Grace, in the classical or dualist definition, is something to be dispensed by someone other than us, namely God. God has it, we don’t. In this model we pray for it, sing for it, ask for it, beg for it and hope that we have done well enough or asked nice enough to receive it. By reaching out to something or someone external to ourselves and being granted grace, we escape from and transcend the suffering and problems of life.
In this model, we are trapped in a never-ending cycle of death and re-birth (as simple as inhale and exhale) and doomed to live out past ‘bad’ behavior through the punishment of yet another life (or yet another breath). To most, this is the understanding of karma, as in Radiohead’s famous song ‘Karma Police.’ We did something ‘wrong’ or are inherently flawed and life is a punishment from which we can be freed only through God’s gift of grace.
The teachings of the tantra, take these words anugraha or revelation of grace and karma in completely different ways. First and foremost in this monistic system is the belief that the whole universe is God; there is nothing that is not God. From this stance, if everything is God, then there can be no wrong, because the essence of God is good. Sure we can make choices that are not aligned with the qualities of God within us—with our true selves—but we are not inherently wrong or bad. We are not being punished in this life for some wrongdoing in a previous one or because we are lacking in some way.
From the tantric belief, grace is the gift of embodiment, it is the miracle of life. We have not fallen from grace, we have fallen as grace. Grace is not something we can inherit or earn, we cannot buy it, sell it or give it back, we cannot lose it nor can it be taken away. Even if we know nothing about or completely ignore grace, it is still present as the gift of our lives, as the very breath that breathes us.
In this model, how we experience grace is directly related to how much we open to it. Our goal is not to transcend life by gaining some enlightenment or gift beyond what we came with as we came complete and whole. It is not about getting back to God, but about seeing God in everything. Grace is being offered constantly. When you get in your car, drive 80 miles an hour and arrive safely (every day!) that’s grace. If we don’t stop to realize how lucky we really are, then we miss grace completely, despite that it is always totally present. When we begin to look for God in every moment and every experience then we begin to feel gratitude for the gift of life and our actions begin to change.
Back to karma; the root of the word comes from the sanskrit kri which means to do or to act. In this paradigm karma mala (see post from 9/11/10 for more on malas) creates the capacity for an individual to act and it unites our actions with purpose and heart. Karma as the capacity to fulfill our desires and intentions brings a sense of fullness and completion. Seeing the Divine in others brings a fullness of heart, an openness of mind and a realization that there is nothing to get. Our lives are already the gift.
Douglas Brooks says, “If the gift of grace is life, then yoga is its blessing.” Yoga is our union with the world, our relationship to it, to God. The question then becomes one of how we are acting, how we engage the world, not in judgment from an external standpoint of measuring up to receive grace, but from a sense of aligning to the Divine essence that is woven through and as all of this existence.
When an individual is open to grace she is aligning to the vast expression of the Divine. She is honoring and receiving the gift of her embodiment, knowing that her life is no accident or penance. When she steps into ever-present grace she begins to see the deep connectivity between all things as aspects of God. The tantrika realizes that she is already enmeshed in relationship with God and that all she really need do is breathe.