In the West, we've forgotten somewhat what karma is.
The other day I was in a gas station / convenience store buying lunch. In line was a young woman, digging in her pockets looking for spare change. As she found each coin, she placed it on the counter, totalling them up in the end. She was buying gas: trying to get enough gas to get home, she said. The man standing behind her, unprompted, laid a ten dollar bill on the counter, saying, "go ahead and add this in."
I've been there before. Hoping that the fumes will be enough to get you just far enough. The stress and the worry is almost worse than actually running out of gas. Not having to worry about it for another three gallons or so can only have been a relief. An unquestionably good deed, follwing the age-old dicta, "be excellent to one another and party on, dudes!"
That's not the topic, tonight.
As is commonly used in Western pop culture, karma is the idea that if you do good things, some sense of universal justice will see to it that good things happen to you. "What goes around, comes around," is the cliche. More commonly in Eastern pop culture, karma sees to it that in your next life, you get what you deserve based on what you did in this one. Bad people become dung beetles and cockroaches the next time around. Again, universal justice.
But that's probably not what Prince Siddhartha had in mind. Karma is the ripples in a limitless pond, the echoes that spread outward from the locusof our deeds. The man in the gas station need not expect karma to repay him, now or in the future. But the ripples of his kind act undoubtadly spread out and have kept spreading. The young woman with the gas is freed from worry; perhaps she is happier. Later, when she arrives, her positive feeling prevents her from being short or angry with the people she encounters at her destination. They, in turn, feel better (or less worse) than they otherwise might. And the good deed continues to ripple outwards.
The world, then, is a pond that is unguessably vast. We don't expect our good deeds to return to us. No universal justice, no treasures in Heaven, no coming around of what goes around. The ripples have no reflection. But when we are gone, then the ripples may continue to spread and expand: our legacy. Our karma. "The signal's loud and clear, but the transmitter's gone."*
Right speech, right action, right livelihood.
Though the stars burn out, their light shines throughout the universe.
* Assemblage 23, "Document"
Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org