One of the most interesting concepts that we all stumble across in our lives sooner or later is that of “karma.” In fact, karma is such an important teaching that it features in many of the world’s major religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. But what is karma really and how does it influence YOU?
What is Karma?
So, what is karma?
Karma essentially means that this happened because that happened. In other words, karma is the law of cause and effect. Karma can also be neatly defined through Newton’s third law:
“Every action has an equal or opposite reaction.”
And the Butterfly Effect also supports the idea of Karma; that every single occurrence in life has a ripple effect through time, no matter how small. Therefore, according to the law of karma, every thought, feeling, desire, choice, action and reaction that we have has some kind of impact on our future.
Quite literally, our thoughts shape our reality. That means that the place you find yourself in now is directly the result of your past thoughts, feelings and decisions — or karma.
“Good Karma” and “Bad Karma”
Ever heard the expression, “What comes around, goes around”? Of course you have. This is basically a modern way of saying, “Look at that poor sucker, he got what he deserved.” And rightly so. Our decisions determine our fate.
But is there really such a thing as “good” and “bad” karma?
Yes and no.
Subjectively some situations in life can be seen as good (i.e. comfortable and enjoyable), or bad (i.e. uncomfortable and unenjoyable). But here’s the thing: our definitions of “good” and “bad” are dependent on who we are, what we believe and how we perceive life. They’re very changeable.
Here’s an example. Because of past choices, a woman becomes divorced from her abusive husband. On the outside her friends feel sorry for her “bad” karma. But on the inside, this woman is thankful for her karma which taught her courage and self-respect. So who is right and who is wrong here? Was this woman’s karma “good” or “bad”?
Another example: A drug-addicted man gets into a head-on collision in his car. He ends up killing the other driver and permanently losing one of his legs. The man’s family are shocked and saddened by his “bad” karma. But after recovering from his near death experience, the man experiences a spiritual awakening. He sees his recovery as a second chance, and dedicates the rest of his life to help recovering drug addicts find hope. Was this man’s karma “good” or “bad”?
This is the problem with labels. When it comes to karma, there really is no such thing as objectively good or bad karma. Subjectively our karma may have the appearance of being “good” or “bad.” But in the end, karma is karma. It has no inherent label attached to it other than what we give it.
This gives us the choice to work with our karma and change our destiny, regardless of how “negative” we perceive it to be.
Which leads me to the next topic …
Can I Change My Karma?
In short, the answer is yes. Yes you can change your karma.
Unfortunately, karma is often confused with the false idea of a fixed destiny. Instead, karma is more to do with an accumulation of tendencies and habits that can “lock” us into certain patterns of living.
It’s easy to become imprisoned by our karma and think that the cause of it lies “out there” and out of our control — never “in here” and within our control. Searching for the answers to your suffering in the external world and blaming it on mysterious “karmic forces” is just another way of avoiding self-responsibility.
There is no external punishment system here. We aren’t children. Karma isn’t a way to “punish” you. It is a natural law of the universe that effortlessly flows from your actions.
Realize that you are solely responsible for your karma. You create it, and you can change it. Yes, it is possible to get fixed into a rigid pattern of thoughts and beliefs. But these mental habits can be broken through self-discipline.
You might be wondering right now, “But what about my past? I did so many bad things. Can I really change my karma now?”
Of course you can. Life gives you endless chances to redeem yourself. Why do you think religions such as Christianity put so much emphasis on confession and repentance? Acknowledging and feeling remorse for what you have done is a powerful spiritual tool. Without these two elements, there is no hope for change.
So if you want to start changing your karma, start by acknowledging the mistakes you have made and allow yourself to grieve them. You might even like to start off with a simple prayer (you can read about the power of prayer here):
I know that many of my past decisions and actions have been based in anger, hatred and fear. I openly acknowledge all that I have done in the past and ask for guidance and help. Although I have hurt many people, including myself, I pray that I could turn over a new leaf and start fresh. I deeply wish to change my habits for good. May my resentment, prejudice, selfishness and mistreatment of others be turned into love, understanding, acceptance and forgiveness.
Every morning, dedicate some time to saying this prayer, or one of your choosing. Most importantly, take action! We’ll explore this at the end of this article.
Karma Brownie Points
One of the most seemingly innocent, but distasteful misuses of karma is to support the idea of getting “rewarded” for being nice to others. I call this “karma brownie points.” This is kind of like the Christian notion of converting other people to the faith in order to get “brownie points for heaven.” It’s just as nauseating.
It’s natural to be nice and do good because it makes you feel good. But to give to others solely in order to receive is like giving someone $100 and expecting them to give it back to you later with interest.
Indeed, giving itself is receiving. When we give, the reward itself is the feeling we get from being generous and helping someone out. But to give in order to have your “good karma” pile up is misguided.
The thing with karma is that it doesn’t always happen immediately. Sometimes we have to wait for years. Sometimes our karma arrives without us even knowing it, or knowing what form it has taken. Therefore, when it comes to doing-good-to-get-good-things (aka. karma brownie points), many of us are left feeling disappointed.
