According to the seed that is sown
So is the fruit you reap from them
Doer of good will gather good
Doer of evil, evil reaps
– Samyutta Nikaya, one of the five nikayas (discourses) in Buddhism, on Karma
My oncologist friend, Bhuvan, deals on a daily basis with folks who have very little time left. Each patient has his or her unique way of dealing with the inevitable.
Bhuvan told me once about this 10-year old girl who had come in for the first time some years ago – sprightly, full of hope. Now, she was a shell, the radiation and chemotherapy having ravaged her body.
But not her mind. With only a month to live, little Rosie was still sprightly whenever she had lucid moments. Proximity to death had somehow matured and wizened her beyond her years. This was thanks in no small measure to the way Bhuvan had taken to dealing with the terminally ill.
Usually doctors try every possible procedure or treatment, sometimes knowing full well that the patient has no chance. Instead of making the patient’s last days comfortable, these procedures leave him delirious with pain – begging to be allowed to die. Bhuvan does things differently. He tells the patient (in the case of kids, the parents) the truth about his or her chances.
Coming back to Rosie, after a while it became clear that she knew she was dying – by the way she would suddenly turn morose, from despair. Once when she was watching a Roadrunners cartoon on her Ipad, she hit pause at the scene where Wile-e-Coyote tries to grab the roadrunner, misses and shoots over a steep cliff, his legs still sprinting in thin air, in that typical elliptical blur, until they stop. Usually when this happens in cartoons, for a few seconds the toon character remains suspended in mid-air and then plunges to the bottom of the cliff. Rosie pointed to Wile-e-Coyote suspended in mid-air on the frozen Ipad screen and said to her mom,” Look mom, this is where I am now, in the air, waiting for the plunge.”
Rosie’s parents had been given permission to take up residence in a tiny closet-like room right next to her bed and there they remained the last few weeks, unaware of how their days flashed by, unaware when it was time to go down to the hospital cafeteria to eat, unable to come to grips with what was about to happen. Almost every day, others – grandparents, friends, relatives and cousins – would drop by, some with flowers and others with cookies and cakes. She could hardly digest anything but Bhuvan had made up his mind to let her have anything she wanted.
As the end neared, Bhuvan and his little patient fell into a sort of ritual. At the end of the day, he would tell her,’ I am going to give you something that will make you fall asleep.’
To that, Rosie would say,’ I must say my prayers then.’ And then she would bring her hands, thin as sticks, together and close her eyes and say in a voice so fragile that Bhuvan and her parents had to strain to catch them.
“I pray to thee, Lord”, Rosie would whisper,” take my soul to a better place.” Everybody – her parents, the nurses and Bhuvan, would then say in unison, “Amen.”
If she had been a Buddhist or a Hindu, Rosie’s soul would indeed be understood to have gone to a better place – most likely inside the tiny body of another human, a newborn, somewhere far away, through a process known as reincarnation. Or maybe it would wait, in a sort of transient state, till it was allocated a body to inhabit. As a Christian, she is probably frolicking on a cloud somewhere up there with other similarly ‘fortunate’ kids, just playing – for eternity – bored to heaven.
Now let’s take the case of Montreal cardiac surgeon, Dr. Guy Turcotte. Angered after he found out that his wife was having an affair with her personal trainer, Turcotte (42) stole into their children’s bedroom and stabbed to death Olivier, 5, and Anne-Sophie, 3, late one night in early 2009. Later, on a temporary insanity plea, he was released on a $100,000 bail in September 2014, much to the dismay of his ex.
Turcotte’s bail has since been appealed and a new trial is scheduled for September 2015. Meanwhile, he is a free man with just the few usual restrictions required of a man out on bail. Last month, a tabloid published photos of Turcotte in a bar, throwing back his head and laughing, at something a guy sitting on the next barstool had said.
That says a lot about the Canadian justice system, doesn’t it? In Canada, all you have to do is earn a degree in psycho-analysis and you don’t even need to practice. All you have to do is get yourself hired to testify on behalf of whoever is paying you. You testify that the killer was legally insane and he gets off the hook, spends a few years in a cushy mental institution on taxpayer expense and is eventually set free, having ‘fully recovered’.
