We act out the karma we inherit, and yet we have no conscious connection with any single karma. It’s as if a dead relative we never met leaves us all of his baggage, without saying why and without any predictable outcome. The basic tenet of karma is that the universe — and human existence in the universe — is morally balanced. This notion of “As you sow, so shall you reap” appears in western spirituality as well. But in a secular age, we ask for evidence, and there is no proof that moral balance is built into the scheme of creation. It’s hard to know how to live when a theory like karma cannot be proved.
Even reincarnation or a related belief in the afterlife from various religions doesn’t really help.
What we owe in the balance of good and bad acts remains unknown, because any single karma can come at the beginning, middle, or end of a chain of events — who knows which? A karmic event can be very brief or last a lifetime. It can be fixed or changeable, mild or severe, and everything in between. In sum, the theory of karma would seem to add a totally unnecessary layer of spiritual confusion, coupled with much complex speculation based on faith, and a general air of unproven traditions. Nor do we see karma work to balance good and bad in the world, since we view thoroughly malicious people rising and prospering while thoroughly good and innocent people suffer greatly. The old accusation against Indian spirituality held that karma was a kind of invisible cop-out that made people passive and unable to act — they shrugged their shoulders and said, “It’s just karma. What is to be done?” Let me offer a somewhat radical idea that saves the essence of karma and makes it useful.
Let’s say that karma is actually a human construct, something we created to live by. Why would we do such a thing? To add meaning and purpose to our lives. By creating a setup where it’s better to be good than bad,where violence is held back for fear of retribution, where the drastic changes in life are cushioned, and where certain patterns of behaviour are identified and open to change, karma provides a basic platform for daily life. There could be alternative constructs that look very different — for instance, daily life could be based on listening to ancestral spirits or obeying one’s dreams. But karma had a great advantage: it defined human beings as moral creatures making meaningful decisions inside a human universe. Secular society lost this connection. Now we are conscious creatures living in a random universe, and deciding what is moral or immoral has become quite cloudy, if not totally relativistic. Is the moral connection true? Is the universe balanced between good and bad, positive and negative, creative and destructive? Such questions have no absolute answer, because by posing the question, we are actually looking deeply into ourselves. Karma is one piece of a dynamic creation that depends entirely upon human awareness.
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