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Don’t Fear the Karma

FearImageQuestion:

I have only recently started listening to your podcast. Listening to it has been part of my seeking of a belief system. I have found it extra-ordinarily difficult to find something to believe in be it spirituality, ideas, people and even myself. Though I know this issue has to do more with my own psychology then a faith structure, I have found the notion of Buddhism to be most in line to what I think is true of my reality.

My question has to do with the concept of karma. I understand that it is a central part of Buddhism, but I find that I fear it the most. I know it is perhaps an irrational fear, but could you explain to me the causal affects of karma? There have been things which I have done in my life that I am not particularly proud of, and I have done my best to make amends to those that I have hurt (emotionally). But, I do not believe that I have ever been forgiven, I don’t know what this means for me in terms of karma. If I am destined to this feeling of sadness or not being able to understand that was my past and now I live in my present.

Answer:

There are a few things to consider with karma. First, karma is simply the way the universe works, it’s like gravity. There’s no “mind” controlling it, nor does it seek “revenge” on people.

You say you have done bad things, and since I don’t know you, I won’t argue that point. On the other hand, you say you have made amends to those you have hurt. If you have truly made amends, then it seems likely that karma will balance out. You say that you have not been forgiven… by whom? The person you wronged or by some idea of “God?” If the person forgave you, then that’s all that matters. If you have truly atoned for whatever it is that you did, then karma will take care of itself.

There are some things that you might not be able to truly atone for having done. Some things, you cannot simply just “undo.” So, yes, your actions do have consequences in the next life (lives). You cannot know the ultimate effect on your karma or what your next life will be, so there is no point in getting “attached” to the outcome. If you want to influence your future life, then work hard to live a good life NOW. Maybe you’ve messed up in the past, but you still have a future to make up for it.

The important thing is not to suffer needlessly over the worry. Whatever happens will happen whether you fear it or not. Learn to act in a “good” way simply because that is the best way to act, not because you want some future reward.

Good luck!

3 comments to Don’t Fear the Karma

  • Good question that I’m sure is shared by many who are new to Buddhist teachings. I also really liked your answer…..

    I can’t remember where I read it, but I remember Karma being described as the thread that links all things in the universe together – sort of the underlying quilt for everything – to pull on a thread here, effects a change there, and so on. It went on to say that with Karma there is no judgement of right versus wrong – it is merely good reaction and bad reaction depending on the interaction of everything. For example, a simple act of losing your wallet that may appear to be something bad happening to us could turn out to be someone else’s good fortune when they find it and return it to us for a reward.

    In Buddhism, there are a variety of practices to inspire mindfulness – present awareness of current action. The goal of this mindfulness is to make us more thoughtful about our responses and interactions with others. This in turn can cause us to react more thoughtfully and considerately in all our decisions and responses. Thus, we begin to create good Karma.

    Nichiren Daishonin, a great Buddhist teacher said that “The most important thing is to continually strengthen our wish to benefit others.”
    (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, pg. 625) this to me represents the heart and soul of all Buddhist practice – what some refer to as the “Way of the Bodhisattva.”

    If we strive to live in a way that we are truly ourselves for the benefit of others – Karma becomes a very good thing.

  • Lee

    I would encourage you to not look to Buddhism for something to believe in … just try to practice Buddhism … learn to sit … encourage yourself to try to move in the direction of keeping the precepts … just nudge yourself along. Practice is simple; at times difficult; but always simple. Just sit and encourage yourself to try. In time compassion will arise, internal change will happen and your fear of karma will evaporate as you simply accept what is and take the consequences for your actions …

  • Hi there

    I love the idea that karma isn’t out to take revenge: it’s not like crime-and-punishment in that regard.

    On a psychological level, though, karma may have already done its work – you’ve done some things that you regret, so previous actions have caused unpleasant mental states, suffering, now. Maybe that’s what karma’s about? Buddhist-ethical behaviour is the kind of behaviour that results in calm mental states suitable to awareness – IE not having to live in a world of worry and guilt. Is there a sense in which karma is taught to encourage this kind of development?

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