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A friend has rediscovered some of his military buddies, and they chat on line. The conversation has veered to one person who was injured in a firefight. One of the group commented, "I'm not superstitious" "but" he was glad when the injured person left the unit, because he had been injured before "and that kind of guy just brings down bad luck, don't want to be around him."

Apparently that type of thought train is common among combat veterans- I am surviving because I am lucky/skilled/tough and I don't want to be around people who are unlucky/unskilled/weaker because they may drag me down with them.

I have much compassion for the combat vet- getting scared shitless week after week tweaks your mind. But that is not how karma works

From About.Com Buddhism, by Barbara O'Brien:

In Buddhism, karma has a more specific meaning, which is volitional or willful action. Things we choose to do or say or think set karma into motion. The law of karma is a law of cause and effect.
Buddhists posit that everything has an effect on everything else. A butterfly in Kenya may, in a long train of causes and conditions, cause an avalanche in Austria. Only some of what happens is due to karma, that is, due to causes and conditions of sentient beings, as karma is only one of a group of universal laws, including gravity and thermodynamics.

Further, only some of what happens that is caused by sentient beings is due to you, or to your friends or enemies. There are many currents in the ocean of existence. There are many beings out there, and they make choices, and the choices have consequences and other beings are affected and in turn make other, more or less skillful choices, and the wheel of karma rolls on. Not only the past, but also the present, affects the present and both past and present throw out streams into the future.

Buddhist theory posits that you do have some, limited control over your corner of the universe. You don't know all the consequences of your actions. You are a limited being. But: you can learn to make more skillful choices. Skillful choices lessen the suffering of the world, unskilful choices increase suffering.

How did the wheel of karma start turning? "Somebody made a mistake."

It should be pointed out here that karma is action: the results or more poetically, fruits of karma are often confused with karma.

  Superstitious people think that various things they say or do will enable them to evade the inherent changeability of the universe, or the results of their own bad choices. A lot of the gun-clutchers think that their gun will keep them from harm: a deadly rabbit's foot.  The military veteran in the above story thinks that some people are "bad luck" and if he avoids them, their "bad luck" will not rub off on him.

There is a kernel of truth here. Some people act without considering the likely consequences of their actions, and avoiding them may be the wisest action on your part. However, once the mistakes of these people have left them bleeding on the road, you do not get to leave them there, with the excuse that they did it to themselves. The Buddha also insisted that his followers have compassion for all beings. Who among us has not made mistakes?

One point of Buddhist philosophy evokes controversy- the doctrine that beings are essentially waves or nodes of the universe, that they arise and subside, and that the results of their actions impacts the formation of a new being, who is affected by the karmatic actions of the former being. This is seen as being unfair.

The response is that life is not fair. This can be seen by the patterns of people's lives. For example: a poor young man gets a job in a shipyard, which is celebrated by his entire family as a step up in the world. Forty years later, he is dying horribly of asbestosis. A bicyclist decides to turn left instead of right- into the path of a drunk driver. A little kid decides to watch a foot race from a vantage point close to where a bomber has decided to detonate a bomb.

The actions of the past being may predispose you to certain actions, but you don't have to act on them. You can say, "I will do things differently this time."

Making more skillful choices, even as you are, one small limited being, has the potential for great improvement to the limitless universe. A lot of the rest of Buddhist practice has to do with becoming aware of what exactly is going on, and understanding the probable results of our actions.

Originally posted to Street Prophets on Thu May 16, 2013 at 01:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Sangha and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Metta Sutra (26+ / 0-)

    Think: Happy, at rest, may all beings be happy at heart. Whatever beings there may be, weak or strong, without exception, long, large, middling, short, subtle, blatant, seen & unseen, near & far, born & seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart.

    (from the Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation)

    •  Superstition is natural for combat troops (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nebraskablue, TheFatLadySings

      The nature of combat is both very violent and quite random.  Two soldiers may go thru the same experience standing side by side, and one may suffer a horrible injury, and the other nothing at all.

      The random nature of events is very disturbing to our human psychology.  We vastly prefers to imagine we have some control over our circumstances.  Combat shows clearly and graphically that we are not in control of events.  

      In order to fight day after day where we routinely face random and violent injury, we invent coping mechanisms.  Some of these coping mechanisms involve superstitutions: if I rub chewing gum on my gunstock I'll be ok; if I stand around Joe, I'll get injuried.

      This kind of thinking allows us to avoid confronting the randomness of events, and convinces us we have some control over events that are so often beyond our control.

