Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jesus Christ, listening to people talk about Karma makes me want to recommend the Bhagavad Gita to them

Because their idea of what the Indian notion of Karma is is really off. In particular, a recent radio show interviewed a guy talking about past life regression. Very shady area. But the scenarios of past lives, karma, and what people are "paying for" in this life is really hilarious. It's hilarious in part because what they're putting forward is a light and syrup version of Christianity, Protestant Christianity in particular, projected backwards in time through generations. This guy said that a certain minor actress was paying for karma incurred in a past life as a Roman Gladiator who was sad that he was successful. If you look at the Bhagavad-Gita, the "Song of God", it's a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna on the eve of a battle between two sides connected through familial links, and Arjuna, who would command one of the sides, doesn't want to fight because it will mean brother slaughtering brother and cousins killing cousins.

Krishna says not to worry because the essence of a person can never be created or destroyed and that doing your duty is the most important thing of all. So here you have the seminal Hindu text saying that pacifism isn't always the right option, the religion of Ghandi saying in a text much more revered than Ghandi that warriors killing in battle because it's their job won't inflict much negative karma on themselves because doing your duty is your karmic destiny.

I say this not to advocate people going out there and killing people but just to say that this vision of Karma is so far removed from what New Age people think Karma is about that the two concepts are almost completely different. And if you say that killing in war is the fulfillment of your personal karma they'd freak out and say that you're a very bad, bad, man or woman.

Yet the Indians are the people who originated and refined the idea, even though most non-Christian cultures that believe in reincarnation believe in some sort of equivalent.

Here are the relevant verses from the Bhagavad-Gita, the one that was partially translated by Christopher Isherwood, the author who was a student of Hinduism for many years:

"Arjuna: Krishna, Krishna, Now as I look on, These my kinsmen, Arrayed for battle, My limbs are weakened, My mouth is parching, My body trembles"

"Krishna: Your words are wise, Arjuna, but your sorrow is for nothing. The truly wise mourn neither for the living nor for the dead. There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be."

"Krishna: He Who dwells within all living bodies remains for ever indestructible. Therefore, you should never mourn for any one.

Even if you consider this from the standpoint of your own caste-duty, you ought not to hesitate; for, to a warrior, there is nothing nobler than a righteous war. Happy are the warriors to whom a battle such as this comes: it opens a door to heaven.

But if you refuse to fight this righteous war, you will be turning aside from your duty. You will be a sinner, and disgraced. People will speak ill of you throughout the ages. To a man who values his honour, that is surely worse than death. The warrior-chiefs will believe it was fear that drove you from battle; you will be despised by those who have admired you so long. Your enemies, also, will slander your courage. They will use the words which should never be spoken. What could be harder to bear than that?

Die, and you win heaven. Conquer, and you enjoy the earth. Stand up now, son of Kunti, and resolve to fight. Realize that pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, are all one and the same: then go into battle. Do this and you cannot commit any sin."

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