Would you judge someone based on events that happened earlier in their life or another life without any knowledge or evidence of those events?
Would you accept that a person is in poverty or oppression because of something they did before you met them in this life or another without any knowledge or evidence of those events?
Would you agree that a person has to live a very positive life of poverty and oppression to pay for their former misgivings in hope they will have a better future life without any knowledge or evidence of those misgivings?
If you said “no” to the above three questions then you will probably be open to what I am about to lay out. The above questions would be answered “yes” when Karma is the center of a societies philosophical thinking and culture. I hear the word Karma almost on a daily basis, Americans have adopted this word as a trendy new spiritual interpretation to life but the question is do we really understand its basis and history. It comforts us to think that as we throw our principles out the window and create turmoil in our lives that the universe will somehow correct all of this behavior. Or even worse as we turn our back on the poverty and oppression in the remote parts of the world we believe this to be the universe’s problem to work out.
Before we go further I want everyone to understand that I am not personally attacking individuals that adhere to Karma Philosophy or thinking. I believe there to be good and bad people in all segments of philosophies, societies and religions. I am merely taking a stance against the thinking and logic behind Karma Philosophy and the Caste System in an attempt to encourage reflection and respectful debate on different world views and philosophy. I find this to be an important aspect of freedom and a healthy exercise for anyone who is seeking truth and clarity.
Taking A Deeper Look Into Karma Philosophy & The Caste System
Karma is a philosophy of inaction, one of which allows people to dismiss events and circumstances as out of their control and has lead to such oppressive political ideology as the Caste System. It is a philosophy that has no room for empathy or freedom because an individuals circumstance is not defined by evidence, character or actions but by the greater universe. A greater universe that has no guiding principles, laws or direction, thus, we are left to accept its judgement’s at face value.
However, Karma is an attractive philosophy for many in affluence because it allows individuals to check out and not have to worry about the consequences of their decisions or failures because it is all a part of the universe’s plan. A very adoptable philosophy for a Western world that wants no principles nor personal responsibility. Especially adoptable when it is falling back on the freedom and liberty of a Capitalistic system and Judeo-Christian values. Those that adhere to this philosophy in the Western world get to have their cake and eat to.
From past research and study I had a fairly decent understanding of Karma and its ideology but in the last few years as I continued to hear Karma used so regularly I started to take notice and engage individuals about the philosophy. In talking to people it occurred to me that not very many people could define the basis of this ideology and its history even though they were accepting its philosophy. This intrigued me to look deeper as well and based on the history of Karma it is not a philosophy I would want to guide my future. Before we go deeper lets first define Karma, below is a simple definition for the purpose of this blog. Also for the purpose of this blog I will not be defining or going into the finer details of this philosophy like Dharma and reincarnation, I will save that for a follow-on blog.
Karma: The sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
When I hear the word Karma my mind immediately wanders to the self proclaimed enlightened American Guru instructing that Karma balances out the universe. All we need to do is trust in Karma and “what goes around comes around.” An easy position to take when you are making thousands of dollars off preaching this philosophy in the Western World. I am going to be bold in saying that most of these individuals pushing such thinking have probably never been to India or bothered to read the history of the Caste System and if they had I would argue that it was not from an objective viewpoint (refer back to aforementioned comment – have your cake and eat it to).
For me, it is a dangerous philosophy and goes directly against the tenants of freedom, liberty and individualism. As China and India run away from such thinking Americans are running to it as the latest spiritual fad to solve their problems. I will get to this in more detail later in my blog when I describe my time in India. It should be no surprise to anyone that as China and India start to settle into Capitalism and greater freedom that Christianity and its values are growing at an alarming rate. Whether we like to admit it or not the values and religion in a country or region are directly intertwined with its sociology and politics. Thus, every American must come to terms with the fact that American freedom, liberty and prosperity was built on Judeo-Christian values and not New Age and Eastern Spirituality.
