Will Karma eventually punish those who have wronged us?
This article explores the issue of karma, if it exists, as to how it differs from cause and effect and why compassion, not retribution, is what will bring about balance in our lives.
When someone asks me if I believe in karma, more often than not, they have been recently wronged in a very hurtful and painful way. When someone displeases or disappoints us, it is one thing. It may leave a scratch or a rash but it feels it can be dealt with. However, when someone we feel we have opened our hearts to and cared for returns that love with lies, cunning and cowardliness . Then that’s another thing. It leaves a cut, it creates an emotional wound that bleeds.
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The life people lead..
It is at this level of pain that the person hopes and wants to believe that there is karma. What karma is in this context often means “punishment”, or “how will life make them suffer the way they made me suffer”. Karma is seen as a kind of cosmic justice, where the unseen forces of karma go about levelling things out and bringing balance. With this type of karma, we hope it goes about silently righting the wrongs that a person or people have been responsible for. So knowing Karma exists in this sense, soothes our angry and hurt feelings as our revenge is enacted by the just and divine forces which govern the universe. This means that thankfully, we haven’t had to get our hands dirty in this cosmic delivery of righteousness. The belief in this kind of karma is quite prevalent and somewhat universal. Imagine if you were to hear of a person who got run over who, only 4 years prior during a drunken, drug fuel bender, mounted the pavement, mowed down and killed a sweet 82 year old lollypop lady. Upon hearing this most people’s first thought would be “umm talk about karma” or another popular one would be somewhat like “yeah karma is a bitch”. Seeing as the newly run over person, had run someone over 4 years earlier, in our mind becomes “deserving” of getting run over. Yet what about the sweet old lollypop lady? What did she do that was so deserving of getting run over? It is here that karma as the “Charles Bronson of unseen universal justice”, can hit a few snags. Although we are happy to attribute “karma” to anecdotal stories where it appears someone has “got what was coming to them”, we do this without seriously questioning to see if this type of “karma” really does exist. If it does, then you would think that like the rain, it falls on all, both good and evil. So is “karma” evenly distributed across the world for both the rich and poor, young and old? On the surface of it at least, it appears it doesn’t. As it doesn’t take too much of a look around to see that many “bad” people, so to speak, do all sorts of horrible and atrocious things and go through life fairly unscathed by any form of social punishment or even bad luck. Then we all read of good natured people who spent years in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, had their families decimated by war etc. If there is such a system of cosmic punishment, it seems like “Mr Karma” is on a very long lunch break from planet earth.
A reasonable want…
Yet it is understandable to wish for that type of karma, some kind of payback. It’s a horrible feeling to feel taken advantage of. The kind of sense that another person has tapped into the better parts of who we are, the trusting parts, the kind parts, the non-cynical and open parts and used all of those to somehow advance an agenda that is in stark opposition to what we were told. All of this gives us a terrible sense of lacking control and power within situations. So it makes sense we would want to believe that there is some kind of unseen force that takes care of these things, when we are unable to do so ourselves. So if there isn’t any cosmic justice, does that mean bad people who do bad things are really going to get away with such hideous acts untarnished, unaffected and unpunished? Well, for me, I see it as a kind of yes and no answer. I recently read an astonishing statistic that 1 in every 5 woman in the USA have been a victim of some kind of sexual assault . I have no doubt that the majority of the perpetrators of these assaults are not in jail and have got away unpunished. This may be due to such events not being reported, an inadequately robust legal system and a number of other factors .Yet, the fact that a man can rape a woman and walk away unscathed or unpunished is just one example of how unfair and unjust life can feel like at times. That’s just reading about it, let alone being the victim of such a heinous crime. As for the rape victim, where is the karma for them? Where is payback? In a concrete visible sense, it appears to be nowhere. It looks as if on the face of it, people can do terrible acts, sadistic things and bad things may never happen to them and if they do, they may have happened anyway and be totally unrelated to the harm they have inflicted on others. Yet, this is just one way of looking at it. The “Truth” can sometimes have a number of layers and can exist on a number of levels. So in this concrete and visible way, karma appears random while on another level, there may be some bigger order to such randomness or it only looks random when we don’t have the full picture.
Is karma just a fancy name of simple cause and effect?
