If karma had a facebook status it would read: It’s complicated.
Most Americans understand the ancient Indian concept of karma to mean, What comes around, goes around. We tend to simplify karma into a universal revenge tactic. When someone does us harm, we invoke the power of karma to set it right. You cut me of in traffic! Ha-ha! You’ll get a ticket or be in a car accident! Karma’s a bitch! Or we piously await our just rewards for earning good karma. We define our own actions as good (brushing aside our faults) and expect the universe to give us the wonderful life we deserve.
To fully appreciate the concept of karma, you have to believe in reincarnation. That’s what explains why people are born into fortune and misfortune. We don’t all start out this life on equal footing. It is clear that some people have enormous advantages, while others hardly have a chance. From the perspective of karma, our life circumstances are determined by karma from a past life. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the rich were better people who are being rewarded for past good deeds. Wealthy families may be plagued with addiction, cruelty, abuse and unhappiness. Poor families may be full of love, joy and resourcefulness. The point of karma is that your bear responsibility for whatever hand your were dealt in life.
If you can accept that, delve further into karma.
There is both individual and collective karma. In collective karma a group acts as a single entity and creates its own karma. My yoga master in India explained collective karma using a sports analogy. You may score lots of points in a game, but your team still loses. The converse is also true: you didn’t play well, but your team still wins. It makes sense, but it can be frustrating because we don’t have the ability to completely control our karma, yet we still have to accept the consequences of it.
Now let’s take karma from the abstract to real life examples.
Take for instance, a child with leukemia.
Or the events of September 11, 2001.
There is no such thing as an innocent victim in karma. Are you still comfortable with it?
This does not mean that every person in the Twin Towers earned individual bad karma, this tragedy could be the result of collective karma. Perhaps the United States earned bad karma. Perhaps capitalism or corrupt banking earned it. However you want to look at it, from the perspective of karma, we are not blameless. This was not entirely Osama Bin Laden’s fault, although he did rack up his own bad karma for this crime. Belief in karma turns a sharp eye inward to truly examine where the bad karma was created.
Not an easy thing to do.
But remember, you don’t have to. You don’t have to believe in karma. Belief systems that make sense of the universe are personal, religious and cultural. Examining different belief systems can challenge or confirm your own. Truly understanding how other people view the universe expands your own world view. There is one more important thing you need to know about karma.
The point of karma is not to earn good karma.
That’s right. Good karma is certainly better than bad karma, but the goal is to escape the wheel of karma. You see, karma keeps us tied to the results of our actions which always leads to suffering. Even if you strain yourself to live a good life and encourage right actions from all your groups, you will suffer. Karma is concerned with actions, not intentions. It is impossible to guarantee perfect human behavior, so it is impossible to attain perfect karma.
Escaping karma is a much better goal.
To escape karma you must cultivate detachment. That means to act without any expectation of the outcome of your actions. You can’t fake this. Lying to yourself won’t work either. You can’t profess not to care, but secretly long for good karma in your heart. Detachment is not any easy feat for a human to accomplish. Love and human nature tend to get in the way. It is possible, but it takes great effort. This is the path towards enlightenment. It can take more than one lifetime to accomplish this, which ties neatly ties into the concept of reincarnation.
But remember one thing: karma is complicated.