      May all beings find peace.

      "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

      by Hugh Jim Bissell on Fri May 17, 2013 at 10:49:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Have you been in combat? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lotlizard, Mad Season

        If not, I have. The "superstition" noted is not really superstition. If someone is repeatedly wounded or injured I avoided him because he was likely:
        1. Foolhardy
        2. John Wayneing it
        3. Clumsy
        4. Dumb
        5. Too Slow

        Some folks might say he was bad luck as short hand, but there were reasons. We were not all huddled, ignorant, superstitious folks! Sorry if you bore the brunt of my ire, but I get pretty tired of all this. As if we were a different species.

        "Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do..... Go back to your command, and try to think what are we going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do." Grant

        by shigeru on Fri May 17, 2013 at 02:32:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I have (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SmartAleq, lotlizard, Mad Season, shigeru

          And I was at least as superstitious as the next person.

          If anything, pilots are probably more superstitious than ground-pounders.

          Make it through your first mission and you try to do things exactly the same each time after that. Because hey it worked the first time. Right down to which foot you put on the crew ladder first.

          Yeah, I know it's silly but I figured I needed all the help I could get at that point.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Fri May 17, 2013 at 07:10:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The way I look at it... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lotlizard, Mad Season, shigeru

            Is that we tend to think negatively of someone using rituals and actions to "bring good luck" but I think it's just as valid to see it as patterning the mind for success. You hold your thoughts in a pattern that past experience indicates if followed correctly gives you the optimum results (and, y'know, keeps you ALIVE and all!) and it's like a meditation exercise in readiness and mindfulness. I'm extremely ritualized about things like driving but how is it a bad thing to make sure that you always check both ways twice, once for fast moving things (cars and bikes) and once for slow (pedestrians and critters) before proceeding? It's just good, cautious behavior, right? And the more you practice those behaviors, the better a driver you'll be, yes?

            I look at military "superstitions" about the same way--it's just finely honed survival instincts that have been so well patterned they're operating at an unconscious level that's nearly autonomic. That's how you survive crazy random dangerous shit, by being mentally ready for it without going crazy from anticipating the danger.

            "Nothing's wrong, son, look at the news!" -- Firesign Theater

            by SmartAleq on Fri May 17, 2013 at 07:31:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Agree. And they develop for reasons. Major (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              was likely successful the first time out because he did things right and that became a ritual. I do not think of these as superstitions in the classic sense of being told to avoid the rock by your grandparents or bad things will happen to you. These are learned rituals that had some value. And get reinforced.

              If some speedy 4 got wounded or injured three times out there was likely a logical reason for it. Maybe not, but if a guy got hit and no one else did and he was not walking point then he was probably clumsy or not alert. Or a newbie. At any rate I would have thought twice about sitting next to him.

              "Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do..... Go back to your command, and try to think what are we going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do." Grant

              by shigeru on Sat May 18, 2013 at 09:45:05 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  What kind of karma can someone like Wayne LaPierre (5+ / 0-)

    expect?  Part of me wants him to come back as a shooting-range-raised quail for his next 500 lives, but I know that is not for me to decide.

    God be with you, Occupiers. God IS with you.

    by Hohenzollern on Thu May 16, 2013 at 04:27:56 PM PDT

    •  Reborn as a quail on Dick Cheney's ranch. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      victoria2dc, Hohenzollern

      Conservatism is an obsession with the past ... with little regard for the future.

      by RUNDOWN on Thu May 16, 2013 at 07:35:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  entirely possible this is his karma already (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      In the time that I have been given,
      I am what I am

      by duhban on Thu May 16, 2013 at 08:23:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  BAD Karma... n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
    •  His Karma leads to.. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ..the slaughter of little children. Directly.

      What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. SAM HARRIS

      by Cpqemp on Thu May 16, 2013 at 10:23:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  His advocacy leads to the deaths of many innocents (0+ / 0-)

        and THAT generates the core imbalance that engages karma;  his comfortable recompense helps it all soak in.  That's a lot to balance out in one life.

        MIGHT not be impossible, but same-life payback tends to be unbalanced and harmful (think vengeance), which is how the pendulum keeps swinging

        I am a leaf on the wind - i hover, twirl, float,
        Weightless, frictionless, I fly

        by chmood on Fri May 17, 2013 at 10:34:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  True (4+ / 0-)

        You are exactly right.

