Ellie Di‘s recent blog post about positive thinking and why it is often a load of banana oil reminded me about the thoughts that have been bouncing around my noggin recently on the subject of karma.
Regardless of the traditional concept of karma in Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions, I see it most often used today as a fairly basic, cosmic cause and effect thing. “Karma’s a bitch,” someone will say when they see someone who’s done bad things having bad things happen to them. Or someone will say, “I’m racking up good karma,” because they’ve helped someone in need. Why do bad things happen to bad people? Karma. Why do good things happen to good people? Karma.
Frankly, I think this is bullshit. The idea that the universe is, in one way or another, keeping tabs on our actions and putting them in a “naughty” or “nice” column is truly offensive to me. If something bad happens to me, it’s because I did something bad at some point and I deserve what is happening to me? The best reason to do good to others is to accumulate cosmic brownie points so that we’ll get rewarded in life? How horrible! I don’t help people to get any kind of reward, temporal or cosmic. I do it because I was raised to revere life and to help those in need solely because they’re in need. I do it because it makes me feel good to help people. And in general, I don’t see any way to get through life happily unless we help each other out, because none of us are alone, and trying to get through life alone is monumentally more difficult than trying to get through life together.
To quote the character of Marcus Cole in the TV series Babylon 5,
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, “wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?” So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.
A universe where life is fair, where our actions bring us good or bad karma, where the good and bad things that happen to us happen because we deserve them is not a universe I would want to live in. I don’t want to live in a universe where my friend gets cancer because at some level they deserve it.
Now, I do believe that if you treat people poorly, you can’t really be surprised or upset if people treat you poorly in return. Our social contract tends to be “treat others the way you wish to be treated.” But even people I think are assholes and bastards (say, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, or Donald Trump) seem to have friends and people who love them. I know kind, loving people who have had difficult, troubled lives. If you look for evidence of people being punished for bad karma and rewarded for good karma, I think it’s easy to find it. But I think it’s just as easy to point of where this popular view of karma has had no bearing whatsoever on things.
And of course, karma isn’t exactly something you can prove. In the end, it’s about belief. You can believe in karma if you want to, but it’s not something I want to believe in (any more than I want to believe in a diety who cares about the gender of the people you fall in love with and/or have sex with). I prefer my universe to be a cold, impartial, unfeeling place where we love each other because it simply feels good.