Pondering Fate and Karma

Lake_Champolain_SunsetToday is a day of light and shadow, the clouds moving steadily from north to south across the awakening landscape. The sun is bright, as is fitting April; we have not had this much light since September.

Jennie and I have largely recovered from the flu, although we still need to nap. I, of course, continue to feel deeply fatigued, a predictable result of the confluence of the late effects of Polio and the flu. Still, things seem to be on the upswing and we are glad!

Since I last posted, the maples have deepened in color, and, even in the face of unusual cold, their buds have grown. A lovely red haze now inhabits the landscape.

We continue to occupy that time when spring could erupt full force at any moment, yet seems to waver as if undecided as to when to do so. It is a truly liminal moment. I imagine such times are a lot like the milliseconds prior to the Big Bang, when all was potential. We know from cosmology that stepping across the threshold, a seemingly everyday act, determines the shape of things to come. 

I’ve been wondering about Fate and Karma of late. Both imply something arising from initial conditions, and, from one frame of reference, we are each an inevitable outcome of the universe’s initial expansion. (This is Fate and karma at their most essential.)

Fate, I believe, requires a degree of inevitability, and suggests we might best substitute compassion for blame. Karma, on the other hand, too easily becomes a just-so-story about the world, drenched in shame and blame. I think of it as Fate married to a grand colonial gesture, a belief  that understands harm as both justified and inevitable. As a concept, Karma, like Fate, gives order to our lives by insisting on the presence of dependable, predictable, even predetermined, outcomes. It is no surprise that those who use Karma as an explanatory system devoid of compassion do not like Kali, the goddess of Nature and chaos, for her very presence underlies the certainty they pursue.

Even as we grapple with the concepts of Fate and karma, it seems many of us suspect there is enough randomness in the world to allow for the unknown and unexpected, that tendency does not equal inevitability. Sometimes, it appears to me, there really is a grand trajectory of cause and effect inherent in our lives and the universe. Then Chaos breaks through, and the thin vernier of predictably shatters.

I suspect that at least some of the magic of story and ritual is their ability to embrace, and bring meaning to, all of it: Fate, karma, and Chaos. Perhaps we humans are indeed hard-wired to find pattern, discover meaning, and make stories. But what if there is no underlying pattern to the world? No matter; we will create meaning from our experiences! We live by making, and telling stories! Fate and Karma are simply powerful stories, good to ponder but dangerous to take too literally.

10 thoughts on “Pondering Fate and Karma

  1. Fate, karma, Chaos, existentialism, faith and responsibility. Having a human consciousness sure is complicated! I remember studying the Psalms and finding the distinct change between the earlier Psalms and the later lamentations. “Thanks, God, that You made everything right and just!” morphs to “Why do the wicked prosper?” I more recently started studying Buddhism. 1st precept: Suffering exists. It seems that any human attempt to make meaning is going to be lacking somewhere. Good to ponder, dangerous to make into dogma.

  2. It’s an interesting coincidence that I read your post just after an article about the relationship between the belief in a just world and victim blaming.

      1. hi Michael,

        In a nutshell: it’s a human need to feel safe in the world. The more predictable your world, the easier to see a cause and effect relationship in everything. And the more you believe in the fairness of life, the more predictable and secure your world feels. When something bad happens to someone, it cannot be accidental, that would contradict predictability and security. So they must have done something to deserve it. Kind of “My mother is a decent person and she has never been raped, if you were a decent person, too, you wouldn’t have been raped, either.” Obviously, this theory becomes disturbing when it comes to bad things that happen to people we love, to ourselves or to children. That’s why there can be such a wall of silence around those stuff. Nobody wants to see these children, for example, nobody wants to hear their story. Or if they do, they want to forget about them fast. It’s too upsetting. Most people prefer to live in a predictable, safe world where such things cannot happen. Traumatised children, especially, are often traumatised at least twice: the first time when they suffer trauma and the second time when they find themselves in a vacuum; isolated, invisible… but that’s another story.

      2. Maybe it is just part of the larger story. Trauma does upset our desire for stability and knowing. This is multiply true for children who grow best in the absence of trauma. Yet many people are willing, at least much of the time, to acknowledge trauma, and unknowing, and to offer solace and care. Without them, life would be much harder I imagine.

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