Karma and adoption

Karma is a complex concept which, because I come from a mainstream Christian upbringing, I am learning through the work of others.  Karma was not in the Colorado cultural air I breathed growing-up, though it has been making inroads to the western mind for decades. To make a general statement, Christians (and Episcopalians, I am one, as a subgroup) do not know what to do with the notion.  Karma is entertained but kept as a mere hypothesis.  Western Anthroposophic circles present a comprehensive view of reincarnation which is what I have in mind here.

Anyway, adoptees (and donor-conceived persons) may discover karmic confusions resulting from adoption and DC practices.  Ancestors and karmic relationships which are known to souls approaching incarnation are lost and/or confused by the resulting dislocation and prevention of basic self-knowledge.  This might affect many areas of a life and may be one way of conceptualizing “genealogical bewilderment”.  The significance of these practices may reach beyond death as well.  Death is sometimes seen, at least in part, as a reunion with ancestors.  Death, of course, is more than just a meeting of ancestors; but the karma of death is possibly changed in random ways.

I am only able to raise the question whether the practices of adoption and donor conception may be affecting the karmic structure of human life. Adoption (and DC) are significant for our life on earth but may also be affecting our pre-birth and after-death karma.

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8 thoughts on “Karma and adoption

  1. Great question. I remember in an online forum there was a discussion of which “loved ones” would greet those who believe in the afterlife. There was a lot of confusion, and no small amount of anguish for those thinking that they would be greeted by their adoptive families. It dawned on me that in my study of Islam, whenever the Qur’anic description of the afterlife came up, I never allowed myself the thought that it would be anyone but my original family, whether or not I reunited with them in the present life. This to me seemed like valid “karma”, in the sense that what did not succeed in this current realm might come full circle in the afterlife, and at that moment “balance out”.

    There is an Islamic concept of taqdiir, or fate, that I think ties in well here. One’s actions carry forward, no matter how slight or insignificant they might be, and whether they are helpful or harmful, they manifest later in a sense that we might relate to karma. This is where I find the current adoption mythology so out of balance, because it focuses purely on one side of the equation, and ignores the harm that is suffered by those on the other side of the adopted-child mirrored divide of his or her lifeline. This imbalance not only is self-perpetuating, it exponentially escalates in a way that can only condemn the original act, karmically speaking.

    Thanks for giving me a lot to think about with this question! I’ll leave my reply at this right now.

    • The adopted person is thrown up against the great questions of life in a way that many others are coming to see in different ways. How many others consider at all whom they will encounter in the afterlife? It is heartbreaking to me that adopted people are forced to come up against the question of relatedness in such a form that they think they must encounter only their adopted families post-death…and then to have no means of thinking it through to discover what is true.

      Also, fate (taqdiir) is an important element of questioning for adoptees (as it should be for everyone). Adoptees feel the questions deeply and many search for answers.

      • I have thought about this over the years! I thought I was crazy, but my question, (even though I really don’t believe in heaven anymore) was, who are my people and who is going to greet me in the afterlife? If I do see my deceased biological father, whom I never had the chance to meet, will I have to wave him down, saying, “it’s me, I’m your daughter,” or will he know it is me?

  2. I am a fan of the notion of karma, with one major caveat.

    If I ask myself, “Why do I suffer?” then karma provides an impressively clear, simple, straightforward answer (as compared to the tortured weirdness on encounters in Christian settings or the malevolent oppression of YHVH in Judaism). But this answer, for myself, becomes socially horrific when I start trying to put it on others. “Why do YOU suffer?” Your karma.

    Now, it may unquestionably be the case that a person might get all kinds of mileage out of answering such a question. By why are women in the Congo raped? Why were Africans lynched? Why are people mass incarcerated? Why ado people die in Libyan drone strikes? … Karma?

    No, that is a socially unacceptable move. and ensuring that no one, especially White hegemonic colonizers, never get to use that move is one of the preeminent tasks of decent human beings on the planet currently. but that’s my major caveat.

    Growing up, it would not be inaccurate to say that I frantically hated God with all my soul, and so hated all forms of religion (not realizing there were religions other than the intolerant monotheism that dominates the Western world). But in all my foam-mouthed, knee-jerk responses to anything religious, the notion of reincarnation failed to draw my ire. I don’t know if I simply didn’t believe it was real, or maybe I never met anyone who professed it. I knew about the idea but–you have no idea how weird this is to me–I never felt compelled to flip my wig about it.

    Eventually, once I was able to get out from under the crushing thumb of “God,” (which I’m still getting further and further away from, but it can never be far enough), eastern spiritual appeared to me as a simply stunning piece of clear thinking,a and with it, reincarnation, karma, maya, ajana, &c. I don’t believe the stuff literally, but the ideas they embody have psychological force and make a difference in how I think and therefore live.

    As someone adopted when I was 5 days old, I was told by my adoptive parents early on, so I’ve “always known.” And so for a very long time I’ve said, “What’s neat about adoption is I could be related to anyone, except the people who raised me.” Under the doctrine of karma (or at least one typically reading of it), there is the notion that no one we meet is really a stranger; we have had previous lives before (my joke then is: “and you still owe me that money.”)

