Real Karma

1. Unnecessary longwinded and irrelevant Foreword

What does one do, on a depressingly bleary rainy Easter Monday?

  1. Stay in and abuse pharmaceutical substances while watching the entire second season of Scrubs, freshly downloaded off the net.
  2. Stay in and abuse pharmaceutical substances while working on a thoroughly useless piece of software instead of, say, earn a living.
  3. Go to church and bath in Holy Water.

Answer: 1) and 2) (all about multitasking).

Oh wait, sorry… that’s just me.

I believe the correct answer for regular God-fearing sinners is 3).

I know… One usually partakes in such activities on the preceding Sunday. But yesterday was way too busy attending a sun-tanning contest in the garden with my neighbours.

Seeing how I nearly lost an arm to self-combustion last time Holy Water hit my bare skin, we will have to make do with the next closest topic at hand today, and discuss religions in general.

Note: Because this blog wouldn’t be what it is without its overly affected pseudo-wordly brand of cynicism, you can expect a certain amount of negative thoughts and disparaging comments on the matter at heart. We would therefore cordially invite the strongly religious and easily offended among you, to go browse somewhere else for the duration of this entry. Hare Krishnas and Jehova’s Witnesses: you can stay; you are probably accustomed to people overtly mocking your faith by now.

Bah, I’m only kidding. Even though they seem to be the fastest growing trend among North American theocracies located south of Canada and East of San Francisco, I won’t be spitting bile on fundamentalist Christians today. Beside, pointing at western bigots and laugh (or cry, depending on the level of investment and hope you have in humanity’s future) is just way too easy.

Instead, brace yourself, for today, we won’t be discussing the irony of alleged bible followers gathering in angry lynch mobs to stone the sinners, or current official rate for choir boys sexual favors on the Vatican indulgence market…

Today, we will ruminate on the concept of Karma.

2. Unnecessary boring but somewhat relevant Ruminations

You see, I am neither very much into new age stuff, nor an established authority in the field of Upanishads and Vedas interpretation. Yet, Google seems to think otherwise (incestuous blogosphere cross-linking: 1semantically meaningful and useful web: 0), so why should I refrain from giving my highly uninformed and arbitrary opinion on the matter?

First, and for the benefit of those itching to resume staring at their cubicle wall and randomly hitting their keyboard while a spreadsheet simulation movie plays on their monitor, let me give you the skinny:

I don’t like Karma.

Not talking about good or bad karma either. I do not like any Karma. I do not like the concept of Karma, the “Law” of Karma, or more exactly, the belief therein and all the beliefs that stem from it.

Now, I will explain in lengthy and boring details:

Let’s clear a few things up for the crystal beads and henna tattoo crowd: Karma has very little to with the idea of being “rewarded” (or punished) for your good or bad deeds in some unforeseeable, yet concrete, future.

Unless, by “concrete future”, you are referring to your 3000 and some, past and future reincarnations. If you don’t believe me on this one, go read the Mahabharata again (personally , I’m more into tales of evil daemons abducting beautiful princesses and slaying half the planet, but maybe that’s just me).

In what does it make the slightest difference?

Why, I’m glad you asked, dear imaginary and mostly annoying rhetorical device:

We’ll put aside that entirely unrelated brand of Karma that we could label “Instant Karma”, which is what most westerners are thinking of when they speak of “Karma”. For now, let’s observe how the real thing affects cultures that have traditionally attached importance to it. Namely, cultures that derive from hinduism and buddhism.

If you have ever visited India, you know that, despite the massive changes that have washed over the country in the past few decades, the notion of Varna – socio-religious castes – is still very strong. Sure, you no longer have official birth rights over people of inferior castes, and there are, in fact, strong affirmative action laws enabled to help lower castes; but no amount of social democracy or government programmes will be erasing the general prejudice any time soon, especially in more rural parts of the country.

