Tag Archives: Darwin Awards

Jane Austen’s Moral Universe and Karma

“Instant Karma” videos on YouTube can be quite interesting. Usually someone is engaged in risky or illegal actions and is rewarded with injury, arrest or even death. When I watch ‘Darwin’ Awards videos, my first thought is, “this guy or woman (it’s often a guy!) really didn’t have to do this! Why are they acting so willfully oblivious to consequences?” Consequences are another name for karma, which refers to the universal law of ‘action and reaction’ or, “what goes around, comes around.” Essentially, karma is a function of universal justice. It’s like a mirror used to give us a better view of our behavior. We know Jane Austen took civility very seriously. Heroines (and heroes) learn about the duty to be civilized human beings. Considering the lack of karmic awareness in the modern world–maybe even in her time–Jane wrote about the personal dealings between a variety of high and low characters and the varieties of consequences–either tragic or comedic. In her novels, and in the timeless spiritual text, Bhagavad-Gita, we learn about acting with the understanding of an essential connection between souls. The basis of our connection with all other beings comes from our connection with the Supreme Being, who is the source of our existence. As they say, “we are all connected.” This understanding of the equality of all spiritual (conscious) beings is the basis of metaphysical science. The yogi focuses within and finds real pleasure within the self (B.Gita 5.21). Jane had grasped this truth of inner consciousness. Through her art, she shared this principle of seeing with intelligent vision, the equality of all souls. On a plaque at Winchester Cathedral, where Jane’s remains lie, is a quote from Psalms: “She openeth her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness.

This idea of equality of all beings was the basis of the Declaration of Independence, “…all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights…” This conception is different from recent demands for ‘equality’ based on the body because it is futile to attempt to prove physical equality when the fact is that bodies are all different. Any mundane test you can devise will clearly show that we are, empirically, unequal in terms of intelligence, physical strength, artistic talents, mathematical ability, etc. Yet spiritually we are all equal and to practice yoga –and yoga means ‘to connect’– is to see everyone equally and this is the rational basis for being civilized towards others. My teacher writes about this ‘equal vision,’ called, samatvam in sanskrit, and the problem with the current social trend of ‘identity politics.’

“Samatvam, spiritual equality, requires and inspires true compassion, beyond the attachment and hatred that usually infect political and social causes. Such causes, based on duality, sew the seed of future hostility even as they address present conflict.”

A Comprehensive Guide to Bhagavad-Gita-by HD Goswami (pg.68)

A civilized society demands something more important than polished appearances and exhibitions of wealth. It places importance on respecting others. Jane Austen shares the same message in her novels. In Sense and Sensibility, there is a profound transformation in the heroine’s (Eleanor’s), younger sister, Marianne, who was rather clueless about civilized behavior and had a great intolerance for other points of view. She also nearly destroys hers physical body by a reckless policy of uncontrolled emotions. Eventually, Marianne comes to value Eleanor’s exceptional behavior and she finally, thoughtfully confesses, “I compare [my behavior] to what it ought to have been. I compare it with yours.” At this point, Marianne becomes a heroine–yay! So there you have it. Jane Austen is providing all her dear readers with characters like Marianne (one of my favorites) so that we can feel inspiration to change–even if we are also beginning our journey with somewhat extreme views or sensitivities (called ‘sensibilities’ in Jane’s day). How do such characters work to change us? They influence us because in a Jane Austen novel, such well-written and famously realistic characters provide not just interesting reading but also a powerful tool for affecting our psychology. This is natural since, if we can appreciate a character as complex and flawed and basically, real enough, then we can be sufficiently affected. Assuming that we are not ‘dull elves’ and have introspection enough, we can catch at Austen’s message and it becomes natural for us to make critical associations and comparisons. This inspires changes to happen in our feelings, mind, motives and behaviors–and it affects the quality of our lives.

Today, every has heard of karma. All mundane actions create a reaction, either good or bad. When we act selfishly or immorally we create bad karma–of course good actions also create good karma. Rule #1: The more wisdom we painlessly adopt, the less suffering from inpulsive actions. For example, when Lizzy Bennett first detects the serious error of her first impressions concerning both Mr. Darcy, and Wickham, she declares, “Until that moment, I hardly knew myself!” When challenged by the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Lizzy courageously sticks to her guns and declares that she owes it to herself to pursue her best life, without reference to the demands of anyone unconnected to her. As they say, “You go girl! Knowing the self helps us to not believe or follow the many narcissistic people who are only after their own self-interest and who only want to sell you the latest gadget or to dominate and exploit the world. This consumer culture is built on confusing people as to their real self-interest.

Austen meant to educate and enlighten us about actions and reactions so that by the end of any novel, those who are paying attention get a clear picture of the most common delusions which oblige mortal beings to suffer undesirable results–and the happiness of those who act wisely.  We cannot but be sorry that Lydia Bennett chooses to abandon moral principles and her family. And also we cannot but appreciate that Lizzy and her eldest sister, Jane, also receive (and deserve) the better results of their more exalted behavior. Elizabeth tells Jane, in Pride and Prejudice, “Until I have your goodness, I cannot have your happiness.”  So karma is real and we can learn about goodness by reading Bhagavad-gita (and of course by reading Jane Austen’s novels!). Like a scientist we can discover the distinction between real and false roads to perfect life–and if we are not happy then there must be a reason or an error of judgement in our thinking and actions. We keep learning and adjusting our lives until we reach wisdom, self-knowledge and rational happiness and contentment.

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