        To the buddhists, karma is cause and effect: such-and-such an action causes a result.  So when LaPierre takes actions that increase the number of guns available in America, the result is more shootings, and more shootings includes more shootings of children.  

        And indeed, we have been conducting this experiment and observing the results here in America for a number of decades now.  The cause and effect of karma we see around us, where guns are concerned.

        Some people talk about "bad" karma.  To the buddha, karma is neither good or bad; it simply is.  Like saying "bad" cause and effect: there is no "good" cause and effect, and no "bad" cause and effect.

        Some people would wish misfortune for LaPierre: to have him suffer.  This is a natural feeling for those who understand the cause and effect of LaPierre's efforts to see more guns in America.  But most of us are wise enough to understand we don't want to take any action take inflicts suffering on LaPierre: we know such actions would come back to bit us - an implicit understanding of cause and effect, or karma.

        Our emotional response (I don't like LaPierre and I want him to suffer) is largely beyond our control.  But how we act is within our control.  The Buddha says we should make wise decisions about how we behave to reduce the suffering in our own lives and around us.

        "I don't like LaPierre, but I'm not going to do anything to make him suffer" is buddhism in action.

        But shouldn't LaPierre be made to suffer because he plays a role in the shooting of children?  Buddhism says LaPierre DOES suffer, tho' perhaps in ways we do not see.  We may not how of his suffereing or the extent of his sufferng  

        "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

        by Hugh Jim Bissell on Fri May 17, 2013 at 10:37:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sucks to be him. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wonmug, Hohenzollern

          Seriously, it must be horrible to be that guy. Whenever horrible people start to get to me I try to step back and think, "Y'know, at the end of the day I get to be me but you have to be you. Sorry it sucks so much to be you that you have to act like that."

          Doesn't make me like them any better, I'll still avoid them like home grown plague, but I figure it doesn't help me to give them free rent in my head and it's better for us all to send a little positive energy out there to counterbalance their nastiness. The world needs that.

          "Nothing's wrong, son, look at the news!" -- Firesign Theater

          by SmartAleq on Fri May 17, 2013 at 07:38:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  What I have seen from combat vets (10+ / 0-)

    is survival guilt....almost the opposite of this new thing.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Thu May 16, 2013 at 06:07:07 PM PDT

  •  S.J.Gould wrote an essay on superstition (5+ / 0-)

    And it was pretty interesting.

    The gist of it was that people in high-pressure situations who have limited control over highly random events tend to become superstitious.

    His examples come from baseball, where the same players who are not at all superstitious about their fielding are nonetheless highly superstitious about their hitting.

    Soldiering no doubt offers even more extreme examples.

  •  Oddly enough, I'm not at all superstitious (4+ / 0-)

    or religious, but I find the concept of karma strangely appealing and comforting.  I like to think that the good things I do make a difference in someone's life; and the bad things I do detract from an overall harmony, whatever that is.  

    In an odd corollary, I am convinced that I will never win the lottery, not only because of the obvious odds against it, but because I am not worthy.

    You can't spell CRAZY without R-AZ.

    by rb608 on Thu May 16, 2013 at 07:37:48 PM PDT

    •  Have compassion for yourself (7+ / 0-)

      Buddhism states that one should have compassion for all sentient beings ... one of whom is you.  You are unlikely to win the lottery, but that is not because you are "not worthy"

    •  rb608, your soul comes through your comments. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rb608, lotlizard

      If I was pulling the cosmic strings, the one in 313,000,000 would be yours.

      but you have to be in it to win it.

      Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

      by Gentle Giant on Fri May 17, 2013 at 08:48:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I find karma appealing and comforting, too, but (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rb608, lotlizard

      I, until now, had little knowledge of the workings of it in Buddhist belief.
      I just know that what you put out there sticks, or wafts like perfume.
      If you walk through your workplace head down and grumbling, others pick up on that and it changes the working environment.
      If you just say "F-it" and greet your co-workers as if they really matter to you and your happiness, it creates a very noticeable difference in your work environment. A nearly tangible, if not honestly tangible difference.

      I believe we are awash in a metaphorical metaphysical ocean. I believe the plurality of "souls" is a misconception. I believe we all share one soul, and that is that ocean in which we're all awash. Seeing yourself looking back from the eyes of another makes one more careful with the everyday power we all possess. The power to influence.

      Indeed, in my Christian days, I once served as a lay preacher and gave a sermon on commonality and the power of influence we exercise over all others. I defined "neighbor" as anyone within your realm of influence at any given moment and spoke of loving your neighbor as nothing more than disciplining oneself to first do no harm, or as little as possible, to those around you- to "love" others by emitting a positive presence wherever you walk through life.

