit that particular act: “The day that you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will die.” Most people assume that “good and evil” refers to right and wrong, but the Hebrew words actually mean good and ill; that is, the knowledge that some things are beneficial and other things are harmful. But we only desire and fear things if we “know” ourselves as separate and mortal beings, and “know” things to exist outside of ourselves. Therefore, it was Adam’s knowledge of separation which condemned him to mortality. (I won’t go into the meaning of having a dual mind or a double mind, but it may help to think of your true self as “I” and the mind that you have set up as “me” or “poor me.”)

As I mentioned above, the Buddhist term samjna means the knowledge of differences. Samjna is the mind attaching itself to ideas of good or ill for my self—from the beneficial and harmful in nature to social approval and rejection. This knowledge, and the fact that we spend all of our waking hours pursuing good things, is the poisonous fruit that traps us in a mortal body.

Edward Conze (1975) talks about the sin of self-will, writing: “Yes and no are not reflections of actual fact, but of the attitudes of self-willed individuals.” In a discussion of signs (laksana or lakshana–also called marks or characteristics), Conze says that bad actions follow the recognition of things as distinct from ourselves and different from each other:

Further, all signs should be avoided. We have to do with a sign (nimitta) wherever the impression of a stimulus is either taken as an indication that there is something there — as in perception — or as a reason for doing something about something. The taking up of a sign is regarded as the salient feature of perception. Innocuous as it may seem, perception as such is an obstacle to salvation in that it is both erroneous and misleading. It is erroneous because the world as perceived is largely a fabrication of our desire for adaptation to it [or our desire for it to adapt to us], and covers up the vision of what is really there, i.e. Nirvana, or the succession of ceaselessly changing momentary phenomena. It is misleading because, as the commentators put it, we first recognize a set of data as a man or a woman, and then base bad actions on that recognition. The sign is defilement, and the Absolute is called the signless (animitta). It is, indeed, unrecognizable when met. (p. 11)

Adam and Eve felt ashamed the moment they became aware of themselves as human. They covered their private parts in shame in the realization that they were little better than animals, which must eat, reproduce and die. The reproductive organs are symbolic of the shame of want, which has the double meaning of to lack and to desire.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself. And God said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? (Genesis 3, King James)

As Meister Eckhart says:

Observe the nature of want. It comes from no thing. So, what comes of nothing must be expunged from the soul: for so long as there is such want in you, you are not God’s son. Man laments and is sorrowful, solely on account of want. (Walshe, Sermon Seven)

Sin and salvation

“When you release you are just freeing yourself of more karma from the mind. It’s just energy stored up from the past, all very ancient. We had to have done everything to get this low, so who cares what is there?” – Lester Levenson (Seretan, p. 50)

Liberation is only a matter of identifying with what we really are. Jacob (“James”), brother of Yeshua, wrote that men who were “double-minded” were not to be trusted. This is the belief that one possesses a separate ego-soul which must be cared for. Paul, Yeshua’s self-appointed spokesman, didn’t understand that the duality is only imagined. He wanted an intermediary who would cleanse him of his state of sinfulness, and so he made Yeshua a deity. The followers of the Pure Land school of Buddhism also created an intermediary and named him Amida Buddha.

Faith in an intermediary can free us of our defilements, but only if we are willing to surrender our ego-self. This is why some saints have said that all sins are forgiven the moment we submit our will to God: they know that sin lies not in the deed but in clinging to the idea of a self.

Once in this very place I said God likes forgiving big sins more than small ones; the bigger they are, the more gladly and quickly He forgives them. – Eckhart (Sermon Forty).

Yohanan the Baptist, Yeshua’s cousin, was said to have preached that confession of sins was half of the battle toward liberation. Meister Eckhart encouraged people to both go to confession and to believe that they were forgiven (Walshe, Volume III, p. 44). Eckhart also said that because everything that happens is God’s will, we must therefore not wish that we had never sinned. He begins Sermon Fifty Seven thus: “Whoever hears me is not ashamed–if he is ashamed of anything, he is ashamed of being ashamed.” Shame can be good if it is humility, bad if it is wounded pride.

For at the first (Wisdom) will walk with him by crooked ways, and bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline, until she may trust his soul, and try him by her laws.
Then will she return the straight way unto him, and comfort him, and shew him her secrets.
But if he go wrong, she will forsake him, and give him over to his own ruin.
Observe the opportunity, and beware of evil; and be not ashamed when it concerneth thy soul.
For there is a shame that bringeth sin; and there is a shame which is glory and grace.
– Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 4

As Lester Levenson said, the wise let go of the past and move on.

