I saw a funny bumper sticker: “Don’t call it karma if it happens because of your own stupidity.” How often have I heard that dodge to poor decision making? 

The law of karma is real, but it’s no excuse to indulge in complacency by ignoring the role our thoughts, words, and actions play in shaping our lives. It’s not like karma is something we have no control over. It’s just that we seldom see our relation to it. 

Few people seem to understand the law of karma. We aren’t “victims” of karma. It isn’t punishment meted by a man with a beard living on a cloud. It isn’t always negative, either. Sometimes it’s gloriously positive and pleasant. Karma is simply whatever action or intention we have sent into the world—in this lifetime or previous lifetimes—returning to us like a boomerang. 

Those who think karma is punishment and reward are projecting. They are stuck in an archaic concept of justice that originated with cavemen and became cemented in our collective unconscious through the Abrahamic religions.   

Karma doesn’t work like this. Again, it might be pleasant or painful, and it might come from our current lifetime or a past lifetime, but there’s no judgment in it. The law of karma is as emotionless as Newton’s third law of motion. 

What makes karma difficult to accept is suffering. And on occasions when our present suffering seems unrelated to anything in our current lifetime, it feels unfair, and we’re tempted to adopt a victim attitude. This disempowers us and deepens our suffering further. 

This is when we need to remember that karma is not an external force passing judgement on us. It is an energetic principle driven by our own thoughts, words, and actions, and therefore “it” is “us” punishing and rewarding ourselves.  

If we understand this, then we start to recognize the value of facing our karma with courage and we get busy learning what we can from it. We don’t do this to be “good” or impress anyone. Karma doesn’t care about “good.” We are simply learning to live in harmony with a law as inexorable as gravity.

We are learning not to touch the stove when it is hot. We are learning that if we spend our entire paycheck on cigarettes and beer, we won’t have money for groceries. We are learning that love and compassion serve us better than hate and cruelty.    

Yogic meditation is useful in this learning. Regular practice can reveal the origins of our karma, whether it arises from this present lifetime or some past lifetime. Meditation can also provide insight into how to resolve and “improve” our karma through better choice of thought, word, and action.

If we don’t believe in past lives, or even our personal agency in shaping our current lives, we might choose not to pay attention to karma. However, if we believe that our choices of thought, word, and action can make even a small difference, we would do well to learn to live in harmony with it.

 © James Andrew Grove

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