The choices we make through our life do have consequences. We all live in a cause and effect universe. Sometimes, these consequences are immediate i.e. I ate too much cake and now I feel sick. Sometimes, these consequences take time to unfold i.e. I ate too much cake my entire life and now I have heart disease at the age of 50 and I am about to die. Damn you cake!!! This is more the law of cause and effect, rather karmic justice. If you’re a person who is always stealing money from their family and never pays it back, rips off anyone they know for a few bucks, steals from any employer willing to hire them, would beat up a defenceless granny for a few bucks and it generally always involves some kind of scam. With time, his life is impacted by these choices. This type of person, with time, does have to deal with the consequences of their choices. Maybe their family wants nothing to do with them, they have no friends, and they have trouble finding work and end up living a very lonely and destitute life. That being the fact, is that karma or just what happens when you live a selfish and petty life? Now, in the society we live in, psychopathic behaviour is often rewarded. This means if you have been born into privilege, you’re white and a male, then you are cunning, deceitful, vengeful and overall, a vile human being. You more than likely rise up the corporate ladder and be applauded for being a monumental asshole (look no further than the top CEOs on Wall Street). The material consequences for this person with such choices, unlike the petty conman, mentioned above, is enormous wealth and power. Yet the relational costs I have no doubt will be the same. Now “Mr Moneybags” may have enough wealth that people suck up to them but beyond that, they would be despised, hated and loathed by anyone who has to spend any reasonable amount of time with them. So, although the external karmic consequences may vary, the inner world of a person who consistently hurts, torments and is cruel to others would look very much the same. Again, is this karma or just basic laws of cause and effect in a relational context? So we can see that if we want to call it karma we just can’t measure its workings based on external factors. The inner world of people is the world at heart that all of us dwell in. Whatever happens “out there”, it still has to be processed and filtered “in here”. If that “in here” environment consists with the absence of love, warmth and compassion, then that could be considered “karma”. The difference between the petty conman and the CEO is that one just has a higher standard of misery or inward poverty.
Judge why not..
Another thing to be aware of when we discuss karma, is its application isn’t brought about by some silent divine light that shines upon those who have been chosen for a “karmic beat down”. Normally, who is judged to be worthy of karma, comes from our own mouths, conversation and discussions. We quickly forget that our judgments will often be filtered through our own egos and it may inherit blindness and bias. Who am I to say this person needs to learn this lesson? All because they somehow wronged me? Was what happened to me really such a terrible thing? Is it possible that there are people in my own life I have wronged somehow, who like me, wish that karma would come along and teach me the lesson they never could? As inherit is the thinking, that someone else is deserving of things going wrong, is the assumption that our judgment is objective and reasonable. In the case of a person being murdered in cold blood, that could be correct but often, the more mundane issues of heartbreak, infidelity and betrayal are more complicated than the victim and villain narrative we set up in our minds to feel justified in our pain. The man who leaves his wife to be with someone else, from the ex-wife’s view is selfish, lying and perverted dirt bag that deserves karma in the form of STDs and financial ruin. From his point of view his ex-wife is a cold, uncaring, vain and materialistic hag who deserves to wither away in dire poverty. Everything is about perspective.
Can karma follow us after we die?
Another factor to be aware of when we look at karma is the need to look within the bigger picture of life. As life unfolds, more laterally than linearly at times, people’s hurtful choices may appear to have no negative impact on their life. Yet, when you look at their life as a whole, will it be possible for them to escape from the impact of those choices? Not due to a divine punisher, rather due to basic cause and effect that all our choice and actions ripple outwards, as do everyone else’s and our lives are constantly in the process of navigating, responding, reacting, replying and reflecting on what we do and what others do. What fundamental drives those actions and responses, will shape much of how we feel about ourselves and the world. If we are willing to consider the possibility that consciousness never ends, rather just keeps changing shape and location, then the inevitable ripple’s back-effect of our choices would truly be “inescapable”. Then what happens to a person, who has lived a life full of cruelty and sadism, would be felt in some way, at some time in their existence. A Hare-Krishna once told me at a market stall, as I mindlessly chomped away on my ham sandwich, that as result of me choosing to eat a pig, I would return in my next life as flea hanging off a piece poo dangling from a pig’s bum. A thought I could carry with me to remind myself that things could be worse (and would be, once I died). How he knew this, I don’t know. Maybe, in his previous life, he ate bacon butty and this very existence he so vividly described. Either way for him “karma” was not felt in this life but the next. For many religions, the “afterlife” is a critical part of their teachings. With this basic belief in some version of heaven and hell, the good will be rewarded with harps and angels flying around as they are handfed grapes in plush lounges of heaven whilst the sinful and wicked amongst us will burn in the fiery flames of damnation, not just for a few weeks, but for all eternity. Crickey!! Karma really is a mega-bitch if you believe that. Yet the manipulative set up behind this way of seeing what awaits us, doesn’t take Colombo to undercover. Heaven and Hell soon ended up as a means of control and of negating all the injustices, on the fact that the baddie will get their dues when St Pete sends them to the basement level on the celestial elevator. Yet if we allow ourselves to see beyond this simplistic view of an afterlife, then it is possible that the flow of our choices here on earth, does impact where or how we end up, where it is we go, once we die. If you believe we go nowhere and just cease to exist, then any further speculation is mute. Yet if you believe or feel intuitively there is “something” but you’re not exactly sure of what that something is (such as myself), the question of where our choices lead us in “post” life on earth can offer some small comfort. As it opens up the possibility, at least there may be some form of justice or some kind of cosmic hall of mirrors, were we are forced to face all of what we have done without the layers of rationalisation, justification or denial. If there is life after death, what we know is no one will take their status, bank account, wealth or power. As the Greek emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “Both the stable boy and the king meet the same fate when they die”. They will be stripped bare of all tangible things, including their body, and will be left with the feelings they have inside. How those accumulated feelings impact, or carry forward into the life after death, I have no idea. Yet, I think to leave this world being surrounded by people that love me, knowing I did all I could to be a kind and loving person. This must feel quite different to a person who has done nothing for anybody, that has no one to care for them and has few loving memories to recall.
