What Is Karma, Anyway?

Karma is a Sanskrit word from ancient texts, the first of these being the Hindu text known as the Rigveda. Essentially, it means ‘action’. But it actually has a more profound meaning, having to do with the cycle of cause and effects, action and the outcome of that action.

The Law of Karma is concerned with the idea that what is currently happening in a person’s life is likely the result of actions in the past. So – an effect happens, but before the effect there was a cause. The cycle of this cause and effect, as it relates to life, is called karma. When we attach the idea of consequences as the outcome of an action, then karma implies a more moral attribute.

    Just a short aside here. If we consider the body we walk around in as our 
    complete self, the whole of our existence, then the idea of there being 
    consequences from a previous life seem ridiculous. But if we come to the 
    realization that the body is simply a vehicle for an existence that goes 
    beyond the physical (some call this the soul) then we are also open to the 
    idea that our true Self uses the body to experience material life for a  
    particular amount of time, and then leaves it. 

    There are some who believe that the soul decides its departure date before 
    it even takes on its next body. There is no way to debate the latter idea, 
    but there does seem to be ample evidence that people have lived before in 
    another existence, and then returned as a different person altogether. This 
    gives us the idea of re-incarnation, a soul taking on a new body in a new 

I believe that Karma is related to the idea that the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence will decide their fate in the future. Believing in reincarnation means that karma has a greater influence in one’s thinking than if you think it’s a lot of nonsense. But even so, there is karma in everyday life, which may have nothing to do with reincarnation or past existence.

Often when something happens to us, if we don’t look at how we might have caused the situation, we can end up thinking of ourselves as victims. Note – I said, “thinking of ourselves.” The good news is that it doesn’t mean you are a victim, it just means you think of yourself as that. “Poor me! Why me! Life isn’t fair!” Not so – and this is the good news. As it happens, you are always responsible, which means you are always in control. And if things are in your control, you can prevent them, or avoid them, or remedy them.

Actually if you think about it, karma is related to Newton’s third law of motion. It states: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The pair of action-reaction forces make it possible for fish to swim, birds to fly, and rowboats to move in the water. In life, we can see a quick and quite simple example: Joe hits John. John gets really angry, and hits Joe back. Action – reaction. Cause – effect.

Since all of life is energy, and all of life is balanced, this simple example gives you an idea of the cyclical balance of the energy in the universe, and on our planet, and in our lives. So while Newton’s Third Law of Motion is a law of physics, Karma might be considered a law of metaphysics. But what does this have to do with how you live your life?

Jesus said, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” You plant a seed, it grows. What you plant will manifest in your life. If you sow seeds of kindness, generosity and compassion, you will receive the same. If you sow anger, greed and discontent, you will receive that in your life. It’s actually a very simple matter of balance.

So in every moment of our lives we get an opportunity to shift the balance. As I just wrote in that last sentence, you get an opportunity to shift the reaction if you recognize what your action could cause, and do something about it.

I remember a time when I was in high school, in a PE class. I was at bat, and the girl who was pitching made some comment. I, known for witty repartee, made one of my “cute” comments in return. It was not well received.

The class ended, and that was that. Until I was told later in the day that the girl – who was pretty tough, and hung out with a group of tough girls – had gathered a couple of friends and was planning to beat me up after school. Yikes! I am not and have never been a physical fighter. This was serious.

I realized at that point that I had really hurt this girl’s feelings, and I was truly sorry. And yes, scared. What to do? Run? Get a bunch of my friends together? Okay, last one is definitely off the table – a bunch of wimps, all of us.

I got excused from my class, went to the office to find out where the student was, and went to the classroom. I asked the teacher if I could talk to the girl. We went into the hall, and I told her that I had heard she was really angry. I apologized. I told her that sometimes my mouth runs off, but that I truly did not mean to hurt her feelings. She was actually very surprised, and told me it was all okay. I don’t think anyone had ever taken the time to apologize to her. She was soft and sweet about it, and after that, we became sort of buddies in our PE class.

Now, someone might say I just apologized because I was scared of getting beaten up. That is partly true. But that is only a small piece of the story. Really, what bothered me most was that something I said so angered another person that she was willing to get violent over it. This is not an effect I want to have. It is not the kind of person I want to be. But my apologizing does also show how karma (I hit you verbally, you hit me physically) can be mitigated, reversed, when you see the effects of your behavior and take action to counterbalance it.

Okay, so there’s a big question that often comes regarding karma, and it’s this: “Why is it some people are mean, cruel and dishonest, but they’re rich, seem to have everything, and seem to get away with their cruelty and dishonesty?” Ah, yes. Key word – seem. They do seem to get away with it. But there is justice in the universe, and it does not happen instantly. There are people born into miserable existences, and one wonders how did that person land there, and another didn’t?

