The Trouble With Karma

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Shortly after launching this blog in 2007, I published a gigantic post on something I called Karma Capitalism.

It was a provocative idea about how to build business by constantly planting Karmic seeds, giving  and enabling, knowing that the fundamental nature of karma will eventually circle that good mojo back to you.

That post was inspired by someone I’d been introduced to back then, a fairly controversial figure in modern-day Buddhism named Geshe Michael Roach, who’d spent some 17 years living in secret as a Buddhist monk while applying its tenets to help grow a $100 million diamond business in New York City.

There’s a lot we can talk about around the notion of trying to “manage your karma” with at least the partial intent of having good energy circle back to you. But, I don’t really want to go there with this post.

Where I do want to go is to a comment to that original post that, much as I’ve tried to let it go, has stayed with me for the last 3 years.

In that comment, Mark shared:

Hey Jonathan, I’m sorry but I really don’t agree with the concept of karma.

To believe in karma is to believe that the victims of 911 deserved what they got – that they all did something to make those men fly planes into a building. Or that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold only shot students that in some way deserved it. That any victim gets what they had coming to them because of their past actions.

The reality is that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. There is NO correlation. Think Princes Diana got what she deserved? Or Steve Irwin? Mahatma Gandhi – Martin Luther King Jr. – Abraham Lincoln – Cassie Bernall and countless others? I don’t…

Mark also took it to his blog and added points about karma not being about you.

And, in the comments I replied:

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I believe the Buddhist reply would be that it’s not so much the act of the individual “as he/she exists in this lifetime,” but the collective actions throughout many cycles of life “as that person may have existed” that may come full circle in seemingly unjustifiable ways.

This is not always the easy answer to digest from a modern standpoint and, for sure, the scenario you describe is the one place I, myself, am still trying to get comfortable with this notion, though I don’t rule out anything at this point in my life and I continue to study and ask my teachers these very questions. As I learn more, I am happy to share.

Looking past this, though, the bigger message of the article is in-sync with your bigger picture message, too – which is to offer something to inspire people to lead their actions, even in a business setting, with acts that will leave the world a better place.

It would be amazing if this came naturally to people, I know I try to cultivate kindness as the motivation for my personal actions. But, unfortunately, in today’s world, the reality is that often people need a more me-oriented hook upon which to motivate acts that will impact others beneficially. Which is why the Dalai Lama said it is better if the motivation was kindness, but still okay if it was self-serving, because the net result was greater acts of service in the world.

So, that’s what I wrote.

But, I have to confess, looking back, I think my comment was more a diversion from the fact that I was having trouble buying into what I’d written in the post.

I buy into the quest to lead with a giving hand, and even the idea that in doing so, you may “inadvertently” also plant your own karmic seeds that, as a side-benefit, cycle the good mojo back to you.

But, I’ve never been comfortable with the notion of trying to manage your Karma with the express intent of accelerating personal gain. And, since I wrote that post, I become even less comfortable with the idea. Even if the net-effect is more good deeds in the world.

But, again, that’s not really the conversation I’d like to explore in this post (trust me, I’ll come back to it soon)…

The much bigger aspect of Karma I’ve struggled with, like Mark, is those certain situations when Karma visits horrendous tragedy on the lives of seemingly wonderful, righteous, innocent people. Especially upon children who aren’t even capable of forming the requisite thought, speech or actions needed to set such negative causality in motion.

The answer I’ve been taught is that what you see happening is likely a cycling of causality between “reincarnates” (if you believe in that as the explanation of bad things happening to good people). Bad energy sent out into the world in one lifetime rippling back to visit it’s effect in the next lifetime.

But if Karma is designed largely to encourage people to take responsibility for the state of their lives, the good and the bad, doesn’t this seem to create not a sense of ownership of your outcomes but rather a sense of fatalism?

That, I just don’t get.

Curious, what do you guys think?

And, if we have any practicing Buddhists or even teachers in our tribe (which I happen to know we do), I’d love if you’d chime in and maybe help share some wisdom here.

Always looking to learn…

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99 responses

99 responses to “The Trouble With Karma”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Jeffrey Davis. Jeffrey Davis said: Jonathan Fields' provocative questions about karma: […]

  2. Jen Brentano says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    I also believe that what we put out comes back to us. However, what you are talking about here, I believe, goes back to something very simple I heard a few years ago. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. As such, we were never promised total happiness and goodness as physical beings.

    Simplistic, maybe. But, I believe it is true. For me, those experiences are a greater reminder to do everything I can everyday to step fully into my true self which is love.

    • Vicki says:

      Perhaps Life is like one of those video games. We don’t always make it through to the end with happy results. And maybe we get another “life” to try again.

      I don;t think Karma was ever meant to guarantee that everything would go perfectly this time around the wheel. But if you live your life thoughtfully and helpfully, you’ll improve things for other people in the now. And if you do get another chance, being thoughtful and helpful this time through may give you more “points” next time.

      But there’s still Free Will and a lot of randomness. Karma may improve the odds but it’s not the only aspect of the Game.

    • Yes, HRH the Dalai Lama teaches that the concept of karma only comes into play in our emotions. How we behave and react to life shapes our experience of it (pain free vs suffering); this has no bearing on the quality or specifics of said life. (as you have already surmised by understanding that “bad things” happen to “good people”)

      Like my dad says. “life is 1% what happens to you and 99% how you react to it.”

  3. Mark Silver says:

    It’s an incredibly provocative question, one that exists in a similar way in Sufism. I can’t answer for the Buddhist perspective, and I’m very curious to hear from Buddhist teachers, but I will share what I understand from my lineage in Islamic Sufism. And from many, many conversation with a Buddhist priest who is a close friend of mine, there is tremendous overlap between the two, even though the language is different.

    The trouble with the answer is that it won’t satisfy people who don’t have a sense of spirituality or religion. Because for it to make sense, you have to have the belief/faith/understanding/knowledge that this physical world is not the sum total of our experience. That it is a small slice of the pie, and that our total existence is something much larger than the few short hours we have on this planet.

    I’ll also say that I’m not just a woo-woo thinker. I was a paramedic for eight years, and I’ve seen more dead bodies than I can count, victims of shootings, accidents, disease, drownings. This is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and praying about.

    Basically, we’re all trying to make our way back to Oneness, to wholeness, to Unity. Anything in the individual or collective that keeps us from experiencing Unity needs to necessarily, eventually get burned off, because it is illusion.

    Pain and suffering is the burning off of illusion. And so are experiences of joy and celebration. We can get caught in them, or both sides can burn off illusion.

    When people take actions based in illusion that create suffering for themselves or others, then those actions need to be burned off in some way- and will be, eventually. Whether in this world, in the afterlife as Islam believes, or in a series of incarnations, as Buddhism believes, it needs to be burned off.

    This world is impermanent and shifting. We die. We get sick. Things break and people get hurt. People get angry and frustrated and enraged and despairing and take actions that hurt other people.

    I believe that it is impossible for a human being to fully understand all the different threads that go into someone getting shot, having cancer, being in a car accident. We don’t know the fullness of what is. We don’t know all that goes into it.

    I do know that to think, “Oh, someone did something bad so therefore they got blown up,” is way too simplistic an answer for all the different threads and experiences that are woven together to make our lives.

    I do know that the suffering I’ve had in my life, and the suffering that my wife has had in hers, when we sit and pray deeply and search and search, we have always been able to find love present in the situation. That in some it has helped us come closer to Unity, to wholeness, if we take the opportunity. It’s ended up being a blessing, a gift with a wrapping we wouldn’t have chosen, but a gift nonetheless.

    This may seem to be a harsh, unfeeling, or la-la explanation for things like terrorism, the Holocaust, or other horrible things. But when we generalize we lose the individual unique path that each individual is walking. To get the answer to “why” the individuals involved in the tragedy- whether the victim or those affected, have to ask about their own path towards love and Unity.

    if you start trying to find other people’s answers as to why someone you read about in a newspaper was shot, then, as Aslan says in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, “That’s part of someone else’s story…”

    There is grief. There is pain. And I have come to experience, in a very deep way in my heart, that everything and every act, has the potential to manifest love, if we take the time to look.

    Now, I’m curious to hear a Buddhist teacher respond.

  4. Jim Everett says:

    I don’t have a good answer about what Karma is. My preference is to see that all events (no matter how tragic, senseless, or heart-breaking) are leading to an unfolding of a higher purpose. We cannot always see them in the moment and sometimes not even years later, but if you look hard enough you can almost always find a higher good.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s easy for us to agree upon. It is always found at a personal level and it’s possible that no one else will agree with your version of the ‘higher good’ that has emerged. A lot of it has to do with whether your focus is on what’s lost or what’s gained.

    As I write this, I’m not sure how much I really agree with myself. It’s not a simple topic.

  5. My understanding of karma is that is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘action’. Not the law of cause and effect. That was invented by Isaac Newton. Human beings do not obey that law. Kicking a dog produces a very different response than kicking a stone does.

  6. wow – what a topic for a monday morning. it’s a big, big subject that can trigger big, big emotional responses.

    my take on this is that we do not have the requisite distance or perspective to be able to judge what is actually unfolding. we see most everything from our individual perspective but perhaps that’s not indicative of the “truest” perspective because we are limited by where we stand.

    when bad things happen to good people, i do not think they “deserve” it at all – rather i perceive them as having “served” some purpose in this amazing cosmos of ours. i had a friend who was killed a week before her 21st birthday by a drunk driver – did she deserve it? no way. yet what i saw after her death was a thousand people reduced to tears and broken-hearted at the loss of her.

    her picture is across from me as i write this and i have always felt that she has stayed with me somehow, as a witness and support. from our one individual person perspective, we cannot understand losing someone so special and innocent and – divine. though with each loss, those of us left here experience something we would not have had access to without the tragedy.

    i can only think that we somehow serve each other this way – making possible deep realizations of love and the profound knowing that comes with recognizing what a gift it truly is that we have each other here on this precious blue planet in the middle of our starry cosmos.

    to be at one with the mystery, we must embrace that what we know for absolute sure is quite small compared with what we don’t know. our cosmos is billions of years old, so perhaps from that perspective we are all bright stars and life and death is just the twinkling.

  7. Amy Wells says:

    Yes, where is accountability in “karma”? I do believe Like begets Like while I believe bad things hsppeb to good people too. Try to come from the point of view of reaping what we sow. “growing what we plant.” this is true that when a farmer plants a corn seed he will in fact grow corn. So if you sow discord you will be in discord. and there have been instances where I’ve asked, , “Oh Lord, am I reaping from something I’ve done wrong, or is this person sowing what he’ll get back later.” both cases have mme ask for mercy for either myself or the fella who is being mean.

  8. Jonathan,

    Can’t speak from Buddhist perspective, from a Christian perspective, the idea of death or something “bad” happening to a good person is simply different than what other people think. See, for most people, death is something really bad and should only happen to bad people. However, that would be really ludicrous since we are all going to die. However, the really meaning of death in Christianity is just going to another form of life much better than the one we are living right now, coming from this state of mind, death becomes a really good thing for good people while still a horrible thing for bad people. I am sorry for using “good” and “bad” and other simplistic words, but just to illustrate my point.
    As of why “bad” “things” happen to good people, this requires a bunch of blog posts and wouldn’t be easy to explain in a comment.

  9. Mark Kelly says:

    I think Mark was dead on in his replies to you regarding Buddhism karma especially with regards to applying it to tragic events or especially business success. I think someone would be much better served practicing Napoleon Hill’s Laws of Success. It is a much more holistic formula then Karma alone but also covers karma related aspects primarily in the subjects of The Habit Of Doing More Than Paid For, Developing A Pleasing Personality, Co-operation, and application of The Golden Rule.

    • Dom says:

      I agree – the Napoleon Hill approach seems far more grounded and practical. Karma is too vague and superstitious for my liking!

      Being generous, giving, and respectful of others is very important. But I think it’s equally important to take responsibility for your own life by making sure you’re taking care of your own health, financial security, and self-growth too.

      You can help others much better if you’re stronger yourself.

  10. Another problem with the concept of Karma is that people throw the term around and not really know the Buddhist roots.

    Then, if I’m not mistaken Buddhists believe in re-birth. If you have caused pain in your current life, you will be punished with a lower form of life in the next. You may be be reincarnated as a poor person.

    So if that is true, and poor people are being punished for their ways in a previous life, then I should not help the poor.

    I look forward to hearing from a practicing Buddhist on the Karma and Re-birth topics.

  11. barry howard says:

    as a person who is evolving from a new-age perspective into a happy atheist, i will address this from a very non-woo-woo point of view…i think that, whether or not one believes in a mystical aspect of existence, the concept of karma is a useful one. if we move through life from a place of integrity and honesty and a will to do good works, we not only create a reputation which works to our advantage, but it is also a type of affirmation or self-talk…our actions build within us, an awareness of our motives…we see ourselves as a force for good and this allows us to work without moral conflict…i think this does, in a very nuts and bolts sort of way, return positive energy to us. this doesn’t, of course, rule out the possibility of misfortune or tragedy in our lives, but it does make our journey much more positive over-all. thanks for this blog, jonathon…i always enjoy what you write.

  12. Maia Duerr says:

    Jonathan, I really appreciate that you’ve been reflecting on the ‘karma’ inherent in that post three years ago and are returning to it now… that says a lot about your own integrity!

    First off, let me be clear that I am not a Buddhist teacher. However, I have been practicing Zen Buddhism for the past 15 years, and have been privileged enough to study with some really wonderful teachers, including Roshi Joan Halifax and Thich Nhat Hanh. So please know that what I share with you here is coming from my own experience of the teachings and the practice… other Buddhists may have a different point of view.

    And that’s the first big thing I want to point out — there is no “one” Buddhist point of view. Though there are some core teachings that all Buddhists hold dear — the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path being the clearest example — there can be lots of divergence on other points.

    While I believe there are some teachings about karma that cut across all three major Buddhist traditions (Theravadin, Mahayana, and Vajrayana), the idea of reincarnation taken quite literally to mean being re-born comes more out of the Tibetan tradition.

    The concept of karma that you are describing — the belief that bad things happen to people because somehow they deserve it or it is a consequence for something they did even many lifetimes ago — is actually more of a Hindu conceptualization than a Buddhist one.

    In fact, this was one of the Buddha’s most significant breaks with Hinduism [which wasn’t called that at the time]. The Buddha made it quite clear that there is no individual ‘soul,’ and therefore no soul which is passed down from body to body throughout different incarnations. (And that is true in Buddhism whether one believes in the literal interpretation of reincarnation or not.) That being the case, the Buddhist teaching on karma is that it is not that someone is unwittingly being victimized by their actions of a past lifetime, but rather that in this very life, our actions plant the seeds for suffering or for the end of suffering.

    I picked this up in wikipedia, which says what I’m trying to say here, just a bit differently:

    “Karma is a central part of Buddhist teachings. In Buddha’s teaching, karma is a direct result of a person’s word, thought, and action in life. In pre-Buddhist Hinduism, karma has to do with whether the actions performed in rituals are done correctly or not. Therefore, there is little emphasis on moral conduct in its conception. In Buddhism, since a person’s word , thought, and action form the basis for good and bad karma, sila (moral conduct) goes hand in hand with the development of meditation and wisdom. Buddhist teachings carry a different meaning than pre-Buddhist conception of karma.”

    [and back to me now] This is why there is such a big emphasis on ethics in Buddhism, in the form of the precepts. Precepts are not synonymous with Judeo-Christian “commandments” in this case — it’s not that one will go to hell or be punished in that sort of way, but rather than certain actions will cause suffering, for both the actor and the person acted upon.

    It’s not so much that people “get what they deserve” (or not), but rather that all of us are constantly making decisions and taking actions, and the less conscious we are of those decision, the more likely it is we may cause harm. Princess Diana certainly didn’t deserve to to, but there were a number of actions in motion that contributed to her tragic death, including the greed of paparazzis who wanted to get a photo which contributed to the drivers’ decision to speed through the tunnel… and so on.

    Taking it a much bigger step up, there is 9/11, which the original commenter noted. This is a tough one, and many people may not like what I’ll say here — but yes, there was karma involved. Just not like what you might think. And innocent people didn’t deserve to die. Conditions were created by the U.S. and our greed/need around oil, which has led to a constant military presence in the Middle East for years, which has in turn been part of fueling anger and resentment among some extremists in that part of the world. I’ll say it again — those people in the World Trade Center did NOT deserve to die.

    The world is a web of causes and effects, our actions contribute to those every day. The big question is, what is our awareness of our actions, and how can we lessen suffering rather than increase it? That is where karma has something to teach us, I believe.

    • Kip Kozlowski says:

      Thank you, Maia. Your response was the most helpful to me.

    • Melanee says:

      Hi Maia
      I, too, found your thoughts very helpful. I sometimes think the concept of karma is very self serving to human beings caught up in class privilege and power hiererchies. i.e. I’m rich because I deserve it. What about when and if that wealth changes?
      Anyway, I really appreciated your post and understanding of karma. I think that tragedies are senseless, but the way to find some redemption in them is to understand why they happened. Such as 9/11 or the death of Princess Diana. We are forced to look at our collective complicity and accountability and thus we evolve as a species. However, it would be nice if there were more stories of triumph to learn and grow from…

  13. Hiro Boga says:

    Growing up in India, enormous poverty, hunger, disease, death and suffering were all around me. It’s very visible there, in ways that it isn’t, here, most of the time.

    It’s also a culture in which the concept of karma leads to fatalism at one end of the spectrum, and acceptance and surrender at the other.

    Karma is a concept–a description of reality rather than reality itself. In one sense, there’s no such thing as karma. There are patterns of unfolding, which have their own internal logic and order, and karma is a description of one aspect of that logic, of that order.

    In other words, it’s not personal, and doesn’t pertain just to a particular individual life. Each of us is an ecology rather than a singular self. And we live within nested ecologies of beingness that are interdependent. We are shaped by them, and we contribute to them through our actions, choices, intentions, thoughts and so on.

    In this sense, we participate in many different kinds of karma. Individual karma is not separate from the karma of a society, a culture, gender or humanity itself.

    Karma, in this sense, is something like a path that’s been created by thousands of people and animals walking across the same trackless wilderness along the same trajectory.

    Cultural thought-forms, beliefs, and archetypes all make grooves in human consciousness. And we participate in those grooves, because we are part of the collective consciousness. It takes conscious effort to approach things as they are, rather than through the scrim of our individual and collective history.

    So the karma that led to the tragic events of 9/11 emerged from a complex weave of tangled patterns. Beliefs about tribal loyalty and tribal justice. Beliefs that the good of one group can be brought about by the destruction of another. Beliefs that there is one right answer, one right God, one right anything at all–and that everything outside of that paradigm is The Other.

    All of these thought-forms create karmic patterns. And we contribute to these through our individual consciousness, as well as through the way in which we live our lives, the choices we make, the people we elect to govern us, and a million other variables that make up the ecology of the world in which we live.

    Wholeness has a way of asserting itself, regardless of the results that emerge from fragmentation.

    No, those men and women who died on 9/11 did not bring it upon themselves because of karma. That’s a child’s version of tit for tat. The men, women and children who died in Hiroshima, or who die of poverty, hunger, disease and malnutrition every day don’t bring these things upon themselves either.

    The larger question, I believe, is this: How are we to live today, knowing we shape the world even as it shapes us? Knowing, too, that we are fractals of the Sacred, that we are wholeness too–we participate in, and are co-creators with the great mystery.

    • Compelling thoughts. I am happy that I happened upon this post and your comment.
      Generally, I am coming to believe that all is and are of one unfolding.
      Thank you!

    • Amy Oscar says:

      There is nothing I could add to these brilliantly expressed comments but this question vexes me: What is the ‘karma’ involved in performing acts of kindness and fellowship out of the intention of personal profit or gain? What I mean is, where does true kindness end and manipulation begin? When are we acting from the heart, from deep humanity, from love – and when are we acting ‘like’ we are acting that way in order to ‘get’ something from someone else? Does it matter? How would we know?

    • Kel says:

      Thanks Hiro.

    • Charles Tutt says:

      As well said as I’ve ever read.

    • Sonia Simone says:

      Thanks, Hiro, for that very clear and compassionate definition.

      I think we in the West can find karma tricky because when we see “cause and effect,” we often mentally substitute “reward and punishment.”

      I often think of karma as a pool we are all sitting in. When we take action, we make certain forms of waves. We can try to act consciously to make waves that are good for everyone in the pool, including ourselves. But it would be quite silly to imagine we were the only ones who made waves. We’re affected by the waves of others, even as we affect them in turn.

    • Beth Powell says:

      Beautifully said.

  14. Josh Pies says:

    First – I have to commend you for the open and introspective nature of your blog. Thank you for staying so honest with us.

    Second – In 1991 my wife’s family was devastated by an auto accident that claimed the life of her heroic father, amazing grandparents, and her 8 year old little brother. Being of the Christian faith we process that differently than a Buddhist but it does negate the concept of Karma for me.

    That said, I wonder if your post three years ago might be more an acknowledgment of the concept of “giver’s gain”. I sub at BNI (Business Networking International) meetings all the time and they are founded on that one simple phrase, “Giver’s Gain”. The concept is that if you are known for being a giver more than a taker then people will gravitate towards working with you instead of other options. Its less cosmic in focus, its not the universe at work, its more a human nature thing. I don’t even think it matters if you pre-suppose that man in inherently good or if we live under a social contract of non-evils – either way, people want to work with and be with those who give more than receive.
    Do you think this thought, in whole or part, might be applicable?

    • Annette says:

      A very thought provoking topic and one which I have thought about many times myself.
      Josh, a question to you and maybe some insight from your BNI meetings: I’ve found that while people gravitate towards those who are givers instead of takers they are also the group that people like to take advantage of. Any ideas or suggestions how you can avoid it? I find myself often in the situation where my generosity is taken for granted and am left wondering if people have forgotten basic courtesy e.g. saying “Thank You”.

  15. Bill Graham says:

    My very amateur understanding of the first law of thermodynamics is that all energy always was and always will be. It can’t be created and it can’t be destroyed, it just changes form. I think Einstein’s E=mc2, said that energy and matter are the same.

    Based on my life experience, I do believe in positive and negative energy.

    I can’t explain why one person dies and another lives; one person is born rich and another born starving; one suffers in death and another goes in their sleep. What I know is that we are here for a very short amount of time when considering eternity. Our energy is changed by the experience here for the good or for the bad. It’s our choice, very Viktor Frankl.

    If the science is true, I am destined to live forever. The experience of the moment when my transformation from matter to energy, might be tragic for those I leave behind, but beautiful for me. Using the concept of Karma, it depends on how much positive energy I have shared.

    I have heard the concept of hell as being a place we create based on what we send out to the universe, I think karma fits with this great life lesson.

    The gift of giving will make you feel better today. Even if you die without a monetary ROI, there is a good chance Karma Capitalism lives like energy.

    Jonathan, keep giving it away.

  16. Irene Ross says:

    This is an extremely thought–provoking post and the reply really warrants a conversation, but I’m a Nichiren Buddhist. Nichiren Buddhism exists to relieve people of their suffering and enable them to change their karma and become truly happy–karma is the potential effects of negative or positive causes made in past lives. So, every time you make a positive cause in this lifetime (i.e., “planting the seed) you are expiating some negative cause from a past life. Who knows what we did in those past lives? Nichiren Buddhists do not believe the karma is fixed but, rather, can be changed. We do that by making positive causes in this lifetime–and it’s not self-serving, our practice permeates many generations of family, and helps those around us to become happy, whether they practice or not.

  17. Jodi says:

    Thanks so much for this. I struggle with this often. I’m 19 and in my short life, I’ve attended 3 close friends’ funerals. Being a believer in karma at the time (and also a twice a year jew), I questioned everything.
    I questioned spirituality, karma, god, prayer… everything. It’s so easy to say that because you were bad, then something bad will happen to you. Or the positive reverse.
    The only thing that I have found that gives me a sense of comfort is a small line in Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet:

    “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain….

    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
    But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
    Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. ”

    As for karma and business, I have to agree but not in a sort of spiritual universe way. If you are honest, good, and true, people will resonate with you and want to work with you and buy what you’re selling. Especially in the age of technology and accessibility in business, the ‘force for good’ factor can only help you.

    Once again, thanks for this post. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with this struggle for understanding.

    • Angela Winters says:


      What a spot-on and beautiful reply.
      I read Gibran also, long ago when I was a bit younger than you are now. Thanks for bringing those beautiful words back to me, and for letting me know that the book is still being read.
      Keep growing, keep learning.

  18. Jonathan Fields says:

    Hey gang –

    Been in my writing bubble all morning, working on the next book, and I’ve just come up for air to read through the comments. I have to share, I’m an emotional guy (not a sissy, just emotional, k?) but your comments have left me literally on the verge of tears.

    Honestly, I’m not sure why. I think in part, because of the insights and perspective, I love learning from you. Also, because of the stories you’ve shared, you’re openness…it blows me away. And, I think, too, simply because you’ve chosen to share and do it so deeply.

    This post, alone, is just a question. The comments give it power and soul.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Sheri says:

      That’s so funny – I found myself IN tears. (And? I’ll be an out-and-proud “sissy” (very macho thinking?)…wanna make something of it? LOL)) Karma is a powerful concept for me — not b/c I think that good things will always happen to good people…or the opposite. It’s more like I think that we should all just try to do our best. Some days, our best will be amazing and perfect and powerful and compelling and it might just alter someone’s life — or our own. Other days (candidly), our best is not all that great. But our best is all that we have — every day. Our best might even suck sometimes — but that’s OK. If we all woke up every day just trying to do our best — by others and by ourselves — I do believe that the world would be transformed.

