A brief word about karma

Couldn't think of a way to illustrate this. So here's a Canada goose.I’m feeling much better, thanks. I love it that I have a way to take care of myself that doesn’t involve taking drugs.

I wanted to say a few words about karma, because it is a concept that comes up in Buddhism that is misunderstood by almost everybody. The word “karma” only means action or doing. There’s no connotation of cause and effect or cosmic retribution involved. It exacts no judgment on the choices we make. My being raped was my karma, as it was his to be the rapist, and my father’s to be an asshole about it. There’s no karmic responsibility or punishment, no great bureaucracy of karma meting out rewards for good behavior, in this life or the next. Karma isn’t something to believe in; it’s just a descriptive word for action.

That’s not the way most people understand karma, including people in places like Tibet where Buddhism has hundreds of years of history. Common people there believe that a baby born with a birth defect is being punished for some evil deed in a former life. This is a misunderstanding of the same kind, though on a different scale, as Christians who believe Jesus helps them find a parking space or win the World Series. It’s not about you; good and bad things happen, and though we have a certain measure of control over what happens to us based on the decisions we make, sometimes shit just happens.

Alan Watts talks about the real meaning of karma here.

None of this means that either the rapist or the rape victim escapes the consequences of a rape. It just means, I think, that there’s no point in looking for cosmic meaning or justice. I’m being a little pedantic, because to me it’s important to recognize that the universe doesn’t work that way.

I never hated the man who raped me. I hated what he did, certainly. If it had been up to me, he would’ve gone to jail at the very least. But my life on its worst day kicks the ass of his life on its best day. I’ve never hurt another person on purpose, not since I was a child anyway; he can never say that.

I had some issues and I made some bad decisions, but the responsibility for the rape lies squarely with him. I’ve never been confused about that.

Thanks for the kind words.

2 Responses to “A brief word about karma”

  1. absurdbeats Says:

    Like I said, I don’t really believe in karma—tho’ I definitely was using in a cosmic-getcha kind of way. (Credit or blame John Lennon for that.)

    Two thoughts. One, I know why I somewhat yearn for cosmic justice: that those who do harm don’t get off scot-free. And who knows, maybe Pol Pot is paying for his murderous deeds somehow, somewhere. Maybe the guy who raped you is living with/paying for his deeds somehow, somewhere. Since cosmic justice is unverifiable, however, worldly justice, with all its imperfections, will have to do.

    But a second line of thought leads me to wonder why I would care for a variant of cosmic justice which kicks in after death. What does it matter, at that point? Pol Pot was a genocidal tyrant, and now he’s dead. That’s it. Why spend any more of one’s life worrying over his deeds?

    Anyway, I’m tired and incoherent. Before I descend into complete babble, I do want to say that your grace in how you view that man’s life and how you view your own was unexpected—and quite moving.

  2. Gabriel Says:

    “…my life on its worst day kicks the ass of his life on its best day. I’ve never hurt another person on purpose, not since I was a child anyway; he can never say that.”

    Karma starts in the volition of the mind; all our actions, thoughts and verbal expressions come from that. By saying that, you’ve defined karma precisely and beautifully, though denying the existence of karma. Karma is not a punishment or reward which will occur in the future. That’s a mistranslation of karma based on the notion of sin and a judging God. Karma is always taking place in the present, moment by moment, in relation to the possibilities of one’s peace of mind.

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