If you look at karma in the wider sense, you'll see it is the paramount feature of almost every religion on this planet. Most religions do not call it karma, but this is what they are talking about. Why have we bought the concept of karma in all its manifestations?

This is an important psychological concept for humanity. We would all like to see evil punished now, but unfortunately we see it going unpunished for whole lifetimes. We see the pure, the industrious, the noble, thrown into jail where they are tortured, starved, and shot; we see children murdered, and wars waged against the defenceless. We also see criminals and corrupt officials who steal, lie, and kill, yet they live unscathed in total luxury. So if it is not possible to see justice in this lifetime, we have invented a way where we believe it will arrive in the next; and this goes for Hindus, Christians, Mystics, Muslims, Jews and I suspect even those who are atheists and agnostics. Our inbuilt character demands justice; if not now, then one day.

The Christian church has taught that you must accept Jesus Christ as your saviour before your sins can be forgiven. Okay, so you do that and you are 'home and hosed', you will have a good life in the future — not necessarily this life, but certainly the next one, that's the deal.

But what about those who do not follow the Church's teachings? They reject Jesus, they want to sin NOW and ENJOY it. So the Church had to teach that they would be punished one day. This principle of punishment for the dissidents is a feature of nearly all religions. Sometimes it is in burning hellfires for all eternity; now days things have moderated a bit but they will still be disadvantaged in some way. Maybe they will be made to watch endless repeats of TV shows complete with every advertisement ever made. Whatever happens, the non-believers will get their just deserts.

That's what karma is about: fulfilling our sense of justice! If karma did not exist, we would have invented it. And that is just what I am proposing: we invented karma (in all it's variations) to satisfy our sense of justice.

I have long supported the argument that you do not have to know how an electric stove works to cook a good meal, but you do have to know how it operates. I think the truth is most of us have little real knowledge of how karma works or operates. We have beliefs, we have hearsay, we have faith, we have proclamations from clergy and gurus, but we have little knowledge. Yet there are surely people who do know! Maybe we are each expected to find our own answers.

Karma is a core belief for almost all of us, so shouldn't we try and understand the operation of this "law"? Many of the people I have asked about karma told me, "don't bother trying to understand it — these laws are inscrutable, just live them, and accept whatever happens."

It would be easy to accept that the world is flat. Indeed it seems that most people did for thousands of years, or that the earth is the centre of the universe, or that a heavier object falls to the ground faster than a lighter one. It's amazing that for thousands of years people believed that a heavier object fell to the ground faster; many people — even educated ones — still do. Yet all it took was for one person to do a simple experiment to see that both objects fell at the same rate.

How long does Karma take to act, this life or the next, or the one after? Can you speed it up, suspend it, make amends beforehand? And why is it that some karma happens in this lifetime, within days or weeks, and some other people, say Stalin — although he amassed an enormous amount of bad karma — have theirs delayed to some other lifetime?

Is there collective karma for whole nations? Is there karma for animals and insects? I suppose few people would believe in karma for animals, but why? Because they lack intention or lack self-consciousness? They do have intentions to kill for whatever reason. But if you accept that animals (less developed) have no karma it poses another question: does a more "spiritually advanced" person receive stronger karma that a less developed person, for example a person who is "intellectually challenged"?

A troubling point about karma is motivation and attitude. Let's take some hypothetical cases. A man has been working hard to support his family -- working long hours -- and while he is driving home at night he falls asleep at the wheel and his car crashes into another vehicle killing three people. So what did he do wrong? There was no malice, he was not even conscious at the time, and yet a terrible injury has been done to others. Has he fallen through a karma loophole? Should he be punished by law or by karma, when he has been the victim of circumstances himself ... an accident? (Some people don't believe in accidents, although Edgar Cayce did).

Now what if the driver was partly drunk instead of sleepy? He was trying his best to drive safely, thought he was fine, driving very carefully on the wrong side of the road; three people killed. But again he had no malice. So how does the karma work out? Will he have his own family wiped out? And would it be fair for them to pay for his mistakes?

Why does karma act in days or weeks for some people, and not in this lifetime for others? And when you consider some of the others: Stalin and Hitler. Stalin was responsible for about fifty million people dying, millions of them through starvation, millions more in Siberia under the most appalling conditions. Those who dared to speak against him were taken away and shot, often along with their family. Yet Stalin ruled for more than 30 years, lived to 74, and died in his palace. He retained control of the country until he drew his last breath. Now assuming he was amassing a mighty large karmic debt, why did it not operate within his lifetime?

For some people karmic justice comes in this lifetime like a bolt of lightening. Good people are rewarded by winning millions of dollars, or inherit fortunes from relatives they never knew existed. And "bad" people are suddenly struck down by cancer, or lose their ill-gotten gains. Yet it all seems somewhat at random, rather than the precise workings of a universal law.

The usual explanation is that the people who are doing good works are making up for past bad karma, or they are storing up good karma. Yet, this doesn't figure. How could the karmic laws have allowed Stalin's "bad karma" to ever reach such an unpayable debt? It is like a gambler going into a casino with twenty dollars, losing it, and then running up a 500 billion-dollar debt without being asked to leave. It doesn't make sense.

