Karma – It’s not about what we do…

This is a brilliant article by Culadasa and Matthew Immergut on the nature of Karma, what it is and isn’t in relation to the Buddha’s teachings: specifically, the teaching of “no self”.  Click HERE for the full article.

Karma: that word that gets thrown around a lot.

People talk about “good” karma versus “bad” karma, or “your” karma versus “mine.”

But despite the term’s popularity, it seems like everybody has a different idea about what it actually means. If karma is truly one of the Buddha’s most important teachings, as he himself repeatedly emphasized, then to follow in his footsteps, we need to be clear about its definition.

The Problems with “Agricultural” Karma

Probably one of the most popular misunderstandings about Buddhist Karma is the idea that everything that happens to us is our karma. If we win the lottery or have an attractive partner, it’s because we performed good deeds in the past—we have “good” karma. If we get hit by a truck or our partner cheats on us, it’s because we misbehaved and have “bad” karma. And, of course, what we do now will determine our future results. Let’s just call this the agricultural view of karma: we reap what we sow.

So, what’s wrong with this idea? Well, whether we’re Buddhist or not, it creates lots of intellectual problems.


Relationship and worship

Within any relationship there is a give and take, an exchange of energy that flows, spiralling in and out and around, up and down and out and through. Within some practices of paganism, and dependent upon the individual, there can be too much one-sidedness in their relationship with deity, the spirits of place, the ancestors, etc. Often this is the individual asking or petitioning other powers all the time, or simply taking without giving anything in return. Sometimes it is the other way around, where a devotee gives and gives but is reluctant to ask for anything in return. I tend to fall into this latter category all too often.

My life, my rituals, my energy is utterly devoted to the land, the gods and the ancestors. They are my inspiration, they are my connection to the awen. I do not know what I would do now without them. As such, I let them know that they are honoured with daily prayers and devotions, in ritual work and in secular work. Their inspiration sings deep within my soul, feeding my own creativity and actions.

In ritual especially, I find it difficult to ask for anything. I am aware that so many people in our modern society, and indeed within paganism itself, take and take without giving anything in return. I am paranoid that I will fall into that category; that I should I ask for anything I will be lumping myself in with those who take advantage of the beautiful energy of a place, or who bother their gods, or who work magic without forethought.

I know that it is silly, even ridiculous to think this sometimes. However, I think that it also keeps me in check, keeps my ego in check, and allows me to remember my place within the web. I am a part of the tapestry, not separate, and therefore everything that I do affects the whole. Yet I can be so afraid sometimes to move some threads, to take some energy that lies within their warp and weft that perhaps my own colour fades, or becomes too thin. Reciprocity works both ways.

I am uncomfortable asking for things in ritual or in prayer. Why should this be? In my relationship with my partner, I am not afraid to ask for the things I need, for I know that good communication is key to any relationship. I need to understand, to really see and feel this truth in my relationship to the land, the ancestors and the deities as well.

Perhaps it is because they are so much bigger than I am – I am but a drop in the ocean. Yet I am still part of the ocean, whose power lies in its collective drops of water, singing and blending with the songs of wind and rain and sun. I can call upon that power for I am that power, and that power is me. I am a leaf on a tree and the tree itself – there is no separation. My gods live within me as much as they exist without. Separation is nothing but illusion.

Perhaps this is what some pagans have an aversion to when they consider the term “worship”. Taken from the Old English weorthscipe, it is the value of something – what it is worth to the individual. Weorth – worth, and scipe – condition. Worship is not bowing and grovelling before the gods, as some may perceive it to be – it is judging the worth of something in order to be able to fully relate to it. I hold my gods, the land and the ancestors in high esteem and therefore they are worthy of my attention. What I need to realise is that perhaps I too am worthy of their attention.

I’m working on it…

Reciprocity and Druidry

Getting something for nothing is always a nice surprise. However, it is not always honourable.

Our Celtic ancestors took the idea of reciprocity and made it into their worldview. They gave back for what they had. In the Brehon laws, crimes had a price that had to be paid to the victim or to the victim’s family. Personal responsibility and recompense were regarded very highly in society.

