Tag Archives: karma

The rabbi and the cobbler: Meeting our moral responsibilities within a wordly web of relations


Indra's netSource of the image : http://originalmindzen.blogspot.in/2011/02/hua-yen.html


Excerpt from Indra ’ s Net and the Midas Touch, Living Sustainably in a Connected World, Leslie Paul Thiele, The MIT Press, 2011

On the web of life, every act has effects and side effects, including the act of by standing. Frances Moore Lappé writes:

Since interdependence isn’t a nice wish, it is what is , there can be no single action, isolated and contained. All actions create ripples — not just downward through hierarchical flows but outward globally through webs of connectedness. And we never know what those ripples might be. Beneath our awareness, perhaps, we are coming to realize that our acts do matter, all of them, everywhere, all the time. . . . Every choice we make sends out ripples, even if we ’ re not consciously choosing. So the choice we have is not whether, but only how, we change the world.

Practical wisdom prompts us to address the question, “ And then what? ” before taking any action. At the same time, it marshals the moral courage to act. Acting responsibly in the face of uncertainty is the ethical challenge. We are all world changers. The question is whether we can become wise, just, and loving ones.

A story about an old Jewish rabbi nicely underlines the challenges in meeting our moral responsibilities within a worldly web of relations. A usually temperate and kind-hearted cobbler had libeled his neighbor, a grocer. He spread gossip that painted the merchant in a very unflattering way. The cobbler came to regret his unkind words but could not bring himself to face his victim, so he sought counsel from the village rabbi, who lived up the hill. The rabbi heard the cobbler’s story and sensed his remorse. “Take a pillow from your bedroom,” the rabbi said. “Go to your rooftop, rip the pillow apart, and throw the feathers into the wind. Then come back to see me in three days. ” The man was befuddled by the advice, but dutifully returned to his house, climbed to his roof pillow in hand, and carried out the strange request.

Three days later, he walked back up the hill to see the revered teacher. “I did exactly as you suggested, Rabbi” the cobbler reported. “Is all forgiven now?” “Not quite,” said the rabbi. “Go now and gather all the feathers, and bring them to me.” The cobbler was aghast. “That is impossible,” he remonstrated. “They have been scattered to the four winds. There is no telling where they might be by now. ” The rabbi looked at him sternly yet kindly. “ Indeed,” he said. “And so it is with your unkind words. They can never be retrieved, and who knows what evil they continue to do. Now go and make amends to the grocer. ”

The rabbi was practically wise and a builder of community. Every action, both virtuous and vicious, enters a web of relationships. Its effects ripple out in every direction. As daunting as this moral reality may be, it is also empowering. The beneficial effects of our virtuous endeavors also may resound indefinitely. For better and worse, our deeds constitute our legacy to life. The ethics of interdependence celebrates this fate and challenges us to make every act count.


Four basic concepts at the core of Indian spirituality, Mircea Eliade


Yoga: Immortality and freedom by Mircea Eliade

An insightful passage  from Mircea Eliade, in the ‘Point of departure’ of his book Yoga, Immortality and freedom.

He explains in this introductory passage how any historical study of Indian philosophy has to discuss these four basic concepts and explain their relationship. Obviously, the various systems of Indian philosophy (Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, etc.) and we might also include here the Buddhist traditions, will differ on the definition they give to the concept of Nirvana or Moksa, absolute freedom. That will have consequences on the Yoga, the ways or techniques which have necessarily to be in keeping with the ultimate goal to be reached. Eliade ends by emphasizing that the pursuit of truth by the Indian sage is for achieving liberation or freedom from the limitations of human condition, which distinguishes him from a western philosopher.

Four basic and interdependent concepts, four “kinetic ideas,” bring us directly to the core of Indian spirituality, They are karma, maya, nirvana, and yoga. A coherent history of Indian thought could he written starting from any one of these basic concepts; the other three would inevitably have to be discussed. In terms of Westem philosophy, we can say that, from the post-Vedic period on, India has above all sought to understand:

(1 ) The law of universal causality, which connects man with the cosmos and condemns him to transmigrate indefinitely. This is the law of karma.