And what of soldiers? Someone in an Apache helicopter, flying over a residential zone fires a missile at some "enemy of the state" and kills a dozen children. His action, was to press a button after being given coordinates, just carrying out orders from his Prime Minister. Is he innocent because he had no malicious thought in mind?

Edgar Cayce explains many illnesses as being caused by "bad" karma from a previous life. His explanations of karmic effects read close to being vindictive, old testament punishments called down upon the unworthy. So, despite finding much value in his readings, I feel that the God of the universe would be a God of love; She would not have this vindictive streak. It would be a karma that was not so savage. I guess Cayce would say it was just deserts, "what you sow is what you reap", but ...

The view of karma as a boomerang is fine, what you give out you will get back. But how does this actually work? What forces are set in motion? There are many different ways to express the concept of karma: what you sow, you will reap; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, etc. But none of these pithy sayings make the slightest attempt to explain karma and how it works, and yet karma is the basis of most of our religions or belief systems in one way or another.

Does karma work through some telepathic process, or some "attraction of vibrations" -- what precisely? And then the question is posed, how does it work across incarnations?

While there are a number of explanations of how karma functions, there does seem to be a consensus, and it is these generalized explanations that we will consider.

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." This is often called the Golden Rule, and forms the cornerstone of every major religion.

The law of Karma, is also known as the law of Cause and Effect. In the material world, it has its equivalent, and this is enshrined in Newton's third law of motion: "To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction".

1. Looking at "to every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction". Would this not mean a kind deed given to someone, would produce an unkind deed in return? If you were to say a kind deed produced another kind deed, how would this be equal and opposite? In Newton's 3rd law, if you are sitting on a trolley, and you push another trolley away from you, your trolley will move in the opposite direction, both trolleys move away from each other. Or take the case of firing a gun, the bullet shoots out, and the gun kicks back in the opposite direction.

2. If we take the example of a rocket engine, the exhaust gases move down and the rocket moves up, the thrust upwards is equal and opposite to the downward force of the gases. When we are dealing with the "equal and opposite" law, the reaction between the two objects is simultaneous — it is not delayed by hours, years, or incarnations. If this is the same law we are talking about then it should be the same with karma — it should come simultaneously, it should be opposite, and it should be equal.

3. And yet it is generally understood with karma, that a good deed will be returned to you — not by the person you did the good deed to — but by some other person, at a different time and place, perhaps in the next incarnation.

This is a major difference from the law of action and reaction, because it is always between the thing causing the action, and the object receiving the action. If you fire a rifle, it is always your rifle that kicks back, never another rifle.

Another explanation of karma is that our minds are like radio stations, sending out vibrations that "act like a magnet" to draw similar vibrations and circumstances to us.

But what makes us draw circumstances and people in harmony with our thoughts to us? Radio waves do not draw in other radio waves of the same frequency, they just exist together like sound waves do, washing over each other. Yes, I can agree that you can receive thoughts through telepathy, when two minds are on the same wavelength, but that is not going to enable karma to operate. That is communication; who or what is looking after karma?

In karma we are often told that acting in a positive manner, as dictated by the Golden Rule, sets up a positive vibration within you, and this attracts other positive vibrations into your life.

Now this is suggesting some sort of telepathic or vibrational ripples being sent out though the universe. Maybe I can go along with this, and yet there is this disturbing thought that positive vibrations are going to repel positive vibrations. In physics I understand that two positive charges repel, and only positive and negative forces attract. Two electrons (similarly charged) repel each other, just as two south poles of a magnet do. Of course these are not necessarily "vibrations" in the same sense.

This explanation of the workings of karma is short on detail. Like saying "you are ill because of imbalances within your mental system, or because of the astrological convergences."

There should be an understandable explanation. If karma is a spiritual concept, a mental concept, and reacts on the physical plane as well – there should be consistency and a feasible explanation. But there are some explanations of the workings of karma that do make sense:

If you become angry with someone and you express your anger, perhaps through attacking them, or criticism, then the person will retaliate against you in a similar manner. From the karmic viewpoint, what you put out will directly return to you.

What is certain though, is that whatever you put out will come back to you via your own mind. Every thought you think modifies your psyche, and thus your essential character, for good or bad. Every thought you have reinforces the patterns in your mind; if you think thoughts of anger, you will become an angry person, if you think thoughts of peace and reconciliation this will become a part of your character.

The next time you meet a similar situation, you will be more likely to react in the same way. It will happen more naturally and more quickly until it eventually becomes an automatic response. In a sense, you ARE doing to yourself whatever you are doing to others in thought, word and deed.

This explanation is good, it makes perfect sense – but it is nothing more than common sense or basic psychology. I don't dispute a word of it, but it hardly fits into the concept of karma having ramifications not only in this world but the next, nor does it explain a single event causing a response in twenty or two hundred years time.

It is always easier to find faults than answers, but I think there are some valid answers. Now read on!


© Marcus Clark
27 November, 2003