Saturday, March 25, 2006

There's No Such Thing as Karma

Recently I attended a class which analyzed The Wizard of Oz from a Zen perspective. One of the first things the class mentioned was that Dorothy brought a lot of her pain on herself. She really didn't want Uncle Harry and Aunt Em because she wanted her own mother, although she would not say this to herself. Instead, she unconsciously gets back at them by letting her dog Toto go into Miss Gulch's yard and cause Miss Gulch to complain to her uncle and aunt, even to the extent of demanding the dog so it can be sent to the pound. So when the dog comes back, she abandons her home and runs away. According to the class and book we were working from, she had bad karma, and all this was coming back on her. Two other sayings explain it. "What goes around, comes around", and "when the chickens come home to roost". Another one is that what you do comes back on you threefold - a favorite with neo-pagans.

I then had the thought that there was no such thing as karma. Indeed, this is not how the universe works. Because you offended someone, supposedly you get it back somehow in a non-promotion or some other misfortune. But in the real world, events happen as they happen, and usually randomly. They don't try to get "even" with someone. They just simply happen, and sometimes when you make a misdeed, misfortune follows, and sometimes good times or a windfall happens instead. It's just the way things work.

A book from the Bible bears this out: Job. Job has all kinds of misfortune, so he feels he must have done wrong deeds, that he must have sinned. His friends all explain in some way the same thing back at him. But in the final chapters, as God improbably comes out of the wilderness as a whirlwind, he explains to Job that he was the one who made the universe and asks Job if he can make the sheep bear lambs or change the course of the stars. In other words, God works as God works, regardless of what humankind says about him, regardless of any theories about retribution for sin.

Perhaps it's just that when misfortunes happen, as they do from time to time, we blame ourselves for it. But usually there's no one to blame, not even the stars.

Zen and Buddhism have a lot going for them, but this is one place where they go awry - there just isn't any such thing as karma.


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