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Author Topic: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma  (Read 1918 times)

EnderDragonFire

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Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« on: November 10, 2018, 06:03:02 pm »
Past live blame is another big thing that I tend to see from them, where anything that happens to you (in addition to being your own fault because of your current life thoughts...) is some kind of karmic ripple effect of something you did in your past life.  I've seen people say that if someone steals from you, it's 'obviously' because you were a thief in a past life, and it's just balancing out the scales.

Well, in Indian theology, it often IS because of something you did in one of your past lives. That doesn't mean you should be blamed in your current life, or that you shouldn't be empathized with or helped, or that the criminal shouldn't be brought to justice. It simply means that the reason something bad happened was because something else bad happened in a different time and place.

Basically, in Indian theology, evil begets evil and good begets good. That's why "be good" is such an important part of Hindu or Buddhist worldview. If you choose to do evil now, by stealing or killing, it will continue to ripple and multiply indefinitely throughout the rest of time.

It's not as deterministic as you might think. Every Karmic reaction starts with a free-willed choice. You might have bad Karma from a past life, but you choose whether or not to do good works or bad ones in this life. A thief still chooses to be a thief, even if Karma dictates that someone "deserves" to be robbed; the person doing the bad thing still chooses to continue the cycle of Karmic retribution. If all the world's thieves chose to stop stealing, and murderers to stop murdering, the cycle of Karmic retribution would come to a halt.

You must also remember that Karma, originally, existed in the context of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. It didn't stand alone punishing people indiscriminate as a discrete system.

Rather, in the belief systems where Karma exists, there are always ways to stop the cycle, and to repay your Karmic balance. In Hinduism, religious devotion, good acts, and penance can help to clear your Karma, so that you don't have to suffer in your later lives. There's also the afterlife, where you can be punished for your crimes all at once, before being reborn into a new body.

Another important thing to remember is that not everything is Karmic. People have free will, and can choose to do bad things to innocent people. You should never accuse or assume a victim deserved what happened to them due to their past lives; it's possible that an evil person chose to do evil without the victim having any bad Karma at all.

For example, a man who was good in their past life could be murdered by another man who was also good in his past life, because all people have freedom of choice. This would result in the killer getting bad Karma, and in long term retribution upon his later lives.

The point of Karma is to scare people into being good, not to blame the victims of evil for doing things to bring that evil upon them. Rather, the notion that a single murder could turn into thousands of murders, and increase it's harm by orders of magnitude, due to Karma, serves to make people less likely to murder at all. No evil is small enough to be tolerated, because it won't stay small.

Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists don't celebrate Karma. It's not a force for justice, it's a force for vengeance, and it's a force we seek to mitigate in the world. The Gods don't make Karma happen, and they actually encourage avoidance of Karma.

People often find Karma distasteful because the see it as unfair and injust... but that's the point. It IS unfair and injust, and it hurts the innocent. Karma is the enemy in eastern theology; unlike Hell and Damnation in western though, it isn't something inflicted righteously upon evildoers by the Gods, rather it is something that simply exists, like gravity or inertia, as a rule of the universe, and which is caused by evildoers doing evil, with long term consequences.

So, to summarize:

Karma can be good or bad, but it's not a moral process, but an automatic, unavoidable, natural one in Indian theology. It's not just, and it's not justice, but rather it's unfair and cruel. The point of Dharma, fundamentally, in Indian religions, is the avoidance of Karma. The process of Karmic retribution magnifies the damage done by a single evil act by orders of magnitude. Karma is meant to discourage evildoers from thinking their evil actions have finite, limited consequences, when those consequences are really  infinite. Karma isn't Damnation, it's not justice or judgement, it's a mindless force that oppresses people in the material world, which should be avoided and feared. 
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2018, 06:44:32 pm »
...

Or, to put that in a more succinct and coherent way;

Dharma, Ahimsa, and Sattva are all moral codes, that dictate behavior based on theological understandings of right and wrong. Karma is a metaphysical process that blindly and indiscriminately punishes people who break those moral codes, often with destructive and far reaching negative consequences for all parties involved.
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2018, 02:21:23 pm »
Well, in Indian theology, it often IS because of something you did in one of your past lives.

(snip)

Karma can be good or bad, but it's not a moral process, but an automatic, unavoidable, natural one in Indian theology.

I very much appreciate that you clearly indicate that you are speaking from an Indian theological perspective, and I would never say that anyone who follows this tradition would be wrong in their beliefs (as I do not follow an Indian spiritual or philosophical path, who am I to make judgements about it).

I don't think I've ever actually had someone who follows an Indian based faith preach to me about Karma actually.  It's always some kind of New Age spiritualist, who has snipped the concept of Karma and is using it as a form of mystic magical police (oooh watch out or Karma will get you!!!) or as a way to make people feel bad (and responsible) for things that are happening in their life (You got in a car accident, and you weren't even driving:  karma!  Someone broke into your house and stole your stuff, even though you locked your doors and took precautions:  karma!  You were born with some kind of genetic, medical condition:  karma!) 

What I find more distasteful, is when people decide to do something to/about someone else in the name of Karma.  "Oh, yeah, I put a hex on my ex-partner who cheated on me so that he will get an std...but it's okay because I'm just helping Karma along."

I am curious though, as someone following an Indian path, and with your understanding that Karma is a universal law...how do you feel about people sort of pushing Karma on people of other belief systems?  Does it bother you when other people say they don't believe in Karma?
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2018, 05:02:24 pm »
using it as a form of mystic magical police (oooh watch out or Karma will get you!!!)

Well, Karma sometimes get used in Indian religions to scare people out of doing evil things, the same way Hell is used in Christianity. A conversation might go like this:
A)"Why shouldn't I steal things?"
B)"Because It's wrong."
A)"I don't care about right and wrong."
B)"You will get bad Karma!"

Of course, this type of argument, as you probably guessed, only works if both people actually believe in Karma, and even then it's not likely to be effective.

It's basically the same as telling someone they might go to Hell for doing bad things; it only works if they believe in Hell already, and even then only if they think what they are doing is actually sinful.

Trying to use either of these arguments, or any other theological argument, to scare or threaten a nonbeliever into submission is both rude and ineffective. For example, I would frown on using Karma to scare a meat eating Pagan or Christian into becoming a vegetarian; I would use other arguments, but not theological ones because they don't work, they belittle other people's religious beliefs, and they make people get mad and tune out to what you are saying.

"Answers in Genesis" doesn't convert many people to Christianity, and I predict that "Answers in Gita" would be equally ineffective at that task.

or as a way to make people feel bad (and responsible) for things that are happening in their life (You got in a car accident, and you weren't even driving:  karma!  Someone broke into your house and stole your stuff, even though you locked your doors and took precautions:  karma!  You were born with some kind of genetic, medical condition:  karma!)

Anyone who does this has fundamentally missed the point of Indian religious belief in Karma. Yeah, sure, those things all could be caused by bad Karma from a past life (or might not be), but so what?

They are still bad things, that were not caused by your actions in this life. They still cause harm to both the victim and the person who committed the crime, and delay both parties from reaching Moksha, Nirvana, or otherwise escaping the cycle of reincarnation and the material world. When things like that happen, you should try to help the victim more forward, and you should mourn about how destructive life can be for the people who live in it.

You should blame Karma! Specifically, blame Karma, don't blame the victim of Karma!

When bad things happen, the fundamental force at fault is not the perpetrator (though they should be punished), nor the victim (regardless of whether or not they had bad Karma), but rather the material world itself. You didn't benefit from being robbed, nor did the robber really benefit from robbing you; both sides fell victim to the Karmic trap that is our universe.

The criminal was probably acting because they were desperate; poverty, drug addiction, oppression, and other forces drive people to crime, and those forces are the product of the inherently flawed nature of the world we live in and the mystical forces we live under.  The victim might have had bad Karma, and that might be why they, specifically, were the victim of crime rather than another person, but that's not why the crime happened. Assuming this is true, why do they have bad Karma? They were probably in a similar situation, in one of their past lives, to the criminal who victimized them!

So you see, when something like that happens, you should be empathetic to both parties. Punish the criminal for his or her crime, but you should still feel sadness for the circumstances that led them to commit it. Help the victim to recover and move on with their life, and don't blame them for what happened. Be mad at the world itself, at Karma and other unfair and harmful forces, not at the people who get dragged along by them.

What I find more distasteful, is when people decide to do something to/about someone else in the name of Karma.  "Oh, yeah, I put a hex on my ex-partner who cheated on me so that he will get an std...but it's okay because I'm just helping Karma along."

