USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Karma’
Proverbs

Golden Rule

My informant is a USC student from Wyoming. She is a Christian and her grandmother was a strict Catholic, so many of the things she learned from her mother and grandmother had tied to Christianity and the doctrines of the bible.

“Do unto others as you would do unto yourself”

“My mom taught me that. And basically it means just treat other people how you would want to be treated. So you don’t want someone to be mean to you then you shouldn’t put out like, bad vibes cause then your Karma’s gonna come back and someone’s gonna be really mean to you. But if you’re nice–if you’re nice to everybody then hopefully somewhere somebody’s gonna be nice to you, even though i dunno, people aren’t very nice but if you just like, put good vibes out in the world it’ll be good! And you’ll be good! So just treat people how you want to be treated.”

 

Analysis: This was a proverb that my informant learned from her parent. Often times some of the most important lessons that we learn come from things that our parents tell us as children growing up. In this case the proverb reflects my informants religious and personal values, as she mentioned that in the bible one of the principles that is expressed is to treat others with kindness. The spread of this proverb within the family from parent to child demonstrates the nature of folklore and the natural affinity for people to share beliefs important to them with other members of their family as a means of maintaining collective views within that family.

Folk Beliefs

Karma

My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that’s an important part of her culture.

“We believe, or like, in general, not like I’m a crazy person…bad things happen to you because you’re paying for deeds that happened from your previous life/your previous birth. And so, shit happens now because you did something bad in a previous life. It’s also like karma.”

Q: Is karma related to reincarnation?

“Karma means you pay for every deed. So, this is a form of karma.”

Q: What would be an example of karma?

“Well, the way we interpreted it was when my dad got sick, it was because in a prior life or a prior form he had done something bad and this was… he was paying for it now.”

Q: How widespread is this belief?

“Pretty universal in Hinduism”

Q: Where did you first learn about karma?

“From my parents. It was one of those principles I grew up with. So, it was like, don’t be mean to people, because it’s going to come back and bite you. What goes around comes around. That’s how it started, because when you’re little you’re like ‘What is reincarnation, I don’t know’ And then when you learn about reincarnation…it’s applied on a larger scale

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Instant Karma

Contextual Data: Over Spring Break, I was at dinner with my family, and my dad accidentally bit his cheek. He cried out and my mother, who was sitting next to him chirped out, “Instant Karma!” I had heard her do that once before, and so I asked her what she meant by it and where she had heard it. The following is an exact transcript of what she said.

“It’s the saying that if you bit your tongue or your cheek that means you were either having bad thoughts about somebody or thinking bad about somebody…or cursing somebody. That’s why in… uh, karma you got bitten — because of bad thoughts about bad [Laughs]… As soon as you get bitten, you — first thing comes out of your mouth is ‘Ouch!’ and then person across from you knows that ‘Oh, you did something wrong. That’s why.’ So they assume you were having bad thoughts about somebody that’s why you got…”

- End Transcript – 

Karma (the general idea of what goes around comes around) is a big part of Hindu culture and that can certainly be seen in this little saying. For the most part though, it doesn’t seem as though this saying is meant to be taken seriously — partially because it’s not a wholly accurate representation of Hindu ideas of Karma. Beyond this, most of the times that it happens, the person “accused” usually isn’t actually cursing someone else. When it happened in this particular situation, my dad just kind of laughed it off. It therefore seems as though this saying is meant to be passed on as more of a joke. It’s teasing and can make people very defensive, particularly messing with them if they were thinking bad thoughts about someone else. My informant enjoys sharing it just to poke fun.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Greed is Punishment

This folklore was collected from my friend who had learned it from his Jewish friend. It came up when we were discussing how some people had everything while other people had nothing. It seemed like there was no equality because there was nothing to balance out the two. However, this small folk tale came up explaining that there was something to balance the two. It was a somewhat heated discussion, so hearing this light story was very much refreshing and helped put the matter into perspective. My friend said that to him, it was a clear sign that justice would prevail over any other circumstances that might be involved. In addition, by being so greedy, it would inevitably end in loss because trying to grab hold of too much requires you to let go and lose more than what you were holding on to.

