Thursday, March 02, 2006


I just ‘stepped out’ (where did that phrase come from, anyway?) for a few minutes – bank run, Starbucks run, Hecht’s run (I LOVE working at Metro Center!). On the way back to the office from Hecht’s, I felt ‘a bit peckish’ (that one comes from England; I know that much), so I dropped into Caribou Coffee. Or rather, I stepped into Caribou Coffee. Or something. Anyway, as I was in line, I heard a homeless guy working over (again – derivation?) the lady behind me. I’m not sure I fully got the gist – I’m not sure there was a full gist to get, is part of the problem – but I believe he was trying to get her to order him a drink using a ‘free drink’ coupon he had.

So, no big deal, right? No real skin off her nose (another weird phrase)! She’s in line anyway, and doesn’t have to pay a dime extra. The strange part was, the guy acted like he was doing her a huge favor. As if, by giving her his free drink gift certificate (so she could buy him a specified drink), he was granting a boon. He even said, “Well, I like to give back, you know?” He was outside hawking the homeless paper, by the way. Just to round out the scene.

After he went back outside, I asked the gal, “And in what way is he ‘giving back’ to you?” “I have no idea,” she said with a shrug. “But I figure, hey, it doesn’t hurt to have good karma. It’ll come back around.”

I pondered that on my walk back to the office. Granted, a length of two half-blocks. So: Karma, or at least this woman’s perception of karma, reduces even the most selfless act – except, perhaps, dying for someone, unless you believe that the specific act grants you something – to a selfish gesture. I do for you, because I want it done for me later. Similar to the Golden Rule, perhaps. Except that the Golden Rule doesn’t automatically dictate that you’ll be done back to.

Is the Christian perspective selfish like that? I am to love others in thoughts, words and deeds because Christ first loved me… No, I don’t think so. Because it doesn’t EARN me Christ’s love. It’s done out of gratitude. And because God commands it. Suggests it? Does he suggest, or command?

Wasn’t it one of y’all’s blogs that reminded some time ago that all acts are intrinsically selfish? I had never thought of that before. Kind of like the idea that all humor is painful to someone?

Enough not-so-deep thoughts for me. If anyone has a greater perception of Karma, I’d love to hear about it. Or where the concept fits in the Grand Scheme. Because, I’ll admit, whenever I smugly declare that “I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket!” despite the fact that I speed every time I drive somewhere, the phrase, “Pride goeth before a fall” rumbles through my head, and I frantically do some sort of inner penitence. So perhaps I am down with the whole Karma thing, too.

Except: Okay, one last thought: I don’t really do nice things for people in the hope or expectation that they’ll be done to me in return. I think I do them because it makes me feel good. Which, yes. Is intrinsically selfish. And, I want to please God. I want him to pat me on the head and say, “That’s my girl!” And perhaps forget about the 53 mean inner thoughts I had in the course of my commute just hours before.


  1. Hi Kate,

    I was a practicing Tibetan Buddhist for three years, so I can talk about karma from that perspective. I used to believe in it, but I now think karma is problematic for at least three reasons:

    1) The explicit "selfish" justification for doing good, which you point out.

    2) The flip side of that: Karma is a rule of complete justice; that is, for *every* evil thing you do you *will* reap the reward - if not in this life,then in some future one. There's no escaping it. (Well, depending on who you talk to, you might be able to work it out through intense meditation as opposed to suffering, but in the general case, karma dictates that we will suffer for every sin we commit - no escape, no grace.)

    3) I don't think it's too hard to see, from observing the world around us, that it's hogwash. The innocent suffer. All the time. The evil prosper, all the time. Claiming that they are suffering or prospering for their actions in a previous life doesn't hold water for me.

    Despite all that, one must admit that karma is taught all over the Bible (as ye sow, so shall ye reap), especially the OT. It's all over the Psalms and Proverbs. Of course, the book of Job is basically a powerful poetic refutation of karma, and Jesus clearly thought it was hogwash too - see his response to the Disciples' question about the man born blind ("why is he blind?") in John 9. And, throughout the Bible, there's a multiplicity of teaching on the subject: while Psalm 1 is basically as strong a statement of karma than you can find in most Hindu or Buddhist scriptures, Psalm 2 is more sophisticated in its theology of justice.

    So there you go. Some blather from me about karma. :-)

  2. Awesome, Mike! Thanks!