Monday, July 28, 2008

Karma spares no one?

Every once in a while, I'll see a bumper sticker or a graffiti scrawl or a comic that really strikes a chord within me; that sets my mind to wandering and really gets me scratching my chin.

The other day, while I was out walking around the labyrinthine suburban streets of Wilsonville, Oregon, I came across an automobile with a bumper sticker that read: "Karma spares no one." Well, this was one of those.

The phrase struck me as somehow incongruent. It seemed to assert that karma is something that is to be dreaded and feared. Turning to Miriam Webster, we see that the verb "spare" is defined thusly:
spare: to forbear to destroy, punish, or harm

So the verb "spare" implies that karma is the visitation of retribution on a person for his or her transgressions. Well, this doesn't seem quite right, does it? This doesn't fit my understanding of the word "karma."

Miriam Webster defines karma thusly:

karma: the force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person's next existence.
Far be it from me to dispute the definition of a word with Miriam Webster. Nonetheless, I find this definition overly clinical. In particular, constraining the word to its original context, within the milieu of eastern philosophies, ignores how it has evolved and melded into the modern American lexicon. Today in the layman's tongue of a post-'60s America, could we not add a second definition?
karma (2): the rewards or punishments visited upon an individual as a result of the virtue (or lack thereof) of his/her behaviors.
This definition, I think, comes closer to the meaning of the word. At least, in the way that it is used today.

So, returning to our phrase, karma may indeed spare no one, but does it not also reward everyone?

Occasionally, on this blog, I've mused about faith and the existence of a divine being. But, karma, as I have defined it above, is something that is beyond doubt.

We have all known people who are unethical or needlessly aggressive or dishonest. But, if you think about it, how many of those people would you also describe as being happy? Those persons may have money or power; they may have tangible symbols of success around them. But have you known any such people who you can say are at peace? Well, I certainly haven't.

Conversely, we've all known people who are honest and kind and sincere. And, in my experience, these people tend to be happy (or, if not happy, at least at peace), regardless of the amount of money they might earn, or the house in which they live, or their rank in the social ladder.

Is this not evidence of karma? And, if it is, rather than "Karma spares no one," would it not be more accurate to alter the statement as follows?

Karma never fails


Dan Binmore said...

Karma is a sanskrit word that simply means action. Your karma is simply what you do. Hindu and buddhist philosophy states that your actions have consequences. So that the things you do effect others and that their responses effect you. I think generally doing good things means that people treat you more nicely, and that's as far as it goes. I think there are lots of uncaring, unpleasant people who thoroughly enjoy their lives.

Shus li said...

Sheesh, now the angry, vindictive Christian patriarchy has co-opted the use of the word "karma", it seems.

I like your bumper sticker better.

Or, one I saw at OCF: "Nonjudgment Day is near"