The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Saturday, January 24, 2004
Karma is Misunderstood

My entire life, I've heard the term karma used in the following context:

"I had the worst day today. I spilled coffee on myself, was hit by a car, and broke up with so-and-so. Must be karma! I knew I shouldn't have cheated on that exam last week."

How utterly cosmic! How utterly...wrong.

The Law of Karma holds no such cosmic or chaos theory-inspired notions regarding the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. In Western terms, it can be understood as the Law of Causal Relationships. The Buddhist text has this to say about karma:

For every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful.

Karma. Cause and effect. That's it. Nothing magical or spiritual is going on. If you do something skillful, it will cause a pleasant experience. If you do something unskill, an unpleasant experience will be caused. In the context of my blog, "skillful" and "unskillful" translate to "without pride" and "with pride", respectively. If I cheat on an exam, I'm only "cheating myself" (as I also heard often while in school), and something unpleasant related to the previous event will happen as a result (teacher punishes me, the rest of the class is harder because I didn't learn the fundamentals, or what have you). My cheating has nothing to do with my getting hit by a car the next day (unless my vengeful teacher is driving it).

"But Phlegm, how can you believe your cheating has nothing to do with these future events if you believe determinism is true?" Yes yes, according to my worldview, the present I'm in now is the culmination of everything that's ever happened in my past, and the present I'm in is the only possible present. Yes, I believe everything is interrelated, but what are the relative weights of the actions in my past? Most interconnectedness is negligible; if it weren't, how could we ever make a so-called decision? How could any event ever be correlated with a cause? Sure, it's possible my cheating started a convoluted series of events that somehow culminated in my getting hit by a car, but that's the stuff of short films and fables, and worrying about such things in daily life is foolish. Best not to worry and act without pride in the first place.

Does this mean every ill-intentioned action goes punished? Does this mean every well-intentioned action goes rewarded (or at least doesn't result in punishment)? No and no. What a shame. What now? Ohh I know, let's say if it doesn't happen in THIS life, it'll happen in the NEXT...

...and we get religion.

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