The trouble with karma


Monday, September 23, 2013


Never monkey with someone’s faith, Will Rogers once claimed. It’s better to die ignorant and poor, believing wholeheartedly in what they always believed in, then to die prosperous and smart, half believing or not believing at all.

“There was never a nation founded and maintained without some belief in something,” he said.

This remembrance hit me yesterday when I stumbled onto the Feast of the Assumption in Bayonne.

Last year, I watched it go by partly because it conflicted with another event I covered. This year, the second event started later, and so I wandered over to take some pictures and talk to some people.

It also comes at a time when I started to pray again.

Like Mark Twain, I’m a bit cynical when it comes to prayer, but figure I might get to like the habit once I got used to it.

My mother constantly said The Rosary for me – a ritual that probably went a long way to saving my life more than a few times – and the few times when I was desperate to pray in earnest, my prayer got answered after a fashion.

Like the time my mother got trapped inside her apartment unable to walk and with the door lock jammed so I could not use my key to open it. I prayed as I called the police, and eventually, the answer went beyond what I asked for and opened the door onto getting her the head-shrinking treatments she needed, but resisted.

After her death, she insisted on showing me that she was still around.

The summer of 2002, we had a blackout.

In the morning, during my walk to Hoboken, I stumbled on a pair of green plastic rosaries that looked just like the pair my mother constantly prayed on. I thought it was funny until I looked up and saw on the wall of the house a picture of Christ my mother also favored.

Later, the blackout hit, only my side of the block happened to be on a grid associated with Secaucus and we maintained power while others did not.

A few years later, during a person crisis (I don’t remember which they come and go), I was again walking to work, and thinking of my mother because I was near the corner of Paterson Avenue in Jersey City where I once tried to rent an apartment for her. An odd reflection of light from a window across the street had painted a cross of sunlight on the wall of that building.

I took it as a sign of hope.

By and by, I’ve had preachers blessing me lately for a number of things I did or did not do, some even to help me through this or that situation.

But returning to prayer was my own choice when I realized that some situations were just beyond my power to resolve, and I figured if the rosary worked on me for my mother, it might work for me as well.

I’ve been through religious dogma from Buddha to Christ, even with a stopover in New Age, and learned most tap into Jung’s common consciousness at some level. I taught myself to meditate as a kid so as to get over the tension of a mad mother in a house full of insane people just so I could get some sleep. I started Yoga in the summer of 1978 in order to keep my back whole as a result of a tough truck-loading job, and never stopped.

Somehow the ritual works. Zen people tell me that the rosary and chanting basically work on the same principles, diverting the conscious mind so as to get to that place beyond.

Buddhist chanting and the rosary always made the most sense to me because the incorporated my doing something – even if in I didn’t always know what I was saying in that silly blue Buddhist  book and eventually gave it up for the basic chant.

I always felt guilty about the Buddhist chant because I was catholic, and then my Zen friends told me Hail Mary and the chant are basically the same sounds, and same rhythm, and both tend to bring the person into the same state of spiritual being.

While I felt better about chanting, I always imagined a difference in results. Somehow both seemed to get the job done after a fashion, answering whatever problem it is I turned to prayer to solve, if to help me grow or to save someone else from a fate worse than death.

The chanting, however, always seemed to come with a thing called karma – I was never quite resolved from my guilt, while the rosary’s answer seemed to show more mercy on me.

The logical part of me says it is all bunk, but if I’m desperate enough to turn to prayer, the last thing I need is a backlash of karma.

The trouble with karma is that is dumps as much responsibility on the back of the petitioner as on the person I’m chanting to save.

Needless to say, I’m sure karma will catch up with me sooner or later, but I’m wearing out dollar-store rosary beads hoping it won’t come too soon, and perhaps, in getting used this habit, I might yet get what I ask for, if not what I want, hoping God or the collective unconscious will defy my personal feelings and provide real relief – not so much to karma-bound me – but to those souls whose hearts are so hardened that only prayer can help them.

In the meantime, I’m petitioning my local councilman for neighborhood street signs saying, “Look out for falling karma.”



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