Vanity thought #1566. Secret Santa

‘Tis the season, as they say, and I thought “secret Santa” is an interesting concept. People get their presents from somebody they don’t know identity of and it’s supposed to be a surprise – from their perspective. From the law of karma point of view nothing about it is secret and no one gets what they didn’t deserve or wished at some point in their lives.

While an innocuous community pastimes, “secret Santa” tradition goes against the law of karma by trying to randomize gifts, gift takers, and gift givers. There are no conditions attached save for a price range and I don’t see how we can argue FOR the law of karma in this case, it doesn’t make sense, and yet law of karma must stand and it’s our myopic vision that is at fault here.

If you think of it, gifts aren’t as random as they seem – price range is only one of the criteria, it’s just more obvious than the others. Another criteria is that it should be a “gift”, not just a random object off the shelf. If you walk around a store you can see tons of things that aren’t suitable as gifts at all, and there tons of things that aren’t suitable as a gift in your particular community. If you are shopping for such a present you visualize an average person from your group and you try to select something according to that image. Sometimes, faced with two or three choices of color and design, you might go for a more conservative one, sometimes you feel like shaking things up would be more appropriate and choose something odd instead. You don’t know who will get it but you know that everybody else WILL pass judgment on you gift, so you aim for a certain expected group reaction, meaning you know the desire is there. Sometimes you trust store stuff with the selection – everything they consider as “gifts” is okay, someone somewhere must want it and like it. In any case, selection of a gift is not entirely random.

On the receiver’s end the eventual gift might still seem random but it also fulfills all the criteria you probably had in your head, it could hardly be a surprise, and if it is than the element of surprise itself reveals an unexpected value you didn’t realize before and, therefore, an underlying desire you have not been aware of. And if instead of a surprise you end up with disappointment it still indicates that you have had a certain value attached to the “gift”, you just thought that you deserved better. It does not invalidate the law of karma – we always get something we think is undeserved while there are always others who think it serves us just right.

So, while on the surface “secret Santa” appears to be an exception to the law of karma it actually isn’t. We try to rule it out on the same grounds we rule out things like lost football games – it’s quite possible it will happen but we do not recognize this possibility and insist on winning as a more just result instead. Perhaps the better illustration is the fact that most people judge their intelligence “above average”, which is statistically impossible to be accurate. The point is that we have biases and we do not acknowledge them. The stronger the bias, the bigger the perceived deviation from the law of karma, which is always neutral and objective.

Well, it was a rather long introduction but I’m getting to a point that I myself consider controversial. Why were Soviet devotees beaten and tortured in jails? Why didn’t Kṛṣṇa protect them? Yesterday I argued that we might misunderstand what kind of protection Kṛṣṇa offers – protection for the soul and protection for our consciousness, not protection for our bodies. Another explanation is that we not only deserve our karma but also desire it, we just don’t acknowledge these desires even to ourselves.

Someone might immediately object here: “Are you saying that rape victims enjoy their rape? Are you saying that slaves enjoy their slavery?” It’s not a topic you would raise in a modern society, they would eat you alive. If you are a public persona you might lose your job for saying things like that. I don’t think I’m in any danger for writing this on a blog, however.

Hmm, just think of it – say a person says something outrageous and faces a social penalty. Did he not desire to provoke an outrage? Isn’t the penalty a natural sign that his objective was achieved? If there was no penalty he wouldn’t be satisfied, would he? If he loses his job all he could say that his expected reaction was milder but he still expected something, he still desired something, he just misjudged it because his biases got in the way. He overvalued his position and undervalued reaction from others, true, but he still knew that something like that would happen, which means karma still gives what we desire.

While reading that book, Salted Bread, it occurred to me that beatings dished out to the devotees there weren’t totally random. In one case a devotee actively thought back, for example. He lost, of course, but this desire to fight was clearly there. I’m not saying he enjoyed it but he thought it was acceptable – you get in a fight you expect to get some, too, not just give.

In every boxing match there’s a loser and no one goes into the ring not expecting to be hit at least once. No one likes being hit, they say, but the truth is they all like SOME aspects of it, like recovery of their facilities or the adrenaline rush. For some it even feels like a victory: “I hit his fist with my face, it felt awesome, let’s do it again”.

I would argue that those who get into fights have the taste for it regardless of the outcome and there’s always something they enjoy about the occasion, sometimes even pain can’t dull their excitement. I’m not going to talk about rape victims, though quite a large proportion of them do experience sexual satisfaction contrary to everyone’s assumptions. I’m also not going to talk about slavery, but I would say this about beatings – it’s not ALL bad, we just get more bad than we thought would be fair, which is our error, not karma’s.

There were plenty of devotees who weren’t physically harmed in any way and I can easily see why – they just look too gentle to mess with them, too dignified, there’s not one iota of a desire for aggressive interactions in their personalities. Or look at it from the other side – no one would hit a weak old man or a small child, they are just not suitable recipients for an aggression. Some devotees look exactly like that – too brahmanical. Other devotees look like they can take a good fight and it’s a material qualification, people sense it like animals sense fear. If you have it you can’t hide it forever, if you react to aggression in a certain way your opponents will eventually find a reason to beat you, they’ve got tons of experience in provocations like this. With other devotees it just doesn’t happen, they are totally above and outside of this kind of rasa.

So, it’s not like that Kṛṣṇa didn’t protect the devotees from beatings but that they desired and deserved them through their karma, and Kṛṣṇa fulfilled that desire while nurturing their Kṛṣṇa consciousness at the same time. At the end of the day, beatings only increased it, they didn’t make anyone to forfeit their devotion.

I realize that it’s still an outrageous point to argue but we have historical precedents – battle of Kurukṣetra, for example. Lots of good people were killed there, we assume everyone on the Pāṇḍavas side was a devotee and they suffered just as much as Kauravas, but they were all warriors and for warriors it was a par for the course. Fighting for them was glorious regardless of the outcome. And so it must have been for devotees who stood up to their abusers and preserved their Kṛṣṇa consciousness – it was glorious, however painful.

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