The greatest irony in all this is that the very guru’s that are pushing Karma and New Age thinking in the Western world are also the same individuals that are profiting from a system built by Capitalism and Judeo-Christian values. I find this to be a precarious position for most of the New Age guru’s to justify given that materialism is not a direct tenant to enlightenment. But justify they will and can when there are no guiding principles or objective reality. India native Christian Apologist, Ravis Zacharias, nailed the current predicament of the American guru best, “we will fight one another verbally or legally for the right to preach a stress-free life, and do so with material means for material gains, all for the glories of a non-material transcendence.” He was referring to the King American Guru, Deepak Chopra, in this comment and he makes a fantastic case of the hypocrisy in Chopra’s philosophy and thinking in his book, Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality.
My Time & Experience in India
In 2007, I had my first opportunity to visit India and it was a life altering trip for me but not for reasons of enlightenment from Eastern Spirituality. For me it showed me how oppressive and unjustifiable systems like the Caste can be and how incredibly fortunate we are to have the freedom we do in the United States. I will never forget flying into Mumbai and seeing the largest slum in the world, over 1 million people living in 100 square foot dirt floor shacks. It was on this day that as a naive American I saw firsthand the result of oppression and poverty. I was humbled by how kind and gracious the people were and how motivated they were to exercise their new found freedoms for the first time due to economic and legislative reforms.
I was able to spend the next three years traveling back and forth to India doing business and I would say what I took away is much different than many Americans going to India seeking a spiritual experience. First off, I was in India doing business to help rebuild their economy and primarily help raise American capital for large infrastructure projects. India was looking to Americans to help them rebuild what the Caste System and Karma philosophy never allowed. In 1991, India started the process for major economic reform and opened up their economy to the world and for the first time since their independence. This economic and legislative reform has weakened the Caste System and people were getting their first taste of freedom and liberty. The level of excitement and entrepreneurship I saw when I was there made me think of what it must have been like in the early years of America. It made me appreciate my home even more but also saddened me by how much we take it for granted. To see people experiencing freedom for the first time was intoxicating, it was an honor to work with such grateful and motivated individuals!
As many Americans were traveling to India for enlightenment (enter Eat, Pray, Love) I was traveling their to understand and help this emergence in liberty and free enterprise. There were literally millions of people being lifted out of poverty on a yearly basis which was single handedly a great case study in illustrating the oppression of the Caste System and Karma philosophy. Yet Americans chose to ignore the aspects of this and decide to adopt such principles in our own culture. As I hear the word Karma and see the emergence of New Age values in America it leaves me in complete misunderstanding to the point of pure distaste. Why would we be clinging onto principles of oppression when we built a country on principles that resulted in freedom, liberty and prosperity? There is no excuse or explanation for such illogical thinking and choices.
How Karma & The New Age Are Changing American Values
Lets take a deeper look at Karma and how it compares to the United States and how it is changing the United States. In the United States we have agreed upon standards of what it means to be an honorable citizen and if you do not adhere to those standards then you will be judged by the system we have all agreed upon. This system of justice and democracy is not perfect but has worked really well for us for hundreds of years. It gives individuals representation, judgement based on evidence and an opportunity to rise out of their current circumstances, something that is not afforded in Karma philosophy and the Caste System. In the Karma philosophy justice is based on the idea that good and bad is a cause and effect relationship that works itself out through the power of the universe that has no distinct guiding principles. Thus, you are not judged by the evidence and actions of this life but of some other former life we know nothing about. Furthermore, your destiny/Caste is set and you have no choice or action in changing that position. This is where such thinking as “everything happens for a reason” or “the universe is in control” come from. So rather than look at an oppressed lower Caste citizen with empathy we would look at them with disdain for their bad Karma from a former life we know nothing about. I believe Karma is best summed up in the quote below by a native Indian turned Christian:
“Even the banks are kinder to me. At least the bank tells me how much I owe and how much time I have to repay what I owe. In karma, I don’t know what I owe or how long it will take me to repay it.”
