“My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s been a wee bit of a delay since I was last here (**cheers from the crowd heard in the background**). And, I’ve been thinking on this issue of Karma, but that will only briefly cover what this article discusses. What is it, where does it hail from (originally), where does it belong in today’s society and, truly , do I believe in it? Those seem to be the questions mulling around my brain.
My first experience with the word Karma probably came from Jim Rome, king of the “jungle karma” which stated, more or less, if you take time out for the jungle and the clones, then the sports gods will smile down on you and you’ll be successful. It’s probably even more superstitious than that, but you get the gist.
A simple google search for the term “karma” will yield some 64 million results. According to one of the top search results, Basic Buddishm (and, really, who’s in need of a more basic approach to Buddhism than yours truly? After all, I’ve been schooled in some of the worst schools in the western hemisphere and taught anything and everything which promotes a lifestyle entirely contrary to Buddhism), Karma is simply, or not, the law of “moral causation.” As I read further on through this passage on Karma, I found myself half believing what was being said, and half disagreeing. In the end, though, I was left further from my goal of understanding Karma. More times than not, I’m looking for simple answers. That may be because I’m little more than a simpleton, but I also hope it’s because simpleness contains its fair share of truth. Albert Einstein, after all, said that “when the solution is simple, God is answering.”
There is a destiny that makes us brothers: none goes his way alone,
All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.
And so I trudged on for a more simplistic view of Karma. Further down my list of results I found a site that translated Karma, at its simplest, as “you get what you give.” This perhaps will resonate with some as being truthful, as it’s been echoed throughout time, and is generally what I believe Karma to be. Part of the trouble I was having with the first discussion on Karma was the discussion of the role it played in previous lives, and the role that it will play in future lives. It’s not that I doubt that previous or future lives yet exist, as I think there’s ample evidence to suggest that there’s more than just one “mortality” in this great go round called life, but rather the fatalistic and meritocratic view it seems to take on. Fatalistic in that we seem forever stuck in some sort of Karmic circle, continually suffering for what we do wrong or continually reaping what we do right, and meritocratic because it seems that we, as a people, are all too often attracted to the fruits and pleasures that attend merit based reward systems. That is the tyranny of the favor line, after all, and perhaps our most favorite Despot.
Without going in to great detail, I think it’s safe to say that scriptures discuss Karma in numerous locations. What I’d like to discuss has likely been discussed elsewhere (and indeed I’ll provide one link to one source), but perhaps bears further pondering. Prior to continuing, though, I’d suggest we establish the “Golden Rule” (i.e. do unto others what you’d have done unto you) as our initial Karmic starting point.
“And many more such things did [Korihor] say unto them … but every man afared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and bwhatsoever a man did was cno crime.”
“And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature? O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again aevil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal ajustly, bjudge righteously, and do cgood continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your dreward; yea, ye shall have emercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do asend out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.”
At first blush these two scriptures don’t entirely seem to provide equal comparisons. One is clearly talking about a “to each his own” philosophy, while the second is discussing the law of restoration or karma, depending on what set of binoculars you’re looking through. For the purposes of this article, I’m using macro binoculars, looking at the wider perspective and less on individuals, though certainly I think individuality applies here as well.
Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity. ~Edwin Hubbel Chapin
From the macro perspective, I think most people, especially most church members, wholeheartedly believe in Scripture #1, while more or less giving tacit approval to Scripture #2. The general rule of thumb is to follow #2 while striving for #1. How, you might ask, is this the case? It should go without saying that the LDS Church teaches its members that the essence of scripture #1 is our imperative duty in a society such as ours. The ranks of church leadership are largely filled with successful businessmen, doctors, lawyers and professors. The ranks of church leadership stand before us bi-annually and instruct us to get as much education as we can. Education which, mind you, will lead you to bigger and better jobs. Don’t believe me?
Gordon Hinckley, while serving as President of the Church and as the man most members look to as God’s only spokesman on earth, told us, “You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known. All around you is competition. You need all the education you can get. Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world. That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you can education and proficiency in your chosen field.”
Let’s recap: (a) we need all the education we can get, (b) we should sacrifice “anything” to get said education, (c) we’re paid what people think we’re worth, and (d) our worth increases with more education and proficiency. Sounds just like Korihor if you ask me – everyone prospers according to his or her own knowledge, strength and genius. Perhaps we should make a mental note of this.
