I hear a lot of talk about karma. However, I think the version of karma most people believe in doesn’t exist. And this belief is hurting us.
Karma is a Buddhist concept. It’s actually even older than that – inherited from the common spiritual beliefs of ancient India. Karma, in essence, is the sum total of a person’s actions – positive and negative. This sum determines one’s form and destiny in the next life. So, true karma requires a belief in reincarnation.
The various myths or superstitions around karma are things like:
- If someone hurts you, they will “get theirs” in the end
- If something bad happens to someone, that is karma coming to get them
- Karma is given out for each bad action a person takes, in the form of punishment or bad luck
Karma is not doled out in spoonfuls of revenge for every bad thing we do. And it is not handed out like a cookie for every good thing we do. “Good” and “bad” are relative terms anyway. Actions have ripple effects whose eventual result cannot be foreseen at the beginning. In other words, we don’t always know if an action is ultimately good or bad for any particular person until we have a longer time perspective. And, how far should that perspective go? Ten years? Twenty? A lifetime? Several lifetimes?
It’s too simplistic to say, for example, Bob cheated on Mary, so Bob is bad. Bob needs to have bad karma. But he seems to be happy with his new lady, Sue. So, where’s Bob’s karma? It’s not fair!
First of all, Bob’s karma is none of our business. It may sound harsh to say, but Bob’s karma is also none of Mary’s business. Yes, her pain and trauma are real. In betraying Mary, Bob dishonored his marriage and his own integrity. However, we do not know, from a limited human perspective, whether the affair which ended Mary’s marriage was a “bad” thing or not. She may finally have time to go back to school and pursue the life she always dreamed of. She may meet a man much more suited to her, and feel grateful that Bob and his abusive ways are no longer a part of her life. Or, she may die alone, lonely and miserable.
The point is, we can’t look at a single action and know what that person’s “karma” is supposed to be. There are three players in this hypothetical drama – Mary, Bob, and his new love, Sue. Each one has his/her own karma account. Perhaps Bob’s actions are a result of Mary’s misdeeds in one of her past lives. We don’t have enough information to judge accurately – and that’s why we shouldn’t.
What most people really mean by “karma” is justice. Human justice is limited and imperfect. But we do the best we can to punish – legally and socially – behaviors which we deem immoral or destructive to society. Bob may find that his children stop speaking to him, for example. Mary may find a great deal of love and support from family and friends. We tend to take “karma” into our own hands, as we should, by discerning which behaviors we want to support, and which ones we want to reject. We actually do a fairly good job of keeping each other in line through fear of legal punishment or social punishment (rejection and isolation).
Another form of human justice is the law of attraction. Our emotional states are affected by our thoughts. These emotions generate corresponding qualities of energy. This energy attracts and repels certain experiences to and from us. They cause us to notice things that are in line with how we feel. The good emotions cause us to notice things that will keep us in that positive state. The bad emotions, caused by negative and shady thoughts, draw us toward actions that will keep us in a negative state.
When we walk into a room of people and feel that it has “good vibes,” this is what is happening. Most of the people in the room are thinking good thoughts, saying uplifting and positive things to each other, and are behaving in beneficial ways. This is causing the overall energy in the room to emit a net positive, which tends to attract more positivity.
So, even though bad behavior is not punished immediately, or at all sometimes; and good behavior is not rewarded immediately, or at all sometimes, this doesn’t mean there is no justice. With every good deed we do, we increase our own level of security and self-esteem. When our behavior is consistent with our highest values, we tend to smile more, help more, and spread our positive energy to the people around us. This makes us attracted to things that will keep us in this state of security, joy, and integrity, and people will gladly support us.
When we are out of integrity and participate in negativity, we lose a little bit of respect for ourselves, even if subconsciously. Our negative thoughts generate negative words, which push positive people and situations away from us. Our lives begin to take on the character and quality of our thoughts, words, and deeds.
So, in the example of Mary, Bob, and Sue, each of their actions will generate its own bundle of energy, which will affect each person’s future. Bob will be forced to engage in a lot of self-delusion and rationalization in order to justify his betrayal. He may fool himself for a while. But, deep down, he will know himself to be selfish and dishonorable, someone who can’t be trusted. Sue will have to accept that she is someone who has no respect for other people’s marriages. In the back of her mind, she will always have to worry about Bob. She will always wonder if he will treat her the same way he treated Mary.
But Mary has several choices. She can allow this experience to make her bitter, which will affect her own spirit, and the energy she puts out in the world. If she takes that route, she will be more vulnerable to re-experience cruelty and betrayal in the future. Or, she can allow herself to feel terrible, but use the experience as a way to become stronger. By being WILLING to let go of bitterness and anger, she becomes a candidate for insight and growth. She will slowly regain her self-confidence and put positive energy into herself and the world. Bob, then, becomes an instrument in her growth, a teacher that came to bring a painful lesson. But once the teacher is no longer needed, she need never experience that lesson again. She is free.
The issue of karma is complicated and I have only scratched the surface. But I hope I can leave you with these thoughts to ponder:
- Someone else’s karma is none of our business. The scope of time involved in karma is too vast, and our human perspective is too limited to judge whether someone else has received sufficient “punishment” for what they’ve done to us. The universe just doesn’t work like that. It is not a judgmental place.
- Human instruments of justice are imperfect but appropriate. Incarceration and/or social exclusion are how we deal with people who destroy community by harming others.
- We should be thankful that karma doesn’t work like immediate punishment. None of us are perfect. Would you like to have to creep around, terrified that any ugly word or deed you let slip would be met with a lightning bolt?
- The more time we spend hating someone who has done something wrong, the more toxic our own energy becomes
- In most cases, the best revenge is a life well-lived.
I know it’s not easy to let go of revenge fantasies when we’re hurting. But it’s worth the effort. Every thought, word, and deed is a unit of energy that affects our present and our future.
Have a beautiful weekend!
Peace and love,