In today’s day and age, these ideas have lapsed somewhat, even in pagan society. With the internet offering so much information for free (apart from broadband and electricity fees) we can gain a huge amount of information in a relatively short time with no expense other than our time. We can take in huge amounts of information and give nothing in return. Why should we, if it is all there and waiting for us, for free?

Take for instance The Druid Network. This is the website that really inspired me a decade ago to take up the path of Druidry, for in its pages and articles I found a deep resonance from like-minded people who shared their visions of Druidry. Since then the website has expanded immensely, yet is still a veritable font of information. All the articles are available for viewing for free, there are free courses offered through various members, books and cd reviews – you name it. All there, ready and waiting, and all free.

You can become a member of The Druid Network for £10 a year. Many, many people’s first question is “Yes, that’s nice, but what’s in it for me?” to which all of the above may not seem enough. Indeed, it could be a growing trend within paganism – people offering to become involved only if there is some personal benefit to them in the bargain. It would sometimes appear that being a part of something, or doing work for the sake of doing work, or in service to your path, is not quite enough these days.

Becoming a member of TDN now allows you to not only be a part of this great organisation and help to fund its continuing presence on the web, but also allows you to join a Druid only social network site, as well as receiving quarterly newsletters with info and articles written by other members. When I joined TDN all those years ago, there was a fledgling forum where people could discuss ideas, where members could talk to each other and share in their life’s journey and experience. To see it evolve into what it is today is quite remarkable. Yet for many, it is not enough.

This is where it all falls down for me, where I cannot understand some people’s viewpoint in that sites like TDN don’t offer enough to warrant a £10 a year membership. I find it astonishing that people can download all the articles and find celebrants, rituals, etc for free yet still do not want to contribute in any way. Nevermind that TDN now offer a brilliant social network site – what I don’t understand is why people just don’t want to give back.

Sites like TDN are reliant on the contributions from the Druid community. This is not only in monetary forms, but also in the shape of articles, ritual ideas, essays, etc. After reading all the articles on the site many, many moons ago, I felt motivated to write my own articles from what I had learned and from my own personal application and experience of the same, thereby giving back to the site that had provided me with so much (and still does to this day). However, long periods of time go by (sometimes years) before new material is submitted by its members. The numbers of members in TDN has grown considerably since TDN’s successful work in receiving charitable status as a religious network was achieved. Yet the input from members is sadly not in line with the growing numbers. Why should this be?

Any organisation is only as good as its members are – input is necessary for any network, pagan or otherwise, to survive. The TDN website underwent a couple of years of stagnation before the charity status decision due to lack of input from its members. No new articles had been written, no rituals, no info. Since the decision, there still hasn’t been that much new input from the growing membership. Even now, getting information for the quarterly newsletter can be like pulling teeth.

With so many members it should be easy to keep a wonderful site like TDN vibrant, fresh and informative. I appreciate that some members may be incredibly busy – however I also am aware that apathy exists within the pagan community that needs to be addressed. My words may seem harsh, but they are somewhat intended to be. I think that we as a pagan community need to stop sitting back and being fed information and start contributing to the community. Perhaps it is a product of our society, where it is so easy to just sit down in front of passive screen entertainment every evening and soak up information. What I suggest is that we get off our butts and start contributing, start giving back for all that we have received. Whether this is by joining TDN, writing articles for them, volunteering to be one of the website co-ordinators – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we take the idea of reciprocity seriously in our lives.

Organisations such as TDN are only as good as its members. TDN offers financial help for members who are looking for funding for Druid projects. Everything that they do is by volunteers – there is no paid staff, no hierarchies either. The number of people contributing and working for their Druidry and for TDN is severely disproportionate to the amount of people who are benefitting from this organisation. This isn’t right, in my opinion.

