Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Karma, and Ginger Chocolate Kisses

Like most people, I often use the word karma all wrong.  We tend to think of karma as some magical external justice system: people who do good things, get good things coming to them eventually.  People who do bad things, well ... you all know the saying about the bitch.

And I confess, I've always liked the idea of karmic justice, the "you'll get yours some day" approach to people who create misery and suffering in other people's lives.  It's comforting, especially when there doesn't seem to be any hope for justice in the current situation.

But recently, I've been mulling over a terrifying thought: what if karmic justice doesn't happen?  What if, sometimes, bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to people who behave in truly morally reprehensible ways?  It's not that I haven't always known this might be possible, but maybe I chose to ignore it.  Because, you know, that just doesn't fit with my perception of the universe.

Karma, the way the Buddhists mean it, anyway, isn't about predestination.   It's about intention. Which sort of turns the common perception of karma on its head.  Instead of things happening to you, it's about the way you do things, and the way you are more likely to do things because of the way you've done them.  It's about the development of habit.

A long time ago, when the Tibetan Buddhist monks came to visit us, they talked about how people can only give what they have.  People who have no joy can't give it.  And too bad for you if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, and have to endure these people.  The practice of karma demonstrates how this works.  You practice ill will and greed, and that's pretty much what you end up with.  You practice good will and generosity, and you will become more good-willed and generous.  We're planting behavioral seeds.  Of course this makes sense.  Not in the "fake it 'til you make it" way, but in the mindful, cognitive behavioral therapy way.

We don't experience karma; we do it.

I have been struggling with karma for a long, long time.  With the concepts of punishment and justice.  Torturing myself with the possibility that maybe, if deeds went unpunished, they were warranted.  That I could have acted differently.   But really?  Sometimes people act in really awful ways, and get away with it.  And there's not a thing we can do about their behaviors.  They will never be brought to justice ... at least, not for our charges against them.

So maybe karmic justice isn't about people getting their just desserts.  Maybe it's about choosing to live in a way that creates the kind of heart we want to live with, and the world we want to live in, even if it's not the world where we live right now.

How do you respond to/deal with the injustices you see or experience in the world, the ones that are perpetrated by human beings?

Ginger Chocolate Kisses
These are Heidi's, of course.  I tweaked few things, but she is the goddess of just desserts.  And many, many other things.

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 c. spelt flour
1 t. baking soda
4 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. fine grain sea salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/4 c. unsulphured molasses
2/3 c. fine grain natural cane sugar
1 T. grated fresh ginger, peeled
2 t. candied ginger, minced
1 large egg, well beaten

Preheat the oven to 350F and place the racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper.

Finely chop the chocolate and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt into a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat; remove from heat and stir in the molasses, sugar, and fresh ginger.   Let this mixture cool before proceeding; you don't want to cook the egg or melt the chocolate!

When the pot is cool to the touch, whisk in the egg and add this mixture to the the flour mixture.  Stir until just combined and fold in the chocolate.

Roll dough into 1/2 tablespoon-sized balls. (Heidi suggests rolling them in sugar, but I preferred the ones I didn't roll in sugar.  Use your judgment, of course.)  Place dough a few inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until cookies are dark brown and puffy (they will likely deflate just a bit after you remove them from the oven).  Let cool on the sheets for a minute or two before removing them to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container not more than a few days, or freeze.
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  1. I do have to admit that misuse of the term "karma" drives me insane. It's a pet peeve of mine.

    It is hard to wrap your mind around, this idea that really bad things happen to good people. That there is nothing we can do about it; no way to inoculate ourselves with good deeds.

    Sometimes, instead of looking forward -- as in the concept of punishment -- I look back to their past. Were they at least pre-punished?

  2. I am also annoyed by the misuse of "karma", especially since I became a novice student of Buddhism.

    You can think of karma as you reap what you sow, but that is really all about intention. In whatever you are doing, it is your true intention that will manifest, whether you realize what it is or not. If we act on jealousy we will reap the consequences of that jealousy. If we act out of loving kindness, that is what we will experience (and not in return for our loving kindness but by acting with loving kindness in our hearts we experience that loving kindness). At least that is how I understand it.

    As far as the injustices of the world, and my goodness there are many, I have to let myself believe that those who perpetrate them suffer the karma of their actions in that they are forced to contend with the hate or anger or malice that spurred their action in the first place. I know it might not seem like enough, but I believe it's also a Buddhist principal not to judge in the way we tend to, because our own issues are always playing a part in our judgement.

    I don't believe in an afterlife with its gratifying idea of a final reward or penance. And it does anger me that people "get away with" horrible thing. But I have to believe that they suffer for them, in their own way. It's all
    I can do to stay sane.

  3. I have been thinking about this post all day, and especially this line: Maybe it's about choosing to live in a way that creates the kind of heart we want to live with, and the world we want to live in, even if it's not the world where we live right now.

    Yes, we "do" karma and don't receive it. I love this reminder.

  4. I took a class once from my teacher called "From Karma to Grace." She talked about the karma wheel. When you were on the outside of the wheel, you were in karma -- wild swings of good and bad. In effect, living in duality. One person doing unto another.

    But the closer you get to the center, the closer you come to stillness. This is where grace is. This it unity. Here there is no need for justice for there is no Other; only Oneness. What is done to one is done to all. What is done by one is done by all. There is no difference between the Giver and the Receiver, the Doer and the Done to.

    I should remember this when I go into Victim Mode, which is sometimes my default setting when I am hurt.



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