Anyone who wants to "help Karma along" is quite literally trying to assist the force that enslaves the world, oppresses all living things, and drags people away from the light of eternal bliss into mortal suffering. It makes about as much sense as saying you are trying to "help sin along" or "help damnation along" or even "help Satan along" and is rather abhorrent to Hindu (or Jain or Buddhist) sensibilities.

The whole point of those religions is to fight Karma at every turn!

Do good deeds to others, give up your own worldly possessions and attachments to dedicate your life to helping other people, pray for bad Karma to be removed from yourself and others, and try to avoid getting or giving any bad Karma; those basic tenants are the foundations of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Karma is the enemy of self-realization, the enemy of God-realization, the enemy of saintliness and Yoga, and should be opposed and not assisted! The perfect world, in Indian thinking, would be a world where Karma was totally eliminated.

Buddhist Bodhisattva linger in the mortal world specifically to help other people escape from Karma; they could go on to paradise and enjoy their just reward, but they don't, because of their compassion for the living beings still trapped in the endless Karmic cycle of suffering, death, rebirth, and retribution.

In Hinduism, it's Karma that eventually tears down the four pillars of Dharma, leading to the collapse of all morality at the end of the Kali Yuga, causing Kalki to incarnate and liberate ALL the souls in the universe, and causing Shiva to become enraged and murder the multiverse so it can be built anew.

In Jainism, Karma is taken very seriously, and Jains seek to avoid doing any harm to anything, because they believe that everything they do must be repaid in kind, and that they can't escape the material world until they have paid the full balance. So, they pursue strict codes of conduct and avoid killing even plants, let alone hurting people or animals.

So yeah, the idea of helping Karma along would seem like you were trying to sabotage the universe and fight against everything that is good and righteous. I think it would be rather shocking and cause outrage to many traditional Indian religious practitioners.


I am curious though, as someone following an Indian path, and with your understanding that Karma is a universal law...how do you feel about people sort of pushing Karma on people of other belief systems?  Does it bother you when other people say they don't believe in Karma?

No, it doesn't bother me if people don't believe in Karma. Karma doesn't care if you believe in it, so why should I care? It will treat you and me the same way regardless.

Hinduism acknowledges that all religions contain divine truth and encourage morality. Being moral is what prevents getting bad Karma; belief is irrelevant in the equation. So, a person who is an atheist, a Jew, a Christian, or a pagan, or any other religion, would still avoid Karma (or gain Karma) just as much as a Hindu who acted the same way.

So, instead of trying to proselytize or push our beliefs on others, Hindus normally promote morality and right action rather than right belief. So, we might reprimand you if you are abusing people, stealing things, abusing animals, exploiting or oppressing people, but we aren't going to do so on theological grounds but rather on ethical and moral ones.

As I said above, telling someone to stop doing what they are doing because Karma will get them is about as compelling as telling them to stop because they will go to hell. They might get mad, they might just laugh, but in either case they are going to stop taking you seriously.

OTOH, if you can use rhetoric and argument to convince them that their actions are unethical or immortal on non-theological grounds, you might be able to change the way they act without making them shut you out. It's not hard to convince people that murder and stealing are bad without ever invoking the supernatural, and even things like animal rights can be persuasive without using religious language or ideas.




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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2018, 03:06:46 pm »
You should blame Karma! Specifically, blame Karma, don't blame the victim of Karma!

The whole point of those religions is to fight Karma at every turn!

Hinduism acknowledges that all religions contain divine truth and encourage morality. Being moral is what prevents getting bad Karma; belief is irrelevant in the equation. So, a person who is an atheist, a Jew, a Christian, or a pagan, or any other religion, would still avoid Karma (or gain Karma) just as much as a Hindu who acted the same way.


Thank you so much for your response!  That was really fascinating to read, and I really appreciate hearing about things from the point of view of someone who is walking that path.  I share your belief that all religions contain truth and encourage morality, and that is one reason why I adore talking with people who do things differently than I do!

I actually don't think I've ever really seen the perspective that Karma is the thing to be fought, and that is really eye opening.  I definitely want to read more on this!
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2018, 04:10:03 pm »
I didn't read further to see EnderDragonFire's next comments, so as not to subconsciously repeat anything. What I'm saying is from my perspective and beliefs, and what I know of it.

