The statement known as Newton’s Third Law goes as follows:
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Under laboratory conditions this is no doubt clearly observable. Object 1 of a certain mass hits Object 2 of a certain mass, at a certain speed and under certain conditions, and the reaction of Object 2 can be accurately predicted. I’ll go no further, limited as I am in even a basic understanding of physics (though I did get an ‘O’ level in it, thank you Mr Parnell)!
It is not so simple when it comes to human behaviour, both individual and collective. A myriad of factors enter into the frame to muddy the waters, so to speak: fear, stupidity, pride, greed, ambition, to name but a few.
In Buddhist and Hindu traditions this interplay of action and reaction is called Karma. The Sanskrit word Karma translates roughly into our words action/effect/fate. In the west, we have adopted this word and like to throw it around when we pronounce our opinions on the lives of others:
- ‘Oh, that’s his karma!’
- ‘Ha ha, instant karma!’
- ‘Her karma’s so bad I don’t even want to be in the same room as her’ – I actually heard someone say this once!
- ‘There you go…karma…sigh’
I’ve noticed that we invoke the idea of karma in a largely punitive sense, when we’re trying to justify why we don’t care that, or understand why, something bad happened to someone else (usually because we’re frightened it might happen to us), or even that we think they might have deserved it.
Karma is neutral. It is as neutral as one of Newton’s balls hitting another… Object 2 doesn’t do what it does because it is angry with/scared of/trying to punish Object 1. It just does what it does. The same is true of Karma.
How things go in terms of actions and reactions, or, as I’ve heard it termed, causes and conditions, is an ongoing, ever-unfolding weather system of experience, on the individual and collective level. In times of peace, it is easier to see how this action leads to that reaction given those conditions. Sometimes though, things go a bit crazy – usually because one person has decided to simply impose their free will on another – and it’s very difficult to work out what’s going on, let alone what’s going to happen.
No one can understand the totality of the workings of Karma. The causes and conditions that lead to this or that effect are only ever partially detectable, and the most inscrutable cause of all, the human mind, can never be fathomed.
Daily meditation and mantra help clear the mind, making one’s own motivations and actions more discernible to oneself, and helping to choose the path of maximum benefit, for the self and others, through the tangled web of our collective life. In troubled times, it helps protect against knee-jerk reactions and panic. Bring it on.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha