Life is the constant accumulation of knowledge, the storing up of the result of experiences. The law of cause and effect is in constant operation, and we reap what we sow – not as a matter of punishment, but as the effect following the cause.
Theology teaches us that we are punished for our sins, but the higher knowledge shows us that we are punished by our mistakes instead of for them. The child who touches the hot stove is punished by reason of the act itself, not by some higher power for having “sinned.” Sin is largely a matter of ignorance and mistake. Those who have reached the higher plane of spiritual knowledge have borne upon them such a convincing knowledge of the folly and unwisdom of certain acts and thoughts, that it becomes almost impossible for them to commit them. Such persons do not fear there is some superior being waiting to strike them to the earth with a mighty club for doing certain things, simply because that intelligence has laid down an apparently arbitrary law forbidding the commission of the act. On the contrary they know that the higher intelligences are possessed of nothing but intense love for all living creatures, and are willing and ready to always help them, so far as is possible under the workings of the law.
But such persons recognize the folly of the act, and therefore refrain from committing it – in fact, they have lost the desire to commit it. It is almost exactly parallel to the example of the child and the stove. A child who wants to touch the stove will do so as soon as he finds an opportunity, notwithstanding the commands of the parent, and in spite of threatened punishment. But let that child once experience the pain of the burn, and recognize that there is a close connection between a hot stove and a burnt finger, and it will keep away from the stove. The loving parent would like to protect its child from the result of its own follies, but the child-nature insists upon learning certain things by experience, and the parent is unable to prevent it. In fact, the child who is too closely watched and restrained, usually “breaks out” later in life, and learns certain things by itself. All that the parent is able to do is to surround the child with the ordinary safeguards, and to give it the benefit of his wisdom, a portion of which the child will store away – and then trust to the law of life to work out the result.
And so the human soul is constantly applying the test of experience to all phases of life – passing from one incarnation to another, constantly learning new lessons, and gaining new wisdom. Sooner or later it finds out how hurtful certain courses of action are – discovers the folly of certain actions and ways of living, and like the burnt child avoids those things in the future. All of us know that certain things “are no temptation to us,” for we have learned the lesson at some time in some past life and do not need to relearn it – while other things tempt us sorely, and we suffer much pain by reason thereof. Of what use would all this pain and sorrow be if this one life were all? But we carry the benefit of our experience into another life, and avoid the pain there. We may look around us and wonder why certain of our acquaintances cannot see the folly of certain forms of action, when it is so plain to us – but we forget that we have passed through just the same stage of experience that they are now undergoing, and have outlived the desire and ignorance – we do not realize that in future lives these people will be free from this folly and pain, for they will have learned the lesson by experience, just as have we.
It is hard for us to fully realize that we are what we are just by the result of our experiences. Let us take one single life as an example. You think that you would like to eliminate from your life some painful experience, some disgraceful episode; some mortifying circumstances; but have you ever stopped to think that if it were possible to eradicate these things, you would, of necessity, be forced to part with the experience and knowledge that has come to you from these occurrences. Would you be willing to part with the knowledge and experience that has come to you in the way mentioned?
Would you be willing to go back to the state of inexperience and ignorance in which you were before the thing happened? Why, if you were to go back to the old state, you would be extremely likely to commit the same folly over again. How many of us would be willing to completely wipe out the experiences which have come to us? We are perfectly willing to forget the occurrence, but we know that we have the resulting experience built into our character, and we would not be willing to part with it, for it would be taking away a portion of our mental structure. If we were to part with experience gained through pain we would first part with one bit of ourselves, and then with another, until at last we would have nothing left except the mental shell of our former self.