A month or two ago, at temple, a guest speaker mentioned during her talk that in many Indian languages there is no word for “right.” This isn’t “right,” as in the opposite of wrong but “right,” as in something one is entitled to.
Rights are a big thing here in the USA. As “the land of the free” I suppose it’s quite natural that someone’s rights are just about always being debated, contested, or voted for (or against). As a gay American my own rights are, and have been, the subject of a lot of heat recently and in recent decades my people have gone from being classified as mentally ill to now being able to marry in many places. A lot of progress has been made, and much more is needed. And, of course, for every step forward there are those who demand a step backward – locally and in a number of states there are efforts underway to legalize discrimination. Here in Indianapolis there was a bakery that made a lot of news because they refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. I usually try my best to adhere to the “live and let live” philosophy and so, while I thought it wrong as hell to refuse to do the job someone was willing to pay you quite well for just because they have matching genitalia, I have almost always been willing to leave room at the table for those haters. When I was a teen and being thrown out of my church for being gay, many people were furious on my behalf – but I never was. They believe what they want and I’ll do the same. Whatever. The flip side of that, I feel, is that karma is impartial. If you do something to harm others (or yourself) you should expect results that you will likely perceive as negative. In that light, it’s no surprise at all that the anti-gay bakery here in Indy has since gone bankrupt.
Before I get too sidetracked, lemme get back to my focus: Rights. Entitlement. The speaker at my temple that day mentioned the lack of this word in many Indian languages and she briefly discussed this. I can’t regurgitate everything she spoke of, but I recall that she related it directly to karmaphala – the fruit of one’s actions.
Let me relate this to another side story: I was recently on a video chat with two people who are likely some of the best human creatures I’ve experienced in this life so far. We chattered about many things, some dark-n-wondrous and some not. One thing we touched on briefly was my pal and the Gita study group he attends. He mentioned that he sometimes doesn’t say a whole lot in the study group and connected that silence to timidity in regard to what others might think of what he might say.
This bothered me a bit. Anyone who’s met me in person, can confirm that I say anything I think needs to be said. I’m often correct in what I say, but not always, and I’m always honest. I almost never concern myself with whether or not someone will think I know as much as I should or whether they will agree with me. I don’t have a right to that. I do my part, as best as I know how to do my part – and that’s the end of it. I’m not entitled to what comes next. The fruits of my actions / words absolutely will be connected to me in whatever way they will manifest in my karmas, but even that is none of my business. You do what you should – when you should do it. I tried to explain to my friend that he’s short-changing others by holding back. He’s potentially robbing them of an experience that could be significant. There are times, especially in that setting, when he’ll be the teacher -regardless of whether or not what he mutters is intelligent – and because of that it’s his dharma to say what should be said when it should be said.
Holding back because of what he thinks might happen from the side of the listeners is him being concerned with the karmaphala of his effort to share with the group – and he has no right to that. None of us do. We should do what we should do, whenever we should do it – and that’s the end of it. Think of the freedom afforded to the karma yogi who is able to separate himself from the karmaphala most others get muddied in! Krishna says much the same thing in the Bhagavad Gita – act, because you must and for that reason only. Never act (or not act) because of the karmaphala. Certainly, in today’s culture where everyone is busied with other’s perceptions, it can be challenging to simply let go of the “phala” mentioned by Shri Krishna. I hope we can all, at our own pace according to our personal evolution, learn to loosen our grip on the rights we think we have.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti