This year they're lining up to see Cher in the movie Mask, which has already won her much acclaim, including the award for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival last May. Mask is the story of tough young Rusty Mason and her relationship with her horribly deformed son. The boy is a victim of a rare disease that twists his facial features and swells them to twice their normal size, creating the impression of a hideous mask.

The story is true. Real-life Rusty was a fast-living divorcee with a passion for motorcycles and drugs certainly an unlikely heroine for a sensitive, moving film. But her courageous acceptance of fate and her uncompromising love for her son marked her as a person of rare insight and compassion. In a society obsessed with superficial glamour and physical beauty, Rusty displays an awareness of deeper values. She accepts her son's grotesque appearance philosophically. "People used to ask me if I felt cheated," she relates. "I just told them that questioning it would drive you crazy. Why me? Well, why not me?"

This can be valuable advice for those trying to survive in a world that often seems unbearably cruel. When tragedy strikes we may be driven to ask in bitterness, "What have I done to deserve this? How can there be a merciful God if I'm forced to suffer so much?" Instinctively we seek a scapegoat society, our spouse, or God Himself as if that would lessen the pain. Pride makes it difficult for us to accept that we may have brought the suffering upon ourselves.

In truth, however, we do bring about our own suffering. Although Mask only hints at the deeper understanding of fate, a full picture is revealed in the Vedic scriptures. All living entities accepting the material world as their home are controlled by the laws of karma. Karma refers to the reactions that automatically follow every action we perform. If you inflict suffering upon another living entity, in due course that suffering returns to plague you. And if you are charitable, good fortune inevitably befalls you. To understand this subtle law, as precise and unavoidable as the law of gravity, is to see order in an apparently senseless world. Why do some people live charmed lives while others combat one calamity after another? Simple: everyone gets what he deserves.

Obviously, for the law of karma to work, the living entity must have had an existence prior to his present life. And, indeed, transmigration of the soul is the first tenet of the spiritual science taught in the Vedic literature. The very circumstances of our birth our parents, our physical beauty, our wealth, our opportunities are the results of karma. Thus even the apparent innocence of childhood can be marred by suffering and grief resulting from sins performed in a previous lifetime.

This process of continuous action and reaction may seem unrelentingly harsh, robbing us of free will and making us mere puppets in the hands of fate. But we always have the choice of remaining in the karmic cycle or transcending it. For those of us who are weary of the torturous cycle of karmic reactions and want to return to the spiritual realm, the Vedic scriptures provide the process. As Lord Krsna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita (3.31), "One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully, without envy, becomes free from the bondage of fruitive actions."

Since the law of karma is enforced by the Supreme Lord through His material nature, it is only by His grace that one can break free of it. Actually Krsna's plan is that we become so frustrated in our attempts at material enjoyment that we seek relief and protection at His lotus feet. And as He promises, such a person attains the eternal happiness of serving Him in the spiritual world.

The story of Rusty Mason can be inspiring for people struggling to cope with the traumas of life. Rusty was brave in the face of misfortune and wiser than most in her acceptance of life's indignities. Yet how much more inspiring are the realizations of the truly transcendental soul, one who lives with the knowledge of this world's flickering pleasure and pain, and who understands the great treasure of spiritual insight. By Lord Krsna's grace, such transcendentalists are here among us to teach us a way of life that insures no more tragedies.