When I first started blogging, it was for another website that didn't belong to me. This means I had to obey the blog owner and I was under strict instructions to “steer clear of religion, politics and sex.” Fortunately, I know almost nothing about politics, and sex is, well, there’s enough sex online as it is. Religion, however, has me foxed.
Truthfully, I was going to leave this topic well enough alone, but when I got one of those chain-mail type messages via Facebook yesterday which talked about karma, I took it as “a sign”.
To go back a bit, my personal relationship with religion has been a bit unstable. This, to be quite clear, has not been due to lack of commitment on my part. When I was little, my mum attended the Methodist church and we attended the Sunday School. For some reason, I found the whole religious instruction environment rather intimidating, so much so that I was always too scared to ask if I could go to the loo. Consequently, my memories of Sunday School are mostly of me having peed in my pants.
Because many Bible stories involve miracles and angels visiting unsuspecting virgins, I believed that an angel visit was essential to becoming a “real” believer (after all, an angel is pretty good proof, right?) The way I saw it, an angel had to visit you to deliver the spirit of Christ, who would then “move you”, and you would be a changed person forever. A reborn Christian. You can imagine then, that I was rather disappointed and felt somewhat let down that I never made the cut for an angel visit, despite my nightly prayers being very specific - as in “Dear God, please send an angel tonight so that I know you are real”.
We left the Methodist church when I got older and switched to the Presbyterian church. I’m not sure why this happened but it could be because a) the reverend at the Presbyterian church had a much cooler name – his name was Reverend Melrose, and b) Reverend Melrose wore “sport-about” shoes, which were considered very cool in the 80’s. (You absolutely can’t find a picture of these online so perhaps it was just a South African thing, but they were made out of fabric, usually pale blue, navy or grey, and had foamy soles. They looked a little like a fabric version of old men’s hush puppies – you know the lace-up, moccasiny kind that has piping along the top seam.)
Anyhow, my “Presbyterian Phase” did little to clarify religious issues for me (and still, no angel). I had graduated from Sunday School to the Grown-Up’s Church, but found this to be a rather sleepy affair. In fact, to this very day, when my bum touches those slide-shaped pews, I can feel my eyelids grow heavy. There’s just something so relaxing about the tone and metre of the preacher’s voice that for the life of me, I can’t keep awake. Along with watching golf and cricket on TV, it’s like taking the strongest sleeping pill in the world. In an attempt to overcome my church-sleeping habit, I once went along to one of those “enthusiastic” churches with a friend of mine (I have always, ALWAYS confused “evangelical” with “enthusiastic”) but I didn’t feel like I was being very authentic when I tried to join the other folk who were rocking out to the songs. You either feel it, or you don’t, if you know what I mean.
Anyhow, back to my Facebook message. It mentioned karma. Please be assured, I’m not knocking karma, there’s just a lot of things that don’t make sense to me.
Firstly, I’ve read that karma and reincarnation are inseparable. But, my question is what is the point of having all these lives if you can’t remember them? Surely, if one is to reincarnate as a higher and wiser being, you would have to actually remember the lessons you learnt from a previous life otherwise you would tend to make the same mistakes all over again? It’s like when I’ve forgotten that I already ate breakfast, and then I get all excited around 10:30 because I think I haven’t eaten and have a second breakfast because I forgot about the first one. And also, I’m sure you’ve read accounts where people claim to still suffer from, say, pain in their ribs which turns out to be an old wound from a previous life. By why would you still feel the repercussions of a stab wound from the Middle Ages, but forget other things? And what if you felt the stab wound, but the injury wasn’t even your fault, like someone had stabbed you in a jousting competition and neither of you were being mean at the time, it was just bad luck because someone always gets hurt? The point is, you can’t learn from it if you can’t remember it. Surely?
Secondly, karma seems to assign some kind of hierarchy to living things. You may have heard, as I have, that it is possible to be reincarnated as a “lower” life form. Like, say, a pig. This, I feel is very unfair, because who says that pigs are less valuable than humans? Also, if you were a pig, it would be quite hard to improve yourself through, say, charity work, so that you could reincarnate to something “higher”, like a donkey or even a horse. I mean how would you do it? Similarly, what bad deed could a pig possibly perform that could make him reincarnate as something “lower” than a pig?
Perhaps I have it all wrong. Perhaps people don’t reincarnate as animals and vice versa. Perhaps you just reincarnate as a different kind of person. But here’s the thing. How do less fortunate people feel about karma? It’s all very well to talk about karma if you live comfortably, have all limbs in working order and have food in your belly. Right? Not to be funny, but don’t you think that sounds a little smug? I mean what should people suppose if they are poor, or have no hearing or eyesight, or were born disabled? I very much doubt that they spend their lives thinking “Ah yes, I had this coming because I was such a shit in my previous life”.
Thirdly, I’m sure you’ve seen comments on those viral videos that show super talented young kids doing something in a very skilled way. Inevitably, you will see that someone in the comments thread has suggested that the said kid is "channelling a previous life". But here’s the thing. If we’re supposed to carry on growing and learning, surely your talents from one life wouldn’t carry across to your next life. For instance, if you were a naturally gifted tennis player in one life, surely you should come back in your next life to learn how to hone another skill so that you could learn new things about yourself (and be less of a showoff on the court)?
When I’ve questioned karma in the past, I’ve been told that I’m being “too literal”. That it isn’t an immediate cause-effect thing. That it isn’t materialistic. That karma isn’t about revenge or punishment, but rather that it’s about, well, not those things. But when I signed up as an organ donor a few years ago, someone said to me “Oh no! I could never do that! I don’t want to spend my next life without corneas or essential organs”. This, as you can imagine, came as a big disappointment to me, because I’d figured that giving up things in this life to serve the needs of others would elevate me to some kind of angel status in my next life. Shit.
Lastly, I think that if karma and reincarnation do exist, it would be useful if there were specific pointers on exactly what should be done in order to reincarnate “higher”. Deeds and traits such as “kindness”, “smiling”, “swearing under your breath and not out loud” should be given scores so that you could add them up and know how you’re faring. That way, we could have little rests in between all this learning and growing so that we could have more energy to learn and grow the next day. Just so that we can do it all over again in our next life.
I once read “Karma’s A Beach” on a kids backpack. It was made in China and was probably one of those wrong translation things. But I hope it’s true because that’s the karma I’m interested in.