Lester: When we don’t judge ourselves we move much faster.
Question: When we don’t judge ourselves?
Lester: Right. When we don’t judge ourselves. Whatever comes up, [say] “So what?” To get this far in your limitations, you have run the gamut [range] of everything bad. It’ll come up, but it’s from past experiencing. Also, when you wake up you’ll discover that you never, ever were apart from your real Self, which is whole, perfect, complete, unlimited; that all these experiences were images in your mind, just like a night dream–you imagine everything that’s going on. But while you’re in a night dream, it’s real to you. (Realization through dropping the unconscious)

The Indian Buddhist Padmasambhava taught the following:

Accepting with equal indifference whatever comes: riches or poverty, praise or contempt; giving up discrimination between virtue and vice, honourable and shameful, good and evil. Feeling neither grief nor shame for whatever one may have done, and feeling neither elation nor pride on account of what one has accomplished. (Stages of the mystic path).

This is a restatement of the Mahanidessa:

The eightfold conceit is pride engendered by gains, shame engendered by losses, pride engendered by fame, shame engendered by ill repute, pride engendered by praise, shame engendered by blame, pride engendered by pleasure, and shame engendered by pain. (Nidd. i. 80)

Once again, it is not one’s actions that one should be concerned about, but holding on to self-pride. Liberation lies in transcending the very idea of a self, and this is accomplished by seeing that the self and its deeds never really were.

The Bodhisattva Field of Merit said, “To speak of meritorious deeds, wrongful deeds, and non-karmaic deeds is dualistic. The true nature of all three kinds of deeds is empty. And if it is empty, then there are no meritorious deeds, no wrongful deeds, and no non-karmaic deeds. One who allows no thought of distinction to arise with regard to these three types of deeds may thereby enter the gate of nondualism.”  (Wisdom Library).

Spiritual advancement through successive lives

The Lankavatara Sutra says is that one’s attainment is never lost. This raises a difficult question about three of Dolores Cannon’s subjects. These remembered having known Yeshua during his lifetime, and they were spiritually advanced when they knew him. Yet in their current incarnations they were in ignorance; instead of advancing they seemed to have regressed. There are also a few problems with the memories of Benzamar, Yeshua’s Essene master; these were not with things he knew personally but with historical events, which sometimes seemed to have been pulled from the New Testament.

These two questions are resolved in a later book, Between Death and Life (1996). As it turns out, Cannon’s hypnosis sessions were directed by some otherworldly intelligence from the start. Whether that intelligence was, as it claimed, a collective of beings in another realm, or whether it was the intelligence of Cannon and her subjects, filtered through their own conditioning, we will never know. But whatever the source, the information given can’t be ignored.

In one session her subject tells her, “It is indeed possible to cross-reference others’ [life memories] simultaneously and receive impressions of the experiences lived by another individual. This is not as uncommon as it may seem.” She then asks, “In other words, when we are exploring what appears to be a past life experience, we could be investigating somebody else’s?” The subject responds, “Or perhaps your own.”

Cannon learned that it is common for souls to be imprinted with the memories of lives lived by others if they needed those memories to accomplish certain tasks. This imprinting happens before the soul enters the body, but it can also happen during one’s life. Of course, one remains unconscious of these additional life-memories, just as one is unconscious of one’s own past lives. Cannon comments:

Many people believe that all this is conditioned by the environment; that a baby’s mind is totally fresh and all information is learned and absorbed as it grows and lives its life. Apparently we rely more on our subconscious memories than we realize. It seems to be like a computer bank from which we constantly draw comparisons in our daily lives.

Another aspect of imprinting, which would explain Benzamar’s New Testament memories, is that the lives are filtered by the person who borrows them to fit with that person’s existing beliefs. A subject tells Cannon:

We would say that human experience is like a filter and colors these perceptions which pass through it. So if an experience in the Cleopatra incarnation was found objectionable to the [mind] of the person it would either be deleted or changed . . . (1996, p. 208).

Because the subject Cannon regressed was a member of an evangelical sect, it seems the subject occasionally filled in gaps in Benzamare’s knowledge with events taken from the New Testament. These may include the star of Bethlehem, the three wise men, Herod’s census and the figure of Judas Iscariot. If Iscariot really existed and planned a betrayal, Yeshua could have saved him by handing himself over to the authorities.

Cannon also learned of cases where souls voluntarily exchanged places in a body in the middle of a lifetime: one soul left and the other entered. This is called a walk-in. Because the second soul is imprinted with the memories from that life she is not aware that she has just entered the body, but believes she has been that person from birth.

It is a fact that people acquire false memories—whether it is from learning about an event, or from someone purposely causing them to believe something. (Consider the woman who was allegedly programmed by the FBI to believe Justice Brett Kavanaugh had raped her.) If we can’t be sure whether the experiences we remember are really ours, who are we? Whose sins are we paying for?