And in this lifetime, with all the wealth, and maybe all the trappings, the social gathering and the glamor, what do they really get? Wealth you cannot take with you. Temporary physical stuff. Real love and loyalty? Admiration? Could someone love this person freely, without fear? This person has very little of true value, and Life will balance out actions eventually.

People who are unkind and enjoy cruelty are sick, and detached from humanity. They are only in control of themselves and others by force. This is not a life of integrity and trust, of the wealth of good character and firm connections to others. It is not a life to admire, emulate or desire. So what has the person who commits acts of dishonesty or violence gotten away with? Nothing. Life will catch up now or later. Karma does exist.

So I guess the lesson is to consider consequences, the effects that our actions might have. It means paying attention – to our words, our deeds, our thoughts. And beyond that, it means learning how to shift negative into positive.

I wish the Wall Street bankers who created the 2007 financial debacle had paid attention to the possible consequences of their actions, and used their vast intelligence in a different way. Instead of scheming for their own benefit, they could have “schemed” to upgrade the whole world’s economy. Now that would have really been paying attention, and creating balance! Just makes me smile to think of the possibilities!

So where does one start with creating balance and good karma? With yourself. Ditch the negative self talk, and start looking at the qualities you have that are admirable. Maybe the first one would be that you are willing to work to improve yourself. When you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about yourself, ask yourself if you would talk to a best friend that way. Every time you do shift from a negative thought to a positive one, you have shifted the world energy a micro-bit. But it does have an effect.

Work at being sincerely kinder andn more ethical. Consider smiling more – lots of people smile back, and that alone can make you feel good. Decide what attitudes and behaviors you’d like to shift, and work on one. Treat yourself well, and then you will be able to go on to treating others more kindly, more compassionately. You will be creating good karma for yourself, and it will carry through to who knows when…

About Davina

I am a retired teacher, writer and artist. This web site was set up for several reasons. First is to give people a chance to see my art work, and decide if there is something they like enough to contact me. Second is to present my ideas on education and life in general - anything that gets my attention. Feel free to comment in an intelligent manner.
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5 Responses to What Is Karma, Anyway?

  1. DW says:

    You say, ” Often when something happens to us, if we don’t look at how we might have caused the situation, we can end up thinking of ourselves as victims. Note – I said, “thinking of ourselves.” The good news is that it doesn’t mean you are a victim, it just means you think of yourself as that. “Poor me! Why me! Life isn’t fair!” Not so – and this is the good news. As it happens, you are always responsible, which means you are always in control.”
    So how do you explain car accidents where your kids are killed or cancer or such things? Hmmm. How could you be responsible and what do you mean?

    • Davina says:

      What I am referring to here is that, yes, we have suffered a tragedy, and we cannot explain it away. But if we realize that life cycles will include all sorts of horrors that happen to good people. They may be the results of causes we cannot see, name or understand, but they are still the result of a cause. On some level – karmic, if you want to call it that – we are experiencing something that is not even personal, but that is part of the way life balances things from one existence to the next.

      Why was I orphaned? Why was I brutalized as a little girl? I have no answers to that. I only know that the experiences led me to a state of forgiveness for things that are not fair, not acceptable, and not even explainable. So I guess I would say that all good fortune is a blessing, crappy things happen and they are a curse and a misery, but that we can perhaps take a step back and see a very, very large picture, and maybe take the road back to acceptance.

      By the way, I really do appreciate the way you question and challenge what I write. You are always thinking beyond the easy stuff, and that’s a gift.

  2. nancy says:

    I agree with BOTH, what Davina wrote about “Karma”, the power we each have to create the life we want, and ease the way for others in our lives,, But also the uncontrollable effects that come from outside – the drunk driver; the felon driving fast with police following, who runs a stop sign and crashes into an innocent driver – causing major physical harm to the innocent. Aggressive cancers that hold no cures…I am present at the bedsides of these ‘victims’ or with the families as they attempt to ‘find meaning’ in these vicissitudes of life. Sometimes they do find their personal meaning. Sometimes they lean on their Faith in a Higher Power – their Faith in a much larger picture that in our limited life view we can not fully see at this time. I do hold the truth of ’cause and effect’ that Davina speaks of here, but sometimes it is not so clear, nor able to be clearly seen with the limited view we have in our lives here on earth as humans.

    • Davina says:

      Too Nancy: I appreciate your viewpoint, as it comes from much observation and from being with people in all sets of circumstances. I agree – it is not always clear, and there is really no answer to the “why” that comes with tragedy. But one might well ask, “Why” when something glorious happens. I was recently in a car accident that could have taken my life, and instead I walked away. After many scans of my body, nothing untoward was found except a bruise on my shoulder from the seat belt. And for days, I asked, “How was this possible? Why am I so blessed?” I considered this just as much a mystery as any tragedy…and still, there is no clear answer. I imagine that this is part of what constitutes survivor guilt. We want answers, and there are none. But it is just possible that karma can answer some of it.

  3. Jane Wilson says:

    Thanks for this, Dina. Very powerful and beautifully written.

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