Today is one of those times I simply know to go with the flow. In the random database that is my brain, my internal, mental jukebox decided to loop Boy George’s “Karma Chameleon”. In my opinion, one playthrough of that song is plenty. But Boy George just kept singing the tune over and over, in my head, for about an hour. I interpreted the repetition as a cue for today’s topic.
No, I’m not going to tell you about Boy George, his music nor the music business in particular. I’d rather go into the principle of Karma from an eastern philosphical viewpoint.
Karma, as explained to me by one of my Tibetan friends, Jigme Rinpoche, is a very simple idea to grasp. If you’ve ever looked into very basic Karma, you probably understand it to mean that it is a word that means action and reaction. In layman’s terms, it’s sometimes called “payback”. As far as a gross definition, this is a good starting point.
My friends know that I’m a Buddhist practitioner, so they often like to quiz me about my points of view regarding questions they have about eastern philosophy and religions. I always give them a short disclaimer to remind them that I’m only a layman and not a lineage holder or guru. However, for the sake of conversation and as a jumping off point, I do answer my friends to the best of my ability.
Karma is one of those tricky, new agey, somewhat arcane terms. Some belief systems associate Karma with reincarnation. In simple terms, some believers think that if you lived a good past life you have been reincarnated as some kind of “advanced” teacher or “accomplished” being. Conversely, if you lived a bad past life, you have now been reincarnated into the life of an impoverished person or a member of an outcaste minority or as an animal of some sort. That opinion is quite different from the Buddhist view of Karma or Kamma.
Many of us understand Karma as a condition that applies in the here and now. It is a sort of action/reaction that we are all subject to experiencing all the time. In a general sense, if you are a helpful, selfless person who is filled to the brim with love and compassion, you may likely enjoy a wonderful life that is full of auspicious events and pleasant surroundings. On the other hand, if you are a greedy, selfish person who commits crimes or hurts other beings, you will likely live a miserable life, full of danger and pitfalls.
A few months ago, my friend Sam brought up the subject of Karma while chatting with me on the phone. He asked a very good question. What about people who are kind, charitable, and full of love, but come down with M.S. or cancer or are assaulted on the street by a mugger? And how about executives and criminals who are very selfish, greedy and hurt people by deceit or robbery? Why do they often live in luxurious, plush surroundings and often avoid punishment?
These are fair questions. This is where the everyday subtlties of Karma come into play. The wonderful, kind people who appear to fall into inauspicious circumstances, do so, because they were born. Every single human being has been born and is subject to the conditions of living, illness and death. Whether you’re a saintly or a nasty person, has no objective bearing on your physical circumstances.
Karma is what happens regarding your personal perceptions and thoughts. In the case of cancer, a “good” person may interpret the sickness as an opportunity to learn and to deepen her personal character while a “bad” person might see the illness as a punishment and the manifestation of bad payback.
In other instances, a compassionate person might find himself living an average, unremarkable lifestyle. He will likely think of his life as blessed and fortunate. He’ll probably enjoy the esteem of his peers and acquaintances.
Meantime the corrupt, greedy man might live in a grand mansion, drive an expensive vehicle and hobnob with famous celebrities. But deep in his heart, he will be unable to fully appreciate his good fortune. He will live in a hellish internal world in which he is never satisfied. He’ll yearn for more and more fine things. He’ll always have the memories of the people he cheated and robbed in the back of his mind. His peers will not trust or sincerely like or love him. Even the so-called psychopath will have the memories of his deeds bubbling underneath the surface of his conscience. People around him will beware of his presence.
Nobody can escape Karma. If you cause any living being to suffer in any way, you will also suffer in some manner. If your actions are kind, caring and compassionate, your suffering will be lessened.
That’s where “Karma Chameleon” comes full circle. Like the cute little lizard that blends in with his surroundings, your Karma blends in with you, camouflaged as your life. It is simply your “action”.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes the fruits of your Karma are auspicious.