In 1975, James Clavell published “Shōgun,” a blockbuster novel about an English sailor caught up in 17th-century Japan’s feudal, xenophobic power struggles. The novel, which became a hit 1980 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain, was frank about sex and even franker about violence. But the underlying theme was that of karma and the idea that “karma was always karma.”
We think of karma as fate or destiny. But that is only one aspect of the Eastern principle of cause and effect. What karma says is that what you sow, you shall reap, but not in the eye-for-an-eye way of ancient Judaism. Rather, karma is like physics. I send a pendulum away from me, it comes back with a force equal to that with which I sent it away.
What I do returns to me. If I send out good into the universe, good will return to me. But if I send out evil into the universe, evil will return to me as well. And here’s the thing: Nothing I do in between will stop it. That’s what makes karma a, well, rhymes with rich.
Not everyone understands or even accepts this as two recent stories suggest. Cris Beam’s piece in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, explores her betrayal of her wife as the wife was still recovering from breast cancer. (Beam had an affair with her therapist, whom she wound up leaving.) Years later, she sought the ex-wife’s forgiveness, which the ex graciously granted. Beam talks about how you first have to have a reckoning with yourself. You have to listen to the person you hurt. Beam offered to volunteer in a cancer ward or help the ex with her children – admirable but also laughable naïve.
Because here’s the thing: She just doesn’t get it. It doesn’t matter if the ex forgave her or if she volunteered in a gazillion cancer wards. The hurt she gave the ex will circle back to her. She set it out in the universe, and it must return to her. And here I would suggest she consider not therapy or Jewish philosophy but Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim” – a stunning 1899 novel of betrayal and redemption in which the title character comes to terms with his own karma.
At least Beam had the guts to acknowledge her wrongdoing. Whereas a certain American president in deep denial thinks his opponents “better just take it easy” in confronting him and his policies.
Really? Or what? Is Donnie Two Scoops going to hold his widdle bweath until that mean opposition woves him?
He spews vitriol at the press, calls Mexicans “rapists” and protesting NFL players “sons of bitches” – that’s just the tip of this Titanic-wrecking iceberg – and he’s surprised that harsh words are returned not only to him but to his cabinet and staff? Let me say it again: Hatred of hate is not hate. He has sent hate out into the world, and it has come back to him.
Far worse than hate-filled words are hate-filled deeds. The mess at the southern border with children still not reunited with their parents. The horror being visited on children in Yemen (starvation, cholera, homelessness) in part by the American-backed Saudis. (And yes, I realize they are fighting the Iranian-backed rebels. That still doesn’t make it right.) The arrogant, cavalier toying with the stock market and our retirement accounts with these stupid tariff wars. This is just some of the wreckage of the Trumpet presidency.
Trump set this out in the universe and it will return to him.
Because when you send evil out into the universe, you have to own it.
Until the day, of course, when it comes to own you.