Karma is the cement that holds that obsolete edifice and the many despicable practices that go with it, tightly together still to this day.

No need to be a genius or Karl Marx to realize that organized religions have played (still occasionally do) a central role in keeping rigid socio-economic hierarchies in place nearly everywhere. Hear me now: I am not even implying some sort of evil design here. It’s quite natural, really. If you want to keep a somewhat oppressive class system working in a durable way and want to limit rebellious movements from the bottom and compassionate progressive tendencies from the top, you need to convince both ends that the system in place is not only good for a few and beneficial for most, but most importantly that it is fair to everybody, in at least one system of beliefs. That system is usually your official religion.

Believe me it works.

Of course, fairness is a very wide and entirely subjective notion here. In 12th century Christian notions, for example, “fair” means that some pray, some fight (or procrastinate when there’s nothing to fight) and the rest bust their ass in the fields. Not to worry though, because they’ll be first on St Peter’s doorstep to get their reward in the afterlife. Their working-class muslim brethren have about the same outlook, plus the promise of a truckload of fresh booties upon arrival. Twentieth century Dollarism carries a similar task repartition, with the added twist that a fraction of the population is allowed to change groups in between generations (never mind the fact that the fraction in question is statistically ridiculous and continuously decreasing, it’s the symbol that matters).

For most societies influenced by hinduism, Karma is what defines Fair. Conveniently enough, by stating that Karma affects your fate in your next life cycles, you retroactively imply that it has affected your current fate. As such, whether you are born a brahmin or an untouchable, you probably deserved it. Best you should hope for is that your good deeds and acceptance of your fate in this life will warrant a promotion in the next one.

Without getting into some debate about moral relativism, it’s easy to see how some nice, educated, hell, even somewhat compassionate people, might have no qualms about letting inferior castes rot in the gutter. Despite the many incredible minds who have stood against this idea in recent times, the idea that “you did something to deserve that” has been deeply, deeply ingrained into the hindu psyche for thousands of years. And the vector of this principle is what is called Karma. Quite far from the lovey-dovey new-agey modern definition, huh?

Buddhism is a slightly different problem, as it doesn’t emphasize the caste aspect of reincarnation cycles so much, instead focusing on the suffering that derives from Karma and meditation as a way to free oneself. Fundamental principles of harmlessness and compassion also result in a very different attitude.

As for Instant Karma, or the western notion that “what goes around comes around” etc., I don’t have anything against it. In fact, I am quite convinced that one doesn’t need to step far into the muddy fields of analytical psychology to tie the folk notion of Karma with vaguely more scientific concepts of subconscious, collective unconscious and whatnot. In fact, it might be one of the only thing Freud and Jung ever came to agree on (that and their respective claim that the other one was a sex-obsessed incompetent quack).

3. Thankfully brief conclusion

Sure, it’d be even nicer if people didn’t consider that their strongest incentive for not being a complete asshole to each other, is the semi-superstitious belief that they’ll die from a particularly nasty and painful disease otherwise. But I guess it’s better than nothing.


  1. Rajendra,

    Exactly. Which is why I was careful to point out the difference between the western interpretation of karma (“instant karma” i.e. “what goes around comes around”) with the actual traditional definition (which involves more than this present life). 🙂

  2. Is supposed that you need a very focused mind to perceive the Karma working. In my case i’ve observed that very improbable things happens to me (both bad and good) and investigate the “unconscious tendencies” whar are the Karma roots. Meditation, even 5 minutes, seems to be the only thing able to beat down this anoying things.

    higher Physics (Quantic Mechanics) start to agree with this ideas. Both are against “common seense” and absolutely infallible.

    Dr. Stuart Hameroff (And R. Penrose, Nobel awarded ) have done an excelent job placing out counscience in a quantic field. This modern physics is reducing the matter roots to an unsettling Zen koan.

