Modern thoughts on ancient wisdom
Karma is a bitch… or so the saying goes…
We’ve all heard of the word karma. We might even have used it, usually when we find ourselves frustrated by a rude, selfish, arrogant or disrespectful person. If their bad behavior then comes back to ‘bite them in the bum’ - we deem it to be karma - a cosmic payback from the Universe.
But that’s not really what karma is and even if you don’t include the full idea of karma in your spiritual belief system - it is still a concept worth exploring …
The word karma doesn’t mean payback or retribution or even just desserts. It just means ‘action’. It derives from the Sanskrit word ‘karman’ and is tied to a Vedic philosophical concept that can be traced back to around 1500 BCE.
The Shatapatha Brahmana (700 BCE) explains the meaning of the ‘karma doctrine’ - ‘While our bodies may die, but the soul is eternal and it continues its journey through many lifetimes. The soul creates a system of actions and reactions called ‘Karma’, throughout these lives, forming a cycle of rebirth. And the totality of our actions and their reactions in this and previous lives, determine our future. Thus - a man is born to the world he has made’.
So yes, at its core, the notion of karma is underpinned by the belief in reincarnation - and the idea that the life we are now living was shaped by the lives we lived before - and will have impact on the next. But it isn’t just about creating a better ‘next lifetime’. The concept of karma tells us that in this lifetime our thoughts, choices and actions have impact.
The Upanishads, the ancient texts that carry the philosophy of Vedism tell us: “You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed (Karma). As your deed (Karma) is, so is your destiny”. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)
In short, karma tells us that our actions determine our future - and that our actions are driven by our desires and intentions.
But there is no value judgement in the word ‘karma’. It doesn’t imply that an action is good or bad, or right or wrong - it’s simply an action. The Universe doesn’t judge action to be right or wrong - the way that a person might. Instead, it merely circulates the energy and intention of the action back around again. So it’s about creating energy - and that energy continuing to circulate and influence future situations.
It’s that circulating of energy that creates what is called the Universal Law of Cause and Effect. In Deepak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, he writes that, “… every action generates a force of energy that returns to it in like kind. Therefore, what you sow is what you will reap. Sometimes immediately, and sometimes it takes time. You may not necessarily be around to witness the effects of cause, but you can rest assured that the effect will come back around because the Universe - and everything in it - operates in a cyclical way…”
It’s a little easier if you think in terms of consciousness. A modern interpretation given by Osho explains that in every living moment we are creating ourselves through our actions and that these actions can cause grace to rise in us or disgrace. This feeling of grace or disgrace is the reaction of our actions. So, negative actions lead to suffering and positive actions to happiness and joy. He further elaborates that nobody can avoid or cheat on karma because that is not possible. And he concludes that once you realize the inevitability of it you become a totally different person.
So how can we incorporate the idea of karma into our daily lives? I think we can try to be much more aware of the choices and decisions we make in a given day - asking ourselves why we are really choosing and doing something - and what the energetic outcome of that intention will be…
Even if you don’t ‘believe’ in karma – you probably hold a similar belief. The Bible tells us that ‘you reap what you sow’ and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Science tells us that ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’. The laws of science and religion both encourage us to observe our actions and understand our intentions.
So, my decision for today is that I will spend the day ‘witnessing’ my intentions and actions - as best as I can - throughout the day. I will try to pause, and ask myself why am I doing something, and what is my reason / intention behind it? Is what I am thinking, feeling - or about to do - in keeping with who I desire to be as a person? What are the likely consequences of my intended? Who will be impacted by them - and how? What energy am I creating for circulation?
It’s a beginning. Learning to pause and observe - and question before acting. In the hopes that it will become instinctive… Chopra says that you need to ‘listen to your body’ to be guided to the right choice. He says there’s really only ever one right choice.
You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to learn the lessons of karma. You don’t need to even need to believe in an afterlife - you only need to care about this one. And know that what you do matters - more than you realize. Why you do it matters. Your choices matter.
It’s not about punishment for ‘bad’ thoughts or actions - it’s about learning. So that we can grow, evolve, improve in this lifetime.