  19. Jackie says:

    It’s hard to put my beliefs on the subject into words. I guess I do believe in karma, in the sense that doing things that feel right and that are filled with a positive purpose is its own reward. And I do think positive things result in more positive things. I don’t believe, though, that suffering is a “punishment” or “bad karma”. Instead, I think maybe it’s an opportunity to learn, both for yourself as you grow through the suffering, and for others who suffer as a result of what’s happened. I know there are things I’ve experienced that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have learned what I did without going through them. (And it’s not like I’ve even suffered anything truly horrific,)

  20. El Edwards says:

    As much as I admire the open conversation here, I fear that there is a danger it will degrade into a discussion of which flavour ice-cream is the best. If Buddhism is your flavour you’ll find one answer that satisfies you and if Jesus is your flavour you’ll get another.

    Although it wasn’t called karma, if I’m remembering it correctly, Jesus was asked a smilar question about why a man was born blind. His friends thought that they guy was blind because someone somewhere had done something wrong. Jesus knocked this on its head by telling them that it had happened so that God’s work could be shown. And then he healed the guy and everyone except the religious officials thought he was ace.

    The thing I struggled with for a while was taking this story to the next, apparently logical, conclusion, that all the bad stuff happens so that God can do cool stuff and show He’s fab. But that’s not the case is it? Because if so, we wouldn’t have the bad stuff for very long. He’s just come around and mop it all up.

    We’re not robots that can be bent to do whatever God wants so the clean up act version just doesn’t hold water for me. Instead, I believe in a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us. Part of relationship is about having the choice to love or not. Some of those choices result in bad stuff happening to good people and yes, there are times when I believe God intervenes but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

    Now whilst I don’t follow the concept of karma, I do believe in unconditional love and make it my daily aim to share that love with as many people as possible. I don’t do it because I hope that some of it will come back to me. I do it because God first loved me and put that love in me.

  21. Rita Vail says:

    First – I love this blog.

    Suffering is how we learn, especially compassion. I see karma as causality, not punishment, and agree with Hiro Boga’s beautiful reply. Some people think of it as a balance sheet, but for me, it is more of a “degree plan,” or guidance in the school of life – assuming that you aspire to returning to The One, or becoming more like Jesus, or achieving nirvana. If your main goal is success, or happiness, or even avoiding death, then it will be difficult to understand karma, which is not focused on the material world, but the perfection of your soul. I do see an element of balance, though, like what happens if you lean too far to one side in a small boat. I do feel that when life smacks us around, we did choose that somehow, perhaps indirectly.

  22. Matt says:

    My theory on why these horrible acts occur to all, regardless of innocence, is based on an idea that there are two streams of karma.

    The first is your own, based on your own actions. This is where your own acts are reflected upon you, whether they are positive or negative. This explains why good things can and do happen to good people, and vice versa.

    The other is the karma of the world. This is a collection of the actions of the world as a whole. I think a pretty good example of this is climate change; the more we pollute our environment, the more frequent and extreme the weather events, which is often the trigger for disasters and suffering. A small child might not have contributed to that global karma, but lots of people HAVE contributed. This is why I’m working to improve my own attitudes and approach to life; because as much as each person is responsible for their own life/destiny/fate/whatever, they are also at least partially responsible for that of others as well.

  23. Heather Holm says:

    Some very interesting comments above. Notwithstanding the wise and subtle ideas in some of the comments, if you want to look at a personal level karma and tit-for-tat, there are other questions to ask.

    For example, instead of asking whether the victims of 9/11, or indeed the many more innocent civilian victims of the wars that resulted, deserved to die, but rather: what kind of karma have their killers incurred for themselves?

    Our culture is so fearful of death that we view it as the ultimate horror. Other cultures do not necessarily see it that way. But to take away someone else’s freedom to live out their life on earth, and to cause pain and hardship to their loved ones, will surely have repercussions to the killers, which are beyond our capacity to know or judge.

    Secondly, “good karma” will not necessarily play itself out for you in this particular lifetime. It doesn’t belong to the physical body in which your spiritual essence has incarnated.

    Third, money is not spiritual currency. If your impulses to give come from a place of true generosity, without expectation of return, your reward may be the elevation of the spirit that comes from feeling gratitude for having been able to help others.

  24. Alex says:

    I really have no set beliefs on karma and if it exists or doesn’t but I often think that karma is just another tool, or scapegoat, we use to attempt to put law, order and reason on incidents and events that are unexplainable. Humans, by nature, enjoy the comfort of order, routine and logic and when faced with situations that seem to fall out of that frame work we develop a new frame work to help explain it.

    • Exactly! I agree. Since we have been “blessed and cursed” with an intellect and rational mind, we humans very often make feeble attempts to make sense of things through creative reasoning. Meditation is all about letting go of this tendency and surrendering (in a “freedom-inducing” way, not a defeatist surrender, of course) to the mysteries and wonders of the Unified Field. Thanks, Alex and Jonathan!

  25. Anne Wayman says:

    Oh Jonathan – you don’t ask the easy ones do you… which is why I keep coming back. I’m mostly Buddhist – practicing Zen, for about five years with 6 months in another tradition I left partly because there seemed so much emphasis on ‘managing my karma.’

    As a westerner I’m never quite sure what I believe about reincarnation. It’s one of those ‘could bes’ for me.

    What I love about my practice, which is now in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hahn is the calm it brings me in myself and in my relationship with people, clients, family, commenters on my blog and even sometimes in traffic.

    Another thing I love is that it’s clear the Buddha taught that anyone and everyone could and eventually would become a Buddha. I find a comfort in that and exploring the idea that I too can become a Bodhisattva, working for the ‘enlightenment’ (no clear idea of what enlightenment might actually be) of all beings.

    When it comes to horrific events like car accidents, 911 or war the notion of karma can be comforting but unless I’m careful used there it becomes unconsciousness on my part – a denial of the horrible which I think is just another form of attachment. The truth is I have’t a clue.

    And that takes me to Thomas Merton, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going…” from his Thoughts in Solitude.

    Meditation also helps me live with that.

  26. Rhonda Page says:

    I believe that collectively we have a consciousness that relates to the energy of all that exists. One person can have an positive or negative impact, large or small. We can get “stuck” in the stories we make up about ourselves, or realize they are simply stories – and that our stories are not who we are. I believe that each of us impacts Karma as we are energy in the purest form. Jonathan, Thank you for re-visiting this post, as your posts are your journey – Just as your journey this past summer.

  27. Asking the most challenging questions, practically knowing full well that easy answers may never surface, is what it’s all about and Jonathan, your forum here is one of the best places to do just that.
    Hey everybody, let’s hear it for Jonathan!
    Thank you!


  28. Deborah says:

    WOW – some really great, and equally thought provoking responses! Gonna have to come back and digest ;}

    My own struggle remains tethered to the fragility of accepting my role in the Collective ..which requires abandoning my role as One.

    Perhaps Practice should be equally emphasized with Philosophy. Eventually, as earnest seekers, we become somewhat saturated with the How To’s, What For’s, etc. Increasing Awareness has created a plethora of wonderful Sources.

    As you’ve demonstrated, at some point we must take what we own at that moment – employ our Faith – and simply Practice. Doubt, query & explore become incorporated into Practice – folded in rather than staccato Stop/Starts.

    At times, the Philosophy overwhelms, then captivates – and the daily Practice threatens to elude.

    I love that you’ve shared your personal conflict – which has spanned YEARS – yet you’ve kept Faith, and continued Practice. While we exist as humans – doubt, query and explore will remain components of our Practice.

    A rising tide lifts all ships. For now, I accept my limitations in identifying solely as amorphous molecules in the Collective. I am content as a Practicing member of the humble spiritual Community made of folks just like you 🙂

    Thank you Jonathan, I bow to the God within you.

    • Deborah says:

      Oops..because it’s Monday morning, AND I’m human – forgot most important keywords!: “My own struggle with the Karmic process is…”

  29. Faith McGown says:

    Great question and amazing responses. I see the truth in all of them. The thoughts that really resonate for me are that we cannot fully understand or judge any situation. While it may seem horrific, it could be that down the road it brought about tremendous good. Connected to that are the many events, energies, thoughts and actions that contribute to a “single” event.

    My view on karma and the energy we put into the world is similar to my belief about taking care of ourselves and prioritizing our health and well-being. It doesn’t mean we will never experience disease. It lessens our odds and will almost always improve our quality of life regardless of disease. And, it certainly can’t be harmful to the world to have one more healthy person in it.

  30. Scott Boulette says:


    This whole discussion presupposes we know what is good and what is bad and can judge the experiences we have accordingly.

    Not trying to be Zen(er) than thou but I believe there is neither good nor bad, just is.

    You may want to delete this part and I truly mean no offense.

    If God (assuming one believes in God) asked for 3000+ souls as volunteers to be the victims in 9/11, promising great good would come from their pain and suffering what would God have to say next?

    Now I need 19 more volunteers. As in the New Testament, what is the story of Jesus without Judas?

