This post reminds me of that Zen koan (modified here): If you post a blog and no one reads it, does it make a sound? lol
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I kid around a lot: I don’t like it when things get too idealized, “sacred.” But karma is an important part of the spiritual path I follow. Karma is an often used and misunderstood term in our culture. To many people raised within the Christian-Judeo tradition, karma implies fate or “cosmic justice” resulting in punishment or reward for our actions. In Buddhism, there is no external God-in-the-sky bestowing justice.
From the Buddhist perspective, at each point of our lives, we are confronted with a crossroad. What we are today is the fruit of our past and we, through our actions, are the architects of our future. Once when my son was about eight years old, we were at a picnic. He wanted to play whiffle ball, but I was busy preparing some things and had asked him to wait. Well, you know kids! He became impatient and was swinging the big plastic bat precariously close to another child’s head. Luckily, I was able to stop him before anything happened.
If Ian (my son) had hit the child, he would’ve called it an accident and technically speaking it would’ve been an accident. I mean, his intention wasn’t to hit his playmate. His intention was to play. Still, it was an opportunity for a lesson and we used whiffle ball to illustrate karma. LOL! It was a little difficult for seven-eight year-olds to understand, but even they saw how we need to bring a certain amount of mindfulness to our actions otherwise they will bring unwanted pain. we might laugh at a seven-year olds total lack of insight, but we adults also commit similar actions and then ask, “why me,” when the chickens come home to roost.
When we ask, “Why did this happen to me?” it is because of our limited perspective. If you continue to swing that plastic bat eventually, someone’s going to be thwacked on the head. We shouldn’t say, “It was an accident,” although we all usually do. There’s this notion that what happens to us is somehow independent of our actions. I would suggest that instead of asking “why did this happen,” we should be asking, “what am I going to do about it.”
If you want to know your past, look at your present situation. If you want to know your future then look at what is in your mind. Locus of control is a psychological concept that measures how much we feel active in our lives as players. In other words, locus of control is the extent to which feel we have control in our lives.For some people, things happen to them, while others make things happen. The whole point of karma is to recognize how our actions determine our future, so that we can then begin to act more effectively. This isn’t a religious or philosophical matter, it is entirely practical. The main point is to escape the insanity of committing the same actions and expecting different results. Even a seven year old understands not sticking their finger into the electrical socket after the first try. LOL
So, what the fuck is karma? Karma is an aspect of the laws of cause and effect that relates to our experiences of happiness and suffering. It depends fundamentally upon our motivation. When we engage in an act, no matter how it appears, what is important is motivation – intention. I used to facilitate intensive three-week workshops that involved challenging people’s ingrained attitudes and belief systems. There were times, if you walked in the middle of one my exercises, that you would have considered my methods cruel, sadistic even. And if my motivation hadn’t been based on compassion, my workshops could have actually created a lot of suffering and harm.
We can’t perfectly foresee the consequences of our actions. But we are always in charge of our motivation. It’s always up to us to decide if we want to cause suffering or bring some benefit to the world. No one – at least not anyone who’s “sane” – can say we are not in control of our motivation. An act that is motivated by a compassionate mind/ heart is ethical, no matter how it appears. Likewise, an act motivated by ignorance, greed, anger, or hate is unethical, no matter how it looks.
And this is the very basis of ethics. Teaching my son and his friend the connection between his swinging a bat without thought to the safety to those around him and pain is something he never forgot. He still remembers that day. Sure, I made it fun and the lesson was taught through the dynamics of play (don’t ask, just know that a lot of adults got thwacked with a plastic bat that day! LOL!), but it was a powerful lesson nonetheless. If we don’t relate our actions to our motivation, we can never be clear as to right and wrong. Remember: the knife in the hands of a murderer is a weapon while in the hands of a surgeon it is a tool for healing.
From the Buddhist viewpoint, right and wrong is defined as to what leads to happiness or suffering. In fact, actions aren’t defined as “right” and “wrong,” but skilful vs. unskillful. It is not some dogma of good and evil sitting somewhere within a Divine Beauracracy out there in space.
Ultimately, karma relates a lot to compassion and Buddhism has as many levels of compassion as Eskimos have words for snow, which is a really beautiful thing! LOL! For example, with regard to motivation, we might be mistaken or deluded about our understanding of the world and about the nature of happiness and suffering. In this case, this can be called “stupid” compassion – compassion without awareness. Compassion without awareness is probably where the cliché, “The roads of hell are paved with good intentions” comes from. Therefore, the issue is partly the responsibility that comes with living ethically and wisely.
There’s also the Buddhist notion of fierce compassion – or what we in the West call tough love. Now, some people are just plain sadistic and prefer calling their sadism tough love. That’s not what I’m talking about here! LOL! Awareness combined with compassion leads to skillful action which is what karma is all about, folks. It’s not “payback,” or Divine Retribution. Wouldn’t you think that your Higher Power, if S/He were truly omniscient, that S/He would know that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind?