April 10th, 2008

Moose With Mug

Paying for Mistakes Made in a Previous Life


Galileo's head was on the block
The crime was looking up for truth
And as the bombshells of my daily fears explode
I try to trace them to my youth

And then you had to bring up reincarnation
Over a couple of beers the other night
And now I'm serving time for mistakes
Made by another in another lifetime

[...]

I'm not making a joke, you know me
I take everything so seriously
If we wait for the time till all souls get it right
Then at least I know there'll be no nuclear annihilation
In my lifetime, I'm still not right

I offer thanks to those before me
Thats all I've got to say
cause maybe you squandered big bucks in your lifetime
Now I have to pay
But then again it feels like some sort of inspiration
To let the next life off the hook
But she'll say look what I had to overcome from my last life
I think I'll write a book

"Galileo," Indigo Girls

If there's one religious philosophy that's capable of truly tempting this stubborn agnostic into having faith, it's without doubt the Buddhist notion of karma. There are so many things about it that appeal to me -- in particular, the notion that if you practice your faith correctly then you will start exercising negative experiences out of your life, making it a better one through being a better person. I love (in theory) that the ability to make good things happen is solely up to you (more on this in the next paragraph) and not to the whims of a capricious god who may choose to get together with an old drinking buddy he cast aside years before and over a couple more beers decide, for no other reason than to prove his former buddy wrong, to make a bet over whether your faith can survive some slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. (Forgive me for mixing my secular and religious references.)

There are a few other aspects of karma that sound wonderful in theory. By surviving some sort of ordeal or incident of bad luck karma, you've made yourself less likely to have that sort of thing happen again. Nearly as great sounding is the notion that someone will ultimately receive retribution for his/her wronging you. Particularly in regards to the sect of Buddhism I'm familiar with, there's an empowering ideal behind karma in that you can somehow control it -- if you're practicing faithfully, you can erase bad karma, and actually prevent bad things from happening to you both in this life and your next life.

However, once you get past all the feel good aspects of karma, there is plenty to not like about it. For instace, who care if that punk who bullied you incessantly back in second grade gets karmic retribution for it in his next life... I want that bastard to get what's coming to him in this lifetime. Worse still, reverse that dynamic and suddenly mistakes you made in a past lifetime -- a life you remember nothing about, unless you either are Shirley Maclaine or have done massive amounts of peyote -- haunt you in this life. I don't get it; I'm still essentially somehow the same person thanks to reincarnation, so how could I have been capable of doing something in a past life that deserves some of the crap that I've had to endure the past couple years? On a more abstract level, karma sounds like some sort of metaphysical accountant making sure that everything balances out on the ledger of life. I don't know about you, but I find the notion of a number-crunching running the world a little disconcerting.

This is not just some sort of off-the-cuff musing on my part. My dad converted to Buddhism when I was two, and he did everything he could to raise me in the faith. I grew up with the notion of it, and yet by the time I made it to adulthood I wasn't convinced that it really existed. However, that may have had more to with the lay organization that he was involved with while practicing his faith -- there are aspects of it that struck me as incredibly cult-like and quite frankly frightened me. Nonetheless, it is possible to practice that particular sect of Buddhism in this country without being involved with that particular croup so it's clear that there wasn't much about the faith that truly resonated with me.

In the end, while it seems tempting at times, karma just strikes me as another form of religious incentive to essentially live some sort of form of Golden Rule existence -- which when you get down to it, is really the basis of most religions.... Except for the Scientologists -- they're just nuts. But more on that another time. :-)