A Few Words On Karma

In a recent discussion, a friend asked me about my thoughts on the nature of karma. Quoting an excerpt from Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson, he referred to karma as a “blind machine”. He asked me if I could validate this take on the subject. I’ve never read any work from Wilson, but I have at least read enough on Buddhism for said friend to come to me for an answer. I’m certainly no expert on the dharma; I often refer to myself as the world’s worst Buddhist (see the title of this blog). In fact, I would be hesitant to refer to myself as a Buddhist at all. However, that’s not enough to deter me from elaborating on my own modest take on Karma.

Buddhist texts, much like that of any other religion, are often interpreted several ways, but I feel that Wilson was accurate when he described Karma as a blind machine. While Buddhism may preach kindness, one must remember, it is also a religion without God. Therefore, free of much of the rigid dogma of most western religion.

Karma does indeed align with the scientific concept of natural law. The word karma has no theological or religious connotation. Remember that the word Karma literally translates to “action”… and much as in physics, each action has an equal and opposite reaction. Karma whether good or bad yields fruits of action and this is all tied up in the wheel of life and reincarnation. While people (myself included) may debate reincarnation or the idea of an afterlife at all, I think everyone can agree on Newton’s third law. Buddha said:

“According to the seed that is sown, So is the fruit you reap The door of good of will gather good results The door of evil reaps evil results. If you plant a good seed well, Then you will enjoy the good fruits.”

In short, whatever you send out into the universe you will receive back.

Of course, Buddhism splintered over the years into many schools and some traditions added theological aspects such as treating Buddha as a God, and adding the caveat of heaven and hell to the Karmic concept.

I mostly studied the Zen tradition, which elaborates:

“Our karma has no self-nature, but is created by our minds. If our mind is extinguished, our karma is extinguished. When we see both our mind and karma as empty, this is true repentance.”

That might make it more complicated or clearer depending on how you look at it. For me it is an illumination. It makes Karma something I can grasp in my daily life, independent from concepts such as reincarnation, samsara, etc. The above quoted paragraphs explain why Buddhas are free of karma, because mind is extinguished. Accordingly, I do not wish to accrue good or bad karma, I wish to be free of karma. I wish to be empty, which I do not mean in a nihilistic sense, rather empty like a starless sky, like a blank canvas, like everything and nothing. Much like the bowl made useful by what it is not.

Why Noise?

When faced with the walls of static/skeletal percussion/electronic blips and bleeps the average person has to ask, exactly why in the world would anyone make noise? Why would anyone listen to this stuff? I’ve fielded these questions on more than one occasion, and I never quite know what to say. I usually simply shrug my shoulders and just tell them “I dig it”. Yet, the answer may be more complex.

Why do anything? Why make music? Why write poems? Why paint a picture? All art comes back to self-expression; it’s a matter of what medium best suits you to express yourself. As an artist whose primary function is that of writer I can express most of my innermost feelings with words, and when words reach an impasse and can‘t adequately say what I am trying to say cut-up technique can take me even further.

However, there are things that are so unspeakable or literally beyond words and that is where sound comes in. Sound for me expresses those indescribable, abstract things that even I can’t put my finger on, or even know that I’m feeling. Noise expresses those primal emotions buried deep and beyond words. I can’t go those places within the narrow parameters of traditional music. How can I discover new places that are not on any psychic map if I’m following a very strict road map that dictates tonality, rhythm, and musical alphabets?

I am just not as interested in creating music as I am in creating sounds. I am interested in creating atmospheres, moods, and soundscapes. I am interested in how sounds interact with other sounds and I am interested in how they affect human consciousness. Much like with words, or interestingly enough most any medium I pursue, I am fascinated with deconstruction rather than construction. Above all, I am concerned with self-expression and navigating inner space rather than outer space. I am simply not interested in formula, song structures, tonality, rhythm, etc.

I am not “anti-music”, in fact, I find comparing music to noise very much like comparing apples to oranges, similar but vastly different. I’ve always enjoyed listening to traditional music but it did nothing for me as an artist. I suppose I could look back honestly and say it possible I did not have the discipline to become a talented traditional musician, but I could also wager it did not hold my attention enough to demand discipline from me. I listen to music a great deal, and sometimes I will sit around my house with my trusty bass guitar and play for the sheer joy of it. However, when I feel the need to express myself music does not come to mind as an option.

Let’s put all that introspection aside. As much as those are possible reasons many of us make noise, I’d wager it has little to do with what started many of us on this noise path. I stumbled onto noise as my path of musical discovery started getting more and more weird and extreme. I can’t put it any more plain than to simply say I thought it sounded cool. Soon after I discovered it was fun to do as well. I guess it really does come down to the simple fact that “I dig it”. The catharsis I feel after playing a set of noise is incredible, the places I go when listening to noise music is limitless. That is all I ask for in art: no limits.

Of Noise And Dreaming

I am proud to have two pieces up over at one of the best online magazines around, 3:AM Magazine. They are both non-fiction pieces, something I have not published a lot of over the years but am looking forward to delving further into. The first article concerns defining noise/sound art, while the second piece is a log of experiments with dreamachines and binaural audio.