Feb 27, 2010

The truth(or the falsehood) of Karma

All right.. let's get one idea right .. we have remarkably more control over our lives than we are generally prepared to accept. By implication, we also have full responsibility for our lives. The very idea that there is a greater divine agency controlling the outcomes of our lives and that too in consistency with a selection principle based on a human moral constructs like 'good' deeds and 'bad' deeds stinks of fear, insecurity, misunderstanding and of an escapement from the truth.

Lets get the prevalent and purported beliefs in order first. To put simply, the philosophical conclusion of the concept of 'karma', at least insofar it is held in the popular imagination, seems to lead to a order of nature where all the 'good' and 'bad' that one accumulates decides or weighs upon the causes and effects that unfold with your life. And apparently you generate these 'good' and 'bad' karmas through your actions,through your thoughts, through your words and also through the actions of others under your influence. It's sort of a current account, the balance in which is supposedly the principal determining agent of causation in your life. Of course, in trivial terms, it means that what goes around comes around or in other words still, if you do bad it falls back unto you as well as the good that comes back to you for the good you've accumulated. And get one thing straight, the believers ill tell you that this is a strict determinate law of life, and there will be others who say that over and above that it is permeable to god's will , i.e.,"god does not make one suffer for no reason nor does he make one happy for no reason, god is very fair and gives you exactly what you deserve". The long and short of it is that, at least in the hindu tradition, god is the dispenser of karma.

Now, there are absolutely overwhelming evidence in the reality of our lives to rid this idea of all logicality and hence its warranted assertability. We do this with the caveat that as the concept appears in Upanishadic philosophy, it is of little concern to us, as it appears in the faith of the millions who live it like a creed every moment of their lives. Lets get them right one by one:

1. For a universal system that ensures that everyone gets what they deserve, the precondition, or one of the many preconditions that must exist/be fulfilled is the existence of a universally applicable standard to judge 'deserving' from 'non-deserving'. More over, it also necessiates a universal, unbiased arbitrator to do so (we deal with god later). None of the above seems like a being in the realm of reality. Did Bhagat singh deserve to die? Yes from someones point of view who believes in a judicial system that punishes death by death. No from someones viewpoint who considers death penalty as a historical mistake that needs to be eliminated from all systems of justice. Yes again for the sympathisers of the british raj. No still by the indian who felt his freedom wrenched out of his life. The point behind my reiteration of differing instances is to demonstrate that the whole concept of 'deserving something' in a human construct. It is not present "out there" in the sphere of some absolute, transcendental reality but 'in here' enshrined in our own moral traditions which begin and end with an uniquely human and emotional interpretation of the world. It's an attempt to reduce reality to the limit of our understanding without regard to a metaphysical framework to support it.

2. Now lets come to the second point, which is that of the need for a universal, unbiased observer who is able to perceive all the things at all the times, is omnipotent and everpresent. Well, it will presumably have to be god. So its god who manages, powers and drives the whole karmic cycle ensuring that it follows the rule of fair return for 'good' or 'bad' that any human manages to generate. Now yet again, this implies an interventionist god, one that actively manages the affairs of this world, one that exercises almost complete control over the outcomes or the possibilities of our existence. Now please connect the dots and tell me that you are forced to conclude that god here is a bit of a misanthropic sadist. If he indeed controls all the outcomes and if its him who decides/designs the nature of reality then why did he in the first place make allowance for suffering in the scheme of things. Why dint he just give humans and everything else only a capacity for good. At the very least he is a very bad designer. At logical extremes, this argument is enough to rule out god's intervention in the supposed karmic cycle on account of internal contradiction that it leads us to.

3. Now, i hope we believe that there is no such thing as good, bad or deserve-ment/deserve-tion in any absolute universal sense. Then we also ruled out the possibility of god actively managing the whole show. Now lets turn inwards. I postulate here that this fatalistic belief is actually a defence/coping mechanism which took form of a religious/spiritual belief in response to some of the most profound and deep rooted aspects of our emotional experience of life. The need for us to believe that this is a fair world where all get what they deserve, the need for us to believe that there is something universally good that we must all strive for, the need for an emotional/spiritual incentive for us to take a righteous path in the face of a world where people gain prosperity at the cost of other people's prosperity and the need for us to have a common belief which can unite our lives by positively predisposing us towards doing good to others will go far in explaining the genesis and ontology of this prevalent belief.
It is much like how when man feared fire, thunder, floods or any other force of nature he started worshiping them (across all pre-modern cultures, across many modern cultures at some point in history), hoping that it would lead to some sort of sympathetic remuneration by the forces of nature. I mean, its abundantly clear that the weather pattern turned out and will continue to turn out in accordance with the energy equilibrium of the earth and will be described accurately by the laws of physics. No amount of incantations, rituals or prayers are going to play any role in changing what the interplay of geography and physics will decide. Still, to this day we notice many cultures venerating and consecrating these forces of nature in an exhibition of cultural retardation. The point is, it makes many of us live more peacefully in an otherwise absurd, uncertain and meaningless world. Thus the emotional instinct and the psychological affinity to construct such beliefs within which we can spend our time here in this world with peace.


Well, i certainly do not wish to, not that i think i'm capable of, shake any one's belief out of recognition here. What i do wish to do here, and hope have been able to do, is to demonstrate that assertion of your beliefs onto others , or construction and perpetration of you idea of life based on notions handed down by generations past is not the wisest idea. It almost necessarily renders our conception of life a little behind what the passage of time and progress of ideas would justify. Perhaps most importantly, the point i make here is that your own unique, personal emotional reaction to the fact of existence is what should be the starting point of all your beliefs. Remember, its us ourselves who are completely responsible for our lives. There may be millions of factors outside your control which causally interfere with your life, but they are all in this world. There is'nt a divine magical engine driving it. Make what you have to of your own life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How could you prove that what you do is completely of your choice ?

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