Monday, August 18, 2003

My Moral Gymnasium

Even if one does not belong to any religious persuasion, the so-called "Law of Karma" propounded by many faiths can be a useful model for viewing life and how we respond to it.

The Law of Karma can be intepreted in many ways. The scientifically inclined would usually point out that Newton's Third Law of Motion--"for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction"--as the physical manifestation of this law. They believe that the law continues to hold true in our more subtler realms of existence.

Those familiar with Biblical sayings would quote words such as "you reap what you sow" and "give and ye shall receive" as corollaries of the Karma Theorem.

The philosophically uninformed would pooh-pooh away Karma as being associated with reincarnation and the superstitious belief in the possibility of being reborn again as animals as punishment for sins in this life.

The word "karma" (which in its original Sanskrit simply means "action" or "work") itself has even come into mainstream use. There are many websites that offer "karma points' to contributors who are rated highly by other readers. Karma points become a system for measuring trust in the anonymous world of cyberspace.

As I write this blog entry I am swarmed with so many ideas and interesting anecdotes about karma that I believe there's enough material even for a book. Karma is a fascinating area of study indeed. But I have to be brief here. It is Monday and it's a public holiday for me. Furthermore I'm writing this in an internet cafe and the clock is ticking. (Plus I'm also hungry).

One of the paths to realise God, as expounded by Lord Krisna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, is known as Karma Yoga. To me it is the most interesting path of all because it does not require one to indulge in esoteric practises such as meditation or fasting. It is one which every common folk can pursue.

Swami Vivekananda explains Karma Yoga as the "Secret of Work" where one can pursue salvation by relinquishing all attachment to the rewards of one's works. It is selfless action. An act of donation need not necessarily be a selfless act if one expects recognition for it. A desire for recognition disrupts the clean karmic transaction of one's deeds and generates further karma, which could either be positive or negative.

Life is one big entanglement of karma. When we are born we are but bundles of unresolved karma. It is a reservoir of energy that's waiting to be unleashed. For those who believe in Eastern theories of reincarnation, we can consider ourselves to be carrying residual karma from our previous lives. For others, simple genetics could explain our inborn talents and quirks of behaviour.

How does one use up one's "karma points", so to speak, which we are bestowed from birth? We can choose to create works of art, commit acts of terrorism, do good social deeds or strive for personal spiritual transformation. The choice is ours. In the process we always generate fresh positive and negative karmas. All actions, all thoughts, no matter how simple, have consequences.

A religious guru will tell you that neither positive nor negative karmas are good for one's spiritual salvation. The purpose of life is to work out our unresolved karma and dissipate them so that no fresh karma is generated anymore. When one's store of karma is exhausted, the whole cycle of birth and death ceases. That will be the end of our suffering.

How does one ensure no or at least less new karma is generated in our everyday conduct? Non-attachment. Selflessness. Equanimity. Lovingkindness. Compassion. There is always one right action in every human situation. We, in our imperfection, may not always distinguish it clearly. There's always one right shot for a particular configuration of balls on a snooker table.

I am dissipating a bit of karma here by writing this blog entry. And you are feeling the karmic effects of my action by reading this. Is the effect positive or negative? I wish for neither. As Vivekananda so wisely put it: The world is a moral gymnasium for us to work out our karma. This blog is my moral gymnasium.

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