Writer Ariel Gore recently made a good point–to say that a terrible disease has struck someone because they have evil karma (i.e. Rush Limbaugh) is to imply that anyone who is suffering is somehow at fault.
I’ve been plagued by this belief which is rampant in the subcultures I’ve floated in and out of in my adult life.
Here is what disturbs me:
1. The belief that illness–and death–are a punishment, a result of bad actions.
2. The deluded notion (desperate hope?) that being “good” will help you avoid the common lot of humankind.
This certainly isn’t the Buddhism I was trained in, nor the Judaism I was raised in. Both traditions regard suffering as indigenous, and made more bearable through compassionate action. Mind/body split can come from the Western tradition–it inherits from both Plato and St. Paul.
I don’t believe a person suffers illness because of actions in this life or another life. I believe, like Hamlet, that we all suffer from the “ills that flesh is heir to.” This is my philosophy, but also in a way a request for kindness. Many years ago when my husband Robert died as a young man a few people did not endear themselves to me by asking “why?” First of all, how could anyone know? Could this question make me feel supported, or comforted? Quite the opposite.
Perfect health is not a reflection of spiritual superiority. For most of us, particularly as we age, health is a dialectic we can participate in but not ultimately solve.
In a beautiful poem in his book “White Shroud” Allen Ginsberg is sick in bed with the flu in China, a melancholy spot. The last line is–I made a mistake a long time ago. I’ve always taken this to mean that by “mistake” he meant being born at all, into this human world, in a human body. A “mistake” that leads to all that is beautiful–dazzling, frightening, good, bad–in our stories.