By Dr. Arlette Poland

Whitehead taught that every becoming occasion or moment is filled with all of the past. For him, when he waxed religious, that past included information from a deity. Some Process Theists argue that the deity is in front of the becoming moment luring it to its best result. For me, as a Buddhist, there is no deity that pushes or pulls existence. But, there is opportunity. Every where. All the time.

Every moment is filled with countless opportunities for greater care and connection. Did you notice them? If you did, what did you do with them? That could be the point of a deity, after all. Those who have a deity who is a creator and all good, might find this notion useful. However, in this scheme, inspired by Whitehead’s Process Thought, there is no judgment, so there is no punishment or reward. There is no deity pushing or pulling. There is no final judgment day.
What there is – is karma. Karma is very simply and only the law of completion. Kri – the root of the word karma – is best translated as action. Because language expresses the opposites that are the reality of existence on earth as we know it, implied in kri/action is reaction or response. When an action has enough intention, or maybe we could say energy, behind it such that it becomes word or deed, then there must be a response to it, or a reaction.

Think electricity. You switch on a light and it does not care if you light a room for a party or light the electric chair to kill someone. It must complete the action. Such is karma. It does not care. It just must complete itself.
Who cares? We do. Humans have some unique abilities to think and reflect and make meaning – to care. Some other animals and life forms on this planet also have their own abilities to care and connect. Life itself cares. Karma does not. Karma makes the roads that we traverse. But we make the meaning on the road.

Think road trip. Depending on what has meaning for you, you take the road less traveled or the major highway. You travel to just get there or you travel to enjoy the journey. That is pretty much how karma and life work.
Life, for all existence, is about opportunities. Whitehead taught me, after reading Process and Reality six times – that all existence is inter-connected and interdependent. Karma and reincarnation has taught me to stop asking ‘why’ and instead ask ‘where.’ Stop asking ‘why me’ and start asking ‘Where is the opportunity for greater care and connection in this becoming moment?

Karma and reincarnation taught me that these opportunities can be in ugly or pretty packages, but they are always there. The meaning in the opportunity is of my own making. Process Thought is a logical and thorough template for approaching life with your own ‘where’ question in every becoming moment. So, whether I am meditating or washing the dishes, I can ask ‘Where are the opportunities for greater care and connection in this becoming moment?’


Add yours
  1. Michael R.

    Great post! Loved pondering your applications of Whitehead’s metaphysics. I also appreciated in particular your teaching on karma as action/completion. That certainly seems to fit with the popular notion of karma as being considered (or called) a ‘law’ of sorts; laws being characterized in some fundamental sense by their impartiality to the particular — in theory, at least.

    My burning question here is this: becoming aware of the truth of karma as action (words, thoughts, deeds, and so on), reaction, and completion — what particular wisdom might we derive from this? How might we keep this teaching in mind and adjust our life-choices and habits accordingly? Of course, you mention the imperative for ‘looking for greater care and connection in the world’, which seems to be an exceptionally sound, noble and indeed powerful aspiration. And perhaps this could stand alone, really. Yet I also wonder, based on envisaging karma in the way you’ve described it here, if there might be any other intelligent responses that could be made in one’s life that you’d recommend as a specific example. If, for instance, we acknowledge karma as being characterized by a process of initiation/completion, resolute and inviolable by nature, shouldn’t we then aim to live in a manner which generates less karma? Is there a way to avoid altogether, or at least minimize, the creation of various new karmic cycles? Or perhaps, alternately, in recognizing one’s own encounter with karma as an ongoing and inevitable process (or law), is there a way we as humans might somehow become a conduit to karma, allowing it to work its course more freely through us, and with less of a sense of disruptive turbulence on the account of the experiencer? I suppose all of this boils down to a more simple question: how might we ‘ride the wave’ of karma in the most skillful and wise manner, based on the way that you’ve outlined it here? What would you say?


+ Leave a Comment