Karma: Misunderstood

The concept of karma is something that people seem to have a lot of misunderstanding about. The comments on my post about verse five of the Isha Upanishads inspired me to talk a little bit about it. These are big, big concepts. There aren’t quick and simple answers here because in order to understand someone else’s religion and beliefs, you do have to be able to set aside your own and see through that person’s eyes. The Hindu way of looking at sin and punishment is just so completely different from the western explanation that you have to be able to put that down and look at it completely fresh if you’re going to have any hope of seeing it from my perspective. You might not be able to do it. I know that I’m not able to see the Christian view no matter how much I try. I just can’t get my brain around it.  If you don’t want to see my perspective, that’s fine too. I recommend not reading this blog.

The law of action, which most people know as karma, is just a system that is in place in the universe. It is easy to see it.

You make a mistake and then you learn from it. Could there be anything more loving than that? It’s how the universe is set up. Every action has a reaction. It is reliable and steady and requires no intervention. When you do something that causes you to feel bad, your “punishment” is that it feels bad and doesn’t take your life in the direction you want. So over time you learn to act with compassion and love because those are the things that bring you good results. No one has to man that machine, it just does what it does. I’m really glad that there isn’t a person or deity manning that machine who might be in a bad mood.

The world operates on two different levels at once. There is the level of maya, the illusion. That is the game that God is playing, being all these different parts. It’s the maya that makes us think we are separate from one another. The subtle level is what’s really real and it is nothing but love. Not a loving entity, just pure love. God as a being is so far beyond anything that we can understand from the limited perspective of an individual mind. We will never understand Him on the level of maya. But on the subtle level, it is easy to understand Him.

Karma is not a being that metes out rewards and punishments. Karma as a word means nothing more than “action.” You only have to look around you to see that every action has a reaction. Ask a physicist. That’s one of the most beautiful things about the world: how balanced it is.

You have done nothing that needs forgiveness. If you’ve done something that hurt someone, there will be a consequence to that. You’ll experience it and you’ll realize how to avoid it in the future. It doesn’t mean you’re being punished. It doesn’t mean God is angry with you. There is no anger. There is only love.

Treat yourself with that gentle love as you would a child. Go easy on yourself when you make mistakes. Because you will learn. The world is set up so that you will learn. But remember, also go easy on other people when they make mistakes.

***

Some Hindus do see karma as a form of punishment. “What have I done in a past life to deserve this?” I don’t agree with this way of thinking. Or I should say, I have a different understanding. My whole concept of punishment/reward and good/evil is quite different from the western, but also from some other Hindus. Refresher: Is There Evil?

***

There is something else that I think is really misunderstood about karma.

Karma is not an excuse to not show compassion.

This is so important to me. I really need people to understand that it is not okay to dismiss someone’s suffering because “they must deserve it.” Seriously not okay. Because…

1) Maybe they did do something wrong and are suffering consequences. You have also done things wrong before. They don’t need you to judge them and be hard on them. They need your kindness and maybe your help getting through it.

2) Maybe they are suffering based on something that their soul needs to purify it or to learn from. We don’t know the causes of other people’s experience.

No matter why they are going through whatever struggle it is, they deserve our compassion and our kindness. Don’t be so smug as to think that you will never make a mistake.

God is love and it is our job to manifest that divine nature in ourselves. We should be radiating love.

(We don’t always succeed at that. Obviously I have a very hard time radiating love towards people who show up here trying to tell me how awesome Christ is. Still working on that! Hey, give me credit for the not murdering them).

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Doug

    The whole point of my commenting on the other post is to see if you actually believe that God is forgiving but he still makes you pay in full for your sins. You claim that we’ve done nothing to deserve forgiveness yet when we make a “mistake” we recieve “natural consequences” to “learn from it.”

    But we DO need forgiveness. Not all sins are mistakes, the worst sins are intentional. When a man (or woman) is addicted to pornography, or substances. Or when he kills another man, lies, steals, etc. He is severing his relationship with God and is not worthy of Him. We are all sinners and none of us deserve God. Jesus paid for our sins by His loving sacrifice on the cross and He makes Heaven an option. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to sin but if we truly repent and turn from our sin, we are forgiven by God’s grace.

