Three kinds of Karma

There’s “good” karma, “bad” karma and mixed karma in the grand tradition of Oriental yoga. I could tell you a story from the Bhagavadgita by way of explanation. I won’t. Those Vedic stories can confuse the issue when removed from their cultural context. Mo bettah I use a personal example. My grandfather died after a prolonged illness (probably radiation sickness.) The poor man suffered nearly a decade to die. He died an extremely painful death. I can’t be sure what he actually died from because Hibakusha were victims of severe discrimination. People were afraid of “explosion-people” i.e. bomb survivors. No one knew if radiation sickness was contagious, or if it passes on genetically. Talking about the bomb was social taboo.

My grandfather did nothing to “deserve” that death in the American sense of “deserving.”

The karma, however, i.e. the action – of entering Hiroshima in the aftermath, looking for his relative – that effected him. If I think of “karma” as actions, that was bad karma. A useful thing to remember about karma is I am NOT my karma. I do suffer, (or benefit) from my actions, yes, but I are not defined as “good” or “bad” based on karmic realities. Back to my story: you might assume I am using it to illustrate “bad” karma. I am not. Nuclear war is a complex example of mixed karma. My grandfather did a “good” thing when he showed care for his friends and relatives. He was loyal. He was optimistic. He was shocked by the devastation. He did not expect what he saw.

The war ended.

After the war ended Americans flooded Japan to pattern reconstruction. Government, economy, even religion needed a reboot. The current Japanese constitution benefited from the hundred years of American experience with our own constitution. America learned the hard way through a bitter, devastating civil war. Japan? So far, no factions. Wars are the ultimate mixed karma. Try to be a dove and the rats rule. On a more personal level my parents met because my mother was working as a translator for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. Yes, she was the rare Japanese at the time, who spoke English. My father, having grown up in British colonial Sri Lanka, was already bi-lingual before he learned Japanese.

The lingering sadness survivors of the bomb experience is difficult to articulate. The social taboo that covered the tragedy kept them from having to discuss their pain and sorrow. Many of them remain psychologically stuck with a vague sense of shame for having lived; it is a sadness without beauty. The question “Why me?” can only be answered individually. The question is haunting not poignant. The existentialist “Why not me?” is no salve for the guilt-ridden, puzzled or confused. The answer to this very real question must be created, not discovered. Going off to a rural, pre-industrial society to “find” one’s self, is not as useful as the ambitious task of building one’s self. Survivors must create meaning for their lives. We must decide what we will stand for.

Don’t let the weight of shame cripple. Don’t use shame as an excuse to let the bad guys win.

As a family, my parents started anew, first in the US, next Canada and finally settling in Chicago when I was about 2 years old. Nobody knew us as Hibakusha, we had an entirely unrelated social stigma of being mixed race, non-Christians in the MidWestern United States. oops. No matter. My very Japanese mother wasn’t afraid. She viewed being different as interesting. She was constantly interested by people, places and ideas. Be curious not sorry for your strangeness. I know I am. Being colored outside of the lines has enabled me to see more sides to a story. Any alienation will do. Being outsider is bad ass. As far as karma is concerned, being stranger in a stranger land is not good nor bad.

Being ugly, provocative, rude, keeping it real? That doesn’t equal being a worthwhile person.

“Lem” is an odd sort. He lives on disability. His actual dysfunction has never been diagnosed. I get the picture that something is “off” from first glance. He wears headphones. Constantly. Headphones as head accessories. He hoards. Shoes that don’t fit him, unused plates, any old thing. He talks in circles. He’s very manipulative. When Bob introduces me I remember thinking, “Ok, Lem is unusual, irritating, and socially inept.” I did not think Lem was a threat to me. Nobody warns me. I do not shield Lem from my (then) nine-year old son. I figure if I don’t model a lack of bigotry then heaven knows where kids will learn to be open-minded.

Certainly not from Facebook.

About a year later my son and I have met all the members of Lem’s clan. I notice Lem’s sister making a deal about her girls being chaperoned when nearby their uncle Lem. When I ask on this, “Sil” reveals a shameful family secret. Lem is known to commit inappropriate sexual acts. Lewd behavior? Corruption of minors? Say what? ? ? Bob never mentioned. Neither has Lem’s father, stepmother, mother, uncles, nor aunts. What’s up with making this a family secret? Their embarrassment trumps our safety? The nerve of some people! This kind of shame isn’t mixed karma, it is bad. It is bad to exploit vulnerable people, myself and my son, for the sake of inane social niceties. Putting others in danger when one has the very power to protect, is evil.

Exploitation of the vulnerable is bad karma.

These are very religious people of numerous religions. Lem’s father is Jewish. His mother and one half-sister are Catholic. The older of his sisters is Mormon. The younger is Protestant fundamentalist. Lem’s brother and stepmother are New Age, Religious Scientist. The whole gaggle of them gag with moral cowardice. I am disgusted with their unethical behavior. They chose to subject society to potential danger. Their silence protects the most dysfunction person in the room. I’m not suggesting Lem be locked up for stuff he didn’t do. I am suggesting he pay the consequences for stuff he has done. My sympathies remain with the unnamed, unknown child that Lem pestered.

If the child victim of Lem asks “Why me?” The answer is simple. Because the Lem family circle is too lazy and poisoned with moral cowardice. If you are a child who was sexually molested, pestered or the victim of obscenities, atrocities it may not be retribution. Karma may not work as simply as vile deeds in a past life re-warmed and re-presented as “sucks to be you.” There is a life in the present. A beauty and responsibility to actions in the present. There is a tragedy to blaming victims that burns both ways. The blame causes perpetrators to be callous, heartless, encourages and rewards cruelty. For the victims? It is emotionally damaging.

When societies agree to support misguided karmic beliefs we see caste systems.

My future self might call that mixed karma. Perhaps inhumanity is necessary. It’s been around since the beginning of humans. Yes. There have always been mean girls, in-crowds, kool kids clubs. The bullies push out the weak. I just can’t imagine why. Bullies, if they have a purpose, ought to push out the evil, not the weak. Then we’d be getting somewhere. If people, ordinary people, were only willing to speak up – evil wouldn’t exist. Be outraged! Inaction always aids the oppressors, never the oppressed. Don’t be bad, be bad ass.

Now y’all play nice!

Sat Nam