Tuesday, March 24, 2020


It's a word that is much bandied about these days and used loosely to invoke something akin to fate or providence. In my admittedly limited understanding of the Buddhist dharma, its meaning is more about responsibility than about inevitability. It insists on a necessary connection between action and consequence: actions that are well-thought, generous, compassionate, skillful turn out to have beneficial consequences; those that are ill-thought, impulsive, inconsiderate, unskillful lead to consequences that spread chaos and ill-will.

We see the results of karma everywhere today--and the result is always commensurate and appropriate to the action. Thus, the paradoxical consequence of isolationism is to have isolated virtually all Americans from their neighbors. The president's obsession with personal wealth has led to impoverishment, to the loss of trillions in the national wealth, the depletion of savings, investments and financial security, and the erosion of jobs and income for countless working people. His ruthless cuts in administrative personnel and his appointment of cronies who lack experience, training, or appropriate skills have brought about a situation where the bureaucracy is ill-equipped to deal efficiently with a crisis such as the one in which we find ourselves.

And so on. To reduce it all to a somewhat crude joke I read recently somewhere on the Internet: we have never had a president so full of shit that an entire nation runs out of toilet paper. That's karma for you in a nutshell. If you'll forgive the mix of metaphors.

There is, too, a national karma at work, so I believe. Today's catastrophe is the direct, predictable result of our common action, as a nation, in electing as our leader a petty, vengeful and petulant man whose ignorance, incompetence, avarice and narcissism were clear to every thoughtful person before he was elected, that has led directly to where we stand today. Without competent leadership, the whole nation founders.

But karma is not "fated." It can be changed with good intentions. It's time for us all, and our government, (our human species!) to commit to actions that are generous, well-thought, far-seeing, compassionate, and above all skillful. Only then will we be able to change our karma--and survive.

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