  3. My research leads me to believe that the original concept of karma dealt with the idea that decisions have consequences, in which sense it can be seen in an environmental sense even today. If you dump toxic waste in the river, people downstream will get sick. They might even try to hunt you down and punish you. But the Newage idea of karma as a system of rewards and punishments probably stems from Blavatsky as just one more example of how everything she said about Hinduism and Buddhism was filtered through her Christian lenses.

    Brian Smith’s “Ritual, Resemblence, and Reflection” tells me that the work “karma” is a shortening of “karman,” the older word referring to what modern occultists would call “astral matter” created by Vedic magicians to construct astral temples to live within between incarnations. Eventually it became a term referring to the spiritual results of all actions, not just ritualized ones, and was said to determine your experiences between and in following incarnations.

    Unless, of course, I’ve completely misunderstood it!

    The original Vedic class structure was very much like the medieval Christian one you described, as the latter was based on the similar class structured used by all of the people who originally spoke Indo-European languages. See my essays on IE cosmology and caste systems on my website, or my August 2006 book on Druidism, for details. Only in the Vedic and decended cultures and subcultures did it get as nasty as you (correctly) describe, for reasons that may have to do with a political win by the clergy over the warriors in the old “geeks vs. jocks” war that’s been going on for 3000+ years.

  4. The concept of varna was based on profession than being based on based on birth. I think you have great misconceptions about hinduism in general. Caste System, as it exists in India at present, is just a social result. Indeed, the eternal truths, the vedas deject inequality. Karma, doesn’t affect not just the next rebirth, but also the present birth. And law of karma in the context of rebirth talks about the *species* of next birth, not the *caste*. Casteism is a social evil and will be eliminated if people try and get the principles of eternal truth, as mentioned in the Vedas.

  5. . . . which is why I subscribe to the concept of “Amrak,” which states (primarily) that “nice guys finish last,” or something like that.

    Thanks for Spam Karma. It saved my cat’s blog.


  6. i felt the need to also explain karma at my website but there again my nick is “Samsara” and I have cats called Dharma and Karma so…I felt it necessary.

    I believe in karma to the extent it absolutely CAN and IS a “what goes around comes around” even within one life. There are books, philosophies and different religions and philosophies on the matter…hell. There’s my own personal experiences. You give what you get and you get what you give. Simple matter of universal energy and I appreciate the HELL, doc, out of the plugin and how the name just goes so well with my site.


  7. My brother at age 15 (30 years ago), referred to what I believe was intended to be the concept of Karma as “the eternal system of
    distribution”. I like that; simple and to the point (if perhaps not worthy
    of Vedic scribes).

    Recently, a friend of mine put it in even simpler terms (speaking of payback): “Karma, she is the bitch.”

    To me, we can speak of Karma, Dharma — even shwarma — but much of it is about as easy to zero in on as a quark… (except shwarma — that’s
    sliced up lamb, isn’t it?)

  8. Schwarma? LoL … [Back onto topic] Today SpamKarma caught three
    pieces of spam. Was unusual because my site is so low traffic that I’ve only had maybe three pieces in the past few months! I wonder if this means my karma is good? 🙂 Or is my dharma ineffective?

  9. Karma my best understood in translation. It means, most succinctly, ‘doing’, or, ‘your doing’.

    So if I say that something is my Karma, I am saying that it is my doing.

    Whether it’s from a past or future life, or what exactly the Karma was, is irrelevent.

    The purpose is to acknowledge that one’s actions have universal effects, and that there is nothing you can do to another life form that you are not doing to yourself.

    Yourself, because Karma can really only be understood in the context of another belief, which is that all is one.

    Biologists and nuclear physicists are just figuring this out now.

