Hola mi Gente,
Recently, I’ve been seriously thinking about doing overseas humanitarian work. It’s something I have always wanted to do and perhaps this moment of transition in my life is the right time. Hmm…
On another completely unrelated note, feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, recently made some disparaging comments regarding young women Bernie Sanders supporters. Those who know and have worked with me know that I identify as a feminist. I also realize that my feminist identification is colored by the reality that I am a Latino cis man in a sexist society. I also have problems with what some call “white feminism: a feminism that is blind (consciously or otherwise) to issues of race and ethnicity (see here).
Having heard Steinem speak on a number of occasions, the racial component of her feminist analysis seemed to me an “added on” or artificial component-- something wedged on after the fact. That she would be so condescending to young women as to say that they’re only for Sanders because that’s where the boys are, as she did on television this past Friday, perhaps demonstrates that a form of thinking that has ossified (I won’t even mention another scold, Madeline Albright, who said the death of 500,000 innocent Iraqi women and children was “worth it”). I most certainly will not be voting for Hillary because of her ties to Wall St. and her warmongering and I don’t think it takes away from my commitment to feminism any more than the fact that my decision not to vote for any of the two Latinos, Rubio and Cruz, lessens my commitment to equality for my people.
Fuck you, Gloria, maybe it’s time you took a seat -- make that two seats!
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Contrary to popular misconception, karma has nothing to do with punishment and reward. It exists as part of our holographic universe’s binary or dualistic operating system only to teach us responsibility for our creations -- and all things we experience are our creations.
-- Sol Luckman
In the allegorical novella, The Mountain, a man climbing a mountain kills a diseased old rat thinking he’s done something beneficial. What he didn’t realize was that the old rat, because it was too old and toothless, fed exclusively on certain insects. Once the rat was gone, these insects, who borrowed into the soil, multiplied causing soil erosion which eventually led to landslides and the destruction of an ecology.
Take a spiritual concept developed in one culture and transplant it to another and it will often be mangled beyond recognition. Nowhere is this truer than in Eastern spiritual practices adopted by Westerners raised mostly in Old Testament, Christian/ Judeo ideology. And nowhere is this truer than the law of karma.
Karma (kamma in Pali), in its simplest form, means action. But karma is more than cause and effect. It’s not merely “reaping what you sow.” In fact, the historical Buddha called the workings of karma one of the “four unconjecturables.” We could drive ourselves crazy speculating on how it will play out, he said (Anguttara Nikaya 4.77).
Most questions and difficulties regarding karma and rebirth come from an understanding of karma in which people who suffer in this life probably caused some wrong in a previous life. Yet I cannot imagine that the millions of victims of slavery, for example, that occurred throughout history suffer because of karmic law. Or, for another example, the case of a little girl was brutalized by her stepfather. She suffered in ways most adults will never understand and died sitting in cat litter, punishment for daring to eat some yogurt. I have a huge problem justifying that as “karma.”
In the earliest Buddhist writings, including the Pali Canon, it is clear that while karma has a significant bearing on the course of one’s life, other factors also influence one’s situation (see, for instance, Samyutta Nikaya, 36.21); not least of these is the karma of other people, which we cannot control. However, some Buddhist traditions emphasize individual karma as the sole cause of one’s happiness/sorrow. The implication of this is troubling: that those who suffered in Rwanda, for example, were reaping the consequences of karma sown in previous lives.
I view the popular understanding of karma in the West as flawed and not very convincing, nor even helpful. It is ridiculous to look at the suffering of others and speculate that their predicament must result from their karma from former lives, especially when we cannot know the connections between their present condition and their former conduct. The factors that create the circumstances of an individual’s life are many and complex. Viewing the misfortunes of others purely in terms of their previous karma may encourage us to think that they must deserve them, which is not a skillful attitude.
On the other hand, it may be helpful for us to reflect that when misfortune befalls us we may have contributed to the situation; not so that we indulge in self-loathing and blame (which are forms of attachments and thus lead to more suffering), but because it may encourage us to be more vigilant regarding our patterns of behavior. I can tell you without qualification that in terms of Buddhism, the appropriate response to the sufferings of others is compassion.
Finally, there is the seemingly widespread belief (or, more correctly, desire) that those who put us down or gloat over our misfortunes, or do things to us that hurt us, and are unjustified receive some form of karmic payback. I see the status updates on Facebook and other social media and this is usually framed as the desire to remove “negative people” from our lives, or people who we need to get rid of and who will suffer greatly because of karma.
Frankly put, this is immaturity. To me this is a childish notion, grounded in unskillful reactions that do not come from other so-called “negative” people, but from our own hurt and insecurity. This has nothing to do with karma. Believe me, I understand that there are painful experiences and that maybe you would feel justified knowing that the perpetrators of this pain will suffer as a consequence. But is this at best a hypocritical wish? After all, which is worse: gloating over the misfortunes of others or enjoying the hoped for humiliation of the one who gloats? Wishing suffering on others is not a virtue. Perhaps rather than thinking of what punishment those who harm us will receive, you could instead consider how unsatisfying their life must be for them to act in such a petty way. In terms of “punishment” for their conduct, well, at the very least, they would seem to have lost the benefit of your friendship.
Wishing or desiring suffering for others, even those who have harmed us, is bad karma.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…