Time for a different question….
So will people’s karma eventually catch up with them? My most honest answer would be an I don’t know. As it’s not a question where I can give a definitive “no” or “yes” as to do so, requires knowledge of things that for me, remain unknown. Yet, another interesting question to ask is “Why do I want to know?” Do we really live in a world of “bad people” skirting and skiving out of their karmic debts? Where does this way of thinking about justice, punishment and vengeful retribution actually come from? Maybe karmic reckoning isn’t what the world needs. As in my heart, I don’t believe most people’s bad actions arise from the fact that they are bad people. There is a very small percentage of psychopaths that are like alien creatures to anyone who feels love and empathy. These psychopaths have seemed to have accrued much more power and control in the world than they ever should, yet they are still the minority. For the majority of us “non-aliens”, we hurt others because we ourselves, are hurt. We do wrong out of ignorance, fear, insecurity and shame. There has been extensive research showing most abusers have been abused, most violent acts are committed by people who themselves have been subject to violence. This doesn’t excuse or justify people’s bad actions, it just puts them with a context. Rather than some karmic punisher, serving justice on those who hurt us, I think a better force to enlist would be a force of cosmic compassion, showing them love, forgiveness and empathy. Giving to them what they were unable to give to others. Showing them how, what they do to others, they ultimately do to themselves. I think it is something that only makes sense in the lines of what Jesus may have been talking about when he asked his disciples to “Love thy enemy”. I don’t think most of us need more reminders of how bad and hurtful we are. Most of us do a good job of that by ourselves, as our incessant negative self-talk can be hard to shut off. I don’t think that most of us need to be punished “more” harshly, because we didn’t learn our lessons the first time. As at heart, we are not bad people trying to find goodness in ourselves, we are good people forgetting we our inherently loving in nature and in turn, forgetting the goodness and loving nature of others. As when we disconnect from others, when we forget their humanity, their pain, their hearts, when we dehumanise them, categorise them, we then enable all sorts of horrors to be unleashed. As doing so to them it makes it easy, almost understandable to hurt, inflict pain and not care how they feel. As they stop being a “someone” and become a “something”. So what I know is, when I have been hurt by someone, once the initial flurry of anger subsides, I don’t want to wish bad karma to fall upon them. I know that whatever judgments I make about them, I will do so with most often a very small part of their true story. I know that without anyone deserving bad things, life can be pretty tough and hard for many people, just as it is. I keep in mind the fact that I have wronged and hurt others and I am deserving of what others are deserving as well. That doesn’t mean I am on par with child killers or sadist dictators and how the universe brings balance to those horrible acts and people, I don’t really understand. What I know is, that given a choice between being “randomly murdered” or being a “random murderer”, the choice is easy as I couldn’t think of a more hellish existence to be someone who has killed a stranger for no reason.
I guess we all have to accept that life throughout the world is unfair. Bad people do bad things to good and undeserving people all of the time. Most of the wars waged in the last fifty years, the majority of deaths have been civilians. Families torn, broken, murdered and ravaged, all for the crime of just being born in the wrong country at the wrong time .This happens and is still happening. From the petty criminal to the politician who sends others to kill and be killed, there isn’t any obvious justice or karma. If in the afterlife, there is some justice and some cost of those choices, I have no idea. I would like to think there would have to be an idea but I don’t know. So what I do know, is I have very little or no control in how justice is administered in life, how karma gets done. What I do know and what I do assert is some control over my own karmic foot print, my own cause and effect. It is so easy and lazy to focus on the bad deeds of others and how utterly deserving they are of bad stuff to fall upon them than it is to really look long and hard at myself. Yet, it is here that if I truly wish to make some difference in the balance of “good vs bad”, that I can actually make an impact. My karma is the karma that counts for me. It’s the karma I need to be most aware of. It’s the karma what I need to take responsibility for. It is the karma I have to live with and die with. Knowing that bad people have got away with bad things is easier to the stomach. Knowing, I as a good person, did good things. That the ripple I set off in the pool of life, when it touches others, their response will invoke more ripples of warmth, kindness and care across the pool of life. That’s the only karma I can afford to think about. Therefore, I have to ask the truly tough and confronting question, which is not “What will their karma be? Rather “What will my karma be? This one I can impact, the other, I just have to wait and see.
UPDATE: November 13th 2015: I have been taking break from covering some of the more heavy subjects and focusing solely on satire.
I have no doubt I’ll come back to the serious but feel the need to be a bit more playful, silly and of course scathing on those worthy of it.
I am taking shots at inane articles you see on relationship advice, looking at absurdstories in the news, highlighting the opinion of people I would consider morons and just getting stuff off my chest like I do here.
So please check it out and see what you think.