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KARMALENS: How To Lighten Your Footprint In The World

Original artwork by Maya Svevak and Palash Das. © 2021 Svevak LLC. All rights reserved.

There are myriad ways of being in and interacting with the world. All of these fall on a spectrum. Where you, I, or anyone else fall on this spectrum is determined at least in part by the radius of what I am calling our KARMALENS. Pronounced how it sounds — like an amalgam of the words Karma and lens — the term KARMALENS refers to an analysis of the world through the lens of Karma, i.e., of Cause and Effect.

How it works

Several thousands of years ago, scientists from the Indian subcontinent discovered the principle of KARMA, namely the principle of Cause and Effect, which underlies absolutely every phenomenon in the universe that is governed by time. The bottom line about Karma is an understanding that every cause has one or more immediate effects, which in turn each become the cause for other effects, and so on.

For example, if Jill eats a banana and throws the peel on the floor and Amit slips on the banana peel and falls, Jill eating the banana is a cause (first cause), with an effect being Amit falling (first effect). It turns out that Amit falling causes him to break his leg. So the first effect of Amit falling in turn becomes a cause (second cause), with its effect being breaking his leg (second effect). Amit tries to get up, but because his leg is weak, he crashes into a glass vase, which shatters. Thus, the second effect of Amit breaking his leg becomes yet another cause (third cause), with its effect being the vase shattering (third effect). Jill inherited that vase from her grandmother and so becomes angry and begins shouting at Amit. The effect of the vase shattering becomes a cause (fourth cause), with its effect being Jill shouting at Amit (fourth effect). And so on.

Think of a KARMALENS as being a sphere centered on a first cause. Radiating out from that central, first cause are one or more first effects. Each one is directly connected to the first cause in a first shell surrounding the center. Each of the first effects becomes a second cause, in turn having one or more second effects directly connected to each of these second causes in a second shell. And so on.

In the above example, if you, as an observer unknown and unrelated to Jill and Amit, walked away after witnessing Jill eating the banana and throwing away the banana peel, your KARMALENS radius would be small. In other words, you would only have known of the first shell of effects and not the subsequent effects in shells further out from the central first cause, e.g., Amit falling because of the banana peel, Amit breaking his leg because of his falling, and so on. Conversely, if you stuck around for the whole day, you would observe several shells of effects, meaning your KARMALENS radius would be large. You might witness Amit expressing remorse, Jill forgiving him (even though she dropped the banana peel that precipitated this matrix of Cause and Effect (Karma) in the first place — a type of complication that will be taken up in future installments of this series), Amit collapsing on the floor from pain, Jill taking Amit to the hospital, the hospital being negligent and giving him medication he’s allergic to, Amit going into anaphylactic shock, Jill professing her romantic love for him when she thinks he’s dying, then Amit recovering and telling her he loves her too.

Of course, if you observed them their entire lives, the radius of the KARMALENS would become larger and larger, with the sphere containing an increasing number of inter-connected causes and effects.

To explain this further, we have developed a schematic that shows two extreme examples of the KARMALENS.

At one extreme is an INDIVIDUALISTIC way of being, resulting from seeing the world through a narrow KARMALENS, i.e., with a very small radius of personal relationship and physical distance. In other words, when I consider the effects of my actions ⎯ say, of buying a cup of coffee in a café ⎯ only on myself (the closest personal relationship I have) and on the café table at which I am seated (the closest physical distance I focus on in that moment), the radius of my KARMALENS is small. I think about only the immediate effect of the cause of buying the coffee, namely my own pleasure at drinking it.

At the other extreme is a SUSTAINABLE way of being, resulting from understanding the world through a wide KARMALENS, i.e., with a very large radius. In other words, when I consider the effects of my actions ⎯ or thoughts ⎯ on myself, the barista at the café, and the coffee grower in Africa or South or Central America (the farthest personal relationship I have), and take into account not only the café but also the coffee farm (a physical distance farthest away from me), the radius of my KARMALENS grows and grows. Suddenly I’m not just a North American getting my coffee fix, but a person in the world who is driven to think about all of the different effects that my buying the cup of coffee, the first cause, might have on that world. In other words, by looking through a wide KARMALENS, I’m able to understand my footprint and to know how to take action to lighten it, if I choose to do so.

In the INDIVIDUALISTIC way of being, I have very little to analyze and so my main reason for buying and drinking the coffee will be to feel pleasure. Conversely, in the SUSTAINABLE way of being, I am faced with many factors to weigh. I might ask myself: What are the labor practices of this café? Is the barista treated well? Did the café purchase the coffee from the coffee grower at a fair price? Are the barista and the grower able to feed themselves and their families on the money they earn? Depending on the answers to such questions, I may decide not to buy coffee from this café, and seek out a café that follows fairer practices. I might even decide to donate the cost of a cup of coffee to an organization that works to ensure coffee growers worldwide receive a fair price for their goods.

I try to look at the world through a wide KARMALENS, especially when I am thinking about what I take to be the 7 core ECOSOCIAL (ecological + social) issues of our time: Indigenous peoples, environment, identity, gender violence, capitalism, health, and culture. My non-fiction pieces and my fiction writing (e.g., Svevi Avatar) are all informed by this wide KARMALENS. I invite you to join me on my journey to explore the world around us, so that we may be motivated to act based on a deeper understanding, and therefore, improve life for ourselves and for others. To take informed action to lighten our collective footprint, if you will. And I would love to hear from you. How do you understand the role of Cause and Effect (Karma) in your own life? How wide is your KARMALENS, and what kinds of things are you doing to expand it?



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Maya Svevak

Maya Svevak

Maya Svevak is an activist, artist, and author. She writes both non-fiction and fiction and is the creator of the universe of Svevi Avatar. www.mayasvevak.com