One of the earliest memories I have pertaining to the concept of karma is a Kraishnav painting showing a male human body with and ox head about to decapitate a creature with the body of an ox and head of a human. The message seemed clear: Not only do things that go from you return to you (aka what goes around comes around), but also if you kill you will be killed. Many times, this process is specified to the point of saying that if you kill something, then in your next life you must be killed by that something. To illustrate that precisely I’ve included below the aforementioned image.
Fitting into this more recently is a blog post I read from a Buddhist in Europe on the subject of vegetarianism, which mentioned karma as so many other discussions of vegetarianism do. Many adopt vegetarianism as a means of cleaning up and safe-guarding their karmas. After all, it’s apparently bad enough to have “bad” karma from being the source of something’s death but to trade places with it in the next life is just…. baaaaad. It’s also bullshit.
I mean, I’m truly in no place to say it’s bullshit because I don’t technically know the 100% truth behind karma’s infinitely cosmic workings. But that’s my point, too: We don’t know. But I think even if we can’t know the full truth, a small amount of logic can get us a good deal closer than we might think.
Some enlightened soul is credited for having said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Surely, it’s true. Now tell me, if an eye-for-an-eye is how karma works (as so many believe) then how could liberation for anyone who takes even one physical birth be possible? I really can’t emphasize enough how arrogant it is to think we could ever understand karma fully enough to be able to accurately say or think that if I kill in this life, then in my next life I will be killed – and by that which I had previously killed, no less! But allow me to humor myself and follow that belief to what I think is a natural but often over-looked conclusion (which is really the opposite of conclusion insofar as “conclusion” might be synonymous with moksha or Samadhi.) To make my point I’ll use the karma picture from above…
1) I, as a human, kill a cow.
2) In my next life, and the cow’s next life which is now apparently fused with my own through direct contact of our respective karmas with each other, we’ve essentially switched places. I have to be reborn, as does the cow – and karma supposedly mandates that we have to trade places. So I as the new cow am killed by the cow which is then the new human. Simple enough?
3) The karma I dug myself into as the murderous “pre-cow” human was satiated in the subsequent life when I atoned for those actions by assuming the life of a “post-human” cow and myself dying at the hands of the entity that was a cow but has taken birth as a human for the purpose (among others, I’m sure) of balancing that karma.
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4) In the same way I sucked the “pre-human” cow into MY additional karma by killing it and creating the “need” to later be killed by it, the “post-human” cow has now likewise sucked me into its own similar, additional, and unfortunate karma.
And so this cycle of karmic madness would essentially perpetuate itself throughout time forever. It kind of brings to mind the symbol of the yin-yang: black eternally chasing the white and white eternally chasing the black (which I know isn’t the symbolism meant with the yin-yang, but whatever.)
None could hope for liberation, which I currently and certainly do. We’d each be hopelessly buried in in our own karmas and would helplessly be adding to our individual karmic pile simply by being a part of others’ karmas, too – whether we wanted to or not, really. It seems to me that this either cannot truly be how karma works or otherwise doing things like adopting vegetarianism would be futile in the bigger karmic picture. It’s simply not that cut-n-dry, and anyone who understands karma in this light would likely do well to challenge what they think they already know or understand regarding concepts like karma, vairagya, samsara, samskara, and ahimsa.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha