David Lane on Karma

     The issue of karma is an interesting one, since most Eck-related and shabd-related groups refer to it, especially when dealing with individuals who are "on" or "off" the path. I have often heard satsangis (in various branches--from Beas to Ruhani to Soami Bagh) refer to some good or bad action as "well that's his or her karmic fate."

     On the surface of it, such statements look innocent enough; we learn about a path and everything is usually explained in terms of the law of karma, moral action/reaction, cause/effect, etc. However, there is a very curious problem in all this that is oftentimes glossed over or neglected. Even if we accept the idea of karma and that it is actually operative, we can never discern something as "not karmic" (since the implication, at least in Eastern related movements with an emphasis on shabd, is that everything is karma bound)

     Why? Because according to such philosophies almost everything, nay everthing in the "lower" worlds, is governed by karma. Thus karma cannot be used in any singular case as an explantation of something. Or, if we do use it, we are more or less (I am thinking of Wittgenstein here) speaking gibberish.

     Let me illustrate one crude example: let's say that a person breaks his or her leg. We learn about it, and with our new found vocabulary, we immediately say something like: "Well, that's karma." Yet, if we are to be consistent (especially in relation to our understanding of karma), we must also say that everything preceding such an event was also karmic; in fact, even our statements to the effect that "that's karma" is also karmic.

     What do we have here? It's quite simple: we have an all or nothing proposition which has absolutely no discerning force in explaining anything that can occur. We might as well say everything is caused by "Chance." Because in a strange twist of phrase: if everything has meaning (read: everything is karmic), then nothing in particular has meaning (since all meaning is connected). Or, in other words, if everything is karma, then nothing in particular is karmic (since all karma is connected in a wide, and unbreakable, interplay.

     Thus, when we say something is karmic, we are (unconsciously, no doubt, and not with any evil intentions, of course) acting like we know something profound and we are saying something brilliant. We are doing neither. We are simply illustrating how truly confused we are over the concept.

     Because to truly understand karma is to realize that we cannot at any stage separate one event from another and then extrapolate and pass judgement on that one particular sequence. More simply, if karma is indeed karma, it is absolutely inter-linked with an almost infinite web of other sequences--none of which can be divorced from each other.

     What is really quite intriguing about all of this is that if we truly understanding that everything has meaning (everything is karmic, let's say, in exchange), then we could as easily say that nothing (read: no thing---with an emphasis on the no and an emphasis on the separation between no and thing) has meaning; or, as I stated previously, no thing is karmic.

     Which leads us to this: if no thing has meaning, then we could just as easily say that it is all "chance." (And by chance, I mean that we cannot properly adjudicate any singular event and give it a truly causal basis--rather, we could only give it a probable explanation--not dissimilar to quantum mechanics {though i don't at this stage won't to commit the fallacy that all things are collapsed to the same dimensional level).

Let me punch line this and make it clearer:

     We are probably much more honest when we say "we really don't know why such and such happened, ultimately." All we know are certain phenomenal events which lead us to such and such a conclusion. However, when we begin to pontificate like we know, we usually say something like it is "karma."

     As we should know by now, nobody knows what karma ultimately is. Why? Because it is an endless web, if we take the doctrine seriously. Thus, it may be that materialists are being more polite (and less arrogant) when they say that randomness (even if chaos has some ultimate predictable order) or chance is at the bottom (or top) of the universe.

     I say all this because in shabd yoga related movements (Eckankar and Radhasoami included), we have a tendency to act as if we know something. And in that knowledge we oftentimes say things like such and such is karmic.

     Well, we do not know what karma ultimately is. (Why? Because all actions are interconnected, which leads to the initial action which leads to the causal mystery of Being, or Matter, or I don't know what it ultimately is---which, naturally, leads to profound unknowingness). All of this points to the fact that karma--as a concept and as daily used--is more often than not a political weapon that we use in order to justify ourselves or others---or, at worst, in order to jockey for some perceived status of understanding among a sea of ignorant humans--acting like we know some thing, when we truly do not.

     I elaborate on all of this, because even though i find the concept of karma intriguing, we so often misuse it.

     Much better, I suspect, to say that we really don't know much. Much better to proffer learned ignorance in these ultimate issues. But alas! there wouldn't be so many fun intellectual disputes if we did.