I ended the February letter with what I called a Random Interesting Quote: “The future is just a whole bunch of what you do right now strung together.” It is also an apropos opening to this month’s letter.
I used this quote because I liked it and it seems to be true. If you have a vision for your future, your behavior in the here and now influences that future. It is always the here and now. So, if you want to be thin, eat properly and exercise in the here and now. If you want to advance at your profession work in the here and now to efficiently and effectively get things done.
This all can be made more complex by including education, talent, aptitude, attitude, fate, and luck. But, the basic concept is simple. What you do in the here and now has consequences. This is also a basic principle of karma.
I never have truly learned the basic karma lesson. I am not sure what the basic karma lesson is but I get the occasional lesson to remind there is a lesson and that I do not fully comprehend it. It has been long enough, that I am fairly certain I will probably never learn. But, the lessons keep on coming with unpredictable irregularity. Today, I got one of those lessons, maybe two. Nah, I am sticking with one as they are related.
I had three successive meetings today at 7:30 am, 9 am, and 11 am. The first two were networking groups; the third was at a client. I was on my way from meeting two to meeting three. I was futzing with my phone and for some reason not yet using my Bluetooth ear bud. The sun was in my eyes and I instinctively slowed down. The car behind me was tailgating me. When she had a chance she swerved like she was passing and slowed down to my speed. When I glanced over, she was had her left hand to her ear like a phone, her head was moving like a comical bobble head doll, and she was mouthing blah, blah, blah. OK then. Then, after she was sure that I had seen her, she pulled in front of me and slowed down. That did not make me happy. Infant that I am, I pulled in front of her but maintained my speed. In my rearview, I could see that she was still doing the phone thing. The rear window of my 4Runner tinted but… it is a power window. I lowered it and made an obscene gesture; the only one people actually use these days. She kept at it and so did I. I sped up and she slowed down and that was the end of it. She turned into a speck in my rearview.
I did not give another thought until I get to the client and went to retrieve my iPad from my briefcase. It was not there. Really? I thought maybe, actually I hoped maybe that I left in on the seat of my car. I went out to look. Nope, not there. I called Paul at whose offices meeting number two had taken place and, yes, my iPad was there. I could not get back there today to retrieve it. Paul offered to take it home where I could pick it up tomorrow. As he lived about an hour away from me, I opted to just retrieve it Monday from his office. I actually chose to go a weekend without my iPad. Wow. I did sense a little playful karmic slap. OK. I figured I deserved it for my boorish and infantile behavior.
I had another appointment downtown after the client. On the way home, my iPhone just died. It just went blank and black. I could not turn in on which, of course, I tried like fifty times. I plugged it in to the car recharger and again… nothing. Come on man, my karma infraction was not that bad.
There are several ways to look at this.
Karma vs. Probability: Is this really Karma, God, or the universe teaching me a lesson? Or is it just chance? What is the probability that my cell phone dies? What is the probability that I would leave my iPad someplace? What is the probability that both happen on the same day? After all I am a statistician. We are supposed to study chance events and see if the events are rare or not. Let’s assume there is a 1% of each of these events occurring. The probability that they would both happen on the same day is around 1 in a thousand. That actually seems about right once in three years or so. So, is this chance? Karma? Both?
Having both left and right brain, I would say it is both. When did the rare event occur? It happened on a day when I needed to be reminded of how to properly behave as a human being (per my own definition of course). I might argue that I need to be reminded of that on a regular basis making the event not all that rare.
Relative Karma: Earlier I noted “Come on, my karma infraction was not that bad.” I flip someone off, who might have been partially deserving of such, and my iPad is magically and mystically removed from my briefcase and ethereally transported to form whence I came. Then my cell phone dies later in the day. Was this lesson so important? There are murderers and drug dealers out there who could most definitely use karmic lesson or ten. OK. Maybe they are beyond redemption and the universe doesn’t waste its time trying to help them help themselves. Maybe, they get karmic lessons but it is just they are so intensely bad they do not even acknowledge the lesson.
You would think that politicians might benefit from such. Everyone in the Senate, where they cannot seem to pass a budget, ought to go a weekend without their iStuff. Let them suffer without text messages. Let them have to wear watches because they cannot use their cell phones as watches. Let them have to suffer without Angry Birds on their iPads.
Maybe others do not believe in Karma in this world and so nothing happens. That would explain the Hitlers, Talaats, and Stalins. If I flipped someone off and suffered through a weekend without my gizmos, these other guys should have suffered from excruciating painful skin eating viruses. Their transgressions were far worse than mine. If karma really exists, I suppose their karmic payback will occur in the hereafter or upon reincarnation depending on what one believes happens after death.
Why me? Why not me? If one is a valid question, the other is equally valid. Perhaps, everyone gets these lessons but only some of us actually pay attention and note them. The better question may be why I am paying attention. Why am I paying attention? Why am I noting these kinds of occurrences?
What the heck is Karma: This probably should have been done first. Wikipedia defines karma as “the concept of "action" or "deed", understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect.” Dictionary.com has four definitions. The version that best approximates the way I have been using it here is: “action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.” I suppose when I do not act in a way I deem as appropriate or proper, there are inevitable consequences. There have been enough examples where I could actually buy into this.
The way I think of karma is that emotional inter-relational bank account (thank you Stephen Covey). One is advised to work toward a positive balance. This happens by behaving well and treating others well. Others will, mirror your behavior when they deal with you. Overall, you will have a positive karmic balance in your emotional bank account. If you actually pay good deeds forward, the positive balance will increase.
On the other hand, rudeness breeds rudeness. Despotism breeds hatred in the general direction of the despot. These behaviors result in a negative karmic balance.
I am Armenian. I tend to believe in and focus on the negative consequences only. Behaving well is the status quo. It is neutral. In other words, I do not have the same evidence that the “pay it forward” model works for me in any positive way. It just keeps me out of trouble. I only notice my emotional account when I behave badly or rudely. Case in point what happened today that is causing me to go iLess this weekend. Perhaps, karma only exists if a person believes it exists and then only in a way they believe it. I find it easier to buy into the “if I behave rudely, the universe will do something to remind me.” I rationalize this to a combination of Armenian negativity and inherent guilt.
Religion and Karma: Ah yes, I have to touch on this. Karma is an eastern, Buddhist, mostly Indian concept (I am feeling good about being able to freely admit my ignorance). Karma is kinda close to fate. Fate is not a concept that I fully accept. It is a touchy subject in all religions.
We invoke fate when we cannot explain something, usually bad, that we cannot explain. We invoke fate by calling it God’s will.
Maybe there is a complex combination of chance, karma, free will, and God’s will in this life. If this is the case, no wonder it is so confusing to the vast majority of us that prefer one dimensional versus four dimensional explanations.
Humor in Karma: I do not mind these karmic lessons because there is a certain amount of humor to them. The lessons certainly give me something to write about. My transgressions are idiotic and the lessons get the point across with no real harm especially if I do not let me ego get too involved in all of this… which again is part of the lesson.
It is very likely that I will get some emails regarding this posting. The emails, which I will assume are well intentioned, will try to help me understand the right religious perspective. Some will want to help me correctly understand what karma really is from the Buddhist and Vedic perspective. Others will wonder why I proselytizing for something other than whatever religion they devoutly believe in. This will both humor and irritate me because I am proselytizing anything here. I am playing. I am musing and I am most certainly meandering (as no doubt will be noted by Ara Topouzian).
The part that will be most humorous to me is the few emails I get will be proselytizing themselves. But they will shed no light at all on chance, karma, free will, and God’s will in this life.
There are men and women who have dedicated their lives to explaining this all in the context of philosophy and theology. One thing that I have experienced is that no one can easily explain how this all meshes. Invariably more structure and complications are created to make this square peg fit into whatever round religious hole they are trying to jam it into. It is theological quantum physics.
Maybe it just is. God just is. Chance, karma, free will, and fate may all be part of it in a constantly changing probabilistic model that I will never ever comprehend.
With the kind of chance, karmic, and fateful lessons I just wrote about. I see elements of whimsy in the cosmic design. I admire that. I find a degree of comfort and peace in that.
I was able to survive a weekend without either iPad or iPhone. Imagine that. The funniest thing about all of this was the last twist. Before trying to repair or replace my phone, I plugged it in once more. This time, the third time I tried to recharge it… it actually recharged giving the impression that all along the battery was simply drained.
Closing: When looking up the quotes on karma, I found half of quotes coming from movie and television celebrities. I can see how karma can appeal to folks in a business with such a high level of politics and so many emotional ups and downs. I did not include any of their insights here.
This is not the first time I wrote about this. In June 2005, my monthly letter was Karma Koncerns. One thing is clear after reading that older letter and re-reading this one… I am a very slow learner.
~ Wayne Dyer
~ Steve Jobs
When you see a good person, think of becoming like her/him. When you see someone not so good, reflect on your own weak points.
Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don't even notice it.
~ Sakyong Mipham