In the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a great many deals are struck, and with each one a price is extracted.

In the first the Green Knight appears and issues a challenge, he will let any knight strike him on the condition that the Green Knight be allowed a similar strike one year hence. Gawain agrees and slices off the Green Knights head. To everyone’s considerable surprise the Green knight picks up his head and says “I’ll see you in a year” before riding off.

The second is when Gawain goes to meet the green knight in a year (being a  heroic knight he can’t do the sensible thing and ride the opposite direction). He meets a Hunter who has a beautiful wife and stays with them until he has to meet the green knight in a few days. The Hunter makes a deal with Gawain, he will bring the young knight whatever he finds the next day as long as Gawain does the same. They agree and the hunter rides off the next day. The hunter’s wife tries to seduce the Knight but he manages to avoid temptation having received from her only a single chaste kiss. That night the hunter returns with deer meat and Gawain give him the same small kiss, The next night the same thing occurs despite the wife being more persistent and giving two small kisses. On the third night she is the most alluring of all and tries her hardest to entice Gawain, but he resists, she gives him three kisses and insists he take her green garter which , she claims, will protect him from the Green Knight. He accepts this and when the hunter returns Gawain give him the three kisses but not the garter.

The next day Sir Gawain meets the Green Knight who is sharpening a giant axe next to a tree stump. Gawain bravely puts his neck out to allow the Green Knight his promised strike. Two times the knight almost swings and pulls back at the last second. On the third stroke the axe comes flying down. . . but just merely nicks Gawain’s neck. The Green Knight leans down and says “that was for the Garter”.

When I first heard this story a couple of things immediately stood out in my mind, but the first thought that popped into my head was “you don’t get something for nothing”. Gawain paid a tiny price for his tiny breaking of his promise to the hunter, sometimes we pay a much higher price. Had Gawain given into temptation he might have paid with his head!

Years ago I used to pace the floor of our tattoo shop, broke, desperate, and over and over in my mind was the thought “If I only had some money, if i could just win the lottery, I wouldn’t have to worry about anything!” Fortunately for me I never did win, it would have been a fucking nightmare! In the years since I’ve noticed time and time again the fact that nothing that has come my way has come without a price. The price of peace of mind was letting go of my old ideas and comfortable habits. The price of receiving the business and generosity of my customers was in taking a genuine concern in their lives and in insuring that I constantly did my best work for them. I’m very lucky that so far I have been able to afford the good fortune which has come my way.

I can’t imagine what winning an obscene amount of money would entail, but I do know it would be a price far too high for me to feel it was worth it. Money, fame, power, all these things come attached to a time bomb that seems to blow up in the face of whoever is desperate enough to chase after them. Over and over again we see in life that the good fortune we receive has to be earned and in my own life I have ceased craving anything that I don’t work for. It safer that way!

it doesn’t take “believing” to understand this either, all you have to do is observe. The bodybuilder who uses steroids to get bigger faster than his body was meant too suffers all sorts of deadly side effects. The junky who uses drugs to feel temporarily better than reality is doomed to pay the terrible price of a lifetime of dependency and suffering. The investor who uses insider information to bilk people out of money suffers a cold fear and hypertension over and over every time someone knocks on his door and he imagines it is the IRS or FCC. The famous go insane (*ahem* Mel Gibson  . . .) the rich who do not share their fortune grow degenerate and sickly, its enough to make one frightened of all the stuff that we in the west lust after.

One of the funnier aspects of this is how riches and luxury seem to turn an ordinary life into an extraordinarily annoying one! I’ve watched numerous people lose their fucking minds because traffic took one second to long to move in front of their BMW or  act like it was the end of the world if their latte is 2 degrees too cold, imagine what kind of hell it must be to have your day ruined by something as silly and inconsequential as the waiter forgetting to hold the onions on your lobster salad!

No thanks. Those who are genuinely desperate, those who struggle with making their bills every month, who have mouths to feed and no sure way to provide really seem to appreciate every cent and every kindness done for them, because what they receive has a real and important impact on their lives. Those who give of themselves and show compassion to the world are given the same back and I’d bet that all the lottery money in the world can’t buy the peace of mind that someone who has done a true kindness feels.

We don’t have to “believe” in karma, we just have to open our eyes and see it.

Categories: Buddhism and life | Tags: | Leave a comment

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