My Karma Ran Over My Dogma
It’s an old joke I once saw on a bumper sticker, and it made me laugh out loud. “My karma ran over my dogma”.
There’s a lot of truth in that, if it was properly understood. Another interpretation of that is Robbie Burns ode “To a Mouse“, in the famous verse and line:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
The vulgar understanding of the karmic law is that it is a law of reward and punishment, of accruing merit for the sake of “good karma” and eschewing those things that attract “bad karma”. Further, it is thought that karma has something to do with re-incarnation and the moral law, and that if you think and act like an ape, you will be reborn as an ape; or if you think and act like a worm, you will be reborn as a worm; or, if you participate in the “rat race” you will be inevitably reborn as a rat; or, if you surrender to the lizard brain, you will become a reptile.
It is not my intention to completely contradict the vulgar understanding of the karmic law, for as William Blake put it, “Everything possible to be believ’d is an image of truth”.
The karmic law is just a general law of action and reaction operative in the cosmos. It might even be said to be the cosmos. One could also say it is a law of attraction and repulsion, too, or of cause and effect. In Man, the karmic law becomes conscious principle, and it becomes conscious as “moral law”, which it isn’t essentially, although it has implications for what we call “moral conduct”. But the idea that the karmic law is an issue of the moral and immoral, or of reward and punishment, is a distortion of the truth.
Karma is bound up with the meaning of time and the action of time. It is, generally speaking, a law of consequence. Acts have consequences. Thinking and speaking are also acts that occur in time, and therefore also generate consequences. Since the action and the reaction are bound to each other, and not separate, the consequential or the reaction cleaves to the act and therefore to the initiator of the act and remains coincident with it. These consequences are interpreted as being “good” or “bad”.
Buddhism doesn’t generally speak of “good” or “evil” in relation to the karmic law, but rather of the “skillful” and “unskillful” in thought and action, for there is no way to separate our thought and action — our consciousness — from the cosmos. Mastery of the karmic law is really the central issue of Buddhism, and that means, in effect, being “impeccable” (ie “skillful”) in the handling of karma.
It is important to understand that the law of karma is a law of polarity, therefore, and as such pertains to the flux of energy at the fundamental level of the cosmos. The karmic law is the way it is because energy is the way it is — polarity. Thinking is also energetics or “psychodynamics” and so is ruled by the same laws that govern the flow of energy, the Heraclitean “flux”. Being “skillful” in the handling of karma means, therefore, skillful in the handling of energy or the flux, and that is connected with the mastery of time.
“Unskillful” is everything we have described in terms of “unintended consequence”, “perverse outcome”, “blowback”, “revenge effect”, or “reversal of fortune”. “My karma ran over my dogma” actually has that meaning that the law of consequence, which is karma, finally overrules and negates my thinking or expectations for the outcome of my thinking because my thinking is not skillful. It is “deficient” as Gebser calls it, and then we talk about being “blind-sided” by the result.
But the very worst form of ignorance is not seeing the relation between the outcome and our thinking at all. This is the problem of “dualism”, and it’s a failure to understand the essential character of the karmic law, and the connection therefore between my thought and consciousness and my experience, or my reality.
This is the problem Gebser wants to highlight in his critique of the mental-rational structure of consciousness. Everything we now call “blowback” is a result of the failure to understand the karmic law — that thinking is energy, energy is action, and action always has an associated reaction because energy is polar, and the cosmos is an energetic entity. This polarity of energy is “coincidence of opposites” or “coincidentia oppositorum“.
Enantiodromia, therefore, which is coincidence of opposites or reversal at the extremity, is a statement about the karmic law, too. So, too, is “blowback”, which has much the same meaning as “my karma ran over my dogma”.
This is the problem of dualism and of the subject-object dichotomy, or the pretense of a separation of consciousness and cosmos. There is no separation, really, because of the common denominator which is energy and it is only a question of the skillful handling of energy. The unskillful handling of this energy is why “my karma ran over my dogma” and events seem to overrule and frustrate my expectations and intentions in terms of “blowback”.
And this has become a civilisational crisis, now. But it is a crisis of consciousness.