[This is the second in a series of essays that examine the interconnection of karma and original sin]
In the first essay in this series, I made two important claims: first, that anything that has agency creates karma; and, second, that the human mission is to heal all of the karma generated by all life forms on planet Earth over the last 3.7 billion years. I want to expand on those two assertions in the next two essays. And I also want to offer five practical exercises, at the end of essay #3, that will help us to clean up karma.
Over these next two essays, I’ll suggest that there are five increasingly-important dimensions to karma: the basic dimension, the practical dimension, the moral dimension, the spiritual dimension and the mystical dimension.
- The Basic Dimension of Karma
Very simply, karma means ‘cause and effect.’ It is the basic law of science, of spirituality, and of life itself. Apart from science’s ridiculous claim that the entire cosmos is the result of an uncaused Big Bang, it conducts all of its affairs on the sine qua non that says, ‘nothing comes from nothing’; there is always a cause; and all actions generate results (effects.) Spirituality agrees but calls the uncaused cause, God – who lies transcendentally outside of the physical universe. And, in everyday life, we all assume that all experiences – inner and outer – have antecedent causes. Even little children, defending themselves against the charge that the shattered plate lying at their feet ‘just broke’ won’t convince their parents of the veracity of this claim.
Every thought, word and deed generates an effect which affects the entire evolutionary trajectory of the cosmos. This is the logical outcome of chaos theory and the ‘butterfly in Beijing’ cascade. And that is the basic dimension of karma. Let me give you a simple example. A book falls off a shelf and injures a sleeping cat. That’s karma (cause and effect). A law of mathematical physics says that force equals mass times acceleration (F = MxA). So, the blow the cat experiences is equal to the weight of the book multiplied by the acceleration due to gravity (32 feet per sec per sec). More accurately, it’s not actually the acceleration due to gravity that causes the injury but, rather, the very rapid deceleration once the book hits the cat. An old joke says of a man who fell from a 10-story balcony, “It wasn’t the fall that killed him, it was the sudden stop at the end.”
- The Practical Dimension of Karma
Where the first dimension specifies that karma simply means cause and effect, the second dimension asks the question, “did it work?” For example, a hungry lion sees a skunk and thinks, “Aha! Here is lunch!” So, he bites into the skunk who, instantly sprays him with utterly noxious gasses. The lion stinks for days, losing his pride – in both senses of the word. So, did it work? No! And the lion is unlikely to try that again.
Nature tends to favor and to repeat successful patterns. This is called, ‘natural selection’ or ‘survival of the fittest.’ Here’s a good example. One billion years ago, there was no color on planet Earth because no creature existed who could infer color from the electromagnetic spectrum – the reason being that the eye had not yet been invented. Then, about 542 million years ago, sea-faring arthropods, called trilobites arrived, complete with eyes and lasted for 300 million years. Nature was so proud of this new invention that she decided to do it again, and again, and again, and… So, today, we find eyes in the oceans, among birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Never change a winning team!
Here’s another example. Family didn’t always exist. The amphibians (e.g., frogs, crocodiles and turtles) and the reptiles (e.g., dinosaurs and snakes) lay their eggs, sometimes cover them in sand and then leave. The result is that their babies are on their own pre and post hatching. So, the mortality rate is very high. Then nature had a rethink; she threw up a species (e.g., birds) that laid eggs, kept them warm and protected, fed the newly-hatched and trained them in independent living. The mortality rate got lower. Eventually, two-parent arrangements arrived to split the duties of warming, protecting, feeding and training the offspring – and the mortality rate diminished even further. Humans took it to the next step: the extended, multi-generational family. Now, there were aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins and neighbors looking out for the little ones; and the mortality rate plummeted. Nature knows a good thing when it invents one! Now, it takes a village to raise a baby.
“God” also tends to favor and repeat effective patterns. So, truly successful individuals and societies are those who practice love and compassion, and, thus, experience peace and stability. And, I believe, the Eight Beatitudes are the spiritual DNA that, when tried, will lead to a huge evolutionary shift.
Species that don’t recognize and align with successful habits tend to go extinct. Over time and overall, things tend to get better and more complex; this is a dance between entropy and complexity, between order and chaos. According to the historical and demographic research of Steven Pinker (“The Better Angels of Our Nature”), we live in the least violent period in human history. Paradoxically, in spite of living in the safest era, we also live in the most anxious of times – courtesy of the mass media who seem addicted to the trope, ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’
In his Nobel-Prize-winning work, the biochemist, Ilya Prigogine, showed how complexity vanquishes entropy, not so much by introducing new elements into the mix, but by simply re-arranging the already-existing elements. Rather like re-organizing the pieces of a badly-done jigsaw puzzle, so that the picture on the cover begins to emerge.
This evolution, however, is not a straight-line progress; many species are just placeholders to be jettisoned if they aren’t successful. Within the human species and our organizational systems of government, this is also true. For instance, various versions of Marxism, Communism, Leninism and Fascism in the 20th. century saw the emergence of tyrannical regimes that, while espousing liberty and equality for all, led to the enslavement and murder of hundreds of millions of the ‘comrades.’ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could also jettison the notion that we can create peace by making war?
[In essay #3, I will continue with a discussion of the moral, spiritual and mystical dimensions of karma.]