The unreliability of memories, even without the existence of walk-ins, demonstrates the unreality of the defilements that Buddhism calls karma-abhisamskara. Of the five components of the self—form, feelings, discrimination, expectations and consciousness—it is karmic expectations that keep us in the cycle of death and rebirth. But given that our past deeds could have been performed by anyone or no one, there is no point in feeling guilty about them. Lester Levenson (1993) said, “Karma and reincarnation are part of the illusion and have no part in the Reality. Past lives should not be gone into as it is playing with the unreality, making it seem more real.”  (Session 28: “Karma”)

The key to liberation: unlearning everything we think we know about the world

Genesis teaches that the beginning of bondage is the knowledge of ourselves as separate ego-souls and our attachment to the good or bad characteristics of things. This lesson, given at the beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, is also given at the beginning of “Inscribed on the Believing Mind”:

The Perfect Way is not difficult
Save that it excludes picking and choosing.
Once you are freed from hating and loving,
That which is hidden will become clear and bright

As a young seeker of the truth, Robert Pirsig was studying Hinduism in India. When a professor said that everything was illusion, Pirsig challenged him by asking if the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was also an illusion. The professor told him that yes, that was an illusion, and Pirsig immediately quit his studies and went home. He later had an experience of enlightenment, but since he was not yet ready to let go of his ego he contrived to have his memory erased.

Lester Levenson was ready, and he let go of all opinions before attaining enlightenment in 1952–he even forgave Hitler! But this was not because Lester turned his eyes away from evil; as a government engineer during WWII, Lester read all about Nazi atrocities against European Jews. Rather, his compassion for Hitler came from his determination to let go of everything that limited him.

The End of the Wise Man and the Fool

Then I turned myself to consider wisdom and madness and folly;
For what can the man do who succeeds the king—
Only what he has already done.
Then I saw that wisdom is superior to folly
As light is superior to darkness.
The wise man’s eyes are in his head,
While the fool walks in darkness.
Yet I myself perceived
That the same fate awaits them all.

Then I said in my heart,
As happens to the fool also happens to me:
What makes me any wiser?
Then I said in my heart,
This also is vanity.
For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool in eternity;
Since all that is now will be forgotten in the days to come.
And how does the wise man die?
The same way as the fool. (Eccl. 2:12)

Buddhism and Hinduism don’t just teach us not to view things as good and bad, but to stop viewing people and things as distinct from one another, to stop believing that people and things have a self-nature. This is not nihilism, because we are in reality one Self, which turns out to be the true nature of everything.

On all sides That has hands and feet;
On all sides eyes, heads and faces;
On all sides in the world it hears;
All things it embraces.  (Watts, p. 34)

From the point of view of the one Self, everything is perfect. Beings appear to suffer, but when suffering is too great to bear the soul separates from the body. Then, when the appropriate moment arrives, it enters another body. This continues, lifetime after lifetime, until one forms the decision to put an end to it.

Suffering alone exists, none who suffer;
The deed there is, but no doer thereof;
Nirvana is, but no one seeking it;
The Path there is, but none who travel it. (Watts, p. 56)

* * *

1. From craving arise unwholesome states of mind. These states are called klesha (spelled klesa), translated as passions or afflictions. In Chinese afflictions are called fan nao because they vex (fan) and torment (nao) the mind. (Wisdom Library)

2. The first Catholic theologian, Origen, lived in Alexandria, which for generations had been visited by Buddhist missionaries from India.  The Jewish wisdom tradition was influential in Alexandria; nearby there was a commune of Therapeutics, who, like their Essene brethren, believed in reincarnation. (See https://www.near-death.com/reincarnation/history/church-history.html#a06)

3. There are seven to ten types of thought-patterns, called anusaya, which means tendencies, although they have also been referred to as fetters or hindrances.  To examine them is to let go of them, and that brings about liberation from the mind.

* * *

Blakney, Raymond B. (1941). Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation. New York: Harper & Row.

Cannon, Dolores (1992). Jesus and the Essenes: Fresh insights into Christ’s Ministry and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Bath: Gateway Books

Cannon, Dolores (1994). They Walked With Jesus. Huntsville, Arkansas: Ozark Mountain Publishing.

Cannon, Dolores (1996). Between Death and Life: Conversations with a Spirit. Bath: Gateway Books.

Conze, Edward (1975). The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. University of California Press.

David-Neel, Alexandra (1931). Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Penguin Books Ltd.

Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki, et al (1960). Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Guyon, J. M. B. de la Mot (1875). A Short Method of Prayer. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/spiritualformation/texts/guyon_shortmethodofprayer.pdf

Jeanne Marie Bouvier de La Motte Guyon. The Autobiography of Madame Guyon.
Chicago: Moody Press. https://archive.org/stream/theautobiography22269gut/pg22269.txt

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. ISBN 0-915721-03-1

Levenson, Lester (2003). No Attachments, No Aversions: The Autobiography of a Master. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.

Seretan, Stephen (2008). Lester and Me. (Self-published)

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1953). Essays in Zen Buddhism (Second Series). London: Rider and Company.

Suzuki, D. T. (1957) Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. London and New York: Routledge Classics. https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/d-t-suzuki-mysticism-christian-and-buddhist.pdf

M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons & Treatises Volume II. UK: Element Books Limited.

M. O’C Walshe (2009). The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart: Translated and Edited by Maurice O’C Walshe. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. 

Watts, Alan (1957). The Way of Zen. New York: Vintage Books. (https://terebess.hu/english/AlanWatts-The%20Way%20of%20Zen.pdf)

Meister Eckhart:

And among all creatures, He does not love one more than another: for as each is wide enough to receive in the same measure He pours Himself into it. If my soul were as capacious and as roomy as the angel of the Seraphim, who has nothing in him, God would pour Himself out into me as perfectly as into the angel of the Seraphim. It is just as if you were to make a sphere, with the perimeter covered with dots, and with a point in the centre: from this point all the dots would be equally near or far. Then for one dot to get nearer to it, it would have to be displaced, for the middle point remains constantly at the centre. So it is with divine being: it is not questing around but abiding altogether in itself. In order to receive from it, a creature must of necessity be moved out of itself.  (Walshe, Vol. II, p. 280)


My birthplace? I am born of figoku (hell).
I am a stray dog
Carrying its tail between its legs.
I pass through this world of woes,
Saying ‘Namu-amida-butsu’.

I am not to go to figoku;
figoku is right here.
We are living right in figoku;
figoku is no other place than this.
– Saichi (Suzuki, 1957, pp. 151-181)

If there were no wretchedness,
My life would be wickedness itself.
How fortunate I am that I was given wretchedness:
‘Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu!’

They understand who have had sorrows,
But those who had them not can never understand.
There is nothing so excruciating as sighs,
The sighs that refuse to be cast out.
But they are removed by Amida,
And all I can say now is ‘Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amidabutsu!’

That such a sinful man as Saichi,
whose sinfulness knows no bounds,
has been transformed into a Buddha!
How grateful for the grace, and how happy!
‘Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu!’
– Saichi (Suzuki, 1957, pp. 151-181)


All sentient beings are born according to their karma: good people are born in the heavens, the wicked in the hells, and those who practise the paths of righteousness realize nirvana. By disciplining himself in the six virtues of perfection (paramitas), a man is able to benefit his fellow-beings in various ways, and this is sure in turn to bring blessings upon him, not only in this but also in the next life.

Karma may be of two sorts: inner or mental, which is called cetana, and physical, expressing itself in speech and bodily movement. This is known as karma after having intended.

Karma may also be regarded as with or without intimation. An act with intimation is one in which the purpose is perceptible by others, while an act without intimation is not expressed in physical movements. It follows that when a strong act with intimation is performed, it awakens the tendency in the mind of the actor to repeat the deed, be it good, bad or indifferent.

It is like a seed from which a young plant shoots out and bears fruit by the principle of continuity. Without the seed, there is no continuity. And because of this continuity, there is fruition. The seed comes first and then the fruit. However, between them there is neither discontinuity nor continuity. Rather, from the awakening of a first intention, there follows an uninterrupted stream of thoughts, and the fruition is from these thoughts. Without the first stirring of the mind, there will be no stream of thoughts expressing themselves in action. Thus is the continuity of karma and its fruit. Therefore, when the ten deeds of goodness and purity are performed, the doer is sure to enjoy happiness in this life, and after death will be born among celestial beings.

There is something in karma that is never lost even after its performance; this something, called avipranasa, is like a deed of contract, and karma, an act, is comparable to debt. A man may use up what he has borrowed, but owing to the document he has some day to pay the debt back to the creditor. This “unlosable” is always left behind even after karma and is not destroyed by philosophical intuition. If it were thus destructible, karma would never come to fruition. The only power that counteracts this “unlosable” is moral discipline. Every karma once committed continues to work out its consequence by means of the “unlosable” until its course is thwarted by the attainment of Arhatship or by death, or when it has finally borne its fruit. This law of karma applies equally to good and bad deeds. Mulamadhyamakakarikas, Chapter XVII (Suzuki, 1953, Passivity in the Buddhist Life)

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