Karmaphagy: A Meditation on Eating Other People’s Karma and the Divine Mystery of the Holy Communion

I was just briefly engaged in a a Facebook exchange with an old friend, in which I spoke of “eating other people’s karma” as a marker of how radically interdependent we all are. My friend in passing alluded to that phrase as “karmaphagey” a neologism akin to the Christian term theopagy, “eating the god,” as a reference to communion.

In fact the very association of the two terms is significant for me, because in a sense when we eat someone else’s karma, such as in a dramatic example one is crossing a street and is killed accidentally in the crossfire between two gangs, or, less dramatically and more commonly, when someone is having a fight with a person and you walk in at the wrong time and get a face full of anger, none of which you “earned,” we are in that revealing how much we are in fact intertwined with each other.

Now, the point that triggered this was a statement about radical responsibility. And, I in fact have no brief against the assertion of our personal responsibility for what we do.

The problem is that is not the end of the story.

We are totally, wildly, independent.

We are totally made up of the world and are constantly being created and recreated and participating in the creation of others.

Two truths.

Or, to reference the Zen tradition, it is neither one nor two.

The world arises, and in each moment it is absolutely true and real, and each of us have a measure of autonomy that is amazing, a presenting of the world as me. Astonishing! Lovely! Terrifying. Solitary.


In a moment it all changes. The deck is reshuffled. And something new presents. Related to that previous moment. But different.

Totally connected.

Eating each other’s karma.

A holy communion.

The holy communion…

Or, as Gary Snyder once sang into our hearts.

Eating the living germs of grasses
Eating the ova of large birds

the fleshy sweetness packed
around the sperm of swaying trees

The muscles of the flanks and thighs of
soft-voiced cows
the bounce in the lamb’s leap
the swish in the ox’s tail

Eating roots grown swoll
inside the soil

Drawing on life of living
clustered points of light spun
out of space
hidden in the grape.

Eating each other’s seed
ah, each other.

Kissing the lover in the mouth of bread:
lip to lip.

Or, as the ancients of the Western tradition called out…

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