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).

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About Ambaa Choate

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.