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.

  • https://www.disqus.com/home/channel/spiritualbutnotreligious/ Anoop Alex

    i found your interpretation of karma interesting. I dont subscribe to the Xtian concept of a Supreme Being who judges and have long believed what this world needs is more love. Love propagates love. Hate propagates hate. But hate does not propagate in the presence of love. A pedophile was usually sexually abused as a child. A child bully learned from an abusive parent at home that that kind of behavior gets you what you want.
    Negative behavior will never completely be exterminated because it is a part of our nature but we should show love when it occurs and help to prevent its propagation. What do we teach children when they see a murderer being killed in return? Or hate towards those who dont share our beliefs?
    Still, I believe Man as a species has slowly been getting better. We went from warring tribes to creating the UN. Heaven on earth may be boring with no challenges or surprises but an Earth of love may be more possible and wonderful.

  • http://www.movieguide.org FilmDoctor

    Do you support abortion, the murder of little pre-born babies?

    • Ambaa

      Well that’s a leading question. I can certainly see what your opinion is.

      I do support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. I believe that our choices are between us and God and do not need to be mandated by other people’s interpretation of God’s wishes.

      I personally would never have an abortion. My choice is no.

      However, I will not decide for everyone else what is right and wrong in their case.

      Fetuses do not meet the definition for life in any way so to call it murder is absurd and untrue.

      I appreciate potential life and want to give all those souls a chance to experience their karma. If they aren’t born they will have to be born another time and it is difficult to get a human birth. So I have compassion in that way for the souls who are trying to take birth. But they are not yet alive and the person who is alive is the one in a position to continue or not continue.

      Again, I believe this decision is between that person and their God.

      • http://www.movieguide.org FilmDoctor

        I don’t understand an ethical system that’s pro-choice. Doesn’t seem ethical or moral to me to allow a person to make such a “choice” for another person, whether fully grown or not at any stage.

        • Ambaa

          A live person’s rights win out to me over a not yet alive person’s potential future rights. A fetus is simply not alive and not a person yet. I will write more thoroughly on this subject.

          • Throwaway

            I am very doubtful about the point of a foetus not being alive. In the Mahabharata, Abhimanyu learned arts of war from his father Arjuna because Arjuna spoke them to him while he was still in the womb. That would seem to indicate that the foetus definitely was aware and a person.

  • http://www.movieguide.org FilmDoctor

    Repentance and forgiveness and restitution are good things. If your Hinduism were really “good,” you would incorporate them into your theology, as a main part of it.

  • Throwaway

    This reply is a little late, but I had to respond to this.

    “Karma is unmanned and takes care of the universe itself, so what is the need for a god?” – The misconception here is that somehow karma is separate from God. Karma IS God, they are not separate.

    “why does this “god” play games of illusion with us?” – Many people know the term “blessing in disguise”. This could also be re-stated as “game of illusion”.

    “We are God and God is love so does that mean it was God who killed millions of people through Hitler? Was that love?” – There are two issues here: 1) “We are God” – Hinduism actually says that we are part of God that hasn’t realised our oneness with God. The moment that we truly (not just intellectually) realise that oneness is the moment the line between God and “us” ceases to be. 2) “does that mean it was God who killed millions of people through Hitler? Was that love?” – It was Hitler who had the intention to kill millions and acted on it. The people actually died because of karma or God’s will, which we can never understand. As such, we can never truly know the reasons why things happened. All we can know is that it was somehow God’s will, which also cannot be denied from a Christian perspective because God allowed it to occur.

    “We are all sinners and none of us deserve God.” – I would argue that everyone deserves God, else what is the point of anything. The concept of someone not being “deserving” is really just a projection of a human judgement. Only God can decide, hence making a statement that nobody deserves God is pure arrogance.

    “But we DO need forgiveness.” – Forgiveness implies some sort of resentment that needs to be forgiven. God is love, how could he resent anything that we – his children – do? Another projection of a human emotion. How can God resent humanity for the sins of two beings aeons ago? That’s just human.

    “Not all sins are mistakes, the worst sins are intentional.” – Karma addresses all types of actions, good and bad. The worse your action, the worse the consequence, and the converse is true as well. It does not matter if you cannot see the consequence in your current life – maybe there is not enough time left in your current life to learn the consequence of your actions, so the effects come in the next life. A person’s intention counts just as much as the action being committed (if not more) as we have almost no control of the result of an action but almost total control of the intention behind it.

    “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.” – What was that man supposed to learn from that? Only he knows. It is his journey. Two people may learn completely different things from the same incident. Only God knows what He was teaching either of them.

    “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” – I guess the issue here is not knowing why you are suffering. People like to be able to see for themselves that there is some sort of justice to things that happen to them. Being able to know what happens in a past life would possibly make things easier, but also worse, as we would have to deal with increasing amounts of memories. But the good news is that the individual soul does learn, no matter how many lives it takes. Hindus take an exceedingly long view of time, tens of millions of years. If one does not learn in this life, they will learn in the next, or the next, or the next, etc. But they will learn.

    “many Hindus think if they help those people they are not allowing them to pay off their karma and are therfore extending their consequences.” – Ultimately this is not even an issue because these heartless people too will suffer the consequences of their karma.

  • Throwaway

    Perhaps I’m not understanding something here. How was taking the life of AN INNOCENT ANIMAL supposed to show people how serious their offenses were? How was AN INNOCENT ANIMAL supposed to take on ALL THE HORRIFIC SINS of Israel? How did that INNOCENT ANIMAL deserve ANY of that?

    It seems to me that all the Israelites would have realised from watching AN INNOCENT ANIMAL be slaughtered is happiness because soon they would be having some meat to eat, and not anything about sin. God (according to the Bible) is supposed to be about punishing SINNERS, so why the hell did he condone the punishment of AN INNOCENT ANIMAL and not THE SINNERS OF ISRAEL?

    This is bullshit. If you ask me all this created was the precedent for slaughtering innocent animals to appease peoples consciences, and never taught them anything about the consequences of sin at all.


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