By Terry Plotkin

Some years back I was in a laundry mat and I was talking about karma with a woman who was folding her clothes. When I finished my theory about how it comes to teach us lessons she told me that her niece had been abused at the age of 13. She said if anyone tells her that it is “just her karma” she was going to slug them. Sometimes I know when to shut up. Besides, I couldn’t see any thread, justification, or life lesson that unfortunate girl might have gleaned from such a traumatizing moment in her life.


The same is true for many other things that happen. A child living within a civil war for example, or elderly people who watch their mental faculties disappear before they blessedly pass from this world.  I don’t know why they suffer, I don’t see any good that comes from it, and I don’t wish it on anyone.


So is there no justice in the world? Does karma operate? Are the world’s religions all wrong? Who am I to say?


Yet sometimes, some events, the thread of karma, of lessons, of cause and effect can be clearly seen. The distance of time has showed me that things have come at me that were necessary for my own growth and needs. I didn’t want to go through it then, now, or ever, but nonetheless it needed to happen. For instance, I was bullied for three years in middle school. Was it my fault that my parents at age five pushed me ahead a year and into the first grade to make me the youngest kid in the class? Did I choose to be the only Jewish kid in a class of 145 white Christians? Did I want to grow up in a working class, narrow-minded place that was prone to anti-Semitism, or have my family name on many of the businesses in the small downtown? However, if anyone tells me that “it was just my karma” I would not slug them; I would agree with them.


After 3 years of verbal and physical torment, one fateful day before physics class started, I finally punched the kid who was the worst of the bunch. Actually, I didn’t really throw the punch. I remember the moment well, as it was a pivotal event in my young life. I had the normal desire I always got during the abuse, of just wanting it to go away while trying to ignore it. But this time, as if pushed from behind by some invisible force, my left arm, with fist attached, swung out and struck the abuser in the stomach. He hit me back. I didn’t feel it. I probably threw 10 punches in 10 seconds and he did the same to me. When the teacher came in, we stopped.  I felt nothing: No pain, no fear, no relief. The good news was, after that I never had any bullying problems again. After three years of torment, one moment of abandoning fear and standing up for myself, and it was over. I guess it took that long for me to get fed up enough, to gather the inner strength, to drop my timidity in order to act. I can almost say that it was my SOUL that punched him.


My life changed directions that day. I was never the same person again. I have been growing ever since. It has informed my life. I have never had to resort to violence though; I just became psychically strong enough that no one can go there with me.  If it were not for that incident and the years leading up to it, I don’t know if I would be able to say that. Thus, from a deep place, I needed it. Was it coincidence? I don’t believe that.


I do not assert that ALL of history is the playing out of karma, of lessons, and cause and effect, but some of it might be. During WWI the countries of Europe pulverized each other for 6 years. After that some had had enough, but others were not satisfied with the outcome and so they did it again, and went on another 5-year slaughter campaign called WWII. These 2 wars were the culmination of centuries of conquest, imperialism, colonialism, and war. Until finally the continent seemed to have had enough and from sheer exhaustion made peace. It is almost inconceivable now that France and Germany and England would choose to go at it again. Now the entire Middle East seems locked in a death spiral that it cannot disentangle itself from, even if they wanted to. Perhaps, there are forces at play here that necessitate this, and it will eventually lead to a better, more evolved region. Perhaps suffering is a great teacher, at a deep level.


But don’t try to slug me for saying that. I will defend myself.




2 Responses to “Suffering”

  1. Hmmmmm….musings there! Thank you!

  2. Karma is one of those concepts that we selectively embrace when it helps us deal with something. There are many concepts like this – tools we use to increase our chances of surviving challenges we face.

    Other concepts come to mind. Sometimes I embrace the Shaivite, “all this is God.” That’s a great equalizer concept – everything is good. A debatable idea but it can make me feel good in almost every situation.

    Another concept I use is to embrace the Vedantic “Neti, neti” or “not this, not this.” That’s great for humility. I use it when I get full of myself – it reminds me that even if I think I know something, I don’t – even simple things, “I know this is a pencil; no, it’s not a pencil – it’s my concept of a pencil.” Surprisingly, this technique is a great stress reliever, takes away the burden of knowledge.

    Back to karma. When you think of it, the concept of karma is as silly (and useful) as the above two. Though, it can also be insidious – it can be used to absolve ourselves from responsibility for our actions. But it can also be used to release our attachment to the past – that’s very useful – it leads to acceptance of our present situation – to being more responsible – and to good actions.

    In conclusion, I continue to struggle with the present and use whatever concepts I can to get me through each day.

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