December 2, 2006


I was walking down Swanston street yesterday, minding my own business, when out of nowhere this girl shoves a book in my hand. She was early twenty-something, sort of bohemian, short blonde hair popping out from a hat, knitted scarf around her neck, and a big smile on her face. It was a bit disorienting, for some reason, especially when she started talking. Her accent was like nothing I've heard yet, an odd combination of aussie and irish, and she spoke with a rapid mumble, just for good measure, and I had a very hard time making out what she was asking me. It seemd that my hesitation after each question she asked was her cue to ask another question, simpler, different, which mostly just made me hesitate again, hoping to translate in my head. This is how it went:

girl: hi! [shoves book into my hands] how are you?
me: um hi ... good ... you?
girl: oh wonderful. [mumbles something]
me: [blinks incoherently]
girl: are you from out of town?
me: uh, sort of, I live in Coburg but I'm going home to the States soon
girl: have you ever heard of Karma?
me: [pause] um ...
girl: do you believe that what goes around comes around? you know, karma?
me: sure, I guess
girl: do you wear contact lenses?
me: [pause] um, yes?
girl: oh cool, me too [at this point, she pokes at her contact lens with her finger]
girl: so do you think you're a good person?
me: *pause, translate* yeah, I ... I dunno, maybe
girl: [mubles something incoherent] and you could donate, you know, just something small for the book.
me: [looks down at book in hands, taking note of the many hindu-ish looking figures on its cover] uh ...
girl: do you think you're rich?
me: no, not at all
girl: do you think [mumbles]
me: excuse me?
girl: do you think you're rich in spirit?
me: uh ... sure ... I guess, maybe ...
girl: [mumbles something about the book and donating money] do you think you could donate anything? what goes around comes around.
me: [comprehension dawning] oh no, see, I don't have anything on me, I'm sorry, I'm actually on my way home
girl: oh, ok, you should try this restaurant just down that way, they do lunch for like, $4.50 or something
me: oh, sure, maybe I'll try that sometime
girl: well have a nice day
me: [hands to book back] you too

I felt a bit guity, as I'd just been to the bank, but I didn't have any smaller change to buy a book from her. But I walked away, head spinning, wondering what the hell had just happened. Had I just talked to a hindu missionary? I didn't know that there WAS such a thing, I thought only Christians and mormons and jehovah's witnesses ... maybe even Jews ... did that sort of thing. I thought all the eastern religions weren't really into propoganda. I suppose maybe that's a wrong assumption. It was still very disorienting though, and I had a hard think about it on the way home.

I kept feeling like there were so many responses I wanted to give her, but because I could barely make out what she was saying, I never got them in. Isn't that the way it always is? I get blindsided and don't know what to say under pressure, but later it's like "oh, I should've said this or this or this!" Bugger. She asked if I'd ever heard of karma, to which I wish I'd said "yes, have you heard of Jesus? great guy!" She mentioned the "what goes around comes around" thing, to which I wish I'd asked "so wait, what happens if somebody does something bad to me, should I do something bad to them?"

Are we all the moist robots that Scott Adams says we are, or is there something more?

It all got me thinking about Karma and how I think I sort of agree with it, in part. I mean, from what I understand, Karma is basically the idea that "what goes around comes around." Causality. Chaos theory. Newton's Third Law. Lots of names are there, but I think it fits with what we observe in the world. I give it another name, though: Holism.

I love the idea that everything affects everything else. It's sort of comforting, in some ways, that we're all connected by events, ideas, motion. On the other hand, it makes everything harder - if I do something, somehow it is going to affect somebody else, eventually. It brokers lots of questions about 'responsibility' and 'choice' and all that.

Then I ask the question, is it scriptural? Sure, I think you could make a HUGE case for this in scripture. Stuff happens to the Israelites after they do other stuff. It's basic life. It also makes you wonder what happens if you start taking little pieces out of the equation. Say, for example, I were to take a piece of scripture by itself. Suddenly I have no context, no bigger picture. I can make it say whatever I want it to, and I think there will be no consequences for it.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

The devil is trying to tempt Jesus and what does he do? He uses scripture! Cheekly little bugger, that one. But notice how Jesus puts the scripture back in context. To understand the scriptures, you have to look at the whole thing, not just one little piece. So often we take scripture and make it say what we want it to say. [sidenote: notice that I've linked to the entire fourth chapter of Matthew, not just the verses I wanted to make my point]

The only problem with Karma is this: what happens if somebody pisses you off? Is it just the way it happens that you piss them off right back? Is that moral? Or does karma mean that they'll get what's coming so you don't have to worry, they'll get theirs. Either way, justice is done.

What attitude does this foster?

I'm thinking that Jesus was about more than that. He was about loving people, even your enemies, even the people that piss you off. The flip side to newton's third law is that, if you want to continue some action, it requires energy. You have to work at it if you don't want to get angry back at somebody. It requires effort to forgive somebody who's wronged you. There's always a bigger picture.


Christop said...

Sounds like you ran into someone from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISHKON, or the Hare Krishnas). I think I know the person you ran into, but I don't remember her name, because I've only talked to her once. If you talk to one of them again, say that you know EcoPaul.

I reckon that Karma does exist, but I don't think that by doing good things we can attain enough good karma to save ourselves. Thats why I think we need the Christ's grace.

Chris said...

I can't say I've heard of them.

I agree, Karma can't save you. It's a fantastic explanation for some things, but it's only a half-truth. You're right - we need grace.

shawna said...

Well, the bible does say that each person will give an account for their life...

Hamo said...

Hi Chris

When people speak to me of Karma 'what goes around etc', I usually respond by saying 'well that's very similar to what the Bible teaches! The Bible says that whatever you sow you will reap'

I know karma is a somewhat differentr concept, but it is a similar principle and it does foster good discussion.

Sounds like she wasn't a very confident missionary!

David said...

"A postmodern [heretic], lover, musician, husband, author, monk, composer, scientist, warrior, artist, and amateur photographer exploring life ... "

Well, Chris, you are well and truly up yourself. In fact, you must have your head so far up your arse, its sticking out your neck again.

In the words of Chopper Read, "harden the fuck up", Chris.

Chris said...

Ok. Thanks for reading :)

shawna said...

Well...that was pleasent