    Best Regards,

  31. Why do good? Why “create positive karma”? Is it only to hedge against bad stuff happening? If so, it’s a losing game. Bad stuff will happen, it always does. It matters less that you fall – you are going to fall – what’s important is how you bounce.

    And when I do good, I create a positive energy force field around me that allows me to bounce when things are hard. That’s it.

    I don’t believe in quid pro quo or payback or retributional karma. As my friend Hiro says above (hi, Hiro), the people in the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon or in Pennsylvania did not die – they did not bring it upon themselves – because of something they did in their past. They died because of the hatred of others.

    But I do like to think that their last thoughts were of their loved ones and their gratitude for living. That even in their last moment of consciousness, they created powerful positive energy.

    Call me a dreamer.

  32. Linda Peckel says:


    The discomfort with Karma is the notion of direct payback–every good deed will bring you good fortune. In the Buddhist sense, though, it’s a much more general concept. I think of it as the sky. The small amount of energy I put out cannot change the entire sky–if a storm is coming, it will come–but it can held direct me toward the little bit of calm that makes life a little better. It’s about degrees.

    The initial comment by Mark only reinforces this notion, as the individual examples he gave of Lincoln and Martin Luther King are of people who put themselves out in the very middle of the darkest and most dangerous of human energies–and created remarkable change that has lasted well beyond their lifetimes. It was possible they could have done it without sacrificing their lives, but early death was a risk. The 911 victims certainly didn’t “deserve” what they got, but when you journey out into the world, it is not a safe place for any of us. They were not singled out, but they were swept into a large energy. And the crocodile hunter was just a bad example.

    The main point is that Karma is on a much grander scale than how an individual’s day is going, or even how their life works out. It’s about the combined energy of all life and how we fit into it. You don’t have a pre-planned destiny, but you can’t make grand scale changes in the force of your life, either, because we are all connected. The choices of other people, and the sheer change of life will always affect you.George Lucas tapped into this for the Star Wars movies. Even there, having the force with you didn’t always mean triumph.

    Buddhism asks you to send out the best energy in each moment, and let go out the outcomes. Really practicing means that you accept it may not go well, if that is how the cosmic river of the combined energies of everyone and everything around is headed. On a personal scale, it means making each opportunity in your life a positively charged moment–and that can make a huge difference. A Buddhist saying suggests that “an eighth of an inch of difference, and Heaven and Earth are set apart.”

    I don’t think you were counseling wrong to say you can put positive energy out there, because it MAY change your fortune. The problem comes in expecting that it will. Karma makes no promises. The bottom line is, if you put bad energy out, you are doing nothing useful.

  33. Metta says:

    Thank you, Jonathan, for your thoughtful reflections and feedback this morning. I rarely feel the impulse to comment on most of the blog posts I read, but for some reason your reflections and the wonderful comments that have been shared here today have touched me, and moved me to share a few thoughts.

    The most compelling explanation of Karma I’ve found comes from a modern teacher in the Hindu Advaita tradition:

    “A thing is as it is because the universe is as it is. Considering the endless list of factors required for anything to happen, one can only admit that everything is responsible for everything, however remote.” ~ Nisargadatta

    At first this might appear to be a glib, somewhat dismissive explanation for the profound suffering and tragedy inherent in the human experience.

    However, I believe Nisargadatta’s wisdom reveals a deep and penetrating insight into the interdependency of all manifest things. Buddhist describe this interdependency as the law of “interdependent causation” — and this perspective on the complexity of existence and human experience (which was so beautifully described above by Mark, Julie, Maia, Hiro, Matt and Linda) makes far more sense to me than more simplistic interpretations of the law karmic cause and effect (“tit for tat” as mentioned above).

    In addition, after years of struggling with all the “why” questions inherent in my own existential inquiry, I’ve come to the conclusion that “why” is probably the wrong question to ask when faced with the great mysteries of life.

    After all, no answer will ever really satisfy — and no answer certainly will be definitive. And, in the end, all our explanations of why things happen (on the grand scale) are simply theories, at best (thank you, Alex and Rhonda).

    In light of this, I use “why” far more sparingly now — and I’ve begun to suspect that our quest for meaning and purpose is best served by adopting a simple, direct (and perhaps more humble) approach of:
    — paying attention to what is (and what is happening) here and now — and….
    — focusing how best to engage with reality (and respond to suffering) as it is showing up within the present moment.

    After all, if there is any freedom to be found in our lives (including freedom from fatalism), it lies within the power of choice (thank you, Bill):
    ` Power of Choice:
    ` Choice & Free Will:

  34. Paige says:

    Does it defeat the purpose if people do good deeds just for karma I.e the hopes that something good will happen to them in return? I thought you were supposed to give with no strings attached?

  35. T. Reed says:

    While I am not myself a Buddhist, (I would sit closer to a Taoist), I would suggest that life, death, space, time and reincarnation is the University of the soul. We are much larger and older as beings than as THIS human being, whichever one we happen to be/relate to now. Karma (as often discussed as a sort of “cause & effect” and very poorly misinterpreted as some sort of Justice System for the soul) has been abused and misrepresented to meet the extremely limited capacity of our human-centric/earthbound mentality. We insist that our lifetime duration is the arbiter of all consideration when we have such a short life with hardly the time to recognize developing trends and gain longer broader perspective. If we relied on the assimilated supermarket Americanized concept of Karma, it would never work. How would a vicious killer ever actually “LEARN” from a “vengeance” oriented fate in their current lifetime. How would they learn compassion from that, when their life has been formed and defined by violence. To truly feel that compassion and learn that lesson, they themselves would have to be innocent themselves when they felt the return of their Karma, and the details and bridges get sorted out at a deeper level beyond our time and corporeal self centered frame of reference. This is a topic that can go very deep, so I will leave it rest here for now.

  36. Sean D'Souza says:

    I don’t know about the science, but I know that giving as a strategy works. It’s worked for us consistently. I don’t know about Karma. I do know about giving. It works.

    But then, and just for argument’s sake, so does intimidation and bribery 🙂

  37. I think the original commenter you quote, Jonathan, hadn’t really thought things through very well. The idea that givers gain is, to me, completely unrelated to any ideas that the victims of tragedy might somehow deserve their fate.

    The way I see it, bad things do indeed happen to good people, and good things do indeed happen to bad people… BUT, good things still happen when we do good! It’s not an either/or proposition.

    Human beings love to believe that patterns are meaningful. We see correlations and repetition and we assign all manner of animistic sentience. Consider how easy it is to see conspiracies everywhere we look, and how some people are so utterly consumed by conspiracies. They “know” the conspiracy is true because they feel what they’ve interpreted from the pattern of events is the only reality which makes sense to them.

    In a similar way, people love to create meaning from patterns to explain life, death, and everything in between. We are constantly living under (and remaking and newly making) our own “creation myths” about the world.

    So I don’t give much credence to ideas about karma or spirituality in any form. To me they are socially acceptable conspiracy theories (unless of course your religion is out of favor and in the minority, then you’re just part of a cult).

    We don’t like to think that our motives are selfish. We like to feel good about doing good, right? That doing good is its own reward.

    Let’s say you do a good deed for a person every day, constantly, for a period of several days. If the receiver of this kindness does not acknowledge your act in any way whatsoever — doesn’t say thanks, doesn’t praise you, doesn’t offer to reciprocate — how many of you would feel inclined to continue your kindness towards this person?

    What if, after years of your kindness, they NEVER give you an ounce of acknowledgement, nor do they ever reciprocate. Would you keep going? I doubt most of us would.

    This is unlikely to ever happen because we’re social animals and we’re “wired” to respond in kind. If I do something nice for you, chances are good you will feel compelled to reciprocate if not at least say, “Thanks.”

    When we talk about “karma” in business, it’s hard to remain unaware of this, but it’s not effective to take it for granted. It’s a fine line we walk because it’s almost impossible for us to continually give without expecting anything in return.

    Where we get into trouble is when we try to deliberately manipulate that reciprocal outcome. Then we’re not giving, we’re scheming, and I for one feel that is dishonorable. We can’t deny we expect reciprocation (or at least acknowledgement) but we can’t take it for granted. We sort of expect it “out of the corner of our eye.” When we talk about “karma” in business relations, that’s what we’re talking about.

    That’s how it all appears to me, at any rate. 🙂 Sorry if this comment rambled a bit.

    Thanks, Jonathan, for putting out the tough questions and being willing to question yourself openly like this. It prompts us all to do the same and I believe that’s benefical for everyone.

    • I’d like to take a moment to add to what Michael said. A caveat: what I’m about to say is a strictly analytical response, from a scientist’s and statistician’s viewpoint, and may not sit well with some readers.

      My problem with karma as a concept is that it is inherently untestable.

      If we believe that karma affects only a single lifetime – that when we are born, or once we die, the slate is wiped clean (assuming that we believe in reincarnation or some other form of mortal-rebirth-after-death) – then karma is provably false: bad things happen to people who do only good, and vice versa. That’s where our whole discussion started here.

