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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Freedom From Karma; You Want Some, Too?

It happened maybe a quarter of a mile behind the rural house I was sleeping in. In the late evening, D stepped in front of C and shot him with a .22 a quick twelve times in a row. C, a strong, muscular guy in good physical condition, eerily kept right on walking. D then tackled him to the ground and stabbed him repeatedly with a knife and a screwdriver as C kept on struggling. D even grabbed a hammer and punched a one-inch hole into C's skull for good measure. Then, while wrapping C’s body in plastic before dumping it into the prepared grave, D was stunned to see C’s eyes open and to hear him speak. He said, “Don’t do that. You’ll kill me.” C was still breathing as the dirt hit him.

D was not a monster. He was a human being. A human being who would draw no second glances walking down any street. Ask him if he thinks what he did to C was mean and he will wax philosophic with you, very patiently. You see, there is such a thing as karma, and whenever anything bad happens to anyone, you can count on it as being punishment and/or a lesson from God or the universe. As the wise person realizes, D could not have possibly killed C unless it was C’s karma to be killed by him. In that way, you might even say D was a channel for fate or God’s will. D was even quite possibly doing C’s soul—if not his body—a favor.

The concept of karma is one of many ways to make sense of an apparently crazy, painful and unjust world. And what sane person wouldn’t want to try to make some sense of it?

There’s a reason why I’m remembering the incident of C’s murder and D’s absolutely sincere rationalization for his actions. There’s a reason, but I haven’t quite figured it all out yet; bear with me . . . I do know this has something to do with what happened a week ago.

A week ago, I got hit with some hard news. The kind of news where most people would expect something from other people, even if only some small show of concern or interest, a comment of support. Well, I revealed this news to a couple of people, intentionally making light of it so they wouldn’t feel too awkward. One of them—someone close to me—surprised me by also making light of it and changing the subject. The other person soon, related to nothing apparent, brought up the idea of karma and asked if I didn’t believe in it. “Certainly not the way most people do,” I told him before changing the subject. It was my turn to change the subject because, you see, there was more than a hint of passive-aggression in his statement. The worst thing about passive-aggression is that you can’t call people on it. (If you don’t know why, try it some time.) And you can’t just discuss things openly and honestly, to create understanding instead of judgment. It’s always a dead-end road, just like where C was murdered.

Afterward, I kept thinking how different their responses would have been if one of them had personally received this news. And what different responses they would have fully expected from me and from others. That’s always the way it is. It’s a very human way of psychologically buffering ourselves from the chaos and dangers of the world: believing that if something bad happens to others, there must be a reason for it, some reason, any reason at all. A reason that doesn’t apply to us personally. So that these bad things can’t happen to us. Such responses are understandable. They’re just not very emotionally mature or inducive to compassion. And our worldviews—how we understand things to work here—are so powerful in how we spin this planet we’re on.

Something else fits here . . . I’m not quite sure how exactly yet. But the press’s musician-mascot, Slug, sings: “F_ _ _ the extra credit and f_ _ _ the demerits.” You know what that means to me? That means if we want freedom—real freedom, mental, emotional, spiritual freedom even—let it all go. Let go of those stupid concepts of heaven and hell, of rules and laws, of karma (which is really not much different from the other concepts in essence, is it?). Let’s let go of all that small-minded illusion and follow our inner passions, take the muzzles off our souls. (Yes, I am making a huge assumption here that, at core, everyone's soul is "good.") When we really do not give a crap about extra credits or demerits, we just might have a shot at the Real. And I strongly suspect it won’t be something “out there.”

I’m probably full of crap. I mean, all these things may well be true from what I can make of it, but personally, I’m full of crap. This whole little writing exercise is just a way for me to externalize something very personal. Truth is, those responses hurt me. I always try not to rely on other people for anything at all because my personal life experience says nobody will be there anyway; why set myself up? But it’s hard to be in the world this way. It’s just hard, and sometimes I end up wanting or expecting something human in a very inhuman world. (I guess because I'm human?)

It's admittedly hard for me to understand people who have had easy lives. But let me say this bit, because I believe it's valid: To anyone who says that dumb karma s _ _ _, please think before you spit. And take a good look at your own worldview and what it does to your openness, to your sense of responsibility, and to the world. And remind yourself that people are only responsible for their own actions, not for the actions of others. It makes sense, too, doesn't it, that if there's something wrong with outcomes, with manifestations of our thoughts in the world, there's probably something wrong with our conceptualizations?

C did not deserve to die, especially in such a horrendous way. And despite all my readings, I have never yet seen anyone coherently explain how "karma" wouldn't create endless feedback loops: D kills C because C killed D in a previous life, so then C should kill D in the next life and on and on ad infinitum. As for D, well, I’m glad we have a penal system for such people rather than relying on karma. He got life without parole.

Think and Be Dangerous

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