Sunday, April 30, 2006

Who's Counting?

Since I didn't grow up Buddhist or Hindu, I got a rather poor, but maybe typically American exposure to the term "karma"...from the Beatles. It seemed like it was a score card. I didn't notice anyone treating the concept much differently than the Christian and Jewish notions that only your good deeds would be able to speak up for you when you wanted to pick your destination at the Afterlife Travel Agency.

My dear old dad often acknowledged any little sacrifices or labors I volunteered for with a warmly mock-cynical "You'll get your reward in heaven". Which I soon enough recognized to mean "you might as well feel good about it 'cause that's all your getting". Grown up, I find no evidence whatsoever of a tit-for-tat, or any commerce at all in deeds and fates. You only see those things if you want to and can block out all contrary events.

If others can just see what they like to see, why can't I? I don't really know what karma is but here's what I'd like it to be:
Karma as I see it operate, is not anyone else’s bookkeeping: it is you wearing out your own potential to be a force beneficent to all creatures….or building up your potential. Each kindness you knew you could have done but declined to do wears away a bit of your own faith in yourself. Either way , the records are kept in your own soul, inked as the force of habits, in much the way your care in maintaining your car is recorded when it is breaking down at 45k miles …or going strong at 150k miles.

This definition leaves me a little room for tshuvah, but a last minute change of heart will do me no good. And the insanity plea for the feeble minded seems to apply.

But who's counting?


Shawn said...

That's about as good a definition of Karma that I've heard.

It's not, as many like to think, a great cosmic scorecard, but rather a way of describing the law of cause and effect. Every time you do something, that action affects something else. You get to choose what your actions are, thus changing your environment, which in turn affects your life.

Njorl said...

You see the same dichotomy at work if you watch, "My Name is Earl". The show is about a life-long jerk who learns about karma. Each week Earl attempts to even out his cosmic scorecard. It never quite works out that way, though. Instead, he usually winds up making the world a little bit better place.

I could be wrong, but I think the official versions of karma from the eastern religions are indeed the simple, cosmic scorecards, but that is probably just the vehicle for mass public consumption so as to generate the desired result of a benevolent, civil society.