Karma and Growth

The Karma Series: What Is Karma? | Karma and Growth | Karma Doesn’t Explain Anything

Previously I wrote about karma as a process of growth and evolution. Now I will take a closer look at the growth process itself. My intention is to use an example of growth in complex systems to shed light on why patterns in our personality are pervasive, deeply embedded and difficult to change.

Our personality is a complex system (irony intended). It is the product of many forms of conditioning. Reactive emotional patterns established in our physical, emotional, family, educational and cultural development play a significant role. How do these patterns come about?

For our example, we will take the pattern of a fern leaf.

  Diagram #1: A very simple form: four lines that meet at a point. Imagine that the bottom line is the stem and that the other three lines that branch out are growing branches. Growth takes place through repetition: each of the three growing branches repeats (is replaced by) a scaled-down version of the original form of the four lines.



  Diagram #2: The darker lines show the repeated forms with the original form in lighter lines. The straight lines in diagram #1 are transformed into the darker forms in #2. The original form is duplicated on a smaller scale. What happens when this process is repeated over and over again?  
  Diagram #3: The result: a fern-like structure has formed. The lines of the original form are shown but the actual pattern is a fern. How different from the original generator!   Diagram #4: This is a small part of Diagram #3 magnified about 50 times. The magnified section has exactly the same structure as the fern-leaf pattern. We could magnify any part of the pattern as much as we want and it would still look like a fern-leaf.  


Could something along these lines be taking place in us? My own experience leads me to say, “Yes, probably.”

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Take a simple behavioral pattern such as starting something before we finish what we are currently doing. Observe where that pattern of behavior occurs in our life. In our work, we start a new project before we finish the old one. In eating, we take a bite of our sandwich before we finish swallowing the food already in our mouth. In conversations, we start into a new sentence before we have completed our thought.

Once in place, such patterns permeate our lives. We repeat the same dynamic over and over again. We are complete automatons. We may appear to be as graceful and delicate as a fern, but it’s pattern, all the way down.

The work of meditation is twofold. Through mindfulness, we are able to see these patterns and how automatic and pervasive they are. Through insight, we can see into a pattern, see the form that generates it, and release our identification with the form. (These last points will be topics of future articles.) When the identification is released, the form disintegrates and the corresponding pattern of behavior falls away.

All of our actions, including the stories we tell ourselves, the ways we interact with other people, or the little things we do in private (leaving dirty dishes in the sink until the morning), have the potential to grow into a pattern. As we repeat the same action, a pervasive pattern of behavior takes shape, like our fern-leaf. The essential dynamic of the original action begins to operate in other areas of our life and comes to permeate our whole personality.

Hence the importance of mindfulness. Since everything we do becomes part of our personality and shapes our world of experience, as I described in the last newsletter, we need to be aware of what we are doing in every moment. Every action can have very significant consequences for us. For me, this principle is the essence of the teachings of karma: every action shapes our personality and our experience of the world.

The Karma Series: What Is Karma? | Karma and Growth | Karma Doesn’t Explain Anything


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