  10. An interesting post, indeed.

    I’m just wondering, would it be right to say that the Christian idea of “God repaying debts” is a form of Karma too? Wouldn’t that also be a “what happened before will be paid for later” kind of philosophy? It seems to me that most of us follow something similar to some extent, whether it’s based in religion or a life philosophy and while it would be nice if people could just nice without it being because they’re worried about the consequences for themselves, as you say – it’s better than nothing at all 🙂

  11. What has taken a long time create, will also take that long to destroy. There has been lot of misconceptions about everything. The word Varna come from root **vrn** which means to choose. But as selfish man is and the need to be superior, changed the meaning of Varna from choice to default. Default by birth. Is man superior to a roach?
    Do I need to try to remove the misconception?
    Some of the concepts developed are to explain aspects of nature. For example, if a child were born blind (or handicapped in anyway) how would one explain it? Then again, the concept of karma is much more. Whether there is such thing as a karma or not, is not debated when it is imbibed to prevent people from hurting sentient beings. Compare the concept of Karma with, ** if you steal, cops will get you ** will the cops get me if I steal a cookie at home?
    The point is, always to understand the spirit of things rather than the letter. For a learned and wise, there is no such thing as Karma, for he would know what is right & wrong and always do the right thing:)
    Then again its just me!

  12. Hi, I also stumbled upon your site while just surfing about. Although I really enjoyed your views and the comments that followed no one had touched upon the whole aspect of personal gain. Simply put most organised religions are nothing more than early governments put in place to control the populus – well that and under education etc… I’m not gonna stray too far from the subject matter but at some point here it all becomes about the ego doesn’t it?

    To quote, “Best you should hope for is that your good deeds and acceptance of your fate in this life will warrant a promotion in the next one.”

    Karma is NOT about gaining a promotion at all and those that think this (in my opinion) are being cohersed by their own ego as a direct result of ‘those in power’ (be it the curch or not) planting the seed of fear…

    I could go on and on but you get the idea.


  13. Bri — I am sympathetic to your contention that organized religion is often designed and used as means to “control the masses”..But it may be unfortunate to entirely dichotomize”religion” as a social construct and as the other pillar of social organization alongside “politics”, from the spiritual and philosophical grist it provides our collective mills.

    It seems important to me we keep in mind that whenever we speak of “karma” or “ego” or even “God”, that as words these are all “signifiers” and not things (i.e. the things they are meant to signify) in-and-of themselves. Words are really tools required to communicate about shared ideas to understand and enhance the experience of a shared humanity…

    That is to say, while heads of state and church may use power to pervert meaning, that is not to say there is no relevance to our own ongoing efforts to understand what we and one another are talking about when we feel compelled to use such words as “karma”, “ego” and the like.

    While your point is well taken, one quote re good deeds and rewards does not an entire argument make.

    Careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water!
    : )

  14. I fully agree :D. Why can’t people be nice to each other without the threat of eternal damnation if they’re not? Join the Pastafarians! (we’re not organised :)) there’s a beer-spewing volcano and a stripper factory in heaven – could you ask for anything more? And what’s more, if you do something bad, you won’t burn in hell for ever!!!

  15. I absolutely share the belief that organized religion is a primitive system for controlling masses. It has served as a refuge for many power-seeking individuals since the beginning of humankind. However, it has also served as a method for taming the savages within us. Are we ready to live without it?

  16. I’ve never beleived in Karma.
    Basically, from what I know, it’s the beleif that the whole universe is based around cause and effect. My beleif is that, if you do soemthing you know you shouldn’t have, you will have to serve the consequences, not given to you by nature or fate, but by whoever or whatever you have messed with. Also, you will feel scared, guilty, sad or lonely because your consience knows very well what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s whether you listen to your conscience or not that depends on the choices you make.
    If you beleive in Karma, you beleive that Karma rules your life, leaving you no free-will …. and no real authority to even make your own choices! Sounds messed up, huh?
    But you might be wondering, what about good Karma? I beleive that happy people and people that do good things don’t get rewarded by nature, but they will feel good about themselves and the choices they’ve made. In fact, they can be so happy that they beleive Karma is on their side. This, I disagree with, but if that what makes people feel better, that’s alright with me.

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