Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.
-Robert Louis Stevenson
Karma Confusion Clarification
Karma is an old language word that translates into the modern tongue of English as ‘action.’ In the popular culture of the day, karma is mistakenly taken as ‘retribution’ as in ‘you’re karma is going to get you.’ It’s not the karma that rebounds as retribution, or a boon; it is the ‘phala.’ Phala is the old language word that translates into modern English as ‘result’ or, more commonly phrased, ‘fruits of action.’ In technical terms, karma is linked to phala in the same way cause is linked to effect and often written as ‘karma-phala.’ When talking about karma, phala cannot be excluded. It’s not your karma that is going to get you, it is your phala, the effects or results of action, the natural consequences, the ripened fruit. These consequences may arrive quickly or slowly, in days or decades; they may even carry over into other lifetimes, just as the overall general conditions of one’s life today may very well be the consequences, the effects or phala, from previous lifetimes. The notion of reincarnation (think reincarceration, with a high recidivism rate) is intimately connected to the understanding of karma-phala, cause-effect, which is ultimately cosmic in scope.
One way to look at the celestial mechanics of karma-phala is karma as seed and phala as sprout, which becomes a sapling, which becomes a trunk, which branches out, flowers and brings forth fruits, which ripen and fall upon one’s head as the conditions of their life. We have no direct choice over to whom we are born, in what geography, climate, social situations, etc. These meta conditions can be viewed as both personal and collective ‘phala.’ You are not alone in the general conditions of your life. Racial phala exists too. So many sets and layers of conditions upon and within the mind and body of both individuals and humanity. And, yet, it is karma that allows one, and all, the freedom to craft their destiny, i.e., their destination, through deliberate, intentional, conscious, action, within the conditions of their own current personal, individual, national, racial and genetic phala.
Another way to conceptualize the intricately interwoven celestial mechanics of karma-phala, or cause-effect, or what has been called The Law of Consequences, is to envision a person throwing a stone into a pond. The ripples spread out in all directions and rebound off objects in the pond, including the ripples generated from stones thrown in by others. If a billion people toss in one stone, each generating ripples, the interaction of ripples creates what is known as ‘interference patterns.’ Of course, nobody is throwing in just one stone. Action is on-going, on many levels within the sociosphere, psychesphere and biosphere. Any given day any one person can generate a lot of ripples, and billions of people doing the same thing generates an extra-ordinarily complex, interwoven, interlinked, interconnected, interactive web of patterns.
The intricacies and complexities of action and fruits of action, of cause and effect, of consequence, is so comprehensive, so inter-laced, so far reaching, that it is considered to often be in totality unfathomable. One can make calculations, prognostications, strategies, tactics, with intentions of generating desired outcomes, expected effects and results, which, with appropriate actions, may come to exist. Flipping on a light switch is causal to having the effect of the light bulb radiating its energy. And, when that happens, people see things more clearly which is an effect of flipping the light switch on. Revelations caused by increased clarity can itself be a cause of tumultuous effects. Most people are well aware of ‘side effects’ and ‘unintended consequences.’ Nothing is guaranteed in a world predicated on uncertainty (and possibilities) and there is no direct regulation over the consequences of action. There is only command control over the action itself. All we have any degree of power over, is karma, action, cause, which inevitably generates fruits, effects, consequences, to which we respond which in turn then is karma. And so the cycle goes.
Action is a simple word but with enormous breadth and depth.
ACTION: from Latin actionem “a putting in motion; a performing, a doing; from Pre-Indo-European (PIE) root ag-“to drive, draw out or forth, move”.
A human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fashions his goods or his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks or does is without consequences.
This broad definition of action includes both large scale macro-cosmic activities as well as small scale micro-cosmic activities. The entire cosmos is alive with motion, with action, and subsequent fruits of action. One is free to act as they so choose in any given situation, in any given location, under whatever circumstances exist at the time; and, one is then intricately bound by the consequences of such actions, which may arrive in ways and times unexpected and appear as unwarranted. It is difficult, at best, to discern a direct causal relationship to a specific effect. Like the analogy of the ripples in the pond, there is too much ‘interference’ to correlate present conditions to a single definitive pre-existing cause. And, yet, at the same time, for the most part, dedicated single-focused action towards a specific result can bear desired fruit.
EFFECT: from Latin effectus “accomplishment, performance,” from PIE root dhe- “to set, put”.
All around us are the consequences of the most significant technological, and hence cultural, revolution in generations.
Because so much of life is consequence of past actions, the phala of ripened fruit falling upon our head, if even unconscious, ‘unfinished business‘ becomes a dominant motivation, perhaps even compulsion, to act. Unfinished business, the storehouse of unresolved conflicts, resentments, disappointments, broken dreams, shattered hopes and unspoken words, can arise into conscious awareness as random intrusions or as pre-determined, depending on one’s understanding of karma-phala, cause-effect, The Law of Consequences. Predetermination is just another way of saying causal action, in the past. As a causal agent in a world of effects, spontaneity, improvisation, innovation, invention, creativity and originality are all ever present possibilities within the mind of humanity. Indeed, modern humanity is the product of periodic novelty, transformation and even mutation, predicated on response abilities. Clearly, any advancement in social and culture conditions requires change to go beyond predictable repetitive cycles of unconscious unfinished business. If ‘karma’ is anything, it is the possibilities of change, of conscious responsive action in any given situation or set of circumstances. Karma confusion is about thinking karma itself as retribution or limitation; karma clarification is understanding it as the mechanism of conscious becoming. Conscious becoming implies becoming conscious. Everyday is a karma-phala way….
There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
-P. J. O’Rourke