There are in fact large firms in North America that specialize on delivering expert testimony. They have on their payroll medical examiners, forensic pathologists and psychologists, whom they hire out to both sides (prosecutors as well as criminal defense attorneys), as expert witnesses.
Usually if you are convicted, the justice system almost anywhere in the world makes one point very clear to you up front – why it feels that you deserve to go to prison. Usually a convict will say,’ Okay, I know why they’re locking me up. Whether I am guilty or not is a separate issue’. Usually, there is one thing that a man languishing in prison won’t say – Hey I have no clue why I am here.
All this is true even in Turcotte’s case. Even though Canadian justice has been lenient with him so far, he could lose the retrial. Still, he knows why he is being prosecuted and he knows that the penal system is searching for the best way for his children and their mom (and himself) to get justice. If the new trial throws out the temporary insanity shit, finds him indeed guilty of first degree murder as they should and sentences him to life in prison without bail, at least he will know why, even if he may think that he doesn’t deserve it.
Now let’s think of a guy who is born in abject poverty, in a slum in Kolkata to an alcoholic, abusive father. He is sitting there on the sidewalk, in rags, while his Dad runs a tea stall, when a late model Merc coasts to a halt right in front due to traffic. As he strains to see through the tinted glass, he sees a boy his age, smartly turned out, looking out at him with the same kind of bewilderment, though the same questions don’t cross his mind as they do in the mind of the little ragged boy on the sidewalk – Why is he in that car and not me?
Religions tell us that nothing happens to a person that he does not for some reason or the other deserve. Hinduism and Buddhism go a bit further. For them, we are all actually reincarnations of a previous life and what we are in our present lives depends upon what we were and how we lived our previous lives, the only connection between the two lives being our soul.
If I have been bad in this life, I might be born a cockroach in my next, like Donald Trump almost certainly will. He won’t be no ordinary cockroach though. He will be born in a roach infested hovel in Kanpur and one day an exterminator will come in with a spray gun filled with DDT and demand,’ Where’s that Trump roach?’ and spray him full of the stuff.
This might explain the plight of the impoverished boy on the sidewalk. If he knew how to look on the brighter side, he would consider himself lucky he was at least reborn a human. Conversely, the boy inside the Merc must have been real good in his previous life.
Great, but there is one problem here. These two boys (and even the Trump roach) have no idea about what they might have done or hadn’t done in their previous lives. The boy in the Merc just knows that his Dad is stinking rich and that he can have pretty much what he wants. The boy on the sidewalk has seen only misery and knows that he can never have anything he wants and the Trump roach knows only the life of a roach. The fact that these three might somehow be personally responsible for their individual situations will never occur to them since they are totally unaware of their previous lives. (Not that the knowledge would do them any good).
Nazi concentration camp guard, Ivan Demjanjuk, known by Jewish prisoners at Sobibor and Treblinka as ‘Ivan the terrible’ for his extreme cruelty, died at a home for the elderly in Germany at the age of 91. He had been prosecuted but then, freed after managing to sow enough doubt about his culpability. There are other colleagues of his, still alive in their 90s, some found involved in the murder of up to 300,000 Jews. Like him they too are infirm and therefore left alone to live out their lives in peace. If a person does not necessarily have to face the consequences of his actions in the same life in which he committed them, what is the point of karma?
I know that morality exists and I admit I cannot explain why or what is responsible for the presence of it. But just because I cannot answer that question, must I have to forcibly accept an entirely unproven theory left behind by prophets and sundry other holy men that for everything there is a consequence? If those prophets and holy men – those half-hearted software patches that the Almighty is believed to have sent down from time to time – if they were such hotshots, how come we are in a shit-hole that seems to get ever bigger and stinkier with the years?
Why must we see a grand design in everything? Why can’t being born poor, a retard, deaf, blind, deformed or simply a cockroach, be simply accidental?