The other day I was walking towards the local creek, down an asphalted path leading between two rows of houses, and I noticed a broken bottle smashed into shards. I happened to have a plastic bag in my backpack, and I crouched by the glass, picking it up carefully and placing it in the bag. A middle aged man passed me, eyeing me with a quizzical look, and I responded to his unvoiced question, “If you want to live in a nice place you have to keep it nice.” He agreed and kept walking.
It’s true. We have a responsibility, not in the sense of something onerous put onto us, but in the sense that we are the ones who produce the lives we live, within given constraints. We are not Gods creating our own universes, and i found a lot more details based on our Lordship psychology by Jagad Guru Chris Butler, but if we live in an untidy house, it is because we don’t tidy it up. Even if someone else makes the mess, if we don’t take action one way or another to solve the problem, we are responsible. While ultimately we cannot force others to behave the way we might like, we can lead by example, we can use practical education and polite persuasion, and even if none of this works and we still choose to live there, and not to tidy it up, this is our choice, and thus we are responsible. Actually my house is usually untidy, and I can’t say I like that, but it is my responsibility, on all fronts. I live alone! And I can’t shift away from myself, because where ever I go, there I am.
Sometimes if we feel we are unable to do anything to change things, and are unable to move away, but even then, we can still affect the way we react internally. Will I be angry and contribute to the problems. If so, I need to understand that I have nothing to be angry about. I may feel as if this situation has been forced on me, but one with a wider vision, who sees the big picture, realizes every single thing that happens to me is ultimately my own responsibility. I am the cause of my own suffering. Even if I cannot directly see the link between my previous past actions and the situation I find myself in, it is there.
Sometimes one seems to see an implicit link just in the very personality type one has. If I am a gossipy type, it is a fair crack of the whip if I end up getting some incorrect gossip passed around about me. In my own work life I recall that there have always been particular individuals who would be particularly difficult, demanding, and angry, and it was so often those people who would end up having problems, the photocopier wouldn’t work well for them, the internet machines would crash, they couldn’t finish their task before closing time even though there was some desperate reason why they needed to. They were the type of person who made waves and upset people wherever they went, and they seemed to have a cloud of bad “luck” following them around. I’m sure you have all come across people like this. Or maybe, at times on our lives, we have BEEN people like this.
The law of karma is extremely complex and a deep science. It is true that as you sow, so shall you reap, but it may not be not as simple as, let’s say, I steal a car, then my car is stolen. That may happen, but there are other aspects to it as well. Karma just means action, and every action causes reactions. The action of dropping my clothes on the floor at night means that I must live in a room carpeted in clothes, unless I take another action to solve that. The action of regularly sitting in front of television eating ice cream and chips, not only means I am responsible for pain caused in the production of that food, but it also means I will likely become overweight and unhealthy, and, on top of that, it begins to create a routine, an addiction, a pattern of desire and behavior that becomes a mental cage in which I am trapped. The more I engage in such behavior, the more difficult it is to not be carried along by unhealthy habits and the intense urges that can grow around such habits.
Action is heavy stuff! It creates reaction, and it binds us tighter and tighter to this material existence. Trying to remain inactive does not solve the problem. In the Bhagavad-Gita Sri Krishna speaks to Arjuna, who is freaked out by the extremely heavy action he is to be engaged in, that of battle, which although righteous on his part, would be causing devastation to his family and associates. Arjuna decided he would not fight but instead planned to go to the mountains and meditate. However Krishna tells Arjuna that the problem will not be solved by trying not to act, that he will be forced to act by his very nature, and that unless he acts in the service of the Supreme, he will end up acting under the control of illusion. This is all part of the science of karma, and the discipline of karma yoga, whereby one learns to engage one’s activity in union with the Supreme, and thereby becomes freed by those actions that, had they been done for one’s own reasons, would have bound one further. The preliminary stages of karma yoga, not yet fully yoga, but at type of kindergarten or pre-school, are when one engages in activities for the general good of others, humanitarian activities, or activities to help other living entities, whether human or not. This is not, strictly speaking, yoga, unless it is done as service to the Supreme, but it does develop one’s service tendency, which is a natural function of the living being. The full fruition of karma yoga is when one acts truly feeling, not my will, but Thy will be done.
But I have a confession to make here. My picking up the broken glass was not so much done in attempt to engage in karma yoga, nor was I focusing on service to the local community, nor was its primary purpose even an attempt to live up to my comment about needing to keep a place nice if one wants to live in a nice place. Rather it was a type of atonement for previous bad actions. I have never forgotten the time I stood at a 2nd story window and, just for the hell of it, hurled a bottle out to smash on the pavement below, and left it there. Many times since I have imagined someone walking in bare feet getting badly cut, or a child running and falling and landing hands first onto jagged glass, cutting tendons and veins, maybe permanently damaging their growing hands. So every time I see broken glass I clean it up, in the hope I can prevent at least as much hurt as I may have caused by that one ridiculous action.