Karma Is so Passé


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).

shorthaircropIt 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.


Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn

Per a request from a reader:

After I posted an article which featured this song, I was asked to translate it, so I happily obliged.  It also gives me the chance to tell you an ancient tale about Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn.

Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn

Ngọc Điện chốn kim môn cô ra vào
Ngọc Điện chốn kim môn danh thơm ngoài cõi tiếng đồn trong í í i i ì í i í trong cung
Sinh thay một thú cô đôi ngàn, bầu trời cảnh vật í i i ì í i,
Phong i quang bốn mùa ì trên bát ngát í trăm hoa đua nở dưới cảnh bầy cầm thú đua chơi
í i hi hì í a ới a a à à , ơi ới a a a à

Chim bay phấp phới mọi nơi cá treo ngược nước í i i ì í i
Lượn bơi vẫy vùng trên rừng tùng gió rung xao xác đỉnh sườn non đá vách cheo leo,
kìa dòng sông thương nước chảy trong veo í i ì í a ới a a à ới a à

Sông thương nước chảy trong veo
Thuyền xuôi người ngược í i i ì í i
Có tiếng hò reo vang lừng, nhìn đá núi mây hồng cao thấp
chứ ngàn cỏ hoa tăm tắp màu xanh

í i hi hì í a ới a a à à , ơi ới a a a à

Cô chơi bốn mùa gió mát trăng thâu i hoa thơm cỏ lạ í i i ì í i
mấy mầu ấm êm, nhìn cảnh vật rừng sim ao cá,
chứ đợt măng sang măng nứa măng tre, các bạn tiên đủng đỉnh ra về i ì ì i

Bài sai đố triệu lục cung, nàng ân nàng ái vốn dòng sơn trang
Tính cô hay măng trúc măng sang á a a á à à a

Hào quang sáng tỏ lưng trời
Một mầu xuân sắc tốt tươi rườm rà
Trên ngàn xanh lắm quả nhiều hoa á a a á à à a

ngàn xanh lắm quả nhiều hoa Cô đôi dạo gót vào ra sớm chiều.
Chiếc Gùi mây nặng trĩu lưng đeo
á a a á à à a (3)

The Translation:

The palace at Kim Môn (金門縣)[1], where she wanders about
The palace at Kim Môn, famous far and near
Reincarnate into a creature, the sky, the forest creatures,
Gentle winds blow all four seasons over fragrant flowers
on a meadow where tiny creatures play

Birds fly everywhere and fish jump upstream
Hawks glide over forested dale, atop the mountain ridge,
above the flowing crystal clear river Thương

The river Thương with its crystal clear flowing waters
Canoes going up stream, down stream
Along with the song of the people, look at the pink-cloud adorned mountain,
its ridges high and low, with its thousand trees and flowers, in various shades of green

She frolics through the four seasons, in gentle winds and clear moonshine,
on fragrant flowers and wondrous grasses
All colors warm and soft, the picture perfect paradise,
with ponds and  bamboo forests, along with her celestial fairy friends, go dancing home

A summons comes from the six palaces
she lovingly reincarnates into the village of Sơn Trang
Is it her or is it a bamboo bud?

Bright white aurora shines in the distant skies
A vibrant intense multi-faceted green
Above the skies showers many flowers and fruits

Above the skies showers many flowers and fruits
The Lady Đôi places her footprints on mortal lands
On her back a basket full of clouds

The Tale:

Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn is the youngest daughter of Lâm Cung Thánh Mẫu Thượng Ngàn (林宮聖母) King of the Forest aka Princess La Bình,  who was, herself, the daughter of prince Mountain Spirit and Princess Mỵ Nương, the daughter of one of the Hùng Vương kings.

Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn was granted the name Sơn Tinh Công Chúa (Mountain Spirit Princess).  Her days at the palace were joyful and simple, her only job was to be the personal assistant to her mother, the King of the Forest.

After a certain amount of time, in order to develop her spiritual self, she was given the order from the palace to reincarnate into the family of a landlord in present-day Ninh Bình, in the area of Sơn Lâm.  As a human child, She is described as very pretty, pale-skinned, raven-haired, with a perfect round face.

She grew older and when it came time, she asked to be placed within a temple which worshiped her celestial mother, the  Forest King Mẫu Thượng Ngàn.  There, she was taught the magiks and the celestial language to help the people of Sơn Lâm.

During her time incarnate, she could often be seen running through the forest with her celestial fairy friends, their voices often carried on the winds, singing strange songs in their wondrous celestial language.  She was a gifted and talented singer and poet; often appearing alongside noted famous people, quoting poetry and carrying on conversations with them.

Her color is green.  She wears flowers on her hair and gives lucky fruits to her followers.

[1] Kim Môn is a small archipelago of several islands off the coast of present-day China, in the region of Fujian.