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Group Karma and Barack Obama

Yes, I’m talking about a black president being elected, the economic downturn and even the war in Iraq.

Karma is usually explained from an individual perspective. It’s mainly about personal responsibility. Karma is both a message of: make sure you act right! and a call for justice in general. From the passive perspective karma is also about the circumstances one is in.

Group karma takes both points a step further. Let’s start with me. I’m Caucasian (to use the pc phrase). I live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I am a woman. I am single. I am well educated and in many ways talented. I’m reasonably good looking. I’m a webdesigner. I’m a webpublisher and I guess I’m a writer.

About half of those things were given to me by fate, or karma or what ever. The other half are things I worked for or chose at some point. Each of those things is also a label. Each of those things makes me a member of a group. The things I was born into make me privileged. Except for the part of being female. Recent news has it that women are still over represented among the poorest in the world.

Those labels are not just part of my identity as a Caucasian woman for instance – but they are also part of how I am perceived. That is group karma. I am perceived to have things in common with other white women from Western Europe. I found that out the hard way when teaching kids in the Rotterdam inner city. There were a lot of kids from immigrant background in that school and it was around that time that Theo van Gogh was murdered. For those who haven’t followed the story: Theo van Gogh was a controversial film maker who dared tackle subjects others would not touch. He ticked off Muslims by making a film about abuse of women in the Quran with another controversial figure on the Dutch scene: Hirsi Ali. He paid for that with his life.

I’m not going to go into the questions of whether that movie should have been made that way. Or the question how women’s rights in Muslim countries should be fought for – it is clear that Theo van Gogh should not have been murdered. But he was and the whole school had to deal with the consequences. The group karma of Dutch Muslims at that time was that the rest of the population felt they were to blame. Even though most had not even heard of van Gogh before it happened. In response Dutch Muslim women wore head scarfs more (continuing a trend after 9-11) and Muslims generally were on the defensive about their background.

I understood all that. Being a theosophist had perhaps prepared me for this kind of difficulty. However, since I was not actually a very good teacher, the students did not appreciate or realize that. I had not yet proved myself and my background put me at a disadvantage with them. They were angry at Dutch society for putting them in a corner and I, with a very main stream accent and look, got the fallout in class one day.
I tried telling them that to me they were Dutch – didn’t they have a Dutch passport? But they told me that they didn’t feel all that welcome at the moment. I did understand, but I could hardly confirm them in their sense of not being at home in the country most of them had lived in all their life.

I may not have been a great teacher. In fact I think I was terrible in many ways. But I did face up to my Dutch group karma that day.

The link to my title is this: perception is karma too. Specifically – the USA electing a black president is good for the group karma of that nation. It shows the world that the USA is not just Caucasian. It is not just Western. The USA has people from all kinds of backgrounds, and a qualified man with a father from Kenya can be elected president. (Hollywood: isn’t it time for a movie about a woman president?).

Tomorrow I’ll go into another aspect of group karma: the economy.

  • Ken November 12, 2008, 10:50 am

    Instead of attributing these variables to karma, why not attribute it to cultural mores? The attitude towards women in many countries in Asia and the Middle East is deplorable. In Saudi Arabia women cannot vote, they cannot drive automobiles, they must be escorted by men when leaving their homes, and many public places are gender segregated. These conventions are the product of traditions passed on unquestioningly from one generation to the next.
    As far as Obama is concerned, here in the U.S., things are in such a mess, the situation so desperate, and the integrity of traditional institutions so undermined, that Obama has been given the mantle of a Messiah, which will no doubt lead to a rude awakening sometime in the near future. Even he has made jokes about being born in a manger. Citizens can’t imagine things getting much worse, but this remains to be seen. Certainly electing a black man as President is an exhilirating moment in this country’s history, and I share in it, since I voted for him. But at bottom line the question is policy, not personality. Let’s not forget that while Obama has promised to get American troops out of Iraq, he has also promised to send many more over to Afghanistan, which, to me, is the height of foolishness.

  • Theosophy Watch November 12, 2008, 10:57 pm

    We find H. P. Blavatsky explaining these ideas in 1889 under the label of “distributive karma” in her book The Key to Theosophy. (“THEO” is a generic knowledgeable Theosophist, and “ENQ” is a generic enquirer.)

    ENQ. But, surely, all these evils which seem to fall upon the masses somewhat indiscriminately are not actual merited and INDIVIDUAL karma.

    THEO. No, they cannot be so strictly defined in their effects as to show that each individual environment, and the particular conditions of life in which each person finds himself, are nothing more than the retributive Karma which the individual generated in a previous life.

    We must not lose sight of the fact that every atom is subject to the general law governing the whole body to which it belongs, and here we come upon the wider track of the Karmic law, Do you not perceive that the aggregate of individual Karma becomes that of the nation to which those individuals belong, and further, that the sum total of National Karma is that of the World?

    The evils that you speak of are not peculiar to the individual or even to the Nation, they are more or less universal; and it is upon this broad line of Human interdependence that the law of Karma finds its legitimate and equable issue.

    Blavatsky explains that the fundamental reason for the reality of group karma is that we are fundamentally not separate as individuals as we think we are.

    ENQ. Do I, then, understand that the law of Karma is not necessarily an individual law?

    THEO. That is just what I mean. It is impossible that Karma could readjust the balance of power in the world’s life and progress, unless it had a broad and general line of action. It is held as a truth among Theosophists that the interdependence of Humanity is the cause of what is called Distributive Karma, and it is this law which affords the solution to the great question of collective suffering and its relief.

    It is an occult law, moreover, that no man can rise superior to his individual failings, without lifting, be it ever so little, the whole body of which he is an integral part. In the same way, no one can sin, nor suffer the effects of sin, alone. In reality, there is no such thing as “separateness”; and the nearest approach to that selfish state, which the laws of life permit, is in the intent or motive. (Key to Theosophy by Blavatsky, p202-3)

  • Katinka Hesselink - All Considering November 13, 2008, 2:42 am

    All action is karma. That is: the USA has acted positively by electing a black president who may change a few things (though I agree he has a hard road ahead of him and the high hopes people have are bound to be disappointed. He can hardly live up to them).

    Similarly, on the negative side, refusing education to women is a (collective) negative action, which too will bring consequences especially for those who act them out. So I am not attributing these things to karma – karma works both ways: it is an action as well as the social and spiritual reaction that automatically follows, whether slowly or quickly.

    Culture is part of the law of karma. Culture is the collective action (in thought, word, feeling and literal action) of groups of people. These actions bring about results.