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On Starting a New Year

Making Right Decisions about the Future
 
 
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
 
 
 
 
 
 
Every time we approach a new year, automatic routines are left aside. This is a time of transition; a time to take some rest and to dream. It is the right moment to evaluate the past and make decisions as to the next phases of life.
 
A new cycle begins: the future is a blank page, but the past is alive and old scenes emerge again in front of us. Old situations may disappear into thin air as we awaken to the new possibilities before us. Infinite potentialities open a renewed horizon. We have a sharp perception of the fact that time does not stop. Individual life is not eternal. It is better to take advantage of opportunities while they are available.
 
Each moment is unique, and every waste potentiality has a price to pay in the future. “Carpe diem”, says the classic axiom: seize the day, use the present time well. And this is not an invitation to short term pleasure. It reminds us that later on we will have to render account of each instant we threw away.
 
Questions then emerge that sometimes are uncomfortable. What are the most important things we did so far in the present lifetime? What are the mistakes which we do not want to make again? What are the good actions we want to perform in the next cycle? Are our personal goals clear-cut and realistic? What are we willing to sacrifice, in order to obtain them?
 
The main blessing of the calm days surrounding the New Year consists of the possibility to better re-examine one’s lessons from the past and future potentialities. Instead of speculating on “what the future has in store for us”, as if we were the mere spectators of our own lives, the correct thing to do is to take over the command of our existence. After evaluating what we have learned so far, we may ask ourselves:
 
“Considering the present conditions and trends for the future, what goals should be aimed at in the following years? What objects are both realistic and transcendent?”
 
With a pen or a computer, we make plans. We write down a list of actions which can radically improve the quality of life. Among them:
 
* Paying more attention to each instant;
* Abandoning this or that negative habit;
* Taking better care of physical health;
* Dedicating more time to esoteric philosophy;
* Using less material resources;
* Preserving vital energy;
* Improving personal relationships;
* Abandoning activities that seem to be urgent, but are unimportant;
* Prioritizing activities that are important to us, even if they do not look like urgent;
* Acting with altruism, which strengthens the sacred affinity between us and our own immortal soul.
 
The next step is to make sure these promises will not be forgotten. One should assess his strength realistically. Perhaps one can swim against the stream and defeat laziness, as well as other obstacles. The danger exists of following an easy path and abandoning the noble decisions made in a special moment: the occult power of blind routine must be defeated.  Robert Crosbie wrote:
 
“Resolutions will never do us any good if we do not sustain them. A mere desire will never get us anywhere. We have to maintain the desire; we have to stick to the resolution. We have to exert our will, and cleave to the object of that will throughout.”[1]
 
Each individual has his personal karma, that is, his own complex combination of actions and reactions, causes and effects, in the short and long term. When seen from a rigid point of view, this multidimensional fabric of possibilities and limitations is called Destiny. In fact, karma is an open process which one can change and which depends on the way we react to it, at each new moment, on the basis of our free will.
 
Eastern Philosophy teaches that there are three kinds of karma.
 
The ripe karma, which we are harvesting at every moment and situation, is called Prarabdha. The accumulated karma,which we have already sown but is not ripe yet, is Sanchita. The new karma, which we are sowing each moment with our actions and thoughts, is called Kriyamana.  
 
Of these three, the most important karma is the one we are planting right now. For this karma depends on us and on our free will. It is not possible to avoid the consequences of the past. But we freely choose whatever we plant for the future, and that includes the way we harvest the ripe karma. Can we see the positive opportunities hidden beneath apparent obstacles?
 
The daily duties and responsibilities correspond to our ripe karma, prarabdha. Yet it is always possible to open new roads while we fulfil our duty. The kriyamana karma - produced according to our free will - has two central aspects. On one hand, it is the choosing of the actions which start with our own free initiative. On the other hand, it is the choice of how we will face or take advantage of the obligations, challenges, and opportunities which the ripe karma - prarabdha or “destiny” - places in front of us.
 
As we make vows and resolutions as to the next year, we are thinking of those areas in our lives in which we have an effective ability to choose, and they are more numerous and deeper than they appear at first sight. Some of them are obvious, others are subtle. It is wise to carefully examine what we do during leisure time. Because it is in the free time that we have the opportunity to create new and more karmic tendencies. Leisure is not a synonym to idleness. Our free time has a sacred potentiality: it is the open space of kriyamana karma.
 
What should we do, then, to make sure our New Year decisions become reality?
 
The first step is to realize the real purpose of life: obtaining self-improvement, creativity and inner peace. 
 
The second step consists of defining clear-cut goals which depend on yourself. Do not decide, for instance, that this or that nice thing will happen to you. This would be only a desire for facts that do not depend on you, and perhaps the fancy of harvesting something  you have no sown. 
 
Do not decide that the other persons will be friendly towards you, but choose yourself to be  friendly toward them. Don’t decide that your boss will raise your salary, but resolve to work harder and take better advantage of your professional opportunities.
 