    Karma dictates that if we kill, we will be killed. If we steal, we will be stolen from. Only then would it be an “equal and opposite reaction.” A loving God wouldn’t do that because He knows that we are sinful creatures and He longs for us to be with Him. Your premise that karma makes us “learn from our mistakes” is flawed, for example, if a man loses his family as a result of his bad karma, he doesn’t just learn from it and say “hey, I’m gonna be a more loving person now.” Of course you could just tell me that the bad karma would carry over to the next life but that wouldn’t exactly be an equal consequence, because the person wouldn’t remember their wrongdoing yet they would have to pay for it. If karma actully makes people learn from their mistakes why are millions of people still “reincarnated” into lives of poverty while others are born to wealth? Do some souls learn better than others? Surely in thousands and thousands of years of humanity those souls would have learned something?

    You yourself said that Karma is unmanned and takes care of the universe itself, so what is the need for a god? And why does this “god” play games of illusion with us? You say that we are God yet God also puts up illusions? We are God and God is love so does that mean it was God who killed millions of people through Hitler? Was that love?

    Basically you believe that you are God but you’re not a very powerful god as you are a slave to this principle of karma which you can’t even control.

    I agree with your last point that people who believe in karma and reincarnation should still care for the poor. Unfortunately, that isn’t usually the case because many Hindus think if they help those people they are not allowing them to pay off their karma and are therfore extending their consequences.

    • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

      So if a person commits an intentional sin – let’s use murder here as an example – and then prays to Jesus to forgive him for it, he’s automatically forgiven and reunited with God? What if he goes out again and murders the next day? Can he just pray again and get forgiven again? Is he then free to go and murder again the next day, so long as he manages to get that prayer in before he dies, he’ll be forgiven and eligible for heaven?

      What about a man who goes to church every Sunday, who said a prayer at the age of twelve and walked up to the front of the church to show that he invited Jesus into his heart, and yet he runs an army of child soldiers as his job? Did that prayer he said when he was twelve allow him to get into heaven despite the despicable act he does in his life?

      Where does the justice lie in Christianity in this case? Is punishment replaced by forgiveness, even if you take someone else’s life or put an AK-47 in the hands of a child? If a one-time prayer covers it, or a few rote words to say after committing an atrocious deed makes it all okay, then Christianity is the best religion to follow if you know you want to live a selfish and sinful life without taking the pain you put others through into account at all. It is a “get out of hell free” card that does not actually require you to change your actions; God will say “it is okay that you murdered all those people” because you believed in him.

      If it is indeed required to repent (meaning show true remorse and never again repeat the action), is this not an added requirement for salvation over and above faith? Are our souls in mortal peril until and unless we confess in absolute sincerity (not just going through the motions) until we sin again, in which case our souls are again in mortal peril? If this is the case, I would be living my life in a constant state of fear and guilt. Is this not the opposite of what Christianity teaches?

      These are extreme examples, but if sin – all sin – results in separation from God, then you can tone it down to other lesser sins (gluttony instead of murder, working in the usurious credit card industry instead of child soldiers) and it would still be the same.

      • Doug

        Andrea-

        I though I mentioned this in my comment but I guess I’ll say it again. You have to REPENT to recieve forgiveness. If you truly repented and saw the wrong of your actions you wouldn’t go do it again. It isn’t simply believing that Jesus died for you. It has to reflect in your actions.

        Prateesh-

        We are all born inherently sinful because of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin. Baptism is when we are cleansed of the Original Sin but human nature is still inherently inclined towards sin.

        • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

          So faith is not sufficient for salvation, then?

          • Doug

            Faith, along with the good works and repentance that comes from true faith.

        • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

          Hi Doug, sorry to respond on an earlier comment but the threading does not go down far enough.

          If “faith plus good works plus repentance” is the formula for salvation, does that mean that Christians are constantly in danger of losing their salvation each time they sin? Is a man who is ‘saved’ yet commits a sin and dies in the act of doing so before he can repent condemned to hell?

          Would you be so kind as to tell me the Christian tradition you belong to? It would be easier for me to understand where you are coming from in that case.

          • Doug

            I’m Catholic. I’m not one to say who goes to Hell and who doesn’t as I don’t believe it’s right to judge another’s relationship with God. But depending on the type of sin the man died with he could go to Purgatory which is a temporary realm in which you are cleansed of any minor sins that are keeping you from Heaven. We Catholics pray for our friends and family members who may be in Purgatory as we believe it helps speed up the process of atonement.

