The Undiscovered Country – Continued – Part 2
Our mind is the undiscovered country because therein lies many answers. I believe that if we examined our own life closely, self reflection will yield many of the answers we are looking for.
One of the questions I ask often is, is there any significance for life in a Universe of billions of stars that ignore us? Is there any significance for life in a Universe whose dimensions and nature overcome our understanding?
Let me share with you the words of Pascal, in the 17th century:
“When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity that lies before and after it, when I consider the little space I fill and I see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I rest frightened, and astonished, for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me?”
Many people have reasoned and found their answer to be God. That God intended us to be this or that. A central player in this enquiry therefore is GOD.
The French philosopher, André Comte-Sponville, wrote,
“Why is there something rather than nothing? We do not know. We will never know. Why? To what purpose? We do not know whether there is a purpose. But if it is true that nothing is born of nothing, the very existence of something – the world, the universe – would seem to imply that there has always been something: that being is eternal, uncreated, perhaps creator, and this is what some people call God.”
God seems to the answer to all the questions for which we have no answers. It is the solution to all our problems and the source of comfort in dealing with all of life’s inequities and frustrations. It provides an ideological premise that gives meaning and gives justification to all of life’s bullshit or as Shakespeare put it “The Heartache, and the thousand Natural shocks that flesh is heir too.” This is why we quietly accept the many hardships of life and the oppression of others passively. We tolerate the many injustices in our daily lives and “grunt and sweat under a weary life”. It is because we fear that journey to “The undiscovered country, from whose borne no Traveler returns” God is our answer to ignorance. We are puzzled and bewildered by what is to come and therefore we have decided to “bear those ills we have, then fly to others that we know not of”. God is our balm that soothes this iniquitous life.
Perhaps the earliest explanation of God comes from Hinduism. Central to the idea of God is the idea of Karma.
The philosophical explanation of karma is used in Hinduism to explain the law of moral causation. Karma is used to explain the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind? Why should one person be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities, and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery? Why should one person be a mental prodigy, and another an idiot? Why should one person be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal tendencies? Why should some be linguistic, artistic, mathematically inclined, or musical from the very cradle? Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed? Why should some be blessed, and others cursed from their births?
Through the law of karma, the effects of all deeds actively create past, present, and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain and joy it brings to him/her and others. The results or ‘fruits’ of actions are called ‘karma-phala’. So there is good karma and bad karma. This karma accumulates and creates a continuum over many lifetimes. So, if you are born blind or poor, the theory of Karma will hold that this because of bad deeds performed in your past life. The idea therefore, is to purify oneself towards the attainment of God – in Buddhism this called Nirvana.
The Problem with Karma
The basic problem with Karma is that the sufferer does not know why he is suffering because the suffering is related to something he/she did in their past life. It seems a totally unfair situation when someone has to suffer without knowing why he is suffering. I have always found the flaw in Karma reasoning to be that it offends my basic conception of justice. A person should know why he/she is being punished. Punishing someone without telling them why is a form of torture. According to Karma reasoning a person has to accept his downtrodden condition because of his misdeeds in his past life.
It is common place for us to read in the news that an Earthquake has claimed 100,000 lives in China or for thousands to perish in Myanmar’s Flood. Tragedy is constantly in the news, including large-scale, ‘senseless’ disasters that snuff out the lives of thousands, such as the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center. Nor is tragedy confined to today—it wasn’t too long ago that an evil regime wiped out 6 million Jews and many others. In addition to the headline events, each of us suffers pain at one time or another—illness, headaches, accidents and death. Is the reason for all of this the misdeeds of a past life and if so, should we not at least know what those misdeeds are. The Karma theory forces us to accept all the calamities of life in an unquestioning manner, without any explanation being given, except that “You brought this onto yourself and you deserve it.” Imagine being caned in public by the headmaster without any explanation being given or being put in prison without any explanation being given. Its a bit like what happens to the prisoners at Guantanamo.
My view is simple. The Karma theory was invented by the rich and the powerful to safeguard their positions of power. They did this in collaboration with the religious institutions who were very powerful themselves, so that, the minions would accept the status quo without asking too many questions. This is why the caste system sustained in India for so many thousands of years. The caste system was developed by the Brahmins (Aryan priests) in order to maintain their superiority. Eventually, the caste system became formalized into four distinct classes in India. Beneath the four main castes is a fifth group, the “Untouchable” Caste. They literally have no caste and are called “untouchables”, or the “Dalits”, which means oppressed, downtrodden and an exploited social group. A Dalit is not considered to be part of the human society. Dalits are seen as polluting for higher caste people. If a higher caste Hindus is touched by an untouchable or even had a Dalit’s shadow across them, they consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed. Coming from a good caste means that you are more privileged. This can imply having a good education and, accordingly, a more powerful position in the society. Being born a Dalit you will be less well off because you are socially ostracized. Dalits are poor, deprived and socially backward.
Make no mistake about it, the caste system thrived because of the karma theory. The Karma theory provided the very justification that made the caste system acceptable. All this brings me back to the point about the disparities and injustices in our society and the how the Karma theory justifies and validates these disparities. The Karma theory paints a picture of God as sadistic and unjust. Why does the same creator of all creation vertically and horizontally divide and sub-divide his people in the name of caste, sub-caste and untouchables? Does God not love everyone?
“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” ~St. Augustine
(to be continued)