A poor beggar was wandering around a rather busy marketplace. It was unusually busy that day, so it was a shock when he came upon a small money pouch that had apparently been lost. Opening the money pouch, he found that it held 100 coins of gold. Just then, he heard a shout exclaiming that someone had lost their pouch and would pay a reward for anybody who would return the purse.

The beggar thought he was in luck! He was an honest fellow and wanted the reward that was due to him for returning the pouch instead of taking it for himself. He walked up to the merchant who had claimed that the pouch was his and handed him the purse. He asked for the reward that he was due after giving it back.

However, it became very clear that the merchant was very greedy and only wanted to keep the money that he had without giving any form of reward at all. After all, the merchant was already counting the gold pieces. “What reward?” he asked. “When I dropped this money bag, it contained 200 gold coins. And now, I see only 100. You’ve already stolen so much from me! Be thankful that I’m not searching you for the gold pieces and go away or else I will call the authorities on you.”

The beggar refused to be cowed down by a greedy merchant. After all, he had returned a purse that he had no reason to return because he would have been better off either way. He decided to claim, “I may be poor, but I am honest. I will not accept this injustice. Let us go to a court of law and see who is the more correct between us.” They then went to court and presented both of their arguments to the judge. The judge was very wise and knew what was good and right according to the law. He was not partial to either side, but he knew what the law had said, and so came his verdict. He claimed that justice could be provided for both parties who had presented a claim before him, thereby allowing any wronged party to be recompensed for the troubles that they had faced.

Addressing the merchant, he said, “You said that your money bag contained 200 gold coins when you lost it. That by itself is a very large amount of money. This bag that the beggar picked up had 100 coins. There is no reason why he would keep 100 to return 100 when it is clear that there is money already in it and that you would know how much money was missing? It then becomes quite reasonable that you were very mistaken. This bag cannot be yours because that does not make any logical sense.

With no further comment, the judge awarded the purse with 100 gold coins to the beggar. The righteous beggar walked off knowing that he had acted according to what was good and just. The merchant stomped off in frustration because he had lost money due to his uncontrolled greed.

I very much agreed with my friend on this matter as to what it meant. Greed is a very powerful force, but it is very negative and leads to negative consequences. More is lost than gained through being greedy, and so is often not worth it. In addition, the idea that justice is blind is very important as well. Living in America where everybody is entitled to a fair trial, this concept is very ingrained into the general population’s believes. Regardless of whether they are rich or a beggar should not have a bearing on whether they are being honest or not. Everybody is equalized under the law.

Folk speech
Proverbs

What comes around goes around.

“What comes around goes around.”

 

My informant first heard this proverb actually told to him a couple of years ago when he was sixteen years old.  He had been having fun while two-timing two girls, but eventually they found out about his infidelity.  A few months later after he cut his ties with both girls, he wanted to start fresh and leave that incident behind him.  When he was introduced to another girl who was from Fullerton, CA through a friend, he was extremely smitten with her.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he had become a notorious topic among the girls.  The girl completely ignored him and appeared disinterested.  His friend later that night told Andrew that she already had heard the rumors about him and had said about him, “What comes around goes around.”  She had no guilt in snubbing him because he deserved it for his past wrongdoing.

This idea of karma is interesting because people feel relieved from the sense of justice.  Your transgressions will always come back to haunt you.  I do believe that what goes around comes around.  Conversely if you do beneficial activities, your goodness will somehow be rewarded later.  I believe this proverb has the intention of promoting good behavior while discouraging bad behavior.  I hear this proverb often in dealings with romantic relationships; when someone breaks another’s heart, that someone is bound to have his or her heart broken, too.  I tie in this proverb closely with another one: “What goes up must come down.”  Both advise that your actions have consequences in the future.

Annotation: This proverb is the title of the popular song by American singer Justin Timberlake, “What Comes Around Goes Around.”

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Magic
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Take Care of the Field, and the Field Will Take Care of You.

