Friday, July 11, 2014

Karma, Kairos, Fate...

Karma (often used in the context of 'fate') is a much used and sometimes misunderstood word. It is also generally considered a very oriental concept.  Hence I was surprised to be reading about it in a book on Greek mythology written by the French philosopher Luc Ferry.  His overview of Greek myths is interspersed with thought provoking snippets of philosophy.

Interestingly, one aspect that Luc Ferry brings out is the concept of 'seizing the moment' or completely being in tune with the present and all that it offers, for a harmonious and balanced life.  The goal of a life well lived is not measured in its achievements, physical or moral, but in how true to oneself one has been.

This thought, though woven into myths, is certainly the crux of many eastern spiritual texts (not to be confused with the religious ones, where symbolism, social and 'moral' connotations intervene).

In the Indian system of philosophy, karma (in the context of fate) is not something to be accepted with submission or fear, rather it is something to be wholeheartedly embraced and positively accepted as a part of one's evolution.  Karma yoga (there are broadly four paths or ways of doing yoga, depending on a person's inclination or temperament; the ultimate aim of all yoga being an understanding of one's true self) describes karma as being the right action (rather than a mysterious and often unwanted endowment called fate).

This kind of thought is also glimpsed in Chinese philosophy.  There is a saying by Lao Tzu which I particularly like : "The Master is ready to use all situations and doesn't waste anything.  This is called embodying the light."

Greek myths, speaking as they did of great gods and forces of nature, also reminded men of their role in the cosmos and the need to play out their part without fear, remorse or desire for other realms.  If this did not happen, cosmic harmony was bound to be affected as each element (and individual) was connected to the other.  This is emphasized in the telling of the story of Odysseus and his adventures on his way back home.  He is offered everything that might appeal to a mortal by Calypso - immortality and youth at the expense of going back 'home', but he chooses to return to where he belongs rather than hover forever in an unreal world.

Interestingly, this kind of thought does not end here but finds its way to modern philosophy, as Luc Ferry points out:

"Nietzsche was to reiterate this, long after the Greeks - which proves in passing that their message preserves an actuality such as can still be found in modern philosophy: the "love of one's fate."  To embrace everything that is the case, our destiny - which, in essence, means the present moment, considered as the highest form of wisdom, and the only form that can rid us of what Spinoza (whom Nietzsche regarded as "a brother") named, equally memorably, the "sad passions": fear, hatred, guilt, remorse, those corrupters of the soul that  bog us down in mirages of the past or of the future.  Only our reconciliations to the present, to the present moment - in Greek, the kairos - can, for Nietzsche, as for Greek culture as a whole, lead to proper serenity, to the "innocence of becoming," in other words to salvation, understood not in its religious meaning but in the sense of discovering ourselves as saved, finally from those fears that diminish existence, stunting and shriveling it."

This, of course, is just one point of view, but I have tried it and find that it works very well for myself (when I am able to put it into practice).

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