A Lesson in Karma
Lao-Tse says (at least in Leary's translation) that the Great Tao is most often found with parents who are willing to learn from their children. This remark was to cause me considerable mental strain and dilation around this time in our narrative, because my children had become very self-directed adolescents and were getting into occultism with much more enthusiasm and much less skepticism than I thought judicious.
For a few years, we could not discuss these subjects without arguing, despite my attempts to remember good old Lao-Tse and really listen to the kids. They believed in astrology, which I was still convinced was bosh; in reincarnation, which I considered an extravagant metaphor one shouldn't take literally; and in that form of the doctrine of Karma which holds, optimistically, that the evil really are punished and the good really are rewarded, which I considered a wishful fantasy no more likely than the Christian idea of Heaven and Hell. Worst of all, they had a huge appetite for various Oriental "Masters" whom I regarded as total charlatans, and an enormous disdain for all the scientific methodology of the West.
My own position was identical to that of Aleister Crowley when he wrote:
We place no reliance
After every argument
with one of the kids, I would vow again to listen more sympathetically,
less judgmentally, to their Pop Orientalism. I finally began to succeed.
I learned a great deal from them.
This, I think, is the greatest result I have obtained from all my occult explorations, even if the unmarried will not appreciate how miraculous it was.
Luna, our youngest-the one who might have levitated in Mexico and who had her first menstrual period synchronistically on the day Tim Leary was busted in Afghanistantaught me the hardest lesson of all. She had begun to paint m watercolors and everything she did charmed me: it was always full of sun and light, in a way that was as overpowering as Van Gogh.
"What do all these paintings mean?" I asked her one day.
"I'm trying to show the Clear Light," she said.
Then, returning from school one afternoon, Luna was beaten and robbed by a gang of black kids. She was weeping and badly frightened when she arrived home, and her Father was shaken by the unfairness of it happening to her, such a gentle, ethereal child. In the midst of consoling her, the Father wandered emotionally and began denouncing the idea of Karma. Luna was beaten, he said, not for her sins, but for the sins of several centuries of slavers and racists, most of whom had never themselves suffered for those sins. "Karma is a blind machine," he said. "The effects of evil go on and on but they don't necessarily come back on those who start the evil." Then Father got back on the track and said some more relevant and consoling things.
The next day Luna was her usual sunny and cheerful self, just like the Light in her paintings. "I'm glad you're feeling better," the Father said finally.
"I stopped the wheel of Karma," she said. "All the bad energy is with the kids who beat me up. I'm not holding any of it."
And she wasn't. The bad energy had entirely passed by, and there was no anger or fear in her. I never saw her show any hostility to blacks after the beating, any more than before.
The Father fell in love with her all over again. And he understood what the metaphor of the wheel of Karma really symbolizes and what it means to stop the wheel.
Karma, in the original
Buddhist scriptures, is a blind machine; in fact, it is functionally identical
with the scientific concept of natural law. Sentimental ethical ideas
about justice being built into the machine, so that those who do evil
in one life are punished for it in another life, were added later by theologians
reasoning from their own moralistic prejudices. Buddha simply indicated
that all the cruelties and injustices of the past are still active: their
effects are always being felt. Similarly, he explained, all the good of
the past, all the kindness and patience and love of decent people is also
still being felt.
And Luna, at 13, understood this far better than I did, at 43, with all my erudition and philosophy.... I still regarded her absolute vegetarianism and pacifism as sentimentality.