On Karma

The Thinker by Rodin

I’ve been thinking a lot about karma lately. Karma is basically “as you do unto others, so shall be done unto you.” In short it asserts that there is no free lunch. If you go around messing up other people’s lives, yours will get messed up in equal measure. Many of us would agree that this principle is often true, but is it always true? And is there a time limit to karma? Clearly if you believe, as most people in the West assert, that we live only one life then when you die you may not have gotten back in equal measure all that you did to someone else. In this instance karma may not always be handed back in equal measure. Karma though is more often associated with the assertion that we have souls that go through multiple lifetimes, and we bring our karma with us from one lifetime to the next.

Like most humans I’ve done a lot of foolish and negative stuff that has generated a lot of bad karma. When I think back on some of it, I feel embarrassed that I was capable of such juvenile stuff. But while most of it occurred when I was a juvenile, I carried a lot of anger and resentment with me into adulthood.

I have come to believe in karma because in my experience it is just simply true. Lately though I’ve come to believe it applies just not to all people, but to human systems too, as well as any system that has any recognizable form of intelligence. One of the reasons I am opposed to war with Iraq is because it generates a lot of negative karma. Sure our intentions are honorable but in the process of trying to save people from tyranny we are killing a whole lot of them, and getting millions of others pissed off at us. If we as a nation assert that we know best and have the right to interfere preemptively in the lives of other people and countries then we are due to get our comeuppance. Maybe it will be more suicide bombers. Maybe it will skip a generation or two. I would like to think that it would happen only to those who supported this ill-advised war, but I’m not that naive. Working as I do in Washington DC I feel I am likely to be a victim at some point. Some dirty bomb won’t discriminate me because I attended peace vigils and put antiwar bumper stickers on my car.

I find trying to create good karma all the time a challenging task, because it is often at odds with my basic nature. For example I am not always in a pleasant mood and I often want to snarl at the person wishing me a happy day. I often feel insincere when I fake a smile, but it seems better to do that then unleash my real feelings. I wonder if it is possible to generate positive karma and always be true to you. Perhaps that is something I will learn in the second half of my life.

And there are times when I feel like “Hey, I’ve generated a lot of bad karma in my life, but haven’t I made up for it yet?” I often feel that way about my wife, who I love dearly, but who has many life challenges. Staying positive and supportive of her through long years of yo yo medical and psychological challenges is very hard. I know it’s no cakewalk for her either, since she has to deal with the effects first hand. For my wife these problems seem to increase with age, and that means I have to continue to rise to these occasions in more challenging ways. Haven’t we both had enough? Can’t the gods of fate say, “Twenty years of struggling with this stuff is enough. Go enjoy the rest of your lives.” It doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

If we have all lived many lives then perhaps I am getting my comeuppance for abusive or thoughtless behavior I created in previous lives. If so I must have been one hell of a bastard. I hope by the end of this life all is forgiven and in the next one life can be more serene.

At somewhere past the half way point of my life it is abundantly clear to me that one life is not nearly enough to attain understanding and wisdom. Although it is hard for me to grasp abstract notions like having a soul when modern medical instruments can’t detect it, perhaps the existence of a soul can be reasonably inferred. I can infer karma because I find it just happens. If it is clear to me that one life is not enough to work through all my bad karma then perhaps I can infer the existence of my soul through many lives.

As I suggested in an earlier entry, we are all in Purgatory. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that notion, I do now believe in karma as a fundamental building block of my faith, such as it is. For me karma has now become self evident, the same way I learned not to touch a hot stove. Whether by design or whether by reaction I believe it also plays out on a macro level. As a society we simply must learn strategies to live in peace with each other. From my perspective violence is never the solution. No matter how painful it seems we must find nonviolent ways to resolve our problems, or we will continue to live through them over and over again.

3 thoughts on “On Karma

  1. I came across your article “On Karma” quite serendipitously while searching for information about ‘Occam’s Razor’. I note with considerable interest that we share mutual reflections on karma. While I concur that the principle ” is self- evident”, I’m forced to reflect on your observation regarding the so called preemptive imposition of will on the Iraqis and its negative karmic consequences. Is it possible, though, that the preemptive imposition of will reflects a present consequence of accumalted negative karma from the past; attributable at a national or perhaps individual level? Who is to discern when and where does the karmic process begins and ends?

  2. Used to be, they couldn’t measure gravity either, and up til recently they couldn’t detect muons and stuff, so if I were you I wouldn’t let my inner scientist burst my believing-in-souls bubble. The trick is to get the inner scientist and the inner priest to shake hands without getting into a fist fight, or at least to get them to sit down at the same dinner table.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I would like to think that there is a purpose for karma. If all we do is go from one self destructive cycle to the next then we are not learning anything. If the best we can come up with as a society in response to difficult people and difficult countries is to throw bombs and superior technology at them we are not learning anything. We are at best delaying a reckoning with karma. But I am certainly no karma expert. I am still learning various thoughts on the subject.

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