We cannot simply take and take without giving back. This is the reason why the world is in such a mess today. Our society and culture is one of greed, a greed that is not based out necessity. Ideas of reciprocity are left by the wayside. If we use TDN’s website, we should find a way to give back, whether that is financially, creatively or by volunteering. We apply the ideas of reciprocity in other aspects of our Druid lives – daily offerings and rituals, for instance. Why should we not apply that same idea to the teaching that we receive, the gifts that we are given for free in some cases? Why must we always feel that we need to acquire something in return?

It is our very act of giving that is the reward; it is the flow of awen. If we do not give, the awen cannot flow. It is that simple.

This article was written purely from my own personal viewpoint, and has had no input or sanction from TDN at the time of writing. All viewpoints are my own, and not necessarily those of TDN.

Go slowly in the Springtime…

This morning I accidentally ran over a small, young rabbit.

Living where I do, accidents such as these are unavoidable at times. Springtime is the worst time, as youngsters are making their way further and further from their homes, unaware of the dangers of the road. Baby birds that are not yet fully proficient in flying, young badgers and even deer that haven’t seen a car in their life. I carry special gloves in my car to take those I find left on the road and bring them to a more respectful distance, to be taken by the ants and foxes, the crows and other creatures. I’ve picked up all manner of roadkill from other people where they have just left it – even putting my back out once dragging a dead deer stag from the middle of the road where it endangered drivers coming around a blind bend. How people could just leave animals that they have hit is beyond me. I’ve had to call the police to inform them of deer that had been hit on the highway and that was still alive, blocking a lane, thereby getting police and environment officials there to kill the deer humanely as quickly as possible, and see that no one else gets hurt. It infuriated me that no one else bothered to take responsibility – no one else had made that call before me.

It doesn’t make it any easier, no matter how much death you see. Picking up the warm, soft furry body, its entrails in my other hand I carried it to the side of the road and placed it gently beneath the hedgerow. I was struck for a moment at how some Druids of old, such as the famed Boudicca would have read the entrails of a sacrificed hare to foretell battle outcomes, if classical sources are correct. I thought about how gentle my Druidry is compared to that, and how I would not change it for the world. As I lay its body on the ground, the green grass and nettles growing up towards the sun, all I could think was “I’m so sorry”. I asked that the gods be kind, and that they may forgive as this little one goes back to the earth from whence it came. A crow directly overhead cawed as I finished my prayer.

I know it may seem odd, asking pagan gods for forgiveness – many would say that attitude is for another religion. However, at that moment it felt utterly right – it was the first step towards making amends for the taking of a life. It acknowledged responsibility as well as regret. Whether the gods accepted it or not I do not know – the crow cawed just at that moment, but he may have just been greeting his mates, or laughing at me, or genuinely speaking for the spirits of that area.

Accepting responsibility for the taking of a life is a concept that was well known to the Celtic ancestors in this country. Whether accidentally or not, reparation must be made and responsibility claimed for one’s own actions. Stopping and taking the little body to a better resting spot was just the first step towards reparation. Asking forgiveness and expressing sorrow and regret was the second. Making a donation to the Hare Trust upon reaching work the third, and tonight in a small ritual an offering will be made to the spirits of place for peace. None of this will bring that little life back. However, it is a constant reminder of my place in the cycle of life, in the grand web of all our lives, how we are all connected, and how each of us is responsible for our actions.

Why all this effort just for a rabbit, some may wonder? To me, all life is sacred – it is why I am a Druid and a vegan. Ideas of reciprocity and responsibility are at the forefront of my worldview. I take what I have learned from our Celtic ancestors and apply the wisdom found in their teachings into modern life. Ancient Celts may not have felt so sorrowful at killing a bunny – but I’m not an ancient Celt. I don’t eat the meat, I cannot make use of the body, and so it seems dishonourable not to do something to make amends for the taking of its life. I live in a different world to the ancient Celts, and thereby must apply their wisdom into my modern worldview in the best way that I can to ensure that my life is lived fully, aware and awake and with honour.

Driving home, I shall drive even slower than I usually do, no matter what the cars behind me think. I am a part of my environment, a part of a very special ecosystem and I will do all that I can to preserve it, to cherish it and to honour it with all that I am. For me, there is no other way.