With this in mind, let’s turn to a recent CNBC snippet on Mormon missionaries in their “business” news section. The snippet is about Mormons and success, and we’d do well to realize what the result of our Korihorian teachings are (as exemplified in this video):
For some reason I couldn’t get that to embed in here, so you’ll have to follow that link. What’s incredibly telling – to me at least – is how every church member and missionary in that video references the sharing of the gospel as either “selling religion” or “selling the church” … each time the statement was made, “selling” was/is the operative word. It may be a minor faux pas, but to me it suggests this Korihorian doctrine that we’re to prosper according to the “management of our creature” based on our own genius, strength and courage. These missionaries are only too glad to prosper financially and monetarily off their language skills, content to use their “talents” for profitable enterprises. Ah, how not too long ago I was in a similar vessel voyaging into an abyss somewhere far away. Now? I may have changed vessels and directions, but don’t take that to signal that I have any idea what the hell I’m doing. :)
Many of my great mentors have taught me such lessons – work hard, go to the right schools, get the right degrees and you’ll prosper financially. If you work hard enough and have enough brains, you are almost guaranteed to prosper. Or so I was sold. Sold up, down and across the river. Each of my last two Branch Presidents have owned multi-million dollar homes, vacation homes that approached the million dollar level and more cars than they had kids. They are truly great people – generous, down to earth, and as good a people as I could hope to find, yet here they are profiting from their own genius. I cannot affirmatively say I wouldn’t do the same if I were in their shoes, though perhaps the following words of Nibley will bring me to my own senses and indict me of some things I’ve been needing. And, disclaimer be raised, these are my senses. What is mine is not yours.
Excerpts from Hugh Nibley’s “Approaching Zion”
“Today the beautiful word Zion, with all its emotional and historical associations, is used as the name Christian was formerly used, to put the stamp of sanctity on whatever men chose to do. The Hebrew word for financial activity of any kind is mamonut, and the financier is a mamonai; that is, financing is, quite frankly, in that honest language, the business of Mammon. From the very first there were Latter-day Saints who thought to promote the cause of Zion by using the methods of Babylon. Indeed, once the Saints were told to make friends with the Mammon of unrighteousness (D&C 82:22), but that was only to save their lives in an emergency. We have the word of the Prophet Joseph that Zion is not to be built up by using the methods of Babylon. He says,
‘Here are those who begin to spread out buying up all the land they are able to do, to the exclusion of the poorer ones who are not so much blessed with this worlds goods, thinking to lay foundations for themselves only, looking to their own individual families and those who are to follow them….Now I want to tell you that Zion cannot be built up in any such way.”
“Brigham Young explains: “I am sorry that this people are worldly-minded…Their affections are upon…their farms, upon their property, their houses and possessions, and in the same ratio that this is the case, the Holy Spirit of God – the spirit of their calling – forsakes them, and they are overcome with the spirit of the evil one.”
“Every step in the direction of increasing one’s personal holdings is a step away from Zion…one cannot serve two masters…so it is with God and business, for mammon is simply the standard Hebrew word for any kind of financial dealing.
“So money is the name of the game by which the devil cleverly decoys the minds of the Saints from God’s work to his. “What does the Lord want us up here in the tops of these mountains?” Brigham asked twenty years after the first settling of the Valley. “He wishes us to build up Zion. What are the people doing? They are merchandizing, trafficking and trading.”…”Instead of reflecting upon and searching for hidden things of the greatest value to them, [the Latter-day Saints] rather wish to learn how to secure their way through this world as easily and as comfortably as possible. The reflections, what they are here for, who produced them, and where they are from, far too seldom enter their minds.”…”Are their eyes single to the building up of the Kingdom of God? No; they are single to the building up of themselves.” “Does this congregation understand what idolatry is? The New Testament says that covetousness is idolatry; therefore, a covetous people is an idolatrous people.” “Man is made in the image of God, but what do we know of him or of ourselves, when we suffer ourselves to love and worship the god of this world-riches?” Had the Latter-day Saints gone so far? They had, from the beginning; when the Church was only a year old, the Prophet Joseph observed that “God has often sealed up the heavens because of covetousness in the Church.” Three years later, God revoked that “united order” by which along Zion could exist on earth (D&C 104:52-53) – in their desire for wealth, the Saints had tried to embrace both Babylon and Zion by smooth double-talk…
“It has been necessary to circumvent the inconvenient barriers of scripture and conscience by the use of the tried and true device of rhetoric, defined by Plato as the art of making true things seem false and false things seem true by the use of words…This invaluable art has, since the time of Cain, invested the ways of Babylon with an air of high purpose, solid virtue, and impeccable respectability…
“[Examples of using the rhetoric of wealth, i.e. free enterprise or capitalism, etc…]: …the work ethic…this is one of those neat magician’s tricks in which all our attention is focused on one hand while the other hand does the manipulating…Implicit in the work ethic are the ideas…1.) that because one must work to acquire wealth, work equals wealth, and 2.) that that is the whole equation. With these go the corollaries that anyone who has wealth must have earned it by hard work and is, therefore, beyond criticism; that any one who doesn’t have it deserves to suffer – thus penalizing any who do not work for money; and (since you have a right to all your earn) that the only real work is for one’s self; and finally, that any limit set to the amount of wealth an individual may acquire is a satanic device to deprive men of their free agency – thus making a mockery of the Council of Heaven. These editorial syllogisms we have heard a thousand times, but you will not find them in the scriptures. Even the cornerstone of virtue, “He that is idle shall not eat the bread…of the laborer” (D&C 42:42), hailed as the franchise of unbridled capitalism, is rather a rebuke to that system [capitalism, where the wealthy don’t have to work] which has allowed idlers to live in luxury and laborers in want throughout the whole course of history. The whole emphasis in the holy writ is not whether one works or not, but what one works for: “The laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (2 Nephi 26:31). “The people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches,…precious things, which they had obtained by their industry” (Alma 4:6) and which proved their undoing, for all their hard work.
