I saw a post on social media asking “Why do Western people use the word karma so much, but don’t understand what it truly means?”
I think about karma often and try to live by its principals, but I am very honest with myself and clear to others when I speak of it: perhaps I can never understand karma the same way our Eastern neighbors do. Like slave spirituals, gospel music, soul and jazz is embedded in the African American communities, in our hearts, in our generational lineage, so is karma in the East. It’s a cultural implant.
The Buddhist view of karma says: Karma is the law of moral causation. The theory of Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was The Buddha who explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today; we ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects of our own fate.” *
I also understand, as I am sure many do, that every ideology and religion has some a form of the concept of karma. Before we get to my own thoughts, let’s take a look at some Western belief systems ideas of karma within Christianity, wiccanism, quantum physics and theosophical belief systems.
In Christianity (which has been adapted by Western Culture), the rule of “an eye for an eye” was part of God’s Law given by Moses to ancient Israel and was quoted by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:38, King James Version; Exodus 21:24, 25; Deuteronomy 19:21) It meant that when dealing out justice to wrongdoers, the punishment should fit the crime.
The rule applied to deliberate injurious acts against another person. Regarding a willful offender, the Mosaic Law stated: “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, the same sort of injury he inflicted should be inflicted on him.”—Leviticus 24:20. *
In Wicca, The Rule of Three expands upon the concept of harm. This rule is also called the Threefold Law or the Law of Return. It says: all good and the harm that a person does to another returns threefold in this life.
Some Wiccans interpret this to mean that the good or harm returns back to a person three times as much. Others say the good or harm has impact in three major realms of life: the physical, emotional and spiritual. Many hold to a combination of these interpretations. *
Quantum Physics: …if we get angry or frustrated for instance, it sends out what is like ripples – as in ripples in a pool.
We are constantly walking around sending out such ripples. The quality of the ripples is up to us – that is our choice. The fact of the ripples cannot be changed. We can only have an effect on the quality of the ripples, we cannot stop sending them out.” *
Theosophy: Any system that tries to explain the existence of consciousness, life as an emergent product of physical matter as seen by quantum physics will fail, and can, from a Theosophical point of view immediately be thrown in the garbage bin. Karma, connecting all layers of the universe, seems to be the only explanation for order and logical causality in the universe, and for the existence of the intuitive fact of justice. *
I am not perfect in any way, but some may have noticed over the years that I have become calmer, cautious, patient, willing to take responsibility for mistakes and, as an aside, I always try to offer coffee or tea to anyone arrives to visit.
When I was very young and trying to make it as a musician and author, I was homeless on and off for many years. I think I am one of very few people who knows what a hunger pain actually feels like.
One day, while living in a shelter in Los Angeles, I stumbled upon a word: grace.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grace is “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification,” or “a virtue coming from God”, or a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance. Others believe it is a “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” * I personally lean more toward the latter definition, but find it to be a combination of the all the definitions shared in the dictionary. If you don’t believe in a God or a higher power, that’s ok. Grace is just a special unexpected gift, like a windfall of money, a new job, a loving partner or other occasion we as human beings deem to be fortunate.
I don’t think you can understand karma before you learn about grace because grace allows you to pay that unmerited forward out of thankfulness for receiving it.
Living by the laws of karma is discipline. You’ve got to make it a top priority because over time it become, you will see yourself naturally becoming a more respectful person – respectful of others space and boundaries, less judgmental, easier to get along with work and with friends, etc., So, it’s important to spend time alone and get to know yourself, and also understand you inner goals. What kind of person do you want to be?
Being very honest with yourself, especially if you find yourself attracting people and circumstances that are harmful to you and others, can be a wake up call, and may being about a need for change.
I have to have a conversation with myself almost every evening in meditation, or just quiet my mind to let go of anxiety and fear. Karma is not a punishment, it’s not good or bad, it’s just a reflection of what you’re giving out, and if someone is not treating you and others the way you deserve to be treated after you’ve done everything you could to be kind and supportive, what you’re doing by shielding them from consequences. You’re subconsciously protecting them from karma. I believe karma and life will eventually move you out of the way, so the person you are trying to protect can learn and grow. You will lose a friend…who essentially wasn’t a great friend, so you receive the kind karma and grace of being freed from an unhealthy connection, and they receive the chance to move forward in their lives and make new choices.
There are people in the this world who don’t like me, who mean me harm, some are people I don’t know and can’t see, but I lay in bed at night and send them love. I connect with the energy of love, compassion, grace and mercy, build my relationship myself. I ask forgiveness for anyone I may have hurt (and may not even know I did) anyone, and I also forgive anyone who has hurt me or done me harm to keep my heart clear of resentment.
If you let anger, resentment, jealousy, hatred or any other emotions similar to this build up, you will attract people who will be working through similar karma, or, who want to glean what you learned without truly understanding the sacrifice and work you do to be the person you are.
When someone is acting badly and I have to be close to them, I had to learn, “That’s their personal relationship with their karma and themselves. Do you best to be loving, but step back a little and let them walk it out.”
That’s love, autonomy: “allowing others to have a “ state of being self-governing and self-directing freedom and especially moral independence” * without judgment…which is sooooo hard.
I am not fool. I’m a 32 year old young Black woman from Baltimore City, so I do my best to make sure my boundaries are in place I am a strong person, but I am also kind, silly, fun-loving and generous. It’s all a balance.
In a Western sense, karma is just getting what you give, so try to give yourself, others and the world sincere kindness, support, love and generosity. It will come back to you and when you see it happen for the first few times, you can learn to keep it going. It’s not luck. It’s a lifelong practice.