With daily evidence of bad behavior and bad faith negotiations, I have to wonder: is the concept of Karma real?
For those who don’t know what it is, it’s an ancient Eastern concept that what goes around, comes around. It’s a fundamental Buddhist doctrine, the law of moral causation.
For instance, in India people are not bothered by limbless beggars in the streets because they believe this is their karma in this lifetime and when they work it through, they will come back in the next lifetime at a different station. For us Westerners, that’s a hard concept to stomach, but let’s look at it more carefully.
When an arrogant business owner threatens to destroy a leased space if the new tenant doesn’t pay five-figures, and the new tenant ends up having to pay, how is there justice? Can it be that in another time, perhaps another life, the extorter will pay for his actions?
Likewise, all the drama in business where people are back-biting and name-calling and screwing each other over, does that come around to eventually hurt themselves? And what if it doesn’t?
The idea of karma is just retribution, just desserts, for whatever you inflict upon others. It’s a comforting concept because we have to believe that bad behavior gets punished and good behavior rewarded.
But sometimes bad things happen to good people with no seeming explanation or understanding. We can write it off as “this is their karma, where their soul needs to be at this point in time,” but I’m not sure I buy it.
It’s just too easy.
So what, then, is the answer? I cannot believe that we live in a world where evil and hurt and deliberate destruction can go unchallenged.
On Buddhanet.net this is how karma is explained:
“In this world nothing happens to a person that he does not for some reason or other deserve. Usually, men of ordinary intellect cannot comprehend the actual reason or reasons. The definite invisible cause or causes of the visible effect is not necessarily confined to the present life, they may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth.”
Perhaps it holds up. Scientific research shows that angry, anxious and resentful people suffer more life-threatening illnesses and conditions than peaceful people.
What that tells us is not necessarily that people will get their just desserts, but rather that it is incumbent on us to make peace with whatever situation comes our way or in the end it will do us in.
This karma conversation isn’t one of what happens to other people. That’s a huge key to a happy life: stop caring about the outcomes of others and focus on your own path, serving community and creation, and doing good/doing right in your own life.
Years ago, when I was going through a divorce, the economy was crumbling and I was starting a new business, I worried about money. I worried about what ifs a lot – what if a client eventually went away or the revenues stopped streaming in or whatever.
A friend said, “Do the work in front of you and the rest will take care of itself.”
He was right. Every day, I rise and look at this one day ahead of me, usually looking at it in increments of time. What must I do right now?
That is all. Truly all.
When we focus on what is in front of us, good bad and otherwise, we make progress. We move forward. We trust that all outcomes are for the best. I think of that old Garth Brooks song about unanswered prayers…we get what we need, what we deserve.
And I have to believe that is true for everyone.