Archive for Saturday, March 20, 2004

Faith forum

March 20, 2004


What is karma?

Answer is urge to attain freedom

Saibal Bhattacharya, a Lawrence resident, is a student of Hindu philosophy:

The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit word kri, which means, "to do." Thus, karma includes all actions performed by an individual. Within the context of Hindu philosophy, karma also represents effects of prior causes and past actions.

The grandest idea espoused by the Vedenta (Hindu) philosophy is that an individual can attain self-realization through work (Karma-yoga), worship (Bhakti-yoga), psychic control (Raja-yoga), or philosophy/knowledge (Jnana-yoga) by resorting to any one or more of these methods. "Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are secondary details," according to "Selections from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (published by Advaita Ashram, Calcutta, India, 1986)."

But why have individuals craved to embark on such journeys since time immemorial?

The answer lies in our inherent (natural) urge to attain freedom. Everything that we perceive around us is striving to attain freedom, starting from the insentient, lifeless and tiny electron to man, the highest form of existence on earth. As every particle tries to fly away from its neighbors, it is held back by its surroundings. The saint oppressed by the condition of his imperfect knowledge (bondage) attempts to overcome it by worshiping God and through selfless actions (work), while the thief oppressed by idea that he/she does not possess certain things tries to steal to become free of this want. The freedom that the saint seeks is very different from the thief's, because the journey leads a saint to a plane extraordinaire -- unspeakable bliss of self-realization -- while the thief is further enmeshed in material bondage.

This struggle for freedom is a way to overcome the idea that we are as small (limited) as our physical dimensions. A person doing unselfish work has escaped the bounds of "me and mine." Unselfish karma, therefore, nudges an individual toward freeing himself/herself from the confines of the limited (physical) self, while every selfish action retards our progress towards self-realization.

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All our actions have consequences

Judy Roitman, a Lawrence resident, is guiding teacher of the Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:

Karma, like most words, has more than one meaning. Two of the most common have to do with personal tendencies and with natural law.

Do you remember Gladstone Gander from the Donald Duck comics? He always won the contest, he always got the girl ... meanwhile poor Donald Duck always lost the contest, lost the girl ... and then jumped up and down with frustration. That's karma, in the sense of personal tendencies. This sense of the word has worked itself into the American vernacular: "He's got such bad karma with women" or "she's got great money karma."

The other sense of the word is more profound, and more controversial: Karma is the law of cause and effect, as immutable as gravity. One way to put this is to say good deeds bring happiness, and bad deeds bring suffering. But not many deeds are unequivocally good or unequivocally bad. Nobody leads a blameless life. So perhaps a better way to think of karma is to acknowledge that all of our actions have consequences, every single one. This means accepting responsibility. It means growing up.

Related to both meanings is the notion of good and bad karma. Sometimes people want to accumulate good karma. And nobody wants to accumulate bad karma. But here's the thing -- you can't accumulate karma. You don't own it any more than you own the air you breathe. Like everything else in the world, karma is always changing. Cause turns into effect which turns into cause ... try to pin it down and you won't find anything there.

So the question is: How do you use your karma, the karma you've got right now? That's the only important question about karma, you're the only person who can answer it, and (with apologies to Regis Philbin) it doesn't have a final answer.

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