“But I am always so nice to everyone around me, yet my life is miserable!” so many people are left complaining. “Why is it that no matter how much I do for others, I never get rewarded?”
The problem here lies in the expectation of a reward in the first place. In other words, the problem lies in the belief of karma brownie points — and not only that, the belief that our repayment will be something that WE desire. In fact, life may “reward” you with an extremely painful (but life-changing) opportunity for growth. How can you possibly know?
It is naive to think that karma will reward us with sunshine-and-roses just because we are friendly and kind to others.
Life doesn’t want you to keep a tally of all of your good deeds to keep track of your annual dividends. This isn’t an accounting firm. You aren’t some kind of loyal shopper. There are no reward points here.
Certainly, the karmic law follows the principle of “like produces like.” Yes, your life will get better if you treat others with respect. But the point here is not to act out of quid pro quo (this-for-that), but out of joy and love without conditions in the present moment.
Karma and “Righteous” Hatred
All throughout the internet and many social media sites you’ll find memes such as these:
It’s true that we all get screwed over by people in life. Understandably this makes us upset and angry, and this is completely normal. But unfortunately karma is frequently used as a way of dressing hatred and ill-will as spiritual “righteousness” … as if karma somehow can somehow justify your resentful feelings.
Ironically the very act of using karma as a vehicle for wishing harm onto others creates bad karma! Taking joy in another person’s suffering, even if it is perceived as “justice,” is just another way to perpetuate negative karma in your life and the world. So be mindful.
Is My Suffering the Product of Karma?
Yes and no.
It is true that our thoughts create our reality. Think fearful thoughts, and our lives will be full of fear. Judge, and we will be constantly judged. Value ourselves poorly, and others will value us poorly.
But what about those born congenitally blind, deaf or maimed since birth?
What about those born into poverty and war-torn countries?
What about parents who lose their children in horrific accidents?
There are so many examples that can be raised. While some people try to pinpoint karma and past life karmic debt as the cause, I personally believe that not everything in life is the cause of karma. The experiences that you have in this life do not always reflect the consequences of something “bad” you did in the past. Instead, these experiences are presented for you to soulfully evolve on a spiritual level.
Life doesn’t bring us what we want, it brings us what we need. That is often why challenging and painful situations come into our lives.
As the ego (the “I,” “me,” “my”) is an illusory construct created by the mind, it does not survive after death. As such, there is no such thing as ego karmic debt because in truth there is no such thing as the individual, separate self.
But there is something called collective karma. In other words, as interconnected beings, our thoughts, decisions and actions as a whole establish the future. If we create division and separation between our countries now, we will set in place the environment for war, disease and poverty to occur in the future. This is why children are born into horrific conditions: because of our collective choices on this plane of existence.
For example, if a father is abusive towards his son, he not only abuses himself, but his abuse spreads across time. His abused son might become abusive towards his own son, and that son will become abusive to his own son, and on and on and on. Because of the father’s behavior, he will subtly impact generations upon generations of people, and along the way, his behavior will impact all those who come in contact with his progeny. And all of those people will influence all the people around them. Eventually, this will ripple out towards all people.
This is why in a sense, we all carry the karma from our past because all of the actions that went before us have influenced our biology, genetic predispositions, parental experiences, environmental values, external tragedies and internal wounds. Our identities are the sum of all the “karmic debt” that has gone before us.
But collective karma also gives us an amazing opportunity. Our lives, our very decisions and choices can appear small, but they have a very large impact that continues far longer than our individual egos survive. In other words, one decision can impact all of existence.
This gives a new dimension to the words “you create your reality.” Whatever form Spirit (which is your true nature) decides to incarnate as in the future will be determined by your decisions now.
You are literally influencing the present and future in a myriad of ways each and every day.
How to Rewrite Your Karma
There is no such thing as a permanently “fixed” future. You can make new karma. But there is only one time that you ever have to do that: right now. Rewriting your karma involves becoming conscious of your inner thoughts, feelings and beliefs. This is something to work on every day through the following practices:
- Mindfulness — this is perhaps the most powerful technique of all. Spend time every day learning how to observe your inner chatter without identifying with it. This leads to self-awareness.
- Gratitude — say thank you for all that you have every day. Thank other people for gracing your life as well.
- Forgiveness —learn to forgive those who have done you wrong. Forgiveness always starts with yourself first.
- Acceptance — stop resisting life and other people. Get out of your own way. Learn to flow with life and all of its lessons, painful or not.
- Love — before you can unconditionally love others, you must first work to love every bit of yourself.
- Purpose — having a sense of purpose gives us direction, hope and empowerment. Listen to your soul and the mission it has for you.
- Generosity — give to others out of an open heart, just for the pure joy of it. See how their lives are changed in small ways. Even a hug or kind word can transform a day.
The knowledge of karma transforms you into a more mature, accountable and loving person. With this understanding, I hope you can pave a path of peace and mindfulness for not only yourself, but generations to come.
In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ~ Jesus of Nazareth
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. ~ The Buddha
What is karma to you?