Karma—the heart and soul of the idea of cause-and-effect in action—is also one of Taoism’s most basic tenets. There is no arguing its validity. Its footprint is seen in all aspects of physics and chemistry and mathematics. Newton’s third law eloquently states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Of course, he is talking about gravity, but as the scientific community has been finding out, piece-meal and in spurts and starts, gravity is part-and-parcel of something far grander, with huge sweeping implications about everything, including our own existence (but more on this later).
For dyed-in-the-wool Taoists, karma is not even a debatable point. It is a ‘point of non-contention’. It is one that, should I wish to contest with any serious Taoist, will result in either a verbal duet or, if I’m lucky, a serene, polite, loaded smile from the Taoist who has decided that I am not a worthy opponent to waste time on. My seriousness as a Taoist will be forever questioned by those who know all about Taoism and the Taoist tenet. I would be viewed as a trouble-maker, a troll (if I were to bring this up in a Taoist forum), or worse yet, an extremely unenlightened soul who has somehow gotten lost amongst the weeds. My spiritual brother, Derek Lin, would probably be mortified but gentle in his approach of coaching me through ‘the vagaries of my tormented soul’. (Thank you for putting up with me all these years, Derek).
It is then, for the practicing Taoist, a straightforward blasphemy to question the efficacy and truth of karma. To be fair, I am not questioning karma’s scientific reality. I accept that there are truths which are self-evident, and karma is one of them. If you don’t believe me, try punching a boxer’s punching bag and you will see karma in action.
What I am questioning is the need to use karma as a reward/punishment tool in order to live one’s life and to travel on one’s path. As Arthur Paliden so eloquently stated: True morality is doing what is right without the threat of divine retribution nor the possibility of divine reward.
This concept of ‘true morality’ is not singularly aimed at the straight-and-narrow Taoists (you know who you are). This applies to non-Taoists too—all the conservative, entrenched, dogmatic non-Taoists—the ones who smile at me in such sweet ways as I talk about esoteric topics like this, all the while thinking they have been cursed with walking part of life’s path alongside one gnarly, bombastic, intellectually inferior blonde female.
I want to know what would happen if we woke up one day and found that karma was a lie—that nothing untoward would happen to us in any other reality or plane of existence should we decide to commit some atrocity (like throwing trash out the window of a moving car, or stealing twenty dollars out of our spouse’s wallet). Would we still do what is the morally right thing to do, or would we throw all cares to the wind and commit all sorts of crimes just because we know there would be no ramifications to our actions?
Since the Tao means ‘the path’ or ‘the way’, how far have we managed to crawl on the path if the hope of some nebulous reward or the fear of some horrible retribution is the only thing keeping us from doing what is morally right? Isn’t following some reward/punishment model a rather juvenile mode d’existence? As students of Taoism, shouldn’t our goal be to eliminate the need to follow that reward/punishment model? Shouldn’t we be ignoring any and all karmically-induced possibilities and just—LIVE? Shouldn’t we just live and TRUST in the idea that all our actions and what we do, we are doing because our soul needs to do them in order to advance forward?
Damn straight—you heard me right. I’m saying just throw karma to the wind. Blow it off. Wipe it out of your conscious and subconscious mind. Live free and unfettered of its influence. Throw off its yoke. Embrace a world without karma. Do what you normally do and trust in yourself because maybe—just maybe—we are put here to test-drive and try out what it feels like to live and make choices, and that all those choices are valuable experiences, ones that can only be experienced in the 3-dimensional world. Some choices will be rather poor, resulting in desultory results, while other choices will be much better, with a more positive outcome, but they will all be there with only one raison d’être, and that is to allow us to fully explore what it is to be human.
I say this because looking back on my life, the biggest advancements that I have made to my spiritual growth have mostly been from those times when I have made serious, grievous mistakes. Without committing those mistakes, would I have ever understood why they were not the correct courses of action to take? I don’t think so. No amount of philosophizing on paper, or verbal discourses of the merits of those actions would have impacted me as quickly or as deeply as having lived through those actions and appropriately equal reactions.
Insofar as how far along the path I’ve traveled, I think I probably need to do a few more rounds of life training before I can honestly say that I’m ready to join the adults upstairs, not because I seriously need karma to remind me to be morally honest, but because I need to think about it at all.