I was born and brought up in a progressive Hindu family. Everyone around me was ‘mildly’ religious. We celebrated all the usual festivals and said the mantras and recited prayers. Customs and traditions were followed with a certain degree of flexibility. I have some of my fondest memories associated with these festivals because they were, more than anything, a time to meet people and celebrate. And as such, during all those days even thought I did all the religious things asked of me, I was never forced to believe in God. I am very glad that I have always had the freedom to have my own religious views and my own philosophy of life.
Yet, that freedom could not stop me from absorbing many of the core values of Hinduism. During those years, sometime quite early in my life, I was introduced to the concept of karma which is undoubtedly one of the core values. As most of us know, the laws of karma are quite simple: “Every action has a reaction” or “What goes around, comes around”. It seemed like a beautiful concept and everyone around me believed in it; some even without consciously treating it as karma. Some people strongly believed that God plays a role in the delivery of karma and such divine intervention then put the concept beyond the realms of reason and doubt.
Then somewhere along the way, with the help of my little brain, I transformed that concept into something that seemed more practical to me. I started treating ‘efforts’ as a way of building up ‘good’ karma or countering ‘bad’ karma. I thought that if I worked hard and put in enough efforts then, of course my ‘good’ karma bank will increase and I can cash it for good results.
What I did not realise at that point was that the underlying assumption of all this philosophy or the basic tenet on which all this was based on was that ‘the world is a fair place’. And that thought became an integral part of my way of thinking, unfortunately, unknowingly so. Once I started viewing the world through these glasses, it was very easy for me to start strongly believing in a meritocratic society and a just world. It wasn’t that unnerving to see corruption or crime in the media because, of course, the karmic balance will be preserved; the corrupt will be caught and the perpetrators punished. I believed, naively so, that people who made use of their clout to achieve something or earn a business contract or gain some fame must not be happy or satisfied people. They must not have been able to have a good night’s sleep.
It was a great coping mechanism; when things did not work my way, I partially blamed my karma but mostly blamed my efforts. When things did not work my way and worked for someone else who used unfair means then I would partially blame my karma but mostly blame their karma and believe that some day they will learn their lesson. Often without my knowledge, I would also filter the kind of friends I made by simply understanding if their beliefs aligned with mine. All the news about corruption or violence or discrimination did not affect me as much because I believed that justice will be served someday. My way of studying was literally governed by these rules, I used to put in a certain amount of effort and then only take a short break to save my karma points. I helped others because that gained me more karma points. It let me be selfish and selfless at the same time.
As it is said, it soon became of a way of living. I mostly saw things that reinforced my belief like the time when my exam results came out as I had expected, or a politician got caught and was sentenced or a friend suffered when he cheated. I opened myself to these experiences because they could be aligned with my philosophy. When things did not work the way karma should have made them work, I closed myself to those experience. Then came the most common excuse that spiritual leaders make: “In a complex world, it’s too simplistic to always expect thing to work immediately. What goes around will come around one day”. And, of course, it was easy to believe in that excuse because it helped me align the irregularities to my beliefs. So questions about unfair means could be countered with an argument that karma is not bound by time and thus justice will be served in this life or the next or the next or questions like ‘what about the innocents who die in a terrorist attack, did they all deserve it?’ could be countered with ‘Surely not, but karma can be carried to the next life and then they will live a better/happier/longer life then’ or the questions like ‘what about the massive inequalities that we see around us?’ could be countered with ‘those who are on the richer end of the scale must’ve got good karma from their previous life or vice-versa’. All this logic (it’s the issue of shifting the burden of proof) helped me to preserve my view of the world and NOT change it.
But finally now I’ve broken out of this bubble and I know that the world is not a fair place. Although changing my belief system has been a lot of pain, I think it’s for the best that I have undergone this transformation. More about the transformation in the next post.