      But if we believe that karma is spread over multiple reincarnations – which feels like a reasonable way to explain “bad things happen to good people” – we run into trouble, because (with certain exceptions, like the Dalai Lama) we can’t know from what form a human being has been reincarnated or into what form that human being will be reincarnated when they die.

      And that’s the rub: if karma spans multiple lifetimes, and we can’t know the nature of our other lifetimes, then we can’t track karma. If we choose to believe in karma it is purely based on faith in something that a monk said centuries ago to explain why bad things happen to good people, and not on any observable or testable phenomenon.

      To put it more bluntly: the only reason we have any reason to believe that karma exists as a force or concept is because someone said it did. And that’s troubling, because what if they’re wrong?

      It’s going to be easy for someone to read this and, in a moment of pique, say, “So you’re saying we should just do whatever we want, because there’s no karma and no consequences?” I’ll short-circuit that: no. I am only pointing out that if you believe in karma, it is a matter of pure Faith, with no Reason to back it up. That’s not meant as a disparagement. If you have Faith that karma is an accurate cosmological model, you don’t need Reason to back it up. But I do.

      Here’s what I believe on the subject of doing good things: I don’t need a reward structure in place to believe that doing good things is a good thing. Generosity, sharing, and caring (perhaps more, a counselor might tell me, than is strictly healthy) make me feel good. That’s all the reason I need. If it happens to be true that a future reincarnation will benefit from my good deeds – well, that’s awesome. But I don’t need to believe that in order to want to make the world a better place and make the lives I come into contact with better lives.

  38. Charise says:

    Very very thought provoking! Honest and open… Nice!

    For every action there’s a consequence…

    “Bad things happen to good people”… now one really has to define what is “bad” and what is “good”… hmmmmm! One man’s bad is another man’s FANTASTIC…

    What if 9/11 happened to help teach forgiveness in others? What if it was a collective choice between the “bad people” and the “good people” (on a spiritual level)?

    I believe in Karma, but more on the level of “treat others as you would have them treat you”. Other than that, I don’t believe any of us truly know what’s “good or bad”, there is only our individual perception of what is indeed good or bad… so how does Karma fit in now?

    For the record – and I’m no authority here – I also believe we choose the experiences that we come into this lifetime to learn from, be it losing a loved one, experiencing cancer, achieving success on stage or in business, and the list goes on!

    Jeeze… here’s another perspective… “they” say that whatever you fear the most will eventually arrive in your life? I say, what if you fear it because you “know” it’s something you will have to face someday?

    Fantastic comments above! Very thought provoking, honest and ‘real’… thanks

  39. Angela Winters says:

    Karma, to me, is the consequences you get for living your life consciously or unconsciously. We cycle through this earthly plane many, many times during our never-ending existence. Dying is simply like taking off a worn (or prematurely ruined) garment and exchanging it for a new one. We have the experiences we have because they are the experiences we need to have this time around in order to learn some things we may not know already.
    We may experience suffering so that we will understand and appreciate compassion when we see it, want and hunger so that we learn the joy of sharing when we are living in abundance, violence so that we learn that violence is never the answer, that causing pain does not get us what we want and need and that ultimately, the way of loving kindness (as jaded as it sounds nowadays)is truly the only way to live one’s life that makes any sense.
    Some religions believe that there are people, like those named by Mark, who agree before they come here to have their life foreshortened in a tragedy that will forever resonate in the hearts of nearly everyone who will hear it.
    Sometimes, even when a person has learned these lessons, though, they may live their life unconsciously even though they know better.
    This is where the concept of Karma comes in. Karma says that you are responsible for your actions, period. You will have consequences, for good or for ill. You start to understand after a time that to hurt others is to hurt yourself.

  40. Richard Riley says:

    The way I view it, Karma is just man’s explanation for why good things happen to bad people. Take Christianity and the concept of heaven/hell. Jews during that time saw the Roman empire persecuting them and they wanted an idea of justice. So, a concept of heaven and hell quickly gained popularity (most likely borrowed from Zorastrianism) because people who were good (but had bad luck/karma) would be rewarded for eternity with paradise and bad people (who seemed to have good luck/karma) would burn in hell. It made them feel better about their current status in life.

    The concept of Karma is no different, it’s just the Hindu/Buddhist explanation for the same thing. A different road that leads to the same conclusion. However, I believe Karma to be an illusion – just a concept that allows people to live with the knowledge that just because you are good and follow society’s rules (moral, legal, whatever) that you may not reap any benefit and may actually suffer as a result.

    I think focusing too heavily on Karma takes away from the fact that you, right now in THIS life, create the life you want to live. Nothing you may have done in a previous life will effect your current life and the afterlife is too much of a mystery to worry about (will I go to heaven, hell, reincarnate, cease to exist, etc.). Shit happens, however fortunate or unfortunate it may seem in our limited perspective. The end result is that (in the case of 9/11) some very bad men decided to do some very bad things and the choices made by the people working in the Twin Towers did not effect the end result in any way.

    Hope that helps (it’s just my opinion) : )

  41. karla says:

    Thank you Jonathan for such a thoughtful post. I am a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and have struggled with the concept of Karma throughout my studies. I have often been stumped by my inability to accept the fact that there is suffering in the world & bad things happen to good people. I struggle with the why. Yet Buddhism teaches that life is suffering, there are causes for suffering, and there is a way out of suffering. If we know the true nature of reality is the profound emptiness of phenomena, and people, we can manifest compassion & non-attachment – to the self and things. Manifesting that, we can attain liberation from the cycles of suffering. (In theory) It is not that we deserve rewards or punishments, that way of thinking is tied to the concept of what Buddhists might call Relative Truth. In the realm of Absolute Truth, the true nature of all thing is emptiness. There is no thing, there is no giver of anything & therefore no taking away of anything, and there is no receiver of anything. Only emptiness and luminosity. In the realm of Absolute Truth, there is nothing happening to us, because there is no isolated, individuated being for something to happen to. In short life is a dream that we think is a real experience.
    Karma, as others have indicated means action. It is not some divine justice. We are consciously, and unconsciously taking actions that then support or seed other actions. We as humans identify them as good or bad. Thinking of Karma as a system of cause and effect contributes to a limited way of imaging life. That is not to say that loss, or hunger or illness do not create an experience of sadness and pain. What Buddhists might say is that pain has at its root our attachment to a particular experience, to our egos, to our identity, and to our beliefs.
    As Westerners incorporate Eastern philosophies, we are confronted by the influences of our own American culture, which too frequently uses the rationalization that people get what they deserve, and that one should be punished for wrongdoing. We are then more inclined to see Karma through that lens of punishment and reward. Karma is so much more than that. In fact Buddhist monks have been analyzing, and debating the concept of Karma, & the true nature of reality for centuries.
    Living a life in which we consciously manifest compassion,honesty and integrity will hopefully lead to many experiences, some of which will bring happiness and the causes of happiness to other beings. Living a life where we compassionately examine our actions & set the intention to not cause harm to others, or repeat deeds that we assess as not aligned with our higher personal and collective principles may be the best way to enact Karma in this world.

  42. Hi Jonathan,

    I’ve learned one thing during my short stay on this planet: if something happens to me, I own it. The minute I get into judging, good or bad, fair and unfair, I am doomed, forever blaming something outside of myself for my lot in life.

    When I believe in karma, I’m empowered. When I reason against it, I am not empowered.

    As far as a situation like 9-11, who knows where the people who passed on are right now? Who knows what’s next? Those beings are most likely either completely free or are living in another form in another life. What we perceive to be unfair circumstances are rooted in our attachment and faulty judgment. If something appears to be unfair, it must be, for few beings think with some depth as a spiritual master.

    Someone was asked recently about a situation like the Tsunami and all of the loss of life, and what Buddha would have thought. The person believe the Buddha would have felt compassion and in the moment, the tragedy of the passing of so many souls. In the next moment, he would have viewed the even greater tragedy that so many would be shocked and appalled for days, months and years at the event, unable to accept the fact that everything can – and does – change in a moment.

    Thanks for sharing and have a powerful day!


  43. Michelle M. says:

    Interesting blog posting and interesting re-examination Jonathan.

    I like to simplify ideas as much as possible.

    Having read all posts thus far, I am surprised that none openly accept that in addition to our own personal responsibility in this place/stage(you call it karma) that there is more here beyond our own doing. What is it that is here beyond us as individuals or collectively? Pure good and pure evil.

    Am I alone in this holding? Whether or not one holds a belief in a particular deity or subscribes to a particular religious practice, I believe good and evil are fundamental. Perhaps I need more growth on this topic. Any nay-sayers please share!

    Should I reap the results of my own successes and my own stumbles in personal responsibility (karma) whether inadvertent or otherwise – absolutely yes.

