It’s all karma, neh?
I usually use that line as a sign off to some of my posts. But this time I lead with it because — well, let me come to that. Karma is a Sanskrit word whose meaning is difficult to convey precisely but the two (of the many) important facets of the word are salient in this context. First is karma as action, and the second the consequence of action. This bears repetition: the same word refers to action as well as the consequences of action. This is by no means accidental.
What that points to is that action and its consequences are inextricably intertwined and inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. You makes your action and you takes your consequences, as I say.
You may ask, “But where does this ‘karma, neh’ bit come from?” It is from Shōgun, the 1975 novel by James Clavell set in samurai Japan around 1600. One of the principal characters is the daimyo Toranaga. I was much impressed by the character of Lord Toranaga and if I recall correctly it was he who often made the observation that it was all karma — meaning it was as it should be because that’s how the universe operates.
I searched the web and could not find the exact quote from Shōgun. Therefore it is possible that I just made it up but Toranaga does hold forth on karma a lot. Consider —
Karma is the beginning of knowledge. Next is patience. Patience is very important. The strong are the patient ones, Anjin-san. patience means holding back your inclination to the seven emotions: hate, adoration, joy, anxiety, anger, grief, fear. If you don’t give way to the seven, you’re patient, then you’ll soon understand all manner of things and be in harmony with Eternity.
In there Toranaga is addressing the English sailor John Blackthorne, another principal character in the story who is the pilot (or ‘anjin’, hence ‘Anjin-san’ or “honorable pilot”) of a Dutch vessel.
And this bit —
Leave the problems of God to God and karma to karma. Today you’re here and nothing you do will change that. Today you are alive and here and honored and blessed with good fortune. Look at this suset, it’s beautiful, neh? This sunset exists. Tomorrow does not exist. There is only now. Please look. It is so beautiful and it will never happen ever again, never, not this sunset, never in all infinity. Lose yourself in it, make yourself one with nature and do not worry about karma, yours, mine, or that of the village.
He does say “…it’s beautiful, neh?” though. So it is possible that he occasionally said “karma, neh?” Anyhow, let’s move on.
People often mistranslate the world karma, to say nothing of the misunderstanding of the concept. Karma definitely does not mean ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ in the sense that things are fated or predestined. In fact, it means precisely the opposite. Karma means that it is our actions that determine the future, that what we do matters and has consequences. The concept is a general formulation of the fundamental law of action and its consequences, a specific instance of which are Newton’s laws of motion. Therefore it is the ultimate statement of “The Buck Stops Here.” And so when one says, “It is all Karma”, one is acknowledging that what we do matters and we are ultimately responsible for what we enjoy or suffer.
Endogenous and Exogenous Suffering
It was in the quest to understand the nature and causes of existential suffering that the prince Gautama became the Buddha. The Buddha’s realization was that to break free of suffering, one has to follow what he called the Noble Eight-fold path. Look it up for details. The short form is that do the right action and the cessation of suffering follows.
The existence of suffering impresses me very powerfully in India. The suffering that the Buddha showed a way out of is not our mundane material suffering. His inquiry related to a much broader definition of suffering than just the lack of stuff that makes our material existence harder than it ought to be. Suffering arising out of material deprivation is the easiest to fix and given that the Buddha walked the earth within the confines of present-day India, one would have expected India to be the last place to suffer materially.
Be that as it may, suffering is a consequence of wrong actions. While this is true both at the level of the individual and at the level of the collective, there is a distinction. The individual suffers not only the consequence of his own action (which I term “endogenous suffering”) but also the consequence of the collective that he is part of (which I term “exogenous suffering.”) In other words, individual suffering is partly due to individual karma and partly due to collective karma, and collective suffering is entirely due to collective karma.
The accident of birth determines how much collective or exogenous suffering one is subject to. If you are lucky to be born in a developed nation, most of what you suffer is probably your own karma. But if you are unlucky and are born in a desperately poor country — such as India — regardless of how wonderful your own karma or action is, you nevertheless will suffer the consequences of collective karma.
India’s Collective Karma
The high prices, inflation, shortages, lack of infrastructure, pervasive public corruption, criminal politicians, . . . the ills that India suffers are legion. Enumerating them would be depressing and tiring. None of these are accidental or capricious. They are the consequences of actions of the collective. Do the wrong thing collectively, and do it consistently over an extended time, and the consequences inexorably follow.
An individual may be wise, diligent, moral, compassionate, entirely blameless of any malice and an all round wonderful specimen of humanity. But that is not going to shield him from the suffering that the collective karma has in store for him. In simple terms, if the collective is stupid, his ass is grass.
There is no way to sugar-coat this one: the collective is stupid beyond measure. You may call me an elitist or whatever but my claim is irrefutable based solely on the evidence on the ground. The misery that the average Indian suffers arises from collective stupidity.
You want evidence? Fair enough. The country has been misgoverned for at least the past two centuries. But never in its modern history has it been so dramatically badly managed. The Congress under the dispensation of the Nehru-Gandhi clan always epitomized criminal incompetence but under Italian Maino-clan, it has plumbed abysmal depths that no one could have imagined. The man heading the government is a gutless, emasculated, lobotomized, morally bankrupt, ethically handicapped, voiceless, spineless, bottom-dwelling worthless piece of scum.
And yet — and yet — the Congress is in the running to form the next government after having dragged the country deeper into poverty. That is, there are tens of millions of people who would freely choose to vote for the bunch of criminals. They apparently have not had enough of the Congress/UPA.
That, ladies and gentleman, is what is called collective stupidity.
Whatever our individual karma, we are bound to suffer the karma that arises out of collective stupidity.
Like the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, here are the Four igNoble Truths:
First, there is the truth of material suffering.
Second, the truth about the cause of material suffering — collective stupidity.
Third, the truth about the cessation of material suffering — bury the Congress/UPA.
Fourth, the truth of the Noble Five-fold Path to burying the Congress/UPA.
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Shogun. This word is inserted to to help with search of the word because Shōgun is hard to search for. If you read this, email me for a prize.