        • Pratheesh

          Doug,
          “We are all born inherently sinful because of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin.”
          Could you please tell me the logic behind this statement.If Adam and Eve had committed sin,why should others pay the price for it.going with the same logic,it seems that the child has to suffer for the sins committed by the parents.

    • Pratheesh

      “We are all sinners and none of us deserve God.”
      so could you please clarify when a human becomes sinner or are we born sinners and if that is the case how a newborn child becomes a sinner.

      The next
      “Unfortunately, that isn’t usually the case because many Hindus think if they help those people they are not allowing them to pay off their karma and are therfore extending their consequences.” I have never heard of anything like this concept Hindus are following.it might come from your thought process.if a Hindu helps the needy,it would consider as a good karma.

    • 5w_haul

      mate you’ll never learn what is karma
      what sort of concept is this paying for sins which one never committed and then advance amnesty scheme from god for future generations

  • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

    “Karma is not an excuse to not show compassion.”

    Indeed. Mata Amritanandamayi once said, “If it is one man’s karma to suffer, isn’t it our dharma (duty) to help ease his suffering and pain?” ( http://www.embracingtheworld.org/amma/ )

    • Ambaa

      Exactly!

  • Cam

    Doug: “We are all sinners and none of us deserve God.”

    Cheer up mate, I bet you’re a nice bloke at heart.

    The alleged ‘sacrifice’ of Jesus, if it happened, was no sacrifice at all. A long weekend of suffering, but then an eternity of absolute bliss at the right hand side of the creator of the universe? Where do I sign up? If you think this is the greatest sacrifice anyone has ever performed for anyone else then you have not seen the world or experienced humanity.

    Furthermore, vicarious redemption is not justice. if I wrong a fellow human then I need to do two things- attempt to right the wrong, and then attempt to be a better human. To claim that there’s actually a 3rd party involved- god- and that the wrong can only be righted with the blood sacrifice of a 4th party? This is nonsense. This is not justice. This is not morality.

    • Doug

      It did happen, there is historical proof.

      There is so much more to Jesus’s sacrifice than just a day of suffering. You would never even comprehend. He is not a “4th party” He is God.

      You’re right, it isn’t justice, it’s mercy. If you want justice go talk to a fundamentalist Christian who will tell you that you will burn for eternity in Hell. THAT is the justice our sins are worthy of. But God is love, and God is mercy.

      The Resurrection is what makes Jesus’s sacrifice different, it’s what gives His suffering meaning. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then an even greater miracle happened: Twelve relatively uneducated fishermen and shepherds changed the world forever and were eventually martyred all to protect a “lie.”

      God bless you brother.

    • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

      Within the framework of Christianity, it does make sense; the narrative emphasizes the Judeo-Christian god’s requirement for blood sacrifice in order to purify wrongdoings, and how since this god became man (while not stopping being god) and sacrificed his own blood, at that point the need for blood sacrifice became irrelevant.

      You can see this theology at work in hymns such as “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb” (at this point in the Judeo-Christian narrative, Jesus is represented by the symbolic sacrificial lamb, which at one point was no symbol) and “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

      However, blood sacrifice as a requirement for wrongdoing is used as a prima facie argument. If that requirement did not exist, then Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been necessary. Within the theological framework as given, it is absolutely necessary.

      So the question then arises: Why is blood sacrifice required to atone for sins?

      • Doug

        First, blood is life, symbolically and physically. God instituted animal sacrifice for two reasons as I see it. To show the Israelites how serious their sin was by taking the life of the animal and because it was a pre-cursor to the Savior shedding His blood to remove all sin.In Judaism, the animal sacrificed takes upon itself all the sins of Israel, and when it is sacrificed, it’s blood spilled gives new life to the Israelites, because blood is the sacred seat or river of life. The Jewish sacrifice comes from the pagan sacrifice, which in turn comes from the first sacrifice offered to God by Adam and Eve’s children.

        God allowed sacrifices as signs of the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus. Everything in the ancient world pointed to Jesus, and everything of Jesus points to the world to come. It’s how God reveals Himself to man.

  • Seeker

    Ambaa, Andrea, Pratheesh, Cam–You guys are all saints! I can’t believe how patient you’re being with Doug. I’ve decided to exercise my crabby old lady privilege and just skip his posts.

