I wrote a little bit about karma here. I touched on it briefly while attempting to communicate what I believe, based on the given research I had studied and continue to study, about the 3fold law. I have not backtracked from my commentary on the 3fold law in any way. However, karma is a different thing altogether, and here you will read that I have had to amend some things.
Late last year I began to study karma as it pertained to various sects of Buddhism and Sanatana Dharma (what many Westerners erroneously refer to as Hinduism). The sources are located at the end of this article, but I started with “The Vedic Origins of Karma” by H. W. Tull. Afterwards anything on Vedic Hinduism and from thence Buddhism drew my attention. What I came to realize (and am continuing to do so) is that there is an attempt at taking a borrowed word from a different religious mindframe and plug it into the English vernacular so it can be a justified term to skeptics. “Oh but karma is scientific and real: it just means action.” I’m guilty of this mistake.
Karma is moral causation. The actions and intents of those activities are at a precise level of propriety that dictates not only do our deeds affect others (which I still cling to: see the link above for the part on the “ripple effect”), but suddenly there is a morality clause. If I go out of my way to give some money to a homeless man, then that principled behavior ricochets good unto me, either in this life or the one to come. It is not enough to be kind, but the kindness itself has divine currency stamped onto it to ensure my virtuous account has positive transactions. Looking back over my life and examining it more thoroughly, however, here is my current thesis:
I don’t believe in karmic cycles because, honestly, the philosophy (in whatever school of thought) deals with the consequences of one’s actions which are rooted in both intent and behavior. But is it that simple? Does good make good and bad make bad? What if a person who has good intentions sets out to do a good deed, but it’s met with disastrous results? Or a person who has bad intentions and sets out to commit a societal wrong yet due to variables becomes successful in their venture at the expense of another? In my opinion, the underlying variables which are responsible for defining just what karma does and how it works cause the entire notion to be moot.
I know many folks who have attempted to redefine the word “karma” and make it part of Newton’s Third Law which is always summed up simply as:
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I have a brain injury but I’m ready to give myself another one when righteousness – not ethics – is trying to infiltrate science. That’s the same kind of nonsensical trappings which the Religious Right are attempting – and rather successfully in some parts of the States I might add – to subvert science curriculums by having intelligent design added. It’s rubbish.
Karma has little to do with questions of right and wrong and causality in the human experience, and it certainly has no equivalency to Newton’s Third Law. The mechanics of pushing a chair won’t determine you will become rewarded with winning the lottery. My coined phrase of “slingshot morality” is a form of narcissism in which our egocentrism demands to be given attention by the cosmos. In a universe where billions of planets and stars are being extinguished every hour (some perhaps with life on them) it makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. Barring factors which may influence our full capacity to execute behavior and personal ethical comprehension such as culture, mental illness, etc., the one fact remains that we are truly indeed responsible for ourselves. But we must keep in mind that bad things do happen to good people and vice versa.
The link above directs you to an article where I have used the imagery of a pond with ripples in an attempt to communicate the poetic essence of the number 3 in the 3fold law. If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to look back on that post first before continuing so you have a better grasp of where I am going.
Or just keep reading. That’s fine too.
The ripples magnify, but they also thin as they spread out further away from the source. So while my behaviors may have a more immediate impact on those close to me, it will begin having a negligible effect beyond my immediate circle. Which makes sense.
And then there are the unfortunate times when our personal choices are taken away from us: H.H. Holmes made decisions for dozens of women who wanted nothing better than to improve their lives. (Yes I am using serial killers and will be using third world countries as example: let’s keep it real). Those women did not deserve their suffering. Neither did the victims of John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Hitler or Stalin. Rwandan women and children hacked alive have nothing to do with karma or the moral and ethical necessity of bringing their killers to justice. And no one deserves to lose their pensions or jobs because of corpotate greed at the top.
The natural world and karma are antithetical. It is not the karma of the deer to be kind to the wolf so that it can be spared. A wolf is a wolf and they make no apologies for their behavior. Our own actions are better predicated on the fact that we are evolved social primates with a larger stake within our smaller communities. It’s natural human behavior, and we should start calling it what it is, rather than falsely extrapolating a word to become a synonym in our vernacular and lose the attachments which originally and continue to define this word in a specific context for millions of people. This as opposed to some invisible thread that ties our decisions to have a cup of coffee on the morning after having a raunchy Dionysian orgy with a sex worker and worried that this will impact whether we get a Bentley or not. (And, for the record, that sounds like a good morning). Quantum interconnectedness is one thing (wyrd, ananke, etc), but moral absolutism in there is not gospel.
Supporters of karmic doctrine attempt to say that we have past lives that affect us, or that we all have lessons to learn. Really? Because I have enough problems in this life to concern myself about. The past is the past. It’s gone. Attempting to find the source for my love of chocolate from 5 lives ago as a Spanish monarch is ludicrous. Why can’t I just love chocolate? Why can’t I just have problems and learn to deal with them? That’s taking responsibility for my behavior through and through. For example, what lessons did Nepal and the people who live there need to learn? What past life sins did they commit? Has not that area and the people suffered enough under totalitarian regimes, poverty, famine, disease, war, and human trafficking.
I often wonder if karma – as defined by New Agers and other Westerners – is still a remnant of Christian ideology for a reward system based on behavior, like we desperately need for people to see us and pat our head to reassure us. Oy.
Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
Tull, H.W. (1989). The Vedic Origins of Karma: Cosmos as Man in Ancient Indian Myth and Ritual.
Egge, J. (2013). Religious Giving and the Invention of Karma in Theravada Buddhism.
Richman, P.H. (2010). Karma and the Rise of Buddhism in the West.
Doniger, W. (1980). Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions.