In the last sentence of the post, the author extols us to “take a good look at those bastards and remember their faces. Ever see them around when you travel, don’t hesitate to give them good punches in their faces and kick their crotches between their legs.“It was interesting to see that he post was entitled “I believe inKarma; Do you?”, because with this closing paragraph, the author revealed a very shallow understanding of the law of cause and effect, or ‘Karma’.
Just as fascinating as the post itself was the litany of comments that followed. A few went along the lines of “I am Catholic, so I’m not supposed to believe in Karma… “. There were also references to the Bible’s reference to “What a man sows, this he will reap” (St Paul’s letter to the Calatians 6:7). And another one said “These two should get the karma they deserve.”
I must admit it was disturbing to see 3 young and fit men riding in the back of a trishaw that was pulled by someone twice their age. To see the lack of respect shown to this man trying to earn a decent living was heart breaking. And I do believe that sooner or later, what you do catches up with you. I have no doubt these 3 will suffer the consequences of their actions.
But the original post reminded me just how misunderstood is the concept of karma. ‘Buddhism for busy people’, by David Michie is one of the best and easiest to understand books I have read about Buddhism; and has a great explanation of Karma and its more interesting details:
You see, it’s not only the big things we do that matter. We don’t have to do anything as dramatic as defraud our employers, or write a large cheque to charity, to create negative or positive karma. Both of those actions, like all others, began as ideas in our minds, so that it is here, in our mind, that karma arises.
We all tend to have habitual thoughts, or attitudes, and we need to be very careful about these. Often they build up, and have a cumulative effect which is immense. As Buddha said in the Dharmapadda:
The word manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into a habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
and let it spring from love borne out of concern for all beings…
As the shadow follows the body,
as we think so we become.
We can see then how these young men’s actions are already part of their karma. And how they will also continue to shape their future and destinies. What is worth highlighting is that according to the passage above the mere thought of violence is something we must carefully watch and guard against just as much as we guard against violence itself. It is in thoughts that our Karma is born, Buddha argued.
Within this context, the original writer’s desire to have other people seek these men and punch them in the face or groin is just as heinous as the act that these 3 committed when taunting the old man. I know it sounds extreme, but let’s explore how that could be true. The thought gave rise to the words on the blog. The words on the blog may plant a seed on some Singaporean visitors’ minds. And these seeds may germinate and develop into actions. And who is to say these actions may not target some innocent bystander that ‘looked like’ one of them?
Both Buddha and Jesus spoke of love and compassion. Jesus himself loved those that were considered ‘unlovable’ by most of his contemporaries: Prostitutes; Thieves; Criminals. Buddha teaches us to have compassion for those that are confused and do not yet understand the nature of Samsara. Jesus teaches us to offer the other cheek. It all comes down to Karma, in a way. Read the words above. Think of the consequences that your thoughts can have. Watch carefully, and sow the habit (and the character) of love and compassion in your everyday life.
There is one more misconception that is evident in the original post and the comments that followed. Karma, as a Buddhist concept, is closely related to the idea that our current life is one of many that we have lived, one of many that will be lived. Reincarnation is a key tenet of the Buddhist philosophy, as it means that ‘getting it wrong’ will simply mean a longer path to Nirvana (salvation, in Christian terms). Unlike the Christian view that we have ‘just one chance’ and will then be judged, with the result of going either to heaven or to hell; Buddhists explain that we have an infinite number of lives to learn from our mistakes (Although some would say that getting ‘stuck’ in this crazy world for a long number of lives would be the same as being in hell, and that the two views are thus in fact one and the same). Within this context, the comments made by others to the original post miss the point: Karma does not dictate that these 3 men will be ‘punished’ for their actions. Rather, Karma articulates that their actions will have a consequence. That is why Karma is also called ” The Law of Cause and Effect”. It does not establish a punishment; simply that whatever thoughts and actions we have and live will have a reaction (consequence), and we will have to live with them.