  • Doug

    So just because you aren’t able to debate me or give me adequate answers you say you don’t like my “style” and call the others saints? Cam only showed his lack of knowledge on Christianity, Pratheesh just asked me to clarify something, Andrea questions me on something I had already addressed, and Ambaa seems to be staying out of this conversation…

    • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

      The reason I questioned you on something you had already addressed is because I wanted clarification. One of the problems with communicating in text-only on internet forums is that it proceeds post by post, not allowing for immediate feedback and clarification as in a face-to-face conversation where body language allows for immediate confirmation that the message was received. I think that is why internet conversations can get so acrimonious. Patience is required on all sides in this medium.

      • Doug

        Yeah, I understand.

    • Ambaa

      I feel like I’ve done my best to explain but we still are not understanding each other. I think we are coming from such fundamentally different mindsets that I’m at the point where I need to agree to disagree.

      I’m really glad that your faith makes you feel loved and safe and secure. Mine does the same for me. I am so much more comfortable with a karmic system than with a God who makes choices. So that’s me.

  • N. B.

    I thought perhaps why people have fled the Christian is the bad behavior they have seen in Christian nations and Christian people. But once you get into debates it seems to be about who is the better debater or who appears to be the better person. But I read the Jesus Bible and it was about the faith that leads to healing the blind and the cripple and the vision from god as Stephen have before he was stoned. now it is about who appears more the clever
    But keep searching
    from the Jesus Bible
    “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to hell and those who enter by it are many.
    maybe the Jesus hell is not so bad as some think it is if this gate is so narrow?

  • Cam

    Your god does not seem to be love. In Numbers He blessed the soldier who speared down a Midianite princess, Cozbi, in cold blood, on the basis of her race and religion. Did He bless the murderer as the woman lay dying on the floor, or did He wait until her corpse was cleared from the room?
    In 2 Kings He slaughtered children with a bear. Jesus himself introduces us to the idea of a fiery hell. If you say your God is love, then I don’t know what loves means to you. Even if you think these victims who suffered horrible deaths are now in heaven, what loving God delivers his children to him at the point of a spear or by a bear’s jaws?
    So do you believe those fundamentalists? That there could ever be a heaven while the possibility exists of our fellow humans- perhaps even our family!- being tortured for eternity? How could you wish this to be true?
    And how does a resurrection give suffering meaning? Without an accompanying explanation these are just empty words.
    I wouldn’t argue that Christianity would be miraculous if it were untrue- you could just as easily that Islam is true because the prophet Muhammad changed the world.
    Thank you for your blessing but just the opportunity for discussion is enough for me.

    • N. B.

      Dear Cam
      I see you are the one who likes to sit and discuss cultivating your garden but what about the glory of the old woman’s reflection: “the old woman ventured one day to tell them:

      “I would be glad to know which is worst, to be ravished a hundred times by Negro pirates, to have one buttock cut off, to run the gauntlet among the Bulgarians, to be whipped and hanged at an auto-da-fe, to be dissected, to be chained to an oar in a galley; and, in short, to experience all the miseries through which every one of us hath passed, or to remain here doing nothing?” Voltaire
      Then when we get into faith the ancient text says: He have been chosen before the founding of the world… chosen for what? In the old testament 1000 were chosen to fall on Saul’s right and 1000 on his left but 10,000 on the right then 10,000 on the left of David but the blood on his hands mean he was banned from the building of the Holy temple of God . The came the calling and chosen of the priests who also are chosen to be Kings. If this God is the Almighty yikes depending on what you are chosen for and you do not like this
      Imagine the great warrior with great power and glory now chosen by god to love your neighbor and do the impossible of loving your enemy. What is such a christian chosen for ? Perhaps to now die at the hands of an enemy and still love the enemy.
      So the focus is not on your own calling yourself good but obeying the God you love.The teaching is this God loves you first so you can love and obey the TRUE god . Then we have stories of great warriors who had other gods put the True God to the test. The is not wise to do because they were all consumed by a hot fire. Yikes! However what glory in the story. Then when the sons of thunder asked Jesus to burn a city down he was gentle with them and let them down easy knowing he would be put to death and they would follow in such a death torture.
      The moral of the story have both ears open and hear what God is telling you are you will not know what you are chosen for but I can see why a person may want to be chosen to cultivate their garden and stay away from other kinds of business God may think up for you
      However, Cam , look what happen to this Jonah chosen to tell a people God was ready to burn them away and he ran away from his mission from God and ended up in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights.
      I understand why some people reading the ancient texts are glad they are now chosen to be atheist but this is not me

      “This,” said Candide, “is a grand question.”