(2) The mysterious process that engenders and maintains the cosmos and, in so doing, makes possible the “eternal return” of existences, This is maya, cosmic illusion, endured (even worse- accorded validity) by man as long as he is blinded by ignorance (avidya).

(3) Absolute reality, “situated” somewhere beyond the cosmic illusion woven by maya and beyond human experience as conditioned by karma: pure Being. the Absolute, by whatever name it may be caIled—the Self (atman), brahman, the unconditioned, the transcendent, the immortal, the indestructible, nirvana, etc.

(4) The means of attaining to Being, the effectual techniques for gaining liberation. This corpus of means constitutes Yoga properly speaking.

With these four concepts in mind, we can understand how the fundamental problem of all philosophy, the search for truth, presents itself to Indian thought. For India, truth is not precious in itself; it becomes precious by virtue of its soteriological function, because knowledge of truth helps man to liberate himself. It is not the possession of truth that is the supreme end of the Indian sage; it is liberation, the conquest of absolute freedom. The sacrifices that the European philosopher is prepared to make to attain truth in and for itself: sacrifice of religious faith, of worldly ambitions, of wealth, personal freedom, and even life—to these the Indian sage consents only in order to conquer liberation. To “free oneself” is equivalent to forcing another plane of existence, to appropriating another mode of being transcending the human condition. This is as much as to say that, for India, not only is metaphysical knowledge translated into terms of rupture and death (“breaking” the human  condition, one “dies” to all that was human); it necessarily implies a consequence of mystical nature: rebirth to a non conditioned mode of being. And this is liberation, absolute freedom.

Some insights into karma

Tangled web of life

What a tangled web we weave... http://www.flickr.com/photos/pandiyan/110413900/

This post addresses the following questions about karma: “How to understand that there is an order of karma governing our lives? And how is it possible that billions of actions of human beings are interconnected across time and space? Is there an entity called ‘God’ who is ‘computing’ these actions to produce results we come across in our lives in the form of the pleasant and unpleasant situations (punya and papa)?”

Let us start from a broad perspective. The vision of the Upanishads is that all that is here is Isvara (which is all knowledge and power). The Upanishads do not say that there is God on one side and the world on the other side. It does not say that after having created the world, God stands separate from it, looks at our actions, and decides to reward or punish us accordingly. This idea implies that God, being outside the world in a remote place called heaven, watches over our actions and gives us moments of joy and suffering according to our behavior.

The vision of God in the Upanishads is totally different. It says everything is pervaded, sustained, permeated by Isvara, like a clay pot is pervaded by clay. It unfolds that every form resolves into another form (pot to clay, atoms, particles etc…) and ultimately there is only one “all knowledge and power” which arranges these particles and atoms in a given order so that this so called universe with varied names and forms can come about. When it is clear to me that there is only “all knowledge and power” which manifests in every form to make it what it is, from the infinitesimally small bacteria to the unimaginably large stars and galaxies, including myself and the events that occur in my life, it changes my understanding of the world fundamentally.  Let us see how at so many levels, the entire universe can be seen as this knowledge and power manifested in many different orders.

As our teacher Swami Dayananda says,

“There is a physical universe that follows a physical order which governs the position of stars, galaxies, planets etc. Even a dual phenomenon—the dual behavior of an electron, for instance—is a part of that order. The physical order also covers my physical body, my mind and my senses.

There is also a biological order because of which there are living beings in this planet. Even in another galaxy, life forms would follow a biological order. There is a physiological order because of which there is illness and health. There is genetics which connects our bodies with generations which past before us- from our great grand father to father etc. There is a psychological order as well. Your anxiety, worry and fear—all these follow a certain order. There is an unconscious in everybody, and that follows a psychological order. Our own psychology is dependent upon people we have met and interacted with and the type of mental framework they enjoyed. Every person’s behavior is within that order. A person cannot behave differently, unless he or she wants to change. Then there is also a cognitive order. The fact that we are able to know, or not know, any given thing reveals an epistemological order.

