December 2012: according to some it’s once again the end of the world. The Mayan calendar, the shifting of the zodiac, the rampant corporatism slowly strangling the natural world in various ways; is it really the end?

All endings result in new beginnings. At night when we go to sleep we end our day to wake up to a new day. Each birthday we end one year in a hopefully long and fruitful life and the next day begin a new chapter. We mark traditional milestones in our lives as we grow from babies to gradeschoolers to responsible adults and finally to wise honored elders – what comes next for us as we prepare to shed these bodies?

According to many Asian traditions how we leave this body, this world, determines how we will take birth in the future – part of the Law of Karma. Karma does not mean fate, one of its meanings is action; the actions we take determine the reactions we receive. Sometimes the reaction is immediate: smack someone in the face and they smack you back. Sometimes it happens much later: smoke three packs of cigarettes a day beginning in high school and develop lung cancer before you can enjoy your retirement. But often we do not “enjoy” the fruits of our own karmas in this lifetime or we may reap the fruits of our ancestors’ karmas, as their diets and lifestyles set us up for the genes we inherit to express in a positive or negative way (read about the emerging science of epigenetics).

How can we take advantage of the Laws of Karma even in the face of overwhelming past Karmas from our ancestors? In Ayurveda, there is an understanding of the qualities (gunas) of the mind – Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Sattva (also spelled Sattwa) is Balance. Tamas is inertia. Rajas is instability or variability. Our ancestors may have been Tamasic, unwilling to change their circumstances, and so their tendency towards inertia, heaviness, depression, even criminal behaviors were passed on. For us to avoid making the same mistakes, we must first become Rajasic. We may do the right things some of the time and make mistakes some of the time. As long as we keep trying to learn from our mistakes we can begin to rise up from the worst of circomstances; this is a quality we want to pass on to our children so they can keep making progress. With each new generation, we have an opportunity for new beginnings and greater spiritual progress.

What seems to happening now is an increasing awareness by many that we as a species must make a greater effort towards “rising up” – cultivating compassion for other species (especially those we exploit for food), other nations and cultures, being more open to making sacrifices in the short term for greater benefits in the long term, moving away from destructive (Tamasic) actions towards more sustainable (Sattvic) actions. But while some are already on that path, others refuse to change and still more waver. The signs are all there for us to see: chaotic weather, rising sea levels, more destructive storms, massive pollution from industry permanently poisoning the land, water, and air (causing increasing numbers of cancer cases especially in children). The more Sattvic among us are busy inventing new technologies to replace outdated toxic ones, the Tamasic are busy resisting change.

The future of our planet, the human race, and the other life forms sharing this home with us depends on the Rajasic members of humanity learning how to rise up for our shared future.