A depiction of a person about to experience instant karmaSome people think that karma is synonymous with fate. Others think that it is a system of rewards and punishments. Still others think that karma is yet another bunch of hooey that people glom onto when things don’t go the way they want them to.

Whatever karma may be, it’s part — some would even say a major part — of numerous religions, including the following:

  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Sikhism
  • Janism
  • Ayyavazhi

Even Christianity has its own version of the idea as expressed in Galatians 6:7-9 of the King James Version of the Bible: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Atheists likewise have a view of karma. They just call it the law of cause and effect.

Essential Karma

At its core, the word karma is shorthand for the notion that one’s thoughts, words, and actions have consequences. In other words, what you think, say, or do now, positive or negative, will inevitably affect you in the future. Ergo, if you persist in deliberately wallowing in negative thoughts and actions, you can expect your life to be pretty negative. Another way of putting it is the old adage, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Karma itself is neither “good” nor “bad.” It just is. We’re the ones who make it good or bad because it’s our very thoughts and actions that bring about its effects.

Changing Your Karma

Looked at this way, our karma is ours to change, and we can do it if we’re so inclined. If you think of the world as a gigantic cosmic classroom where human beings exist for the purpose of learning, then you can choose what to learn. If you think of the world as a gigantic cosmic garden where human beings are the gardeners, then you can choose what to plant, water, and otherwise tend. You can also think of karma as the way you thought of Christmas when you were a kid. If you behaved well, Santa would bring you presents. If you behaved badly, you were likely to find only the proverbial lump of coal in your stocking come Christmas morning.

All of these analogies come down to one thing: How you think and what you say and do really do have consequences, here and now in this life, not in some future life in heaven or hell or here on earth in a future reincarnation. Karma works much faster than that.

Free Will

As nice as it might be to believe that free will means you can do whatever you want whenever and however you want, that’s not the whole story. Sure, you can live that way if you so choose, but sooner or later, if you make poor choices, they’re going to come back to haunt you one way or another. It’s like playing Russian roulette. Just because you don’t get a bullet in the head the first few times you pull the trigger, it just stands to reason that eventually you’re going to kill yourself. What other possible outcome could there be? That’s karma.

Bottom line, karma is not about rewards and punishments per se. It’s about the rewards and punishments you “ask” for. After all, you don’t live in a vacuum. Other people live in the world, too. What you say to them and how you treat them is definitely up to you even if you have no control over what they say back to you or how they treat you. That’s how karma works.

Whether you believe in God, the Golden Rule by any other name applies to you: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Karma will reward you accordingly.

Category: Buddhism Eastern Philosophy

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