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Karma Covered Fingers Dipped in Pain

March 12, 2009

I was talking with a Buddhist friend the other day about Karma.

The American heritage dictionary calls it the effect of a person’s actions during the successive phases of the person’s existence, regarded as determining the person’s destiny.

Another dictionary I have says

karma is a variation of the Sanskrit word karman, which means to act, action, a former act leading to a future result, or result.
Buddhism interprets Karma in two ways: as indicating three categories of action, i.e., mental, verbal, and physical, and as indicating a dormant force thereby produced. That is one’s thought, speech, and behavior, both good and bad, imprint themselves as a latent force or potential in one’s life. This dictionary goes on to say that Karma is broadly divided into two types: fixed and unfixed. Fixed karma is said to produce a fixed result – that is, for any given fixed karma there is a specific effect that will become manifest at a specific time. In the case of unfixed karma, any various results or general outcomes might arise at an indeterminate time. Irrespective of these differences the Buddhist philosophy of karma is not fatalistic. No ill effect is so fixed or predetermined that good karma from Buddhist practice in the present cannot transform it for the better. Moreover, any type of karma needs interaction with the corresponding condition to become manifest.


The idea of karma has become mainstream and now wiggles its way into the simplest of conversations… “Oooooo that’s bad karma, don’t say that”.
“I have good karma today – I didn’t miss my bus!” “Oh here he comes, watch out he has bad karma.”

These phrases pick at the notion of karma but they do not actually hit it on the head (what ever kind of karma that would create).

The idea of karma has been a more realistic idea for me than the idea of an all powerful Oz (clearing of throat) excuse me, all powerful God, bestowing or removing blessings based on how I pleased him/her/it. Anyone old enough to remember the old 70’s sitcom Maude (Bea Arthur before she was a Golden Girl) will recall how when ever her husband pissed her off she gave him a sideways glance with the warning, “God’ll get you for that Walter.” Civilizations have been built upon this very fear. I never understood it. I still don’t. I scratch my head most when asking the usually rhetorical, “How are you?” to be answered with a litany of things that are wrong, followed by the praise of God, i.e. “the roof is leaking, the car won’t start, mother broke her hip, the new baby’s got a club foot, but GOD IS GOOD!” Huh? What am I missing here?

I have an easier time with the idea of karma. My shit is fugged up has been fugged up and every time I see my way clear of it being fugged up it gets fugged up again. The notion of this being the out workings of lifetime after lifetime of fugging up somebody else’s shit ergo my shit is now fugged up seems balanced. The idea of an all-powerful, all-loving God fugging my shit up only makes said God seem like a mean maniacal motherfugger.

But back to my talk with my friend the other day, she and I are both having a bout with poverty. She was laid off last summer (why do they call it laid off? It’s not like they’re going to call you back) and me, well if you’ve read any of my other posts you know it’s mostly all I rant about. So we’re telling each other the platitudes, you know ‘em…it’s always darkest before the dawn…we’ve come through this before and we will again…it can only get better from here…all that bullshit. When I said to her, I must have been one rich ass stingy son-of-a-bitch, the last few lifetimes! She laughed and told me she can’t help but think that about herself too.

So now what? To fix the unfixed and unfix the fixed that is the question.

Then just this morning I saw one of my neighbors. I don’t know his name, but we’ve been exchanging small talk during our elevator rides for nearly a decade.
Today his hand was bandaged. Of course I asked, “What happened to your hand?” expecting to hear something like, I fell on the ice, or carpel tunnel. But his answer was, “They took one of my fingers”. At first I wasn’t sure I heard him but when I looked closer I counted 1, 2, 3, 4, – the index finger was missing.

Immediately I was sad. I could see that he was sad too.What a loss. And don’t give me that it could be worse shit. Yes, it could be but that is pretty damn bad too. He explained about a series of tumors and other surgeries and the end result was to amputate his finger. I don’t know this man other than knowing he lives in my building. When ever I see him he’s well dressed, polite, handsome in a geeky kind of way and visually he appears to be some corporate professional who would have no knowledge of the mundane things I struggle with day to day. But I’ve got all my fingers. I wondered what kind of karma is he working through, to lose a finger in what appears to be an otherwise solidly constructed world.

I can’t pay my rent. He lost a finger. You cannot adequately measure or compare someone’s pain…but you can wonder.
Me = stingy teahouse operator? Him = clumsy samurai? Both together again as neighbors? I wonder.


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