      I no longer claim religious designation. I'm just one vessel of the one soul, sharing existence with all living things. My neighbors.
      I'm not always awake to that, but I strive to be. The karma potential in that I count as some sort of benign wealth.

      Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

      by Gentle Giant on Fri May 17, 2013 at 08:59:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I see that during my absence (4+ / 0-)

    I have made Community Spotlight. Thank you!

  •  You used a lot of space (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrLori, paradox, churchylafemme

    giving an excellent discussion of something the soldier didn't  mention: Karma. The "I'm not superstitious but" led to an admission of a common superstition, the unlucky soldier who brings bad luck with him.  Actually, there's a kernel of truth in it. The "unlucky soldier" can be a soldier who never develops a combat instinct, or green soldier coming into a veteran combat unit. My stepdad, a WWII Marine in the Pacific, mentioned on a number of occasions the unfortunate replacements who were sent in from the States.  He said they had a life expectancy of about two weeks at most  & indeed no one liked being around them.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Thu May 16, 2013 at 11:07:09 PM PDT

    •  A necessary criticism (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      This is very good work and I was glad to read it, for karma is often vastly misunderstood (not that I know a great deal of Buddhism), but there's a huge hole in the introduction; as you say, the title of the work is karma, but never is the word or concept properly explained, or why the superstition is mis-placed in a world of karma.  A writer simply has to accomplish that above the daily kos cow pattie.

      As I dimly see it, karma is also very much a pre-disposition to life, a set of circumstances and humanity as a consequence to the actions of many lives preceding it. One is constantly re-born, what you do in this life will carry on, not just vanish. Sometimes in very nasty ways.

      So--again, my understanding is dim--when Kevin Costner pulls over his van in Field of Dreams to pick up a hitchhiker and says "I need some good karma," he doesn't get it. The good he does now will reflect and reverberate in unseen ways far into the future, not just into his immediate present.

      This work very much deserved to make it to the list, the editors are wise here.  The minor error won't happen again, this writer makes good choices.  I'm not some master writer, either, and I often deliberately break the rules.

  •  I often say "fair" is a man-made concept. (0+ / 0-)

    I have seen animals mourn, but I've yet to see that anguish of "WHY? Why not me, why not another squirrel?"

    "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." Mohandas Gandhi

    by cv lurking gf on Fri May 17, 2013 at 06:36:11 AM PDT

  •  Post traumatic stress disorder (4+ / 0-)

    PTSD is (broadly speaking) characterized by intrusive memories, avoidance/numbing, and hyper awareness. The sufferer may not recognize the symptoms or the behavioral implications of the condition.

    Perhaps this isn't simply superstition, but a means of avoiding reminders that can trigger intrusive and disturbing memories.  

    PTSD is not usually dramatic, but rather subtle.  Not trying to diagnose from afar, just suggesting that there may be other dynamics at work.

    •  A good point (0+ / 0-)

      And a reminder why we need to have compassion even for people who appear to be jerks.

    •  It is not usually superstition. There are logical (0+ / 0-)

      reasons for a lot of the behavior as I noted above. And hyper vigilance may well be just a deeply ingrained trait that is inappropriately triggered by stimuli that do not equal the original event.

      But it is also more than that. There are deeply ingrained patterns of behavior and thinking that pervade ones life and extend to situations that for which they are not intended. My thought is that without continued treatment, medication, exercise, and spiritual development one cannot recover from it. Anymore than one can recover from a particular deeply ingrained belief system without help.

      "Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do..... Go back to your command, and try to think what are we going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do." Grant

      by shigeru on Fri May 17, 2013 at 02:37:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "...treatment, medication, exercise..." (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Good point - these behavioral patterns can be treated, and their deleterious effects on health and relationships can be reversed.  Even a short term course of treatment (on the order of six months) can make a huge difference.

        The first challenge is recognizing the need.  The second is finding the right help.  Last - but not least - is affordability.

        It's never too late to start on that path.  

        •  I have been on that path since '71. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          It is better, but never cured. Little things like a two-stroke engine can trigger a mild reaction. My guess is that they will follow me to the end of days. There is improvement but never perfection. Anyway whose to say that some of it is not justified in today's world and that the "normies" are not delusional.