      • N. B.

        footnote
        this is good debate is on who has the more loving god and not the most powerful one or hindu prayer must get very very humble and say: Thank you god for having me chosen to cultivate my garden and not carry Jesus cross on a very very very narrow road to death like the Christian suppose to. The more humble the pray the better off you are

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

    Thanks for the karma primer, Ambaa! As we discussed earlier, these terms are still things that I try to intellectualize and fail pretty miserably at :) It is nice to see things explained in everyday terminology.

  • Jash

    I think the concept of moksha is important here. If you’re trapped in the cycle of samsara, birth and death, then the law of karma is in effect. If you don’t learn the lessons of life, you’ll keep getting the same lessons until you understand. But if you manage to learn the important lessons, to love God and your fellow creatures, then you don’t need the lesson again. You achieve liberation, moksha, from the cycle of reincarnation, and unite with God.

    It’s actually similar to the Christian concept of salvation through faith. If you love and have faith in God, you achieve salvation, otherwise your sins are paid for in Hell. But in Hinduism, you just get another life, rather than eternal Hell, which seems fairer to me.

  • http://www.bridgepub.com Byron Young

    I believe that man is a spiritual being, energizing a body. He is basically good and he wishes to survive for himself and for all things. When he sins, he knows that he is cutting down his own survival and so feels bad. True also he is falling away from god and communication with his world by sins. … Happy as a child but grumpy as an older man, why? Because life was drained out, mostly by the person’s own sins. But shame blame and regret are lowly things and do not lead one to freedom from sin. Confronting the truth of them does. Love is what the great teachers have taught – for love in spite of all is the secret to greatness. All religions should forward this message. Look around the world today and help make a heaven here on Earth.

  • Amanda

    I loved your descriptions of Karma, though I don’t think I can fully grasp them, as you said, it was good to stretch my mind in that direction.
    I especially love this “God as a being is so far beyond anything that we can understand from the limited perspective of an individual mind. We will never understand Him on the level of maya. But on the subtle level, it is easy to understand Him.”
    Also your point that karma is not an excuse to not show compassion helps me. When I read about karma the hardest thing for me has been an understanding of how we help those who have been victimized and how to make sense of this within the understanding of karma.
    I can hardly read this comment thread (in fact I stopped reading). I am so sorry, as someone who follows Jesus, that another person who makes that claim ignored your explicit statement that you do not wish them here to fight over this. I am trying to be a quiet voice for peace from the christian side because I am tired of those who are loud voices for division and anger.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you. I appreciate you trying to speak in a peaceful and quiet way rather than a forceful one. I find it a lot easier to have the conversation that way! I think it makes me feel a bit less defensive :)

  • dustin hoffman

    because really, thats what it all comes down to right? how we feel. not the truth. not reality. but rather, our little delicate feelings.

    • Ambaa

      Your arguments are all about feelings. All you can do is quote a book that has no logic and no proof in it.

      And your delicate little feelings seem to be hurting as you keep posting inane B.S. on this post.

  • dustin hoffman

    exactly wrong.

    • Ambaa

      Keep shouting futility at the wind, but call someone “idiot” one more time and you’ll be banned from my page.

  • dustin hoffman

    For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

    • Ambaa

      All ARE God and capable of realizing their true divinity. There is no sin.

  • dustin hoffman

    idiot. if your mother drank alcohol while pregnant with you, and you ended up with fetal alcohol syndrome, then you suffer for her sins of harming a child in utero. duh!

    • Ambaa

      Dimwit. Maybe you were born to that mother because you karmically were meant to experience the fetal alcohol syndrome.

  • dustin hoffman

    no purgatory, unbiblical and not in the bible anywhere. invented to sell indulgences.

  • dustin hoffman

    sorry, no amount of works saves you. they are just a nice product of regeneration of the inherently sinful soul of humans by The Holy Spirit of God. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2

    • Ambaa

      Of course. Clearly, your narrow and personal interpretation of Christianity is the only possible right way. Too bad all you can do to support yourself is quote a book that I think doesn’t have any authority.

  • Ambaa

    Believe me, I have met Hindus who won’t help others for this reason. It really disturbed me when I found out there were people who thought like this!


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