Do you ever hear people say “Karma’s a bitch,” or “That’s good/bad karma,” and think they sound like self-righteous pseudo-hippies? I do. Sorry, but it’s a pet peeve of mine, and I want to straighten this out.
People seem awfully fond of invoking karma was a way of saying “Don’t be a jerk” or “You’re gonna get what you deserve one day!” Trouble is, sometimes people don’t get what we think they deserve, leaving us hippies and yoga types looking pretty dumb.
Karma is not a tit-for-tat contract with the universe. (By the way, it’s also not generated by voting on Reddit, no matter how much fun that might be.) Karma doesn’t mean if you kill someone you’ll get killed or if you steal, someone will steal back from you. That would be very convenient, but it’s not true. We wouldn’t need a justice system if we could trust that every thief would be punished by the magic of karma.
Karma is what you’ve got to work with. It’s your genetics, your physical body, and the circumstances you’re born into. I was born a healthy baby in a good family in a prosperous country. That’s a set of circumstances that (as far as I know) I did nothing to deserve. That’s my karma.
Now, sometimes people get thrown off an frustrated by the idea of reincarnation, but you don’t even really need to buy that in order to grasp the concept of karma. If you believe in reincarnation, you might believe that the situation you’re born into is a result of your previous lives — maybe you believe you did something to “deserve” your current circumstances (but I hate the concept of “deserving” because it often leads to victim blaming, which is not cool). Or you might believe this life is somehow the natural result of whatever you did before, a next chapter if you will. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, just think of karma as your current set of circumstances.
Anyway, you can also create karma. You create new circumstances in your life with every decision you make. If you lie about something, you’ve given yourself the circumstance of having to hide something, of being dishonest. What does that reap? Well it depends on the person and all his/her other circumstances or karmas. If you lie and you feel like you have to hide it, then that impacts your personal relationships and your self image. It makes sustaining relationships more difficult, which plays out in a multitude of ways. Maybe you never get caught, and you appear to be quite happy and successful, but inside you have this nasty feeling of having to hide something. So that’s karma. It can show up in big or small ways, but it’s essentially the understanding that our decisions have real effects in our lives.
It works the other way too, of course. That’s why we like things like practicing gratitude and visualizing positive things. The act of thinking positive thoughts does not cause positive things to happen. Rather, it creates a mindset in which you are more motivated to do positive things. People talk about the law of attraction or positive thinking, but what they’re really describing is just shorthand for this chain of events. I want to be very clear that we’re not talking about magical thinking, here. If you’re thinking “I want a Corvette,” over and over again while doing absolutely nothing, you’re not likely to get a Corvette, unless you are suddenly struck with the inspiration to steal one. I advise against that.
Wanna create good karma? Here’s how it works: Do good things. Be nice to yourself, and be nice to others.
Say you make an effort to do good for people in your life. You go volunteer at a homeless shelter, perhaps. How does this create good karma? Does it make you more deserving of good things than anyone else in the world? No. But you have this experience of serving. You connect with the people around you. You get a sense of doing something positive for your community, which serves both you and others at the same time. That can multiply out to plenty of positive effects depending on who you are. It may not lead to fame and fortune, but you can see how doing good creates positive things in your life.
So, those are the basics of how karma works. It’s really not that mysterious after all, is it?
Ta-da! It’s like magic. Except that it’s not.