Karma is a Buddhist term, and has only become more widely known and used since the West has been discovering Eastern philosophy and religion in the last few decades. But the western world had its own version of karma in place since Christianity or even longer: “As you sow, so shall you reap”, which comes down to exactly the same thing. The more colloquial version floating around social media:
“What goes around, comes around”
It is interesting to see that the West has known and applied the law of cause and effect very well for centuries: all Western technology and science is based on this law. Nothing happens without a physical or chemical cause putting it in motion; everything occurs as the result of something else.
The difference between Eastern and Western thinking becomes very clear when you look at karmic law: Westerners stop calling it the law of cause and effect when something happens outside of the realm of science and technology. Instead they will call it luck, fate or divine intervention. Buddhists don’t distinguish between the material and the immaterial realm when it comes to cause and effect: they will take personal responsibility for everything that happens in their personal lives. For them, every detail of their lives is the effect of something that they themselves have set in motion in some earlier moment. Since Buddhism has become more known and embraced in the West, we have started to open up to this idea of karmic law.
Karma is a neutral principle. It doesn’t have a negative or positive connotation to it. Depending on the original cause (the seeds that you planted with your thoughts, words or acts), the effect can be positive of negative. “Pleasure and pain come from your own past actions. So it is easy to define karma in one short sentence: Act well, and things go well; act wrongly and things will go wrong” (Dalai Lama). I do want to emphasise that this also goes for thoughts: Think well, and things go well. Think wrongly, and things go wrong.
We fast-paced Westerners tend to think of karma as a very direct effect, but karma can take a long time and many unsuspected side-roads before it manifests its results. Sometimes you may not really see the connection between the cause (your actions in the past) and the effect (something happening to you now). And sometimes you only figure it out months or even years later, when you start to see a bigger picture of your life. There are no fixed rules as to how and when karma takes its effect. It just will at some point. But it doesn’t function like “an eye for an eye”.
As the Dalai Lama explains: karma requires favourable conditions to germinate, but there can be no effect without a karmic cause, without the initial seed planted. You can work as hard as you want all your life (creating the favourable conditions), hoping for success, but if you are a mean or stingy person by nature, the seed of success never has been planted, and you might find yourself struggling forever. You can get treated badly by someone, if you have treated that person badly before (or even in a former life, but let’s not get into the topic of reincarnation here). It might also be that you have never before been unfriendly with them personally. You just happened to go through a very unfriendly, hostile period 20 years earlier in your life when you were dealing with a big heart break, and this angry and rude person is manifesting the karmic effects of that period only now.
Maybe the nursing back to life of a near-dead cat will result in me not dying sick and lonely in my old age, 40 years from now, but it might also be the cause for this blog to get moderately successful in the next 5 years, since Pumpkins has been the cat-alyst for me to start writing….only time will tell. Just rescuing the cat will not create positive karma. Only by sharing here the valuable lessons that he is teaching me, some favourable conditions are being created for that karmic seed to germinate and grow.
In future blog posts we will explore the principle of Karma more often, looking at the different ways in which we can sow and cultivate seeds of goodness (for ourselves and others), and how sometimes we set ourselves up for physical or emotional problems. Once you get to understand and embrace Karma a little better, it becomes a wonderful tool to work with to become your-best-you.