During our spiritual infancy or when we are psychologically childish, we depend on a “Father Savior” and expect some god or symbolical authority to do everything for us. As we adopt an adult attitude, we accept our self-responsibility before life. Our religiosity ceases to be based on blind belief and automatic obedience, and adopts as its foundation an understanding of the unity of life and a feeling of solidary independence. For the Pure Land Buddhism, for instance - one of the most popular in Japan - Amida Buddha is not an individual Master. It is the Eternal Light and the Infinite Life. In a traditional meditation of this sect, each practitioner considers himself as part of a chain of universal love which animates the cosmos:
 
“I am a link in Amida Buddha’s golden chain of love that stretches around the world. I must keep my link bright and strong. I will try to be kind and gentle to every living thing, and protect all who are weaker than myself. I will try to think pure and beautiful thoughts, to say pure and beautiful words, and do pure and beautiful deeds, knowing that, on what I do now depends not only my happiness or unhappiness, but also those of others. May every link in Amida Buddha’s golden chain of love become bright and strong, and may we all attain perfect peace.”
 
In this prayer, the practitioner understands that his happiness and, up to a certain extent, the happiness of others depend on what he does in the present moment. This is the unavoidable lesson of kriyamana karma. We must plant that which we wish to harvest one day. Whatever one does not plant, one cannot harvest. The idea is intimately connected to the philosophy of Epictetus, the Stoic thinker who lived in the Roman world in the centuries 1 and 2 of our era, and who started his life as a slave. Epictetus taught:
 
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible. Within our control are our opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. These areas are quite rightly our concern, because they are directly subject to our influence.  We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives. Outside our control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have, whether we’re born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are regarded by others, and our status in society. We must remember that that those things are externals and are therefore not our concern. Trying to control or to change what we can’t only results in torment.”
 
Indeed, the great source of unhappiness on the psychological plane is in the habit of wasting energies reacting against that which cannot be changed, or artificially manipulating factors that are beyond our reach and we are not capable of controlling in a natural way. Thus we lose the opportunity to do that which depends on us.
 
Epictetus adds:
 
“The things within our power are naturally at our disposal, free from any restraint or hindrance; but those things outside our power are weak, dependent, or determined by the whims and actions of others. Remember, too, that if you think that you have free rein over things that are naturally beyond your control (…) your pursuits will be thwarted and you will become a frustrated, anxious, and fault-finding person.” [2]
 
As one defines his personal goals for the next year, he must consider the various aspects of his personality. The human being is a complex totality. We are often contradictory. Are there in ourselves some emotional centers which will promote an “unconscious boycott” against our new decisions? How will we defeat laziness and attachment to routine? How can we face the challenge of being consistent?
 
Progress must be firm. One should avoid making decisions that are contrary to common sense, or which one is not capable of acting upon with perseverance. It is better to make resolutions that one can put in practice since the first moment, even if in small scale. “You must go slowly, in order to go far”, as the popular axiom says. Small steps make a long walk possible, and in time they will produce opportunities for larger steps to be taken. Gradual transformations are easier to manage.
 
It is helpful to create simple daily practices which strengthen the decisions made. These are some tools used by different persons, according to their temperament and individual inclinations:
 
* To daily reflect upon or meditate on your process of self-improvement;
 
* To keep in more than one occasion along the day a few moments of silence and creative introspection, aiming at the strengthening of one’s will;
 
* To record in a diary the main lessons taken from one’s efforts;
 
* To mentally reaffirm your main life-purpose the moment you awaken in the morning, and before you sleep, at night.
 
The decision to change routine demands courage, determination and sacrifice. One must leave aside old and blind “rituals” which waste time and energy and to which we may be attached.
 
Renouncing habits requires austerity, a spiritual practice which can be defined as “indifference to personal comfort”. The Sanskrit name of austerity is tapah, pronounced tapas. This is one of the most important concepts in the esoteric tradition, for its practice strengthens one’s individual will, without which we would be scarcely able to do anything useful in life.
 
Tapah is not a harsh or insensitive attitude. True austerity is but an external sign that we have a strong will to know our inner essence, and that a sacred fire burns whatever is negative in us, while enlightening our consciousness as a whole. Etymologically, the word tapah means “that which shines as the fire or the Sun”. Life teaches us that even a small amount of austerity saves us from great quantities of suffering. 
 
What is, then, the key to keeping one’s New Year promises?
 
We must clearly define and re-examine from time to time our goals for short term and long term future. We must work with calm and creativity to attain them. We must remember that the existence of obstacles is indispensable in any learning process. As we face challenges, we start to know little by little the secret to victory in the art of sowing good karma. The key to the secret, according to Eastern philosophy, lies in the right combination of the deeper meanings present in five words: 1) Altruism; 2) Perseverance: 3) Self-respect; 4) Self-knowledge; and 5) Self-control.
 
NOTES:
 
[1] “A Book of Quotations”, by Robert Crosbie, Theosophy Co., Mumbai, 108 pp., India, p. 5. The book is available in PDF at our associated websites.
 
[2] “The Art of Living”, Epictetus, a new interpretation by Sharon Lebell, HarperSanFrancisco, New York, copyright 1994, first edition, 114 pp., see p. 03.
 
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The above article was first published in Portuguese language under the title of “Para Começar o Ano Novo”. 
 
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On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.  
 
 
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.

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On Starting a New Year




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