This leads to my fundamental issue with Karma which is the denial of overarching principles and reason defining reality. Reality then becomes the result of the universe which I would argue is nothing more than the opinion or feeling of the individual. This is a massive problem to contend with because our individual ideas of right and wrong would be very different and as a society this will ultimately cause havoc or oppression. I can tell you first hand that I am not rational or objective enough as individual to set such truths and I think that anyone who says they are is fooling themselves. This is why its important to set guiding principles as a society and not as individuals or even worse to negate that there are no absolutes. C.S. Lewis stated this best in Mere Christianity:
“Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.”
Since we are fortunate enough in America to not have an oppressive system like the Caste we can adopt Karma Philosophy in a completely different way. Primarily I see this being adopted by Americans when choices and decisions need to be justified, it is easier to say “what goes around comes around” when we do not want to face a tough situation or it “happened for a reason” when we do not want to face the responsibility of a bad decision. This is a core tenant in avoiding personal responsibility and avoidance of being corrected by others based on principle and honor. As a result, an individual could technically go through their entire life being uncorrected of a bad behavior because we would believe that the universe would work it out. It is in my opinion enabling bad behavior and not preventing bad behavior.
The debate and discussion of Karma, Dharma, Reincarnation and the Caste System is a complex one and I am only touching the surface. My only hope in this blog is that people will recognize what this word means and the history behind the philosophy. Most importantly how it differentiates from our American values and thinking. I believe all of us have to be careful about the words we use and the philosophies we adopt at face value. If this is a philosophy you believe to be truth after exploring its history and ideology then I have no problem with that but remember that religious freedom is only afforded in an environment like the United States. So if you are going to go with a life philosophy that contradicts the principles and values that have given you the freedom to do so then at a minimum acknowledge and respect those values and philosophies that allow you to chose what to believe without consequence.
I see what you’re saying, and it makes a lot of sense as long as you interpret karma as you do. But, as you say, you are touching the surface. You seem to be discussing the way karma has been misunderstood.in the US, and not what the doctrine actually states.
I’m pretty clear about defining Karma and it’s doctrine, didn’t leave much room for interpretation. I always define terms when I take a position on a subject. So if my terms and definition of Karma doctrine is wrong then please enlighten me. But please do so with specific terms and definitions and why they differ from what I have said. I only debate based on logical counter arguments, not emotional.
You describe the way that karma is often interpreted in the US. Your opening questions reveals the nature of this common interpretation. But I would say no to your first three questions (in bold) and yet would be unsympathetic to the attitudes towards karma that you describe. The doctrine of Karma would not require a yes answer to those questions, and this suggests that it is possible to interpret karma in a way that is not subject to the criticisms you make. I would say they are derived from a misinterpretation, and that this is why they lead to the problems you mention.
I’m not disagreeing with your main point, which seems to be that karma interpreted as you suggest leads to problems and contradictions. I’m just saying that a more sympathetic and more logically sound interpretation is possible.
That is a fair argument and there is no question that the Western world has manipulated Karma to what they want it to be which to your point is quite different that what it is. I’m fine with that position but the problem is that in theory the Karma you are talking about may make sense but the facts and history do not support that in practice. This is why I have such issue with its principles being adopted in the Western world. I’m a data and results drive individual and Judeo-Christian values has brought more freedom and liberty and peace than any other value system in the world so my basis will always be in this direction. “Go wherever the evidence leads” Socrates
Yes. I agree about the value of evidence, albeit that we seem to see the evidence very differently. But evidence aside, it is still ineffective to criticise an idea by mischaracterising it. The theory of karma does not require that we answer ‘yes’ to your three questions, and although you’re quite right to say that the theory of karma doesn’t work if we see it as you describe it, this would not be an argument against it. You would need to make an argument against what the theory actually states and not be partial to one view by presenting an unworkable version of the other. Otherwise you run the risk of attracting unwanted comments from people like me.
Anyway, that’s my comment. We don’t have to agree.
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