There are a variety of spiritual concepts that are used by the different traditions. Like many of you, I have found many of them quite interesting, especially those that relate to our purpose here. The debates about spiritual reality, metaphysics, energy, the afterlife, reincarnation, and a host of others are endless and have filled libraries. What use would there be in rehashing any of these unless one had something to add to the discussion that was truly helpful? As always, the approach I prefer is to think about how these ideas affect our serene happiness.
So we start with the concept of Karma. It hardly needs describing, and can be researched elsewhere to see its wide ranging interpretations, depending on the the tradition one is dealing with. Buddhism has an interpretation that differs from Hinduism even though both come from India. But the essential meaning is the same. Karma is cause and effect which extends before and after one’s current life span. Karma is also the cause and effect process within this lifetime and in fact this is its more important application.
First, let us assume that Karma as described is true and look at what it means for our happiness and serenity. The concept states that my current circumstances are the result of intentions and actions from past lives and earlier in this life. Just to be clear, we include intentions and actions since the same action has differing karmic effects depending on the intention. A surgeon cutting into a body to remove a diseased part is quite different from a thief cutting into one as an attack. So all the past accumulated intentions and actions have resulted in my situation today. Further, all my intentions and actions from this point on will determine the course of my life until death, and then the life to follow. Simply put, good karma = good lives. Again, let’s not debate things like the degree to which karma affects outcomes as opposed to events beyond our control. We are accepting for the sake of discussion that the past, current, and future life circumstances are affected by karmic intentions and actions.
If I accept this as stated, then there are ramifications that must be considered. It means that I am responsible for my situation in ways I do not know, and that I am responsible for the future life (lives). It also means that I must live out the affects of the past with awareness of how my intentions and actions will be responsible for the future. So as I find myself in a given circumstance, I must be careful about how I deal with it, as that dealing will generate further karmic results. As those results start to unfold, I will still (again?) be in this position living out the effects while generating new ones. This is how karma is said to work no matter what the degree to which one believes it works. So, if one is remaining with a rational approach to this, it becomes clear that the only intention and action that really matters is this one in which I am engaged at this very moment.
The past is done and gone. The future in unknown and being affected by my karmic actions right now. So there is no point in thinking much about past and future, since what matters is my behaviour now. This is where my focus should be, setting proper behaviours in place. And it should be common sense that my actions now will affect future outcomes. This is obvious and does not require the concept of karma to be valuable. So given all this it can seem that, other than an interesting metaphysical theory, the idea of karma is not that important. This will dismay lots of people who go to great lengths to explain existence in terms of karma. Even though it offers some explanation for things like child geniuses (Mozart) or at the other end, extreme deformity, it doesn’t really matter. One’s behaviour now is what matters.
So, whether or not I believe in karma, how do I live and act now? What are my intentions and actions?