“In Zion you labor, to be sure, but not for money, and not for yourself, which is the exact opposite of our present version of the work ethic…”The non-producer must live on the products of those who labor. There is no other way,” says Brigham, and he gives the solution: “If we all labor a few hours a day, we could then spend the remainder of our time in rest and the improvement of our minds.” That is the real work we are called to do and the real wealth we are to accumulate individually. “Work less, wear less, eat less, and we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we do now.” Work does not sanctify wealth: “I know that there is no man on this earth who can call around him property,…and dicker and work, and take advantage here and there – no such man ever can magnify the priesthood nor enter the celestial kingdom. Now, remember, they will not enter that Kingdom.” He gives a concrete illustration: “When the Twelve Apostles were chosen in this dispensation, they were told not to labor with their hands, but to preach the Gospel to the nations of the earth. Some of them before a year had elapsed were engaged in trade; they became merchants, and they apostasized.” “If we lust…for the riches of the world, and spare no pains [hard work] to obtain and retain them, and feel ‘these are mine,’ then the spirit of the anti-Christ comes upon us. This is the danger…[we] are in.”
“In Zion, all are “of one heart and one mind,…and there [are] no poor among them” (Moses 7:18), thus showing that equality extends into all fields, as it must also be in the preparation for Zion: “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things. For if you will that I give you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves” (D&C 78:6-7). “And you are to be equal,…to have equal claims,…every man according to his wants and his needs,…every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:17,19). Well, there is a great deal of this. In the words of the Prophet Joseph, “The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise” (a statement I do not recall having heard from the stand for some time).
“The haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearance. The full-fledged citizen of Babylon is an organization map: Daniel was thrown to the lions before he would give up his private devotions offensive to the administration to which he belonged; his three friends preferred being cast into a fiery furnace to the simple act of facing and saluting the image [of the beast?] of the king of Babylon who had given them wealth, power, and position in his kingdom, to whom the owed all allegiance, when the band played in the Plain of Dura…” [end of Hugh Nibley excerpt from Approaching Zion]
President Kimball taught:
“Saints must keep the covenant of consecration. The Lord has blessed us as a people with a prosperity unequaled in times past. The resources that have been placed in our power are good, and necessary to our work here on the earth. But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand? Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way, that they may also be fruitful. Instead, we expend these blessings on our own desires, and as Moroni said, “Ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not.” (Mormon 8:39.) (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.357)
In the end, returning to Karma, perhaps we have what’s coming for us. We’re mostly a selfish people, too attached to our personal holdings to ever hope for a Zion like society. I know I am. I don’t yet know how to trust some being I’ve never seen, only read about and not even sure if he’s really directed my paths. I want to trust that I can let go of my desires for “security” and “stability” and trust in Him to get me to where I need to be, but that’s a tough thing to do. I hope Karma brings me to Him and releases me from this pit I’m in.
One thing is for certain, though. My genius will never prosper the management of my creature, so perhaps me hoping for a shortcut to Zion isn’t so misguided. :)
As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes, similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all Karma to ashes. ~Bhagavad Gita
 Gordon Hinckley, April 2009 New Era, page 17. Originally from New Era Jan. 2001, page 8.