    Am I (are we) sometimes gifted with pure good, in a manner that is sooo far beyond any personal responsibility that I (we) paid forward – absolutely yes.

    Then it must also be true of the inverse, I am (we are) also gifted with pure evil in a manner that is sooo far beyond any personal responsibility that I(we) paid forward – absolutely yes.

    Personal responsibility (Karma) alone does not this world rule. Personal responsibility (Karma) may shape our daily journey, until the visit of pure good or pure evil.

    Whatever (if) is next, well, perhaps the answers will be revealed . . . .

    • Charles Tutt says:

      Ah yes, Good and Evil. Neither can exist without the other for each defines the other just as up defines down, out defines in, cold defines hot, etc. and vice versa.

  44. What a fascinating conversation. Every response is a gem worthy of exploring. Well done J! 🙂

    I had the opportunity to interview many Buddhist teachers in the Open Grove. This was one of my standard questions for them. It’s a topic of great interest to me because of my years as a severe trauma therapist.

    What I believe is this : Life is like a river. We cannot control what comes down the pike. The people involved directly in 9/11, in your example, didn’t have anything to do with 9/11 happening. Like a lot of things, it just happened. Child abuse, torture, car accidents, tragedy happens. We cannot control life.

    It’s our response to life that reflects our karma. Positive karma is our strength and resilience, our capacity to survive and overcome the tragedy that happens. Some people experience one tragedy and never get over it. Others endure catastrophe and remain positive and happy. The difference, to my mind, is a karmic difference.

    That’s what I learned. After years of working with people who had endured the worst life has to offer, I found this to be true. People with great karma overcome life’s suffering.

  45. Hindus and Buddhists both believe in karma that is carried across lifetimes – and I agree. We come to earth to learn certain lessons and we have sacred contracts with everyone who touches our lives. I believe we choose our destiny, even before we are born but we have the free will to change it at anytime by our actions (karmas).

    I was brought up Catholic and even Christianty advocates the belief that “As you sow, so shall you reap” or “What you give you get”. As for Princess Diana or any one else on earth – none of them were saints or completely innocent. We’re all learning and growing… through this life and the next.

    I don’t claim that my beliefs are right or wrong – they’re just what work for me.

  46. Meg says:

    “But if Karma is designed largely to encourage people to take responsibility for the state of their lives, the good and the bad, doesn’t this seem to create not a sense of ownership of your outcomes but rather a sense of fatalism?
    That, I just don’t get.”

    I think the more probing question is, how can we be searching for meaning & understanding in a world that, from its inception, has no known meaning or purpose? Tell me the purpose, the *reason*, I exist, why the human race exists, why the earth, the universe, all matter, exists… & let’s go from there. I believe that’s why all things eventually end up in fatalism… no one knowns the actual purpose for existence.

  47. Paul says:

    One vote for Richard Riley.

    All these words, all the tortured reasonings and explanations can be quite simply summed up in two words:

    Shit happens

    Your destiny is a bunch of coincidences, some of which you have a say in, most of which you don’t – deal with it.

    • Charles Tutt says:

      You have a point Paul. But the most important thing to make of this is that while you can’t control some of the shit that happens, you CAN CONTROL your response to it. And that’s sort of what we’re talking about here.

    • Sonia Simone says:

      And to take that further, some of the shit that happens is of your making, and some isn’t, and most is a mix.

  48. Evan says:

    I’m not a Buddhist – sometimes misfortune is random I think. I do think there are things we can do to minimise the chances of bad things happening and the likelihood of goog things happening.

    And I think these things apply to groups as well as individuals – if the captain of the ship makes a stupid mistake it can affect the virtuous and the doubtful equally.

    I think awareness/mindfulness is valuable to raising the likelihood of good things happening. I think some kinds of meditation and such can be extremely helpful here.

    Fatalism is tricky. If I am not conscious of what I did in a past life I don’t see how I can respond meaningfully to it. Which comes down to be compassionate anyway – which I agree with. I think one approach is that there is nothing we can do about gravity – but that doesn’t need to lead to fatalism. The idea that actions have consequences can lead us to think about what consequences we want. (I think that sometimes there are unintended consequences but mostly we can take a good guess).

    Interesting topic. Especially in a business context.

  49. what Hiro Boga said. echo bravo.

  50. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Mead, Kerry Rowett. Kerry Rowett said: RT @jonathanmead: Wise thoughts here on karma from @hiroboga via @jonathanfields […]

  51. Jonathan,

    To me, the concept of karma in Buddhism is a “tragically beautiful” one, but seems to wreak of typical dogmatic overtones that a historically ruling class would use as to excuse the suffering of those beneath them. I’m not saying there is historical precedent for this cornerstone of Buddhism, because by all indications I have no knowledge of such a precedent.

    Still, to the cynic in me, how karma can excuse suffering reminds me of how privileged Christians throughout European history would espouse that so many impoverished people suffered for the sake of the rich.

    I think, as with concepts of sin, higher justice, etc, that a strict balance ought to be taken into account — an authentic realism combined with the philosophic and spiritual beliefs that there is right and wrong, good and bad, and elements of human choice that command those outcomes.


  52. JF, you have some wicked smart folks on your blog. A sure sign of quality…thanks to all who have shared as I have learned a great deal about karma from this post.

    To me, personally, karma has been about a shared energy that exists between all of us. Acting with an eye towards karma means considering the positive (and negative) implications of any particular decision. Example, I give lots of my stuff away so that others will either pass it on or do something similar. I don’t give stuff away to get free stuff, or to make folks think better of me, but because I think it’s a good way to make and share positive karma.

    I think my simplistic view of the concept might be why I like it so much!

    ~ Patrick

  53. Jscott says:

    Label me human. After professional and educational stints in the asylums of all things religious/philosophical I hung up the cross traded for a bowl and robe then put a suit on and let my hair grow back.

    I am not sure how it all works. That…THAT statement is the most beautiful and awe inspired statement I have. It is personal. It reflects mystery and a path that invites other humans that are okay with that not knowing.

    I do not know what to do with the good and bad waves that come. The large ones. So, I do nothing…at first. I watch. I point. I try to be with it.

    With tragedy…when I get to emotional level I attempt to see the thing in my that was in them. If there is a them. In the 9/11 gig I see my own times of self-righteousness. Of the me verses them. Of hate, anger, frustration, force, etc.

    In the end I want to deepen the human experience. I want to sit around with other humans and listen to their stories. I am not so sure that figuring out the massively big why is the solution to what ails us.

    I think listening-not just pausing-is.

    (And AGAIN thank you for posting vulnerable posts like this)

  54. rakoontz says:

    The problem with karma, is not weather it exists, or weather its fair. It is the human-centric view of it. Yes karma implies action. But there is no such thing as isolated action. Every action can be traced back, and seen as the result of a previous action, and that one resulted from one previous to it, etc. etc. back to the first nanosecond of the big bang. And every action occurring in the entire universe at this moment, down to the subatomic level, will lead to another, and another, until the end of time. A hypothetical butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, and no one is aware of the complex chain of subsequent actions until they reach the level of a typhoon that threatens Tokyo. Whether an action resulting from a previous action is a good thing or a bad thing is entirely a matter of human judgment, which outside of human culture, is totally meaningless. Every sentient being sees itself as the center of the universe. The star of its own movie, in which all other beings have, at best, supporting roles. Most are bit players, and everything else is props. Human beings differ from say cats, in that each of us is aware that every other one feels that she or he is the star of this movie, and interprets the plot from their own perspective, so we can broaden our view, through empathy, to larger groups of our own kind, even to the point where we can see events as being good or bad for humanity in general, or even all life on earth as we know it. But even this broader perception is still an illusion: a human construct with no basis in objective reality. To take the example of 9/11, there were innumerable threads of causality flowing back through human history and even into human prehistory that led inexorably to that event. One thread leads back to decisions concerning national energy policy that were made during the Reagan administration. Another leads back to the Crusades. Yet another leads back to the concept of a religion based on a sacred text, which appeared during the late bronze age. And one thread can even be followed back to a time when groups of humanity were first migrating out of Africa into the Middle East. Some of those groups kept moving on to places like Europe. Some of them stayed. Although every one responding to this post would most likely view the events of 9/11 as a slaughter of innocents, there are a substantial number of people who would agree with the perpetrators that it was a righteous and even necessary thing to do. The point is that the human concepts of good and bad, happiness and suffering, are useful for interacting with each other in the context of our culture, but at their root they are artificial constructs. Creating culture is as necessary for humanity as food, water, and the air we breathe. It is our fundamental nature, but our nature is an infinitesimally small part of the nature of the universe. It is wise for each of us to choose to make truthful and compassionate choices in our dealings with one another, because these are good for our culture, and by extension for our loved ones, and even ourselves. The repercussions of those choices do live on after us. It is unwise to make deceitful and/or violent choices because they are destructive to our culture, etc., etc., and those repercussions live on after us as well. In sum, bad things happen to good people and vice versa as an inevitable result of any number of previous actions, which they may or may not have had anything to do with, in this or any previous incarnation. Being “good” has nothing to do with any reward in this or any subsequent incarnation. It is what a human being needs to do to be true to her or his own nature.