My informant was my baseball coach  last year, and he used this saying at a time when our team, who was usually very good, wasn’t doing so well. We were uncharacteristically making a lot of errors, and we just couldn’t seem to get the ball to bounce our way when we were hitting. One day after practice my coach noticed that the field and batting cages had not been worked on or cleaned. He brought us all together and annoyed he said, “How about we  get our jobs done and take care of this place. Take care of your field and the field will take care of you. Let’s get some good karma going and turn this thing around.”

This is a saying that my informant likely made up himself. That was the first time I had heard the saying, however, I have recently heard several versions of it, namely, “Be good to the field and the field will be good to you.” While I don’t believe in things like karma, I can see the logic in the statement he made. By taking care of the field, dragging and watering the dirt, making sure there it is smooth and there are no holes or big rocks in it will greatly decrease the chances of a ball hitting a rock or a hole and taking a bad hop, which in turn causes errors. So it’s simple: Take care of the field, and the field will take care of you.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Hungry Ghost (Preta) in Burma

My room mate, ThawZin, is from Burma. He is a Buddhist, and is very religious. This is the story he told me from his country.

 

ThawZin: “First, some background info! In Buddhism we have different classes for spirituality. There are the demigods at the top, followed by humans, animals, hungry ghosts, then devils. Hungry ghosts are what we call ‘preta’ (pronounced pale-tar). Pretas are people, who, when they were alive, were greedy and malicious. Their death is usually caused by a greedy act they brought upon themselves. You know… pretas are actually pitied by humans, because they have to face suffering, but they deserve it. It’s karma. They are invisible, but they can scare mortals. They like eating the gooey shit coming from meat and other things, haha! That is why, every time I go to the market with my mom, we always have to spit on the floor, so that they won’t follow us. Their appearance: they have big bellies, and small heads. The big bellies symbolize how greedy they are, you know… They want so much, but the little head, little face, little mouth, symbolize that they can’t get anything, can’t get shit, you know? Haha!

 

Anyway so the story… my mother told me this before. In Burma there’s this guy. He was fucking greedy during his life time. One day he was really hungry. He loved eating intestines, so he went to his wife and said, ‘Where the fuck is my food?!” But the wife didn’t have anything prepared. He was so angry, so he went to the barn and, you know, he cut the tongues of the cows there while they were still alive! I mean the cows were still alive, and he just cut them, and so they were bleeding and shit. The cows were like… mooing the whole night, haha!  And they died a slow, painful death. He went to his wife, threw the cow tongues down at the table and told her to cook them for him. So the wife did. As he was eating the cow tongues, suddenly his own tongue started to dissolve. You know, it dissolved all the way to his insides. But karma did not kill him yet, it made him suffer. The cow tongue just dissolved his insides for days, until he died. He died just like the cows… a slow, painful death. When he died, that is when he became a preta. Well, he was reborn as a preta.”

 

Me: “Where in Burma was this? I mean, is there a specific place where he haunts?”

 

ThawZin: “Oh yes! It is in the old first kingdom of Burma, in Bagan.

 

Me: “Do people avoid that place?”

 

ThawZin: “Oh not at all! Actually you know, when he died, his preta was located under the ground. And then one day farmers in Bagan found that one part of… you know, the ground, started becoming fleshy. And that’s when they figured out that there was a preta there. They don’t avoid it. They constantly plow over the land, again and again. The greedy guy has to suffer again and again, getting plowed, but they can’t do anything about him. It’s karma, man. He deserves what came to him, and he has to stay there until he has repaid his debt, his bad karma.”

 

ThawZin’s story shows a lot about the Burmese culture, especially about the strength of the people’s belief in Buddhism. For one, the whole idea of a preta ghost is based on Buddhist beliefs in spiritual hierarchy and rebirth. As well, he says that even though people pity these pretas, when the farmers found out that there was a preta under the ground, they still plowed over him, again and again, even if it made the preta suffer, because they believed in the Buddhist concept of karma: that people deserve what is coming to them, good or bad. In many ways, his story also comes as a story of morality, particularly for the idea that greed and blind rage are unwanted negatives that will get you in trouble, and will follow you even after you die, in your rebirth, or the afterlife.

 

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