In these past few months, have your ever wondered as to what is the original cause of this COVID outbreak? Maybe you might have blamed the irresponsibility of China or your own government for having mishandled it. However, these are not the real causes but only the effects. When we attempt to understand cause-effect phenomenon of anything in nature, unless our inquiry is deep enough, we might never arrive at the root cause.
If we were to consider different philosophical explanations for such a global disaster, not many make as much sense as the law of Karma (other unreasonable arguments being ‘It’s an accidental event’ or ‘God is punishing us’). What we are witnessing and experiencing today, the world over, can be understood better within the Karma framework, as the outcome of past collective actions. In other words, it is not the outcome of one of us doing or not doing something, or a nation or its leader not taking the appropriate steps – they are at least not the root cause. As a group of human species we have, consciously or unconsciously, contributed to this, either through a series of repeated events over time, or through our evolutionary thought process of humanity as a whole.
What is Karma and why should I care?
Karma is a fad word used nowadays, casually in various cultures. Very few people truly understand its import. Karma is colloquially described as ‘what goes around comes around.’ Morally it is explained as, good merits good and bad merits bad—sooner or later. But when considering an ‘effect’ such as the Pandemic, we might wonder as to who messed up or why do we have to suffer this.
There are several dimensions to the workings of Karma as understood in Eastern philosophies (of Hinduism and Buddhism in particular). Ofcourse, the individual level of Karma is easy to comprehend wherein one’s actions has respective consequences. If I consistently or repeatedly indulge in eating junk food, I am bound to have cholesterol or sugar problems. But then the workings of Karma can also be equated at a collective level. As a group or as humanity, if we have been involved in certain behaviors in the past, we are bound to experience its group results either in the present or future. This is the Karma of the masses, the Collective Karma, and this is what I intend to explore further in this article.
The pandemic has revealed some important truths—Nature and the rules for right living are enforceable whether humans regard them or not. Just like being ignorant of the law doesn’t allow an offender to get away with impunity, so also disregarding moral and ethical codes, and the universal spiritual precepts, deprives us the opportunity to reduce suffering and find lasting happiness in our lives. As a species, we are bound to each other, not only for sharing resources and know-how but also in one large universal law of cause and effect, known as Collective Karma. We are jointly responsible for the world we create, at all the levels—our towns, villages, country, the world, and beyond. Both our shared knowledge and our shared ignorance lead to actions that have their own outcomes and ramifications.
When we investigate this further, we see that within this one global disaster, the impact is varied. Some nations are hit badly while others are discovering new opportunities. Some individuals are getting to relax and enjoy at their homes while others are battling with life and death in hospitals. Although with an event like this, there is a degree of universal negative effect on everyone and every nation, yet not all individuals are affected to the same degree. Here too the explanation is that the individual or family Karma, or the group Karma of cities and nations wherein we have been drawn to during this period is based on our past deeds. Each of us experience, atleast at the level of our mind, exactly that what we deserve. About this, there is not much we can do. But how we respond in the present to our circumstances is fully within our control. Even though, we all are jointly experiencing the effects of past collective actions, we have an opportunity to individually rise out of this collective Karmic loop. And that begins with right understanding and inquiry.
Behaviors of any sort are always preceded by either conscious or unconscious thinking patterns. The influence of mass behavior plants the seed of unconscious thinking patterns within individuals. Rarely do we ever ask ourselves whether the way we are living shall yield us the highest good or give us long-term happiness. We ‘consume’ things, whether it is food, clothing or entertainment, merely out of convenience and self-interest. Or we indulge in behavior that everyone else is doing in the shared belief that such material pursuits and possessions alone can bring us happiness. Thus, instant gratification at the lowest cost has become the mantra of this civilization.
Leaders of nations have also succumbed to this mass hypnosis in order to gain power and maintain social order. Even if they want to do otherwise, leaders are in no position to control the effects from these actions and the momentum of mass tendencies.
What can I do to change Collective Karma?
It is only individuals and perhaps smaller groups that have the capacity to change them. The new force of action, resulting from right inquiry and vision of life can create new conditions and bring forth true leadership-like attitude within us, if not to guide others but at least to guide our own lives.
Thereby at an individual level, the Pandemic has given many of us an opportunity to slow down and ask ourselves some soul-searching questions in order to liberate us from mass hypnosis and behavioral patterns. Take a few moments to contemplate these in light of the recent events:
- Do I believe that I can somehow be healthy and happy when millions in the world aren’t?
- What can I do to be a responsible individual and how can I live my life to be in harmony with the universe?
- Do I have to ‘consume’ everything that the Society thrusts on me, or can I choose to resist and lay down my own terms of transaction with the world at large?
- What are my long-term priorities?
- What is best for the people around me, my family, my nation, etc.?
- Instead of blindly following the ways of the world, and directing my actions toward short-term pleasures and conveniences, can I make an effort to discover the deeper sources of my happiness?
The Karma theory proposes that our thought processes and actions have led to the current chain of events and there is not much that we can do to change it at the level of causation. But our actions of today shall lay the blueprint for the results of tomorrow, especially for future generations. Most importantly, if we can learn to reform our thought process in the present, then we become the masters of our destiny. If not, we become puppets of our own individual and collective habitual patterns.
(My second book, due to be published soon, dives deep into the topic of Karma and Free Will based on different Eastern philosophies and spiritual practices. This article is an attempt to bring that topic within the context of present day situation related to the Pandemic.)