A mind/body counselor colleague of mine, Stephanie Swafford, brought up karma and its workings in one of her fine short videos. Steph is really great at asking questions. Here’s my take on this age-old concept.
The Ancient Hindu Idea
The way I understand it, karma is designed to make sure we take into account the consequences of our actions. If we do not behave in accordance with dharma (our moral duty), then the universe (the gods) will make sure we pay a price for that, if not in this lifetime, then in the next one. We may be reincarnated as a lower creature in nature’s food chain, for example (care to be an ant the next time around?). Karma also works on the reward side. If you do behave in accordance with your culture’s norms, you will be rewarded with a much cooler reincarnation. I do like the focus on the self here, rather than on other people, but the system definitely lacks compassion.
In the West, I’ve noticed a focus on karma as a way to “guarantee” that if we can’t get back at someone in this lifetime, we can have some confidence that “the universe” will dole out a natural consequence for us. Seems like this version is just a modification of the Christian method of counting on God to punish people now or later so we can feel better about being the victim.
I don’t find this version empowering at all.
Karma as Letting Go
I like to reframe karma as natural consequences unfolding in their own time. And I’m not into pushing over that first domino, either.
Great story I heard once about a Native American elder whose sacred bison hide was stolen from him. He did not report the theft nor spend any time feeling badly about it. He just let it go by saying that even energetically, any sort of desire for payback was not his job.
So, if there’s pain for me due to someone else’s actions, I do not see karma as eventual revenge for me. I look for the lesson for me (letting go of objects or emotions, having compassion). I use the idea of karma as an opportunity to release any unhealthy connection I might have to the other person’s behavior or attitude.
I’m not counting on anything happening to the other person to make me feel better. What for? I’m moving on.
Next time you feel hurt by someone’s actions, think about employing the virtue of release. That has much more power to increase happiness in the long run than counting on karma for satisfaction.