It's always some kind of New Age spiritualist, who has snipped the concept of Karma and is using it as a form of mystic magical police (oooh watch out or Karma will get you!!!) or as a way to make people feel bad (and responsible) for things that are happening in their life (You got in a car accident, and you weren't even driving:  karma!  Someone broke into your house and stole your stuff, even though you locked your doors and took precautions:  karma!  You were born with some kind of genetic, medical condition:  karma!) 

You are exactly right. Karma means 'action' or 'deed'. "As a man himself sows, so he himself reaps; no man inherits the good or evil act of another man. The fruit is of the same quality as the action." Mahabharata, xii.291.22 (sounds familiar?). It is not at all "paybacks are a bitch" in the sense that if you beat up a puppy your puppy will get beaten up in return. Or if you steal something from someone, you'll be robbed. Karmic effects, good and bad, may not manifest for a billion lifetimes, though we just don't know. I see this all the time in Facebook posts... "oh good, karma will get him/her". Well yeah, maybe. But you may not be around to see it and enjoy it. Which by the way garners you bad karma. Thoughts and words (good and bad) as well as physical actions contribute to one's sanchita karma. Let me explain...

There are several types and subtypes of karma. Quite honestly I don't know all the subs, but the major ones are:

1. Sanchita karma, the sum total of all karma from all past lives. It is like a bank account that karmic results are deposited to and withdrawn from.

2. Prarabdha karma, the karma that comes to fruition and manifests in this lifetime. It can't possibly be all of sanchita karma, so only a portion of sanchita karma is withdrawn to become prarabdha in this lifetime. What comes to fruition may be 33 million years old, or 100 years old. Karma created today (kriyamana karma) may not bear fruit for 1 billion years, or it may be as soon as the next rebirth. Some souls are reborn only to withdraw from their sanchita karma. A baby or toddler who is ill or dies, or an animal cannot create new karma, but their life served to "burn off" some of their past karma.

It is also believed possible that some spiritually advanced souls can choose their next birth. That ill or dying child could have taken that birth for the sole purpose of helping someone else accrue good karma, thereby adding to the "child's" store of good karma by doing that good deed. Sounds wonky and woo-ish? Yeah possibly, but the belief is there.

3. Kriyamana karma, what is created in this lifetime gets deposited into sanchita karma to be used in a subsequent lifetime.

So in a way, we do have predestination, but it is of our own doing. Consider Jacob Marley's words to Ebenezer Scrooge (ok, it was literature but it's a dharmic belief):

"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?"

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free-will, and of my own free-will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"

Scrooge trembled more and more.

"Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas-eves ago. You have laboured on it since. It is a ponderous chain!"

So, we forge our own chain to weigh us down, or we forge the tools to cut that chain, or we do both alternately.

Quote
...how do you feel about people sort of pushing Karma on people of other belief systems?  Does it bother you when other people say they don't believe in Karma?

It doesn't bother me personally, since I have no control over it. People are free to believe (or not) what they will. This is the main reason Hindus do not proselytize or seek converts, or tell others they are wrong. Hinduism has a decidedly universalist bent. ISKCON is an exception to the rule, but they seem to have toned it way down. For all I know, karma may not exist at all; for all I know all my beliefs could be wrong. For that reason I don't say who is right and who is wrong, or what belief is right or wrong. They are just that... beliefs. Of course, we (Hindus, I can't speak for Buddhists, Jains, or Sikhs) believe the rishis and saints had knowledge divinely inspired, so we listen to them. That said, it only bothers me that concepts are co-opted and used incorrectly, such as the alluded to "Instant karma's gonna get you..."
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2018, 04:21:21 pm »

When bad things happen, the fundamental force at fault is not the perpetrator (though they should be punished), nor the victim (regardless of whether or not they had bad Karma), but rather the material world itself. You didn't benefit from being robbed, nor did the robber really benefit from robbing you; both sides fell victim to the Karmic trap that is our universe.

The criminal was probably acting because they were desperate; poverty, drug addiction, oppression, and other forces drive people to crime, and those forces are the product of the inherently flawed nature of the world we live in and the mystical forces we live under. 