In addition to presence of all the above orders that are known to us, Upanishads reveal that there is an order of dharma, an order of right and wrong. This order is commonly sensed by all of us; we don’t require someone to preach to us that we should not hurt others. Every being is aware of that. I know very well that I do not want to be hurt by others, and that others do not want to be hurt by me. That I want others to speak truth to me is very clear, and that they expect the same thing from me also is clear. That I don’t want to be taken advantage of, taken for a ride, is very, very clear to me. And I know others expect the same. Law of dharma is the matrix that provides the necessary basis upon which human beings can conduct transactions and interact with the world. The order of dharma is necessary because we are not totally programmed. Being self-conscious, we have the freedom to choose. Our capacity to chose is guided by law of dharma which gives us the understanding of what is right and wrong. That also is part of the order. When you are acting against that order of dharma, there is a corresponding karma. There is papa—a result of your improper action. When you act in accord with dharma, you get punya, which would result in conducive situations. If you understand that there is a law of karma, then you are within order.”

It is true that the dimension of order at the level of karma and dharma seems more difficult to appreciate than the other orders. To comprehend these two new dimensions, what is needed is only to extend our understanding of the physical, biological, etc. orders to karma and dharma. The order of karma and dharma ‘connect’ all our actions, past and present, to those of billions of other human beings and provide us results in form of pleasant and pleasant situations that unfold everyday in our lives. There is here an incredible knowledge and power at work.

In fact every order, be it biological, psychological connects so many variables and events which occurred since the beginning of the universe around 14 billion years ago to give the present state that we are all experiencing. If order in every discipline connects events of millions years to give us the result of today, then when the Upanishads tell us it also includes karma and dharma, it is something that is very plausible, since it does not contradict reasoning and conforms with the way every other order works. I have no way to verify it, that is true, because I have no access to details, as people ask, of the way the whole thing is ‘computed’. But it is a possibility I can be open to, since it makes a lot of sense.

When this vision sips into me, and I am more in touch with realities of existence, then my perspective of life can change totally. As Swami Dayananda says,

We don’t say God is infallible; we say the infallible is God. To say that God is infallible is problematic; it is based on a belief in God, a faith in God. One politician in India lost his wife. She was a great devotee of Ganesha. When she died, he said, “I don’t believe in God anymore.” Why? “He took away my wife.” That type of faith is shallow. You should not merely say that God is infallible. You have to see that the infallible is God, because he is in the form of order. No order is fallible. The physical order is not fallible. The biological order or psychological order—any order—is not fallible. That is why it is order. Therefore, we say the infallible is God. This cognitive change, this shift in the scales of your vision, gives you a capacity to relax. You can relax into the order.

The apparent disorder and turmoil in my life becomes in order. My feelings of helplessness are in order as well. I can relate to the “all knowledge and power” which is manifest in the form of the universe and pray: ‘Isvara, grant me the capacity to understand how the events coming to me, unexpected, unwanted for are within an order that is not separate from you’. This gives me the courage and the serenity to accept situations as they unfold, because I know they are the result of an infallible order. It further enables me to assess the situation more objectively, and then act according to what I can do.

Surya Tahora & Neema Majmudar

To know more, some links to Vedanta, the Yoga of Objectivity:

[1] The equation ‘You are that’, the cause of the universe

[2] The equation ‘You are that’, the nature of ‘that’

[3] Article in pdf format, The vedic vision of God

[4] The crux of Vedanta, Orders of reality

Other links :

[1] Part 1 of Death, Rebirth, and Everything in Between– A scientific and philosophical exploration by Carter Phipps, What is enlightenment magazine.