          "Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do..... Go back to your command, and try to think what are we going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do." Grant

          by shigeru on Sat May 18, 2013 at 09:39:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  This is a super diary, one of my favorites this yr (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    la motocycliste, TheFatLadySings

    I will be sharing it with friends on FB.

    Thank you for these very informative words of wisdom. I'm most grateful! :)

  •  karma, and then there is karma (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    trying to understand karma is like trying to understand the theory of relativity.  you can never understand it all, as james taylor sings.

    most people think of big picture karma.  the rewards or   punishments to be meeted out in the next life.

    but there is a more immediate subtle karma that manifests itself every day.  the more you believe in this aspect of karma, the more you see it  one small act of kindness will be rewarded in other small acts of kindness. one small act of thoughtless meanness, flash of anger will be returned even quicker.

    being "mindful" is the goal.   religions all have the golden rule, but karma puts it into practice.  i believe the only valid sin is putting yourself above any other entity. how many ways can that be? from the mental to the physical?from the economic to the political?  all you have to do is look at the world today.

  •  My perspective is - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mad Season

    more in line with Military Aviation where we KNOW that sometimes the stars line up and someone goes home under a flag even with the best planning and execution of a mission.  In that community we are very very unforgiving of anyone deemed less worthy due to skill.  Therefore the less skilled are usually found some job to do that doesn't involve others risking their lives on that persons abilities.  The folks on the ground mostly don't have that choice.
    Karma is fickle, sometimes showing up when you least expect it.

    What you allow, is what will continue.

    by Nebraskablue on Fri May 17, 2013 at 11:07:25 AM PDT

  •  It also explains why we help one another... (0+ / 0-)

    ...because an action you take has ramifications beyond that one act. Help a person and his/her life gets better, as do those they touch. Hurt someone and who knows what amount of negativity takes hold.

    It's also why I believe in reincarnation - what you do here has an effect on what you do the next time. And if you think you're coming back, don't you want to come back to a better place, a better world, than the one you left?

    Doesn't it make sense to work toward making other humans lives better, caring for the planet, spreading kindness? Things can only get better. It's obviously better than making others' lives miserable, taking from the poor to enrich the rich and despoiling the planet.

    We don't always get to see karma - those who have wronged us my, indeed, pay for their "sins". Sometimes in this life, sometimes the next.

    After the week I've had, dealing with selfish, money-grubbing step-siblings, I hope karma hits them to the degree they deserve. They had a chance this week to do good. They chose not to. Time will tell.

    Isn’t it ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring ~

    by MA Liberal on Fri May 17, 2013 at 01:56:53 PM PDT

  •  Something a wise Buddhist teacher told me (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wonmug, Mad Season

    "An enlightened being, a Buddha would know with certainty all of his karma, and could say under which conditions and states of mind he could kill without a karmic debt.

    But I'm not a Buddha, so I do little harm as I can, and hope for the best."

  •  i think of karma as poetic justice. (0+ / 0-)

    We can improve our lives and the lives of others by interpreting events in a manner that allows us and the people around us to behave compassionately.

    Superstition is an attempt to influence the world through cause and effect. Karma transcends cause and effect. Events are related through meaning.

    And even though it all went wrong I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah! -Leonard Cohen .................@laurenreichelt

    by TheFatLadySings on Sat May 18, 2013 at 07:58:40 AM PDT

  •  And God's karma? nt (0+ / 0-)

    The Great Awakening Is Afire! Think outside the box or remain mundane.

    by franklyn on Sat May 18, 2013 at 08:13:45 AM PDT

  •  Was just meditating on karma and will power (0+ / 0-)

    the other day in my yoga "class".  

    Just started the Karma Sutras.  I think many people use the term Karma as a form of punishment.  Probably because we as a society are built on crime and punishment.  

    I'm happy to know it's a practice of attempting to live one's life in more harmony with others.  

    I've found that much in my life as an American is founded in the negative, the me vs them, gotta have mine - mentality.

    Karma can also be - if I share my lunch with another - he in turn will share something with another...

    Giving - rather than punishing.  

    As to the veterans superstition.  Married to one hell of a superstitious man.  Ex-hockey player and ex-military.  He now commutes by bike and has been seriously hit.  I don't mind his superstitious. :)

    But I have never heard of him or others saying they don't want to hang out with someone who was injured...  I've only heard about survivor guilt.  

    Anyways, Namaste.  Glad I got to read this wonderful, thoughtful diary.

    "Love One Another" ~ George Harrison

    by Damnit Janet on Sat May 18, 2013 at 09:19:40 AM PDT

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