Archive for the ‘Karma’ Category

Its worn yellowish façade looked faded and weather-beaten from years of abuse at the hands of the harsh Tibetan elements. Juxtaposed to the polished ivory-white bone of its much younger counterparts, the bowl seemed to exude a sort of primeval energy, as if thousands of years of Tibetan history were contained within its brittle exterior.

But did I dare break the most sacred of western taboos, purchasing something made of human bone? Would such an act call forth the ire of the gods, cursing me for dishonouring a person’s remains, or would it, as thought in Tibetan culture, allow the person to continue to live on through use in religious rites and art?

Whatever the consequences, in that moment they were the farthest thing from my mind, as my only worry was that the dried and brittle bone would be too delicate to survive the rest of my trip through Tibet, let alone the arduous return flight home. But pushing away such questions, I began something I never would have dreamed of doing…haggling over a human skull.



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Apu: I have come to make amends, sir. At first, I blamed you for squealing, but then I realized, it was I who wronged you. So I have come to work off my debt. I am at your service.
Homer: You’re…selling what, now?
Apu: I am selling only the concept of karmic realignment.
Homer: You can’t sell that! Karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos. [slams the door]
Apu: He’s got me there.

I’m not sure if I believe in karma—at least as a universal law—but the problem, I was to discover as I embarked on a journey to a local elephant sanctuary in the hills surrounding Chiang Mai, Thailand, is that I’m pretty sure karma believes in me. So, as our van trundled along the serpentine, pothole-laden road, I had no notion about the lessons the universe would teach me that day. It’s just too bad those lessons would hurt so much…

  The concept of karma has always fascinated me. The idea that the effects of the thoughts I think, the choices I make, and the actions I take will be returned to me often makes me think twice about what I’m doing. While I don’t believe in any notion of reincarnation, as taught by most Eastern religions, I do think that the Buddha was on to something when he articulated the cause-and-effect nature of the cosmos. When we act, if those actions bring happiness or pain, we will have to endure those same results. So, if I act in a way that brings you pain (like the pain you’re experiencing now as you read my blog) I eventually will have that pain returned to me (oh god, please don’t make me read your blog!). Now, the Buddha noted that this karmic kick-in-the-ass was almost never instantaneous, and the deleterious results of one’s actions would reverberate through many future lifetimes, but nevertheless, I tend to think that for those lessons to stick, one’s penance must be paid immediately. 

   …After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at the elephant sanctuary for Thailand’s unemployed elephants; victims of rapid industrialization, their cost and lack of utility sadly often resulted in abuse and neglect. It is at these rescue centres that tourists can both learn about this plight of the pachyderm in the modern world and also enjoy a jungle excursion on elephant-back. It is also here that I met my elephant, Lucy.

She waited patiently beside a tall, wooden platform, eager to begin her daily journey. Her wizened eyes conveyed a sense of wisdom and calm not often seen in the animal kingdom, she had clearly done this before. Her mahout (handler) encouraged me to purchase some food for Lucy before I got on so that she would have incentives to keep her going throughout our long trip. However, having already paid $15 for the hour and being the chintzy, tight-fisted bastard that I am, I opted not to purchase a $0.20 bag of bananas. There’s a whole jungle of free food out there, I thought, she’ll have plenty to eat. It was a decision I would come to regret. So, with that, I climbed up on Lucy’s back and off we went.

 As she traipsed down the narrow trail Lucy would frequently swing her trunk around, rubbing against my leg in anticipation of the treats she thought were sure to come. You might think I would have been moved by such a display, but alas her pleas fell upon deaf ears. Again, I thought, the plants are plentiful. It was as I pondered the availability of the jungle foliage that Lucy had her revenge….


Her trunk lashed out quickly, grabbing a young, leafy, Pilang sapling that grew along the trail. Although young, this tree was already tall and had vicious thorns covering its branches. Tempted by the sumptuous leaves, and with very little effort, she uprooted the tree, pulling it down on top of me. Her mahout was able to get out of the way, but karma had other plans for me. The thorns immediately tore through my exposed flesh, raking long scratches down my arms and legs. I grabbed the branches to keep them off my face but was pierced by several malevolent barbs. In an apparent act of cosmic cruelty, the process of chewing continued to sweep the tree across me, whipping about like a torturous cat o’ nine tails. Then, as quickly as it started, it was over, as she dropped the tree and continued her journey undaunted, no doubt with a satisfied smirk on her face. The entire right side of my body was bloodied and bruised, my clothes scratched and torn, and, without wanting the universe to think I hadn’t learned my lesson, I quickly bought Lucy some bananas.

1 hour elephant ride: $15
1 bag of bananas: $.20
Karmic realignment: priceless

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