Karma has been a part of nearly every religious and spiritual tradition for eons to the present, and it is like gravity—it exists whether we believe in it or not. While we may have heard about karma in a secular setting, such as the TV comedy show My Name Is Earl, most people do not have a true understanding of karma and its implications in our life and death. Not everyone understands reincarnation and the role that karma and reincarnation—which go hand-in-hand—play in who we are, where we are, and why we have the life we have. It’s never about God playing favorites or punishing; it’s about our actions in past lives and the present, the choices we have made throughout many lifetimes and the choices we make in this lifetime.
Karma: The Ultimate Form of Justice
It is said that our karma, our immortal identity, including traits and personality features, will be stored in the cosmic mind as seeds that will be the basis for future existences. We are creating our future lives in this present lifetime. Sri Chinmoy says that when we live in the soul, “there is no such thing as death … just a constant evolution of our consciousness.” Birth and death are inseparable. They are the two covers of the book whose contents we call life.
Karma is all about embracing the life we have in order to progress spiritually and uncover our true, inner divine nature. Even God does not stand in the way of whatever we need in this lifetime to experience our karma. Our every thought and deed has an effect on our sphere of influence. Karma, the principle of cause and effect, governs our life. It is the ultimate form of justice.
We have to pay our karmic debts; they cannot be avoided.
If we believe in a just God, we must believe in karma. Whatever the circumstances, at some point along the continuum of our lives, we performed the actions (the cause) that created the karma (the effect). No one is to blame. Karma is one of the universal principles that hold true no matter who you are or what your belief system is. It is perfect justice because our karma is self-created.
Someone once said that God is not the maker of the movie, only the projectionist. “Why did God do this to me?” The answer is, “This is your karma from some action in this life or in a previous life that has ripened now in the perfect time and place. Karma, the perfect teacher, provides you with what you need to learn in order to experience your divine nature.”
Suffering as a State of Mind
Many people do not like the idea of karma or accepting responsibility for their lives. They find it difficult to believe that we create our own suffering. However, when our desires change, we experience the seesaw of happiness and suffering.
What makes us happy one day is often the cause of our suffering the next day. Most people would say their wedding day was the happiest day of their life. Yet five years later, the marriage is in shambles, and they are getting divorced. Here, their marriage caused suffering. As our situations, conditions, and perceptions of life change, so does our idea of happiness and suffering. It is the way of life.
Both Hinduism and Buddhism teach that nirvana (heaven) and samsara (earthly existence) are not actual places but rather states of mind. How do you see your life? Your life becomes what you believe it to be. The separation we feel from God or the Divine is created by our own sense of self and other. That is why it is so important that all our actions of body, speech, and mind be done in a skillful manner, without causing harm.
The integrity of the self depends on the ability to take negative events and turn them into positive ones. Situations or conditions we find ourselves in are part of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth we experience while on earth. It is our karma; we must work with it, move with the flow, and without judgment or preferences, embrace and learn from it. The minute we judge any circumstance as bad, we begin to lose sight of the good that can come from it.
Mitch Albom in his little book The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Hyperion, 2003) points out that we have an enormous sphere of influence with our thoughts and actions beyond anything we can ever imagine. We have to pay our karmic debts; they cannot be avoided. Sometimes those karmic consequences happen instantly, in this life; sometimes the payment will be delayed until a future life, depending on what we need to learn and when.
At some point we move to a true knowledge of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. We learn and experience greater realities beyond the physical. Understanding this should help us all have a good life and a good death, without fear, knowing that all things happen for our greater good—even confronting our demons.
Embrace life! Embrace death! Learn how to live well, and you will know how to die well. That’s the Buddhist key to happiness and, indeed, the key to happiness no matter what spiritual philosophy one practices. Open to whatever you encounter in life, and you will learn the karmic lessons of living well and dying well.
This article is an online exclusive of Unity Magazine®.