Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Garden of Verse: When You Get What You Deserve, Now or Later, It's 'Karma'

 Karma, the belief that our actions in this life, plus some steerage from whatever is hanging around from previous existence, determines our condition in our next life, is a word a lot of us use in informal ways. It's the theme of this month's, in homage to the recently deceased poet Dick Allen, who explored Buddhist ideas in some of his later work... And it's an idea that can go in a lot of directions. 
         In the classical Hindu theory of reincarnation, the sum of your moral conduct will determine the state of your next incarnation. Will you be reborn as a higher-status individual, or a lower one? Or as an animal? Or possibly even an insect? So don't step on that ant; he may come back as your boss. 
         In the American vernacular "karma" tends to be used loosely to suggest a cosmic connection of any sort between past events and present ones. Did the IRS send you an unexpectedly large refund just when you needed it, after you spent a lot of time last year volunteering at a nursing home? It's karma. On the other hand, if you've been nasty to someone at work, then someone is mean to you later that day, or the next day, or the next week. And a part of you feels, 'well, maybe I deserved that.'
            In response to Verse-Virtual's theme for the February issue, I contributed three poems on ways of thinking about karma.
            The poem "International Karma" connects the violence two communities inflicted upon one another in the past as warring allies of World War II enemies England and Japan to the assaults the Buddhist Burmese majority are currently inflicting on the ethnic minority Rohingya, who are Muslims. Here's the poem:

International Karma

The Rohingya may know little of karma
They follow a prophet whose law was furthered
by rounds of daily prayer
offered fresh from the oven of the soul
And though their persecutors are, formally, Buddhists
whose varied traditions of thought include the notion
that what you do here and now
affects who, or even what, you become then and there
and even in the undreamt future,
traditions of thought and belief
lose sway to the smarting remembrance of grievances
therefore doing onto others what the British and their allies
have done to you, and what you and the wartime Japanese,
have done to those whose mutilated communities
now flee, carrying their borders on their backs,
raising for those who look from afar the question:
Is karma but another word for history?
It may be, as the Vikings once believed,
that 'destiny is all'
But if karma bends to the wheel of fate,
it is the heft of human deed that pushes wheels along
and karma,
the fingerprint on the soul,
the DNA of conscience,
the golden template of deeds good and ill,
inscribes our souls in the book of eternal recurrence
... And so whatever dooms have befallen you,
courtesy of the British or the Japanese
it is hard of heart
to see how compunction requires the expulsion of a people
much like oneself
arms, legs, eyes that weeps, loins that
breed a miracle of life
from particular pieces of planet Earth,
where ways of life, or worship, or contemplation
are various in dress, but rooted all in home,
familiar food, happy smells, a well of communal expectations
entreating safe return for
love's meager, wounded, breakable body
           To read my other poems, "​Karma Falls From the Sky," and "Christmas Karma," go to
            Plenty of poems by many fine poets on a wide variety of subjects in the February 2018 issue can be found at:

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