Yeah, it might be worth noting at this point that there really is no concept of good v. evil like there is in Abrahamic religions, everything is 'action', karma. And that is an effect of the material world. What is good or bad is relative to the context. I think this is a pretty good explanation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil_in_Hinduism
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2019, 10:01:01 am »
It is also believed possible that some spiritually advanced souls can choose their next birth. That ill or dying child could have taken that birth for the sole purpose of helping someone else accrue good karma, thereby adding to the "child's" store of good karma by doing that good deed. Sounds wonky and woo-ish? Yeah possibly, but the belief is there.

Hi- I think I was following at least some of this up until the above point, and I wondered whether you'd be willing to have another go at explaining this point slightly differently to help me try and understand it a bit better?  Thanks in advance.
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2019, 10:03:14 am »
Hi- I think I was following at least some of this up until the above point, and I wondered whether you'd be willing to have another go at explaining this point slightly differently to help me try and understand it a bit better?  Thanks in advance.

I'll try...

Older experienced souls are sometimes given the grace to choose their next birth. The soul is wise enough and altruistic enough to know that another jiva (the Hindu concept of the total package of a living being... body, mind, soul) is worthy of being given the chance to obtain more good karma. So the unembodied soul about to take rebirth may see that there is a living being who works very hard at rescuing animals, or helping the homeless, fostering children, etc. and may incarnate as a being that the (living) person is sure to help.

The soul about to take birth, because of the selfless action of being born into a possibly horrific life for the benefit of another being, accrues good karma. The person who will help the newly reborn soul (reborn as a sick child, abused animal, homeless person, etc.) will accrue good karma for its own selfless actions of helping others. A soul may decide to be reborn as someone who may take a bullet for someone else, so the intended target can continue to live and do good. How does the unembodied soul know what's going to happen? Well, it's only on this plane of existence that time is linear. Moreover, since the soul has special grace, it may be given a bit of Divine Sight.

As I said, it's a kind of trippy concept, and is not the normal state of karmic affairs, but it's believed to happen nonetheless. I hope I didn't make it more confusing.
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2019, 10:01:15 am »
It is also believed possible that some spiritually advanced souls can choose their next birth. That ill or dying child could have taken that birth for the sole purpose of helping someone else accrue good karma, thereby adding to the "child's" store of good karma by doing that good deed. Sounds wonky and woo-ish? Yeah possibly, but the belief is there.

Several years ago the parish minister of my church gave a sermon about something like this actually!  She had met someone whose elderly diabetic mother was taking care of a severely disabled son(? I think), who needed to have his food pre-chewed for him, and also needed a lot of rice.  So we have this old diabetic woman pre-chewing meals including lots of rice, taking care not to swallow the grains, and saying that she thought he must have done something amazing for her in a past life, and that she was so very grateful to be allowed the opportunity to repay such a large debt by caring for him.
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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2019, 10:36:52 am »
Several years ago the parish minister of my church gave a sermon about something like this actually!  She had met someone whose elderly diabetic mother was taking care of a severely disabled son(? I think), who needed to have his food pre-chewed for him, and also needed a lot of rice.  So we have this old diabetic woman pre-chewing meals including lots of rice, taking care not to swallow the grains, and saying that she thought he must have done something amazing for her in a past life, and that she was so very grateful to be allowed the opportunity to repay such a large debt by caring for him.

Very cool story!

Yeah, I don't think it's by any means a common belief amongst "the living", but it's not unheard of. However, it's a common theme in the puranas, the body of Hindu "mythology". A number of characters, usually as evil af, were in past lives cursed or prophesied to live that future life for some purpose, which usually was for the greater good. Odd as it sounds, because they fulfilled their curse or prophecy and brought about good, they were redeemed and given grace by God, usually Vishnu but sometimes by Shiva.
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

PerditaPickle

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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2019, 06:10:22 pm »
I hope I didn't make it more confusing.

No, not at all - I think I understand this much better now.  Thanks for taking the time to post the extra explanation as I requested!  :)
"If I get on, Susan thought, it'll all start again.  I'll be out of the light and into the world beyond this one.  I'll fall off the tightrope.
But a voice inside her said, You want to, though...don't you...?
Ten seconds later, there was only the snow."
(Terry Pratchett's Hogfather)

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Re: Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma
« Reply #12 on: January 24, 2019, 10:18:37 am »
No, not at all - I think I understand this much better now.  Thanks for taking the time to post the extra explanation as I requested!  :)

Cool, glad I helped. :)
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

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