Religion 21st Century

Some Topics

Karma

Humans have a sense of destiny, predetermination or fate. In Tantric teachings, karma was the creative process of Shiva (Cosmic Consciousness) playing with his own energy, Shakti (Creative Principle), manifesting the forms of the universe. Buddhist philosophy anticipated modern science 2500 years ago with the understanding of a continuous universe in which each event has antecedent causes and all events are linked in a meshwork of interactions. Buddhists used the term “karma” to refer to the interaction of the mesh of causation with the mind. In common use, karma refers to the bundle of tendencies that a person manifests in a lifetime. Karma may be viewed as a natural law: each person accumulates bundles of tendencies and deeds, good and bad that influence their status after birth.

Scientific thinking appreciates karma as the great network of cause and effect without giving it a proper name – often called the “laws of physics” and the “laws of nature.” Karma can be appreciated in the scientific sense of cause and effect but has the extra dimension of neuronal involvement and a monitor image of events will appear in consciousness. In a first approximation sense, karma refers to a continuous mesh of causes and effects. The case has been overstated that the "laws of physics" are immutable and enduring truths. Laws are inventions and we would be more accurate if we referred to the "best descriptions for now."

Karma is such a useful idea that we need an updated version that would define karma as a continuous emergence of events in the world out there and in the mind from antecedent conditions. Mind events and world events are meshed and are indistinguishable when you look closely, but in practical terms, a normal human brain makes a strong distinction between external events and internal events. The main task of the bodybrainmind is to bring external and internal events into a congruent relationship, based on the life needs of the body.

An infant is born with karma – a set of antecedent conditions and innate tendencies that will help to determine the experience, identity and behavior of the child. We now attribute more than half of the child’s karma to his or her genes and the innate tendencies programmed by the genes into brain structure and function. Another large chunk of karma comes from the physical environment in which a child develops. Genes and the physical environment interact to produce individuals who share common properties and who have unique differences. Parents and close relatives provide custodial support of children. Peers provide skills, language and social learning. Social karma is learned from behavior and teaching of parents, siblings, schools, peer groups and the social environment that surrounds child. Young humans copy the speech and behavior of those they live and play with. Young humans learn how the local group does things today.

All groups follow ancient tendencies but inflect these tendencies with their own costumes, rules, customs, language and technology. The term “culture” describes the local beliefs and expressions of social life which are inflections of ancient tendencies. The surface appearance of local inflections is often so distinctive that the underlying common human tendencies may be obscured. Differences in language, costumes and customs create distinctive societies that appear to the casual observer to be unrelated.

The moral sense of Karma includes cycles of causation that more or less follow the path of reward and punishment. There is no judge overseeing human transactions, but an implicit order of cause and effect. Good deeds tend to cause more good deeds; bad deeds tend to cause more bad deeds. Bad deeds tend to be punished even if the punishment is indirect and delayed. Good deeds tend to be rewarded even if the reward is indirect and delayed. Harming others tends to create a disturbance in your own mind that will continue to disturb you, probably for the rest of your life. One of the reasons that bad deeds are often punished in the end is that humans have a long memory for harm done to them, their relatives and friends.

Humans have an innate sense of “justice” that involves revenge and retribution. When one person harms another, an account is established in the minds of the concerned audience and the account is long-lived; it may be passed on for generations until the account is settled. When laws are broken, police and courts take on the karmic role and hold the account to be settled. With or without lawful processes, the karma of revenge and retribution continues to play a determining role in every society.

Humans feel that there is a natural justice that supersedes the effort made by even the most diligent and fair of justice systems. The innate form of natural justice is and eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth. Revenge is natural and to be effective must match the wrong that was committed. If an offender is killed for a minor offense, the killing will be perceived as excessive and wrong. Relatives and friends will want to kill the person who avenged the first offense and when they do, a recurrent cycle of revenge is established. Human conflict has a tendency to persevere and escalate and this is a law of Karma.

The moral aspect of karma need not be metaphysics. Understanding morality requires an implicit understanding of evolutionary psychology, anthropology, and neurobiology. People, who believe that God is a kind of Santa Claus who keeps a list of who is naughty and who is nice and distributes gifts and punishments accordingly, will have a hard time understanding that there is no need for a referee or scorekeeper out there. The scorekeeper is in the head of every human.  Planet Earth is the stage for a recurrent drama involving many players in a tight, interactive play. There is no overseer, but there is a continuous sequence of causes and effects; acts and consequences


  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for a well-educated smart reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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