Karma and Dharma As Fierce Grace


As a spiritual practitioner becomes more refined and perceptive, an interesting experience emerges. It is not externally verifiable, but it is not an internal experience. It requires an encompassing awareness of one’s own biographical history and psychological consequences thereof. The practitioner is acted upon through the combined efforts of the universal mediums of karma and dharma, which should be recognized as fierce grace.

Karma was originally considered an act done in ritual. When performed, this act reified the gods and upheld the universe. To perform your karma is your dharma, or duty as an individual in the grand scheme of things. After further philosophical developments, karma as a ritual act was internalized. Its responsibility was extrapolated and it became a causal mechanism, a universal law involving mind, action, and reaction. Dharma became the ultimate reality which can be comprehended once the veils of karma are lifted and the filters of ignorant perception penetrated.

Depending on the school of thought karmic fruits are dispensed and dharma is defined by a supreme godhead of reality. In alternate teachings karma is simply a universal law played out within the supreme field of reality called dharma. Although grace implies something given and thus a giver, grace moreso concerns itself with a submission and surrender to that which is beyond immediate control, which will be tended to as karma and dharma.

Grace is given many definitions, some of which are theoretically soothing but unsatisfactory in the light of experience. Contradictorily grace comes through faith to prepare or works as reward. The conception relevant to the discussion considers grace a spiritual endowment received in response to genuineness. This authenticity of character involves bringing oneself more deeply in alignment with the character of God.

Although the thoughts regarding grace differ between Abrahamic and Dharmic philosophies, the experience is nonetheless identical. A devotee or practictioner refines himself, and in doing so crosses a threshold, opens himself as a crucible, and becomes a receptacle of grace. The paradox of the process involves controlling oneself in order to burn the karmic seeds and detach from the fruits. The detachment requires a more clear perception of reality, and a trusting in it, whether this is Dharma, Tao, or God. The control becomes a surrender. Surrender is precisely the connotation intended, but submission infers the trusting of what often is a tough love, or fierce grace.

Fierce Grace, as phrase popularized by Ram Dass, refers to isvara kripa or guru kripa, the grace of god or guru, in bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is a devotional practice requiring complete surrender and submission to the personal guru, who is a window to the universal Guru, which is a lense through which one experiences God. Once a devotee shifts the emphasis beyond his physically manifest guru to the unmanifest Guru, he begins to experience fierce grace. It is fierce because it is difficult to endure. It requires not-knowing, and thus trust and patience. Its prerequisites include the remainder of the devotee’s karma which is most likely the most sticky, stubborn, and painful. The devotee’s dharma (duty) is to suffer this karmic debt in order to clear himself to the Dharma (unmitigated and uninterpreted reality). It is the Beloved that delivers this karma. As previously defined, this grace comes only after the practitioner has refined himself to be further in alignment with the characteristics of God. This alignment is directly correlated with readiness to extinguish karma. The universe seems to arrange itself in order to present the practitioner with precisely what is needed, and most often unwanted, to transcend himself further into surrender, and the process compoundingly progresses.

Grace is a gift of karma and dharma is the obligation to free oneself of the samskaras (karmic seeds) that bind beings to samsara (the actual or psychological cycle of death and rebirth). Freedom from this is equanimity and serenity. There is an aphorism that says, “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.” Fierce grace is being given just enough of what one doesn’t like to free him of the attachment to it, right at the opportune time he is capable of dealing with it fully and maturely. The universe delivers itself to the practitioner in the painful form of what is needed, as it is useful. Fierce grace is grist for the mill, but all is placebo.


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