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Monday, August 29, 2011

Religion, philosophy and me (pt 2)

pt 1 | pt 2 <<<you are here | pt 3home | WHAT'S NEW! | stories from my past

My karma just ran over your dogma

  Ho ho.

  It’s an amusing line when you hear it the first time, but I’m betting this is the hundredth time for you.

  The real problem with it is that it’s not even true, most of the time. Your dogma is the two-metre Great Dane I saw a photo of the other day, and my karma as the term’s understood these days is a clapped out Goggomobil made from tinfoil and pipe-cleaners.

  Your dogma makes a mess of my karma every time these days....

  Karma isn’t what most people think it is. If you call it fate, then we need to have a talk about our terms, because that is not what was intended by the Hindu philosophers who used it.

  Dogma gets discussed every day and it’s easy to reach some common understanding on its meaning. I don’t want to talk about dogma. We all know the comfort it can bring to those who hold it dear, and the misery it can cause to those who suffer under it. Dogma in the hands of those who know how to manipulate it is a powerful tool. In warfare, it can be wielded like a sword.

  "Men who believe absurdities will commit atrocities," said the irascible Voltaire. Enough of that.

  Karma = Fate? Let’s not. The latter's anything from crystal balls to kismet. Go to Wikipedia and it will tell you far more than you’ll ever need to know about destiny or fate, and you’d probably come out less clear about it than when you started.

  But karma? This is the one worth talking about, even though it’s bandied about like a football. It deserves much better.

  In the simplest terms, the Sanskrit word “karma” means “action”.

  That’s it.  Action.  It's an active principle, not a passive one. It was never meant as a justification for lying down and bewailing our fate. We take actions over which we have some measure of choice. Actions have consequences. Actions are the results of other actions and in their wake new things happen. Karma then is cause and effect, and it’s as simple as that.

  But nothing’s ever simple while there are humans around to muck it up and give words a moral dimension, and words seduce us into thinking they have precise meaning, especially when a series of them are strung together. 

  If karma’s purely mechanical, it should be in the realm of science, surely. Engineering, mathematics or physics. What can it be doing in philosophy, where its place seems so firmly rooted?

  All the sciences are actually branches of philosophy, as that word means loving of knowledge. Karma is embedded in them all. But I don’t want to get into semantics here.

  Being utterly logical, karma saves us from some ethical dilemmas encountered by the Semitic faiths, but it's not exactly a license to do anything we want - not without consequences we can escape. Everything we do has consequences, which we might think are small or large. But the notion of Godhead is so very different between and within religions. Some of these are quite radically different.

  Do I want to tackle that one? No, I don’t. But if I don’t, then everything I’ve written on this so far is a waste of time.

  OK, let’s do the ‘God’ thing.

NOTE: This has already come up in comments on another blog posting. "Some actions we have a degree of control over, some we don't appear to. The trick in life is to understand causes and effects, not deny them, and change what seems sensible to change if possible and work with what you can't seem to change.... Even karma's 'cause and effect' is misleading, as cause can be effect. The potter makes the pot. Cause/effect. BUT the pot also makes the potter, because without the pot, there is no potter! Cause and effect intertwined."

'Yin and yang,' says Lao Tzu.

pt 1 | pt 2<<<you are here | pt 3home | WHAT'S NEW! | stories from my past


  1. Oh good! You are going to 'do' God!! Every time I have taught in a Rels class I have wanted to find the time, and raise enough interest, to actually discuss what 'God' means to people, what they think it is. But so far (in my very limited experience) the students don't seem to think that is even worth reflecting on...isn't that weird! Oh they will acknowledge that he/she/it is claimed to be of several different forms - a trinity, or One God that is Allah, or the Hindu plurality etc, but not really consider the meaning...I could stop at 'not really consider', actually. And yet they are interested in religion!! I'm not confusing a discusson of'God;' with theology, either. Oh stop! You say - you say it all so well!

  2. Julie: I’m genuinely flabbergasted that in a RELS class, there was no interest in talking about God. Really? That’s like taking cooking lessons and not wanting to know about food! How could you possibly have a discussion?

    I’ve had to put God on the ahem... backburner just a moment or two for personal reasons, but I’ve been lying in bed thinking about this a lot. One of the beauties of curating a blog is that there’s something interesting to think about before sleeping, and when I awaken. (It’s a fantastic way of putting yourself to sleep!)

    Right now I’m torn between telling the tale of the chocolate Easter Bunny, the big diesel engine and God.

    I suspect it’s in God’s hands!

  3. By the way, given my posting on problems with commenting earlier today, I can report that Firefox and Blogger simply don't get on at all in this regard, as I tried again to post the above via Firefox. I don't think it's a cookie/window block thing. This is successfully posted through Safari.

  4. Hello Denis, I'm using this to try out your suggestion to comment on your blog via Chrome. Hope it gets through. Lovely evening reading your stuff and, currently, listening to Mozart's Mass in C Minor.

    Spent half a lifetime looking for one or other of the Gods but finally figured it out that if, after 30,000 years or thereabouts, nobody had come up with anything more than conflicting urban myths, I was probably on the wrong track.

    Only Krishnamurti and Buddhism have stayed with me - they don't seem to be in conflict, but maybe I am missing something.

    I regard Buddhism as the most, if not only practical and intelligent way to live. I don't discount Karma in this life, but don't personally 'believe' in reincarnation, am not a 'Buddhist' - which so many people proudly profess to be, and am not a member of any institutionalised Buddhist sect. I have been to short and long meditation retreats but not for 10 years.

    For a while I went to Krishnamurti meetings at the Theosophical Society in Brisbane, but gave it away when I realised that a little bald-headed guy was presuming to 'teach' the rest of us. Krishnamurti said it all with 'Truth is a Pathless land". You have got to work out your own life and philosophy.

    To me, the important feature of Buddhism are the four basic tenets - the Dukkha you refer to. I interpreted this as:

    Life is suffering
    Suffering is caused by grasping
    The way to relieve suffering is to stop grasping.
    The way to achieve this is through a life of non-attachment - never to be confused with detachment.

    We suffer because we want something we don't have. We suffer in the process of getting it. We then suffer because we are afraid of losing it. Then we suffer when it goes; and the cycle goes on.

    I also remember the Sufi story, which you will know and I won't repeat, about the King's magic ring ... "This too shall pass".

    Will send this as a trial and, if it gets through, will call you up via Chrome in future.



  5. Bob: thanks very much for these comments, whih so anticipate what I am writing about next in this that to do so here will end up in a lot of duplication. Let's just say I know exactly where you're coming from. Exactly!

    Seems like your comment made it through. You didn't need a new incarnation after all! This is being posted on the PC laptop through Firefox and working perfectly.


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