Karmic Debts and Altruism
I tend to read about a broad range of subjects. Anything from Chakras to Group theory. I’m an Introvert, stay at home mom, Kick boxer, mildly eccentric curmudgeon and science geek who opted to become a breeder. Context is always important to me. All my life I’ve been fascinated with karma, fate, kismet and so forth. I want to know if I really am living in the matrix. Whether resistance really is futile. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about karma and karmic debts.
My highly superstitious, adorable Indian mother and devout father somehow managed to get under my skin and infect me with her belief in astrology and eastern beliefs even though there is a part of me that is prone to reject it all. I meditate and chant a prayer that I used to hear my dad recite as a child. It comforts and grounds me. I wish for more peace, clarity and compassion in the world.
For the longest time I couldn’t reconcile how Indians (Punjabis) could simultaneously believe in one god and karma. Karma implying reincarnation. As a child it felt utterly irrational. Over the years, I’ve managed to accept the contradiction by cherry picking ideas from several religions, philosophy, and science.
Let’s talk about Karma. A term we all use to justify the gambit of “Bitch got what’s coming to her,” to “Don’t worry, what goes around comes around.” Lately, my family has been growing through some shit. Or more precisely, I’ve been going through some shit that affects my family. I still feel whole, still strong but I’m tired. Pick my ass up, be there for my family and community, fight the good fight, achy bones tired. The last few years have been a roller coaster of sometimes great, but sometimes really, really bad karma. I’m not going to discuss it yet because I’m just not ready to air that much dirty laundry. Needless to say I’ve had my fair share of dark nights of the soul. My inclination has never been to ask “why me”? Why not me? Life can be incredibly random and horrible things happen to the best people. But I do ask myself, “can I still have faith in humanity”? Can I still be kind when the world is not?
Why do I strive to be a good person? Is it because of conditioning? Is it because I believe in an afterlife or reincarnation? Is it because I expect a reward? Does the world owe me for doing the right thing all these years? (Shit no!) Do I secretly believe in my heart of hearts that if I’m good enough, kind enough, giving enough, all these obstacles I’ve been having will magically disappear? This seems kind of trite on the surface but the it’s a question I’ve struggled with on and off since I was 13. (East of Eden, Timshel!) I could be completely utilitarian in my worldview and solely consider the protection of myself and family and screw the lot of you. Somehow, i just can’t manage to do it.
The conclusion I came to is that, I smile at strangers, open doors for people, give to charity, volunteer, help out little old ladies crossing the street, yada yada… because I need to believe we can collectively be better human beings, myself included. Otherwise aren’t I as good as dead? Or worse yet, a parasite that regularly breaks the social contract we all agree upon.
Compassion needs to be an anchor in my life and so does altruism. I need my children to see me as an example to live by, just as my parents did for me. I need at some level, even at 44, for my parents to be proud of me. I feel the weight of my lineage and history. I remember the sacrifices all the men and women in my family have made for their families, mine included. All of those familial stories and human suffering I’ve seen/heard should stand for something. Shame is ingrained in my culture. Especially in women. Thank goodness I don’t have any of the usual hangups that are typical of many first generations immigrants. I do however acutely feel the shame of dishonorable behavior. This seems to be, in my observational opinion, a cultural trait. My wrongdoing is like a blight on my community, family and friends. What I have the hardest time understanding is, why other human beings don’t feel the same way.
Everything seems to be a pissing contest these days. Our pain, our joy, our intellect, our public persona. We curate all of our social media feeds. When life is good, we post the umpteenth positive affirmation that we just overheard in yoga class. When life is really, soul crushingly heartbreaking, instead of being vulnerable and exposing the wound we become bitter or weaponize our pain to diminish others. Pain is pain, suffering is suffering. Mine is no more or less than anyone else’s. It’s variations on the same theme. Our common humanity.
My father was one of the kindest men I’d ever known. I’m sure I’ve idealized him a little now that he’s passed. Life was not kind to him. People used his warmth against him. I can’t say and stubbornly refuse to believe, that his suffering was because of a karmic debt. He hated gossip, always taught us about equality, donated regularly to our community temple and would literally give you the shirt off his back. “All paths lead to god”, was his favorite idiom (A modern turban wearing Rumi I tell you). For me, he really personified that we are all one. It wasn’t his karma to suffer. Nor is it mine or anyone else’s. Their was no grand set of universal forces trying to teach him a lesson or test him. We are one tiny little cog in an enormous machine of cause and effect. Both simultaneously powerful and utterly ineffectual. I say, “Fuck karmic debts”. Life breaks us all. Be altruistic anyway.