Sunday, January 16, 2011
Toward a Working Definiton of Karma: Part 1
Karma means action. We accumulate our karma through our deeds, which stem from our thoughts. Every action has a consequence--we often forget that irritating fact. Even if we don't see the result, all of our actions are accountable to a natural law--this is called the law of karma.
Here in the United States, karma is often described as retribution. The term itself originates from Judeo-Christian ideology. Our culture is obsessed with judgment--we judge others, we judge ourselves, we predict hellfire and devilry--we are the karma police that passes sentence on actions without even understanding motivations or intent. I see this as a collective overactive superego that focuses on what we should do; Freud taught that the superego is relentlessly punitive. When we feel awful about ourselves, we displace our discomfort onto others. Hell is a real place in our minds: for some, it is the big burning hole; for others, it is life on this earth. The second belief is closer to the law of karma.
Since our individual karma begins with our thoughts, we have to understand that the mind is a battlefield. Within our unconscious we develop patterns that often dictate our actions. These are samskaras--they develop through repetition. Consider the images you see every day. Are they peaceful and loving? Are they hateful and angry? The more we surround ourselves with certain imagery, the more the mind takes on their influence. For example: how many of us watch television or play video games? Do you see perpetual violence on the screen? Is there a callousness about human beings? From this onslaught of negativity, do you find yourself thinking with anger? Do you want to hurt someone? Already your mind is taking on the samskaras that can direct your actions in any given moment--from unpleasant speech to physical bludgeoning. We let in rage and hate through our computer, but would we invite the local sociopath into our home for dinner? This is the afterbirth of a society that drills their citizens to think that they are alone and unaccountable.
No samskara has to be permanent. Instead of video games, listen to soothing music. Instead of television, read a book that edifies our consciousness. Be aware of who and what is around you. Obviously, we cannot control our environment constantly, but we can reduce the amount of negativity we encounter. It all starts with what Patanjali calls "right knowledge". As he writes: "The right kinds of knowledge are: direct perception, inference and scriptural testimony." Perception refers to understanding as well as point of view. Direct means immediate--an encounter that takes place between the individual and the experience. Inference refers to discernment: through logic, we come to a conclusion based on reason. Scriptural testimony isn't memorizing holy writ and bleating it back. It is the writings of superconscious beings who have knowledge of the Divine. Karmic thought surmises that the Divine lives in all of us: some call it the Atman, some call it the Kingdom of God , some call it the True Self (in Taoism, this can also refer to True Name).. This testimony must resonate with us on a deep level--we may not like it or agree, but somehow and somewhere inside of us, we know it is true.
To be continued...