I cannot comment on this subject as profoundly or as elegantly as my spiritual master, Meher Baba, has done, but based on studying his teachings for 35 years, I'll try to set out what I understand of it.

I'll quote Mr. Posner here at length; his comment is typical of the objection many people feel about applying the twin concepts of reincarnation and karma to mass disasters, or even to personal disasters:

Was it bad karma that killed tens of thousands when the Haitian concrete slammed down upon them? There are tiny blameless infants lying crippled while the dead are piled high in the streets to be bulldozed into hastily dug pits amid cries from those still trapped in the rubble. A just plight stemming from the sins of their past lives? I dare not accuse those of that. To label their plight just is to blaspheme against justice itself. Have we not already been shown how the innocent are crucified along with the guilty?

Was it bad karma that killed tens of thousands when the Haitian concrete slammed down upon them? There are tiny blameless infants lying crippled while the dead are piled high in the streets to be bulldozed into hastily dug pits amid cries from those still trapped in the rubble. A just plight stemming from the sins of their past lives? I dare not accuse those of that. To label their plight just is to blaspheme against justice itself. Have we not already been shown how the innocent are crucified along with the guilty?

It occurs to me, for the record, that it was two thieves who were crucified (since the author has seen fit to use the term "crucified") alongside Jesus, and He forgave them. Perhaps there is some symbolism in this--I'd never thought about it before. This writer, whose article I came across while checking online to be sure I was remembering correctly, apparently thinks so. It is even more interesting, in terms of symbolism, to be reminded that one of them respected God and Jesus, and one didn't. But both were thieves.

Before I begin commenting, I will mention briefly that in 1983, my second son, Daniel, at age seven months, was murdered by a babysitter. I had been a lover of God, a follower of Meher Baba, and a believer in reincarnation and karma for nine years before that; and I remained all of those things through the experience and afterwards, to the present day. So I am no mere armchair commentator.

Now, many people--including Professor Chris Bache, religion professor at Youngstown University, who specializes in this area, balk at concluding that mass disasters are a result of actions in past lives. Society will see it as callous; it is highly "politically incorrect." But my conclusion is that it is really just the reverse. There is no justice at all if anything like this can happen to anyone randomly. One "blasphemes against justice," as Mr. Posner says, if one suggests that it can. Only if all the people who were adversely affected by a mass disaster each, individually, are suffering from the effects of their own past actions, can there be justice.

There is a story, as yet unconfirmed historically, that Norina Matchabelli, an early disciple of Meher Baba, was appalled by the grinding poverty she saw when she came to stay at his ashram in India in the 1930's. Norina was a princess, wife of Prince Matchabelli (of Matchabelli perfume fame). The story goes that Meher Baba gave her the ability to see into people's past lives for one day. Her comment at the end of that day? "God is so compassionate."*

I think we lose sight of two things: the sheer number of past lives we've all lived, and the awful behavior that was considered "normal" in past ages. Read any history text--you will find routine treatment of other human beings that will curl your toes. I first became acutely aware of this reading past-life therapy transcripts (as you will find, for example, in Roger Woolger's "Other Lives, Other Selves"). However, you can get the same information by any detailed study of history. Now we bring reincarnation--and a large number of past lifetimes--into the equation. As I am fond of quoting, the cartoon character Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." The people who raped and pillaged and murdered and tortured and enslaved were--you guessed it--us.

Now we must say along with Brother Lawrence (whose conversations and letters are recorded in "The Practice of the Presence of God"), when asked about the suffering in the world, "It's surprising it isn't worse."

And why isn't it worse? It isn't worse, as near as I can tell, because God, through the Avatar (Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus) has swallowed the lion's share of that suffering for us--silently, for the most part. True to form, that Gift is given without calling attention to it. We are left with a miniscule fraction of the suffering we created in past lives through our treatment of others. We require that portion to be let loose on us, at times, when we absolutely refuse to learn some lesson or other in life. When it is let loose on us for our own spiritual assistance, we blame God--when we should be blaming ourselves, if we should blame anyone. This same perspective is given by Jesus in Luke 13:4, although it has been grossly misinterpreted after (as I suspect) references to reincarnation were edited out. Without reincarnation it makes no sense--with reincarnation, it makes perfect sense, as Jesus's teachings always do for those with "ears to hear."

Now--why do the innocent suffer? They aren't innocent, if you take past lives into account. But clearly they are oftentimes innocent in this life. Why? Because in the past life, you have wronged an innocent person. That cannot be set straight unless you are an innocent person when it happens to you. Otherwise, subjectively, it won't balance out. That means that in every innocent person who suffers, there must, somewhere deep in the unconscious, be the seeds of an opposite person.

There are exceptions to this, I believe, in the sense that some people apparently volunteer, before their birth, to suffer as a sort of beacon of inspiration to others. This is a different kettle of fish. Still, they might be balancing out something from their past lives--only, they do it willingly, in service to mankind, rather than grudgingly. This very issue was addressed in the New Testament in John 9:1.

There is another important point. Men who are very worldly cannot love a woman unless she is sexually attractive. Women who are very worldly can't love children unless they are cute and cuddly and perfect. By the same token, very worldly people cannot feel compassion unless they feel that the victim is innocent. Convince a worldly person that someone who is suffering created that suffering themselves, and he or she will lose compassion. And so this ignorance of the operation of karma is necessary for some people, in the early stages of their spiritual growth, to develop compassion--just as it is necessary for them to believe that a woman or child is their beautiful body, to learn to love that woman or that child.

But, comes a time when we all must grow up. Then, we love our spouse whether she is is beautiful or becomes disfigured; we love our child whether he is perfect or has some disability. And we feel compassion for others who are suffering, even though we understand they must have created that suffering in past lives.

Do you feel compassion for earthquake victims, but feel nothing for people who are morbidly obese, because the latter did it to themselves? Case closed.

This teaching isn't for everyone. So, Mr. Posner is doing his duty, and he is correct for a certain portion of the population. If you, however, have found your way to this website and are reading this commentary, you may be ready for a deeper understanding.

*Recently I asked a personal friend of Norina Matchabelli's and she was unfamiliar with this story, but I did get a second-hand account from another direct disciple of Meher Baba (a retired judge), which goes like this: "...Baba and Norina were walking through a bazaar and she was reacting to the poverty, the beggars, etc. with great emotional distress. Baba turned to her, His eyes flashing, and asked her, 'Do you think that you have more compassion than God?!'" Quite possibly this is the correct version, and the version I had heard was "embellished" through re-telling.