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3,503 views Karma thumbnail

By Krishna Dharma

Bad Karma For The England Coach: On January 30 this year (1999), Britain woke up to an unusual headline in the news. “Hoddle says disabled are paying for sins of previous life,” announced the more serious press, while the tabloids went for variations of “Hoddle goes mad.”

The story had made headlines for two reasons: Firstly, the man in question was Glenn Hoddle, coach of the England football team, and secondly, his views were held by just about all observers to be utterly outrageous. Who did he think he was to pass such harsh judgement of a disadvantaged class of people? Did he have no sensitivity? The sports minister for Britain, Tony Banks, said Hoddle was ‘from another world.’ “I have listened carefully to Glen Hoddle’s views,” said Banks. “They are totally unacceptable. If his theory is correct, he is in for real problems in the next life. He will probably be doomed to come back as Glenn Hoddle.”

It had been a fairly innocent statement by the unfortunate Hoddle , made in the course of a sports interview. Most of the interview had been about England’s footballing prospects. But the interviewer, obviously with an eye to a hot story, knew about Hoddle’s beliefs and questioned him accordingly. When asked about his belief in karma, Hoddle replied, “You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.”

The interviewer had struck gold . That short section of his interview, cleverly headlined by him, made the headlines in every other newspaper. For days afterward a debate raged. Calls for Hoddle’s sacking came from all quarters. Eventually his authorities bowed to the pressure and he was forced to resign.

As a believer in karma and reincarnation myself I was angered to see the reaction to Hoddle in the media. I felt personally insulted. Amongst a host of other pejorative descriptions, Hoddle’s beliefs were labelled ‘potty’, ‘crackpot’ and ‘barmy’. I was astonished at the blatant hypocrisy; on the one hand tearing Hoddle to pieces for his ‘slur on the disabled’, while at the same time dismissing someone’s religious beliefs as nonsense.

But what about those beliefs? Are they nonsense? Did Hoddle get it right? Does the concept of karma include the idea that those suffering disability are receiving the results of former sins? Surely that is a hard pill to swallow for those so afflicted. Especially, of course, if one has no belief that there ever was a former life. And even if there was, what terrible sins did I commit? Looking around me, I don’t see that disabled folk are any more ‘sinful’ than others. Some seem a whole lot more pious.

Who defines sin? Who decides what reaction should follow our actions? Can it be changed, or is everything pre-determined? Unless you can answer all these questions then your belief in karma and reincarnation will be rather hollow.

Of course, even if he could answer those questions, Hoddle was given little chance . After his declaration of faith he was carried by the wave of indignation to his sure fate. But if he had been given a fair trial then he could perhaps have called upon the evidence of the Bhagavad-gita. It is in this ancient Vedic scripture that the teaching of karma is clearly described, and answers to all the above questions are offered.

Followed by hundreds of millions, the Gita is the basis of Hinduism , and specifically Vaishnavism, which of course accepts karma and reincarnation as its central tenet. So too does Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and a host of other Vedic belief systems coming out of the central strand of Hinduism. We’re talking about almost half the world’s population here. Surely then there must be some kind of logic to the belief.

So what does the Gita say? Well, the basic principle that every living being is an eternal soul, moving from life to life until it achieves ultimate liberation, is perhaps well-known. The Gita helps us to recognise our eternality with a simple exercise. “As the soul travels from childhood to youth to old age, it similarly travels to another body after death.” In other words, reincarnation is taking place at every moment, not just at death-the body is constantly changing.

In adulthood we can see that our childhood body has changed completely, but we are still the same person . We all know the joke, ‘you must have been a beautiful baby-but baby what went wrong?’ It should thus be obvious that we, the person, are different from the body we inhabit. Perhaps also this is where the disabled can take some comfort-they know that despite their physical disability they are no less a person than anyone else. If a man loses an arm or a leg, he does not feel that he has become only three-quarters whole. He is still the same person within. It should thus be obvious that the body is not the self.

But now we come to the tricky bit. Why is it that some souls get a body like, say, supermodel Pamela Anderson, while others are consigned to a mortal frame wracked by disease, or even that of a dog, or a worm, or a cockroach? “As you sow, so shall you reap”, quoted Hoddle , and the Gita does not demur. It agrees that all our actions will produce a reaction, good or bad.

But it points out that this is a complex equation. That the “intricacies of karma are hard to understand even for the highly learned”. In other words, while in principle it may be true that our suffering in this life has at its root some mistakes in this or a former life, it is more or less impossible to know what those mistakes were or when we made them – and it is not very important to know anyway.

In fact the Gita is concerned more with permanently ending all reactions , whether so-called good or bad. As we are eternal souls we do not belong in this world, which is ultimately only a place of suffering for everyone, whether able-bodied or otherwise.

The Gita teaches us to get out of the material world . To enter the eternal spiritual atmosphere where we really belong, and where suffering does not exist. And it makes it clear that this can be achieved by anyone, regardless of their bodily condition. All souls are equal, the body is nothing more than the soul’s temporary covering.

Perhaps Hoddle understands this well enough, I don’t know. But his brief mention of karma has certainly given the concept a bad name. That is a shame. For me at least, the alternative belief of things just happening by chance, with all its apparent unfairness and injustices, is unacceptable. It is a belief in helplessness which can only lead to despair. The poor souls suffering in this life are just losers in the great cosmic lottery.

And if we believe that, then why should we display any compassion or concern? What use is it anyway? One man wins and another loses-that’s it. It’s out of our control and happening purely by chance.

Even if we say no, God is there and in control, still our compassion seems pointless if we do not accept karma. If God is simply acting whimsically, dishing out misery without any rhyme or reason, then what can we do about it? Our attempts to ameliorate the situation can be dashed in a moment by this capricious and malevolent God. If he wants us to suffer, for whatever unfathomable reason, how will we ever prevent it?

If we deny karma we are left with frightening alternatives to explain our misery . It may be hard to accept, but seeing suffering as the consequences of our own acts is the only sensible explanation. And this, after all, is the way we run our lives. We want to hold people responsible for their acts. Would we release a criminal who pleaded, “But your honour, the knife in my hand stabbed him purely by chance”? Do we not as parents constantly tell our children that they must accept the consequences of their acts? Does it not therefore make sense that the supreme authority, God, should work by the same principle? It seems natural to me that we should be responsible for what we do.

I was thus surprised to see the hue and cry over Hoddle’s statements . When I first discovered karma I felt a sense of empowerment. Accepting that my misery was a consequence of my own acts made me realise an important fact: I can change those consequences. My fate lies entirely in my own hands. I don’t need to blame events outside my control, or my environment, or other people.

This is the only basis for real compassion . We can only do something to help a suffering person when we understand the cause of that suffering. Otherwise, without negating the root cause, our attempts to help will at best be makeshift. Whilst it is fine to do whatever we can to make life more tolerable for the afflicted, surely the most important assistance we can render is to remove the affliction-forever.

For those who are disabled or afflicted in some other way this is a philosophy of liberation . My actual identity is different from my external, painful body. Whatever mistakes I may have made in the past, which have resulted in my present condition, I can now act in ways that will lead to my permanent happiness. No more pain. That goes for all of us, disabled or otherwise. Each one of us is suffering one way or another. Disease, old age and death will eventually visit us all-followed by another birth in who knows what kind of body. But the Gita describes how we can end that cycle for once and for all.

I hope that poor Mr Hoddle’s abrupt removal from office will at least have stimulated some deeper thinking about what are, after all, some pretty deep concepts. Karma and reincarnation deserve a better press than they have had of late.

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