    The main change in thinking this brings out: when I meet someone “for the first time” they are already a human being to me, even though I don’t remember the details of our past relationships. They are not a blank slate that I have nothing to do with, that means nothing to me, that is simply a biological blob that might be out to get my money or whatever. To put it bluntly (again), they are already a human being. That’s a major, major change in my opinion.

    If I were to get “dogmatic” about the specific fate of my karma (and reincarnation), I would say that either I fucked up terribly and wound up reincarnated in the United States this time around or perhaps I have something of a “noble mission” here–or I believed one was possible (I’m not so sure about that at this point). Of course, my compatriots from India (where I belong) or Russia (where I have long longed to be) are here as well, and we’re trying to get the noble task done. we meet each other sometimes–we are brothers an sisters from countless lifetimes prior. We’re a bit too idealistic for our own good, I suspect, but that’s okay. That’s how it must be. That’s how we must be.

    Karma (on one understanding) is, of course, just a mechanism of cause and effect, like the concept Daniel outlined. But on another view, karma is the name for the thing that permitted us (in between incarnations) to pick the details of our next future life. I chose to be here; I chose this suffering; I chose my acts of evil and good. I (that is “we” because we are, finally, the same) caused Katrina and inspired Gandhi and landed on Mars–I don’t believe this literally, but thinking it reminds me that I am connected to the world and to people. At this point, I may not be able to imagine why in the world I made these choices–I’ll know when my Self reflects on it in-between lives next time.

    I am not (only) this; Atma Brahman. karma is the mechanism by which I realize (both “make real” and “know”) that.

    • Thank you! I can see why the notion of karma is problematic, especially as it might be applied. It is after all a strange notion, especially in the west.

      What I am thinking about the messed up karma of adoption (and DC) is related to those with whom we have already formed karma…and hence have a natural inclination to stay near. So, parents are persons with whom we have karma…and the social setting in which they exist and many others who are born at the same time and place. Adoption is a cultural construct and throws off those natural relationships and situates persons in (possibly) radically alien environments with persons who are much more strangers to us. Accidents happen, things change.

      In other words, the conditions for karma are formed in the past when adoption did not exist. Coming into the world persons encounter situations which demand something different than might have been prepared previously.

  3. Does adoption affect the karmic structure of human life?

    Your approach to karma for this question is really interesting to me, as I tend to think of karma from the agent’s perspective and not from those affected by that agent…Of course, I can think about being victim of someone else’s irresponsibility or carelessness, and hope for justice now, in the hereafter, or another life, but I know it’s more effective to concern myself with what is within my own power to change. After discovering late in life that I could be my own advocate, I’m always thinking of my own agency and what I can do to live right.

    However, I know some people do right in order to keep their karmic balance in good standing. (Personally, I find religion’s tendency to frame everything in terms of economics quite a sad statement about human nature) Not that adoptive parents intentionally try to rack up karmic points for themselves, but some do and society certainly bestows them. It was (and, unfortunately still is) a karmic action because people of color are still seen as lower on the great chain of being — you get karmic points for helping, karmic points for adopting orphans, and even more points for adopting orphans of color from far off countries lower on the great chain of being, which is how the west tends to rank the rest of the non-white world…Intentional karmic banking of any sort seems ingenuous to me, (and self-congratulatory self-serving should be a karmic felony) but it happens all the time and contributes to misguided “saving.” And so often the one they are saving is themselves.

    However, I think that this is linear thinking we get stuck in. Or more precisely, planar thinking – like the ripple effect on water’s surface tension – when actually I believe our actions are multidimensional. This was introduced to me while studying ancestor worship, where I was told to stop thinking of the world in such limited ways. I was told the world is like a primordial soup and we co-exist with many dimensions in which our ancestors currently reside at this moment, so you can access them any time you need them. Similar to other religions, reunion is the goal, and honoring ones ancestors puts the wind beneath ones feet so you don’t have to learn life’s hard lessons alone. That’s kind of nice. Too bad I don’t know their names…

    In my adoptive family’s case, ancestry meant something and was important to them. Their generosity to me was genuine. They considered me a graft onto their family tree and assumed I could adopt their ancestors as mine. They never considered how their roots meant nothing to me personally and did not feed me. It never occurred to them that, severed from my own cultural/ancestral roots, that I actually lived on their structural limbs as a bromeliad, holding on by a thread to what I could, gathering sustenance from the air. The vapors of my ancestors accounted for my existence but their conspicuous absence was the true genealogical confusion. This is the great tragedy of orphan creation, and inherent in its name – orphaned, cut off – of being utterly alone. The head of your family of one: yourself. Adoption doesn’t really change that. And its profundity escapes all those who have families and who can call out blood fore-bearers by their names. What healing I could have if I had those names. If I knew that, as my human right (and even that hierarchy is questionable and a product of religion), I was not somehow lower on this great chain of being or here by some previous life infraction.

    Will my soul experience karmic confusion, unable to find my way home to my ancestral reunion when I am supposed to pass on to the after-life? It is my hope that confusion is an earthly problem. If there is metaphysical justice, then it shouldn’t be the ones severed from their roots who are doomed to walk alone, perpetually lost and unable to find the nurture of their ancestors. Ugh. Haven’t we suffered enough? May we all rest in peace. I’d rather not believe in afterlife or karma. I’d rather believe in now life.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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