  55. Holy cow. Have to thank Danielle for the tip-off on this one (quite a conversation going on here…). Sort of surprised to see such heart-filled discussion on this topic.

    Personally, I don’t subscribe to the traditional view of a linear progression of lives, or the karmic cycle. I believe it’s more likely we actually inhabit multiple bodies and lives in multiple dimensions at different times.

    Since we’re all actually connected as one spirit in different forms, in essence we’re actually embodied in 6 billion forms at one time, and many more throughout time.

    It’s not for nothing that the most sensitive among us often have the most difficult time as well, due to processing so much energy from so many different parts.

    I DO know, though, that whatever space or container for your dreams you’re holding at the time being? That place will resonate and echo outwards the deepest secrets and darkest place of your soul, and the shiniest most selfless places too. Eventually it all comes out, and it all boomerangs back. Just not in the linear way most of us think!

  56. Great post Jonathan; here is a thought from Nichirin Buddhism:

    According to Nichiren Buddhism, because of the operation of the law of cause and effect. Karma is a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is “action,” and action is indeed the common element around which all of karma’s philosophical implications pivot. Shakyamuni Buddha (the original, historical Buddha who lived in India approximately 2500 years ago) is said to have remarked, “If a person commits an act of good or evil, he himself becomes the heir to that action. This is because that action never actually disappears.” In other words, and according to the SGI website, “The latent force of both our good and bad actions remains in our lives…each act [remaining in] the present as a potential force or energy, influencing the course of one’s existence from the point of that action forward. In this sense, rather than simply viewing karma as ‘action,’ it may be more appropriate to think of it as action plus that action’s potential influence on one’s life.” In other words, all the effects in your life (what happens to you) are without exception determined by causes you yourself have made in the past—“causes” here defined as your thoughts, words, and deeds (listed in order of ascending impact).


  57. I mostly agree with Hiro, too. And I like how she describes the trail that is the collective consciousness.

    But, karma is personal.

    Each of us was created separately as part of the divine wrestling that is creation and chaos. We may, on some level, be part of a greater unnameable, unknowable thing.

    We experience karma personally and uniquely and then that experience is shared communally. That it’s part of the pattern doesn’t mean that it’s not personal.

    Saying it’s not personal feels to me like we’re denying the very personal stories of life here.

    Hey, 9/11 victims, it’s not personal.

    You folks that are starving, it’s not personal.

    I’d say they find those experiences quite personal and it’s not my place to deny them that.

    I don’t mean to imply that that was Hiro’s thought, but that’s where my mind goes when I hear it.

    When I think about Karma, I think that we cannot know how the choices we make affect the world. We can speculate, but the outcome of any action has variable effects.

    It’s like that story where the man’s son breaks his leg and the people say, “Oh that’s too bad.” and the man says, “Maybe.” and then the army comes and the man’s son doesn’t have to go to war and the people say, “Oh that’s good.” and the man says, “Maybe.”

    Karma is not punishment, it’s balance. It’s not tit-for-tat, but a creation of natural order, and when we accept and appreciate that natural order, it can move through us, and we can be part of it.

    We don’t do good to enact good karma. We do good because of an innate desire to connect and make better in a world in which chaos is a factor.

  58. I think what’s at the core of all of this for me is that we’re not separate. We are all connected. All of us to one-another, to our planet, to every living being. Here is how I know that: When I saw the attacks on 9/11, I felt the horror of the people physically in my own body. It put terror and sadness in my heart. I wanted to hold them, comfort them, make their pain go away and make it all good. That’s how I know that they are part of me. The attack is NOT something they created. They were innocent; they did NOT deserve to die. I do not think they were „paying” for something they did in a previous life, either. I think it happened in and to our world.

    Your world is not spate from mine. When you look at it that way, everything matters to each of us personally. It matters to me when someone I don’t know is called a fat-ass or a faggot. It matters when in Italy a woman cries over losing a friend. It matters when a child is raped, when my neighbor beats his wife and it matters when anywhere in this world somebody chooses love over being right. When I see a weakness in my husband and choose to never use it to my advantage. When I relinquish being right in a work meeting because I understand that my being right will hurt someone in the room. When I make time to listen to a friend because I might be able to help her find hope. The world changes with those choices because the world we all share is the one we are all creating. When we create a world that’s made from love, we’ll live in world that’s made from love.

    To me, that is Karma.

  59. Even before I became a Buddhist I was troubled by the feeling that karma isn’t fair. There is so much heartache and to suggest “it’s because of your karma” just seemed incredibly cruel to me.

    The truth of the matter is karma isn’t fair, because it’s not about justice or even about punishment.

    Karma (which my Teacher always call karma, cause and effect) is like gardening. If you plant a sunflower seed you get a sunflower. If a goldfinch at your bird feeder spills a thistle seed you get a thistle. To take the metaphor further, it’s possible for these seeds to land on the ground and not grow immediately. The ground may be turned for years before they sprout. This finds its resonance in the concept of karma from previous lifetimes “ripening” in this one.

    Is it possible ever for a thistle seed to grow into a sunflower? Can a sunflower seed ever become a cabbage? In that same way our actions — all of them — have a natural consequence or result. It may be miniscule or heavy, but the ripple is created. The result of that ripple may not show up right away or have a direct A-B, tit for tat correlation. But the ripple is there. The action creating the cause, waiting for the effect.

    Multiply that by continual actions in our interdependent, multi-leveled, culturally conditioned, messy incarnations. It’s easy to see why karma is hard to conceive of, hard to accept most especially when the experience of suffering seems to fall on someone purely innocent.

    Never have I heard anyone who genuinely understands karma suggest that someone who is suffering deserved bad karma due to their negatives action in the past. Never. In Buddhism part of the reason for understanding karma cause and effect is to generate supreme compassion for the suffering we continually bring upon ourselves.

    Recognizing that, we give rise to compassion for the victims and the perpetrators of events like 9/11. The people, who did not deserve to die, suffered. In time the suffering of the perpetrators will be even heavier. Through their actions they have increased the heavy burden of negative karma that will ripen on them in time.

    I’ve seen some questioning if belief in karma cause and effect leads to a sense of fatalism. I’ll have to ask my Tibetan friends if it had that kind of result in the general Tibetan population. As it’s been taught to me everything suggests the opposite. Knowing I’ve have created mountains of negative karma throughout my lives I cannot possibly lean back and feel resigned. I need to take action to stop creating more negative karma, purify the karma that already exists, and focus my life on acting with positive qualities such as love, patience, and compassion.

    In a way this comes back to your original discomfort, Jonathan, about managing your life to improve your karma. It sounds like what I’ve just said is I’m doing exactly that. At one level, understanding the suffering of karma is taught as a motivator. (Bigtime!) But when I come to practice I know the way to free myself and others is to be aware of my self-clinging attitude and cultivate heart and mind to act first and foremost for the benefit of others without any expectation of reward.

    When the Dalai Lama talks about being self-serving he is speaking to those who cling so tightly (from fear, competitiveness or what have you) they can think only of themselves. For such people to give, even for selfish means, is at least a start of giving. For you and I — and I suspect all the people reading this blog — managing karma based on selfish intent probably should make us uncomfortable.

    Last, we live in a world of duality. A world of concepts. I, me, mine. Karma is a concept too. Regardless of what tradition (or non-tradition) we practice if we can move away from self grasping, act with a loving heart from an unbiased non-dualistic mind — the concepts drop away and so does karma. But most of us are not there yet.

    [Finally. Much bowing and gratitude for creating the space to share this and apologies for such a long response. I tried to edit. Thought about letting it sit even longer before publishing.(3 years, anyone?) Thought, too, about putting this on my blog and linking to it, but that felt like hijacking. J- if that’s your preference, let me know.)

    May this post and all responses be a source of positive karma for all!

  60. Steven says:

    Lots of thoughts, but I would add that I don’t think our individual karma is strictly a result of free will or determinism, but a mixture of both. It is definitely not an excuse for wrong-doings committed against others, but it can be an explanation.

  61. Lisa Johnson says:

    Quite the primer on karma here. I have learned a lot from reading through the comments.

    My family has recently gone through three years of “bad.” We had the very bad fortune to neighbor with some people who were determined to destroy us. For what they consider destruction they were successful. We lost our home and most of our savings defending ourselves from three separate lawsuits filed against us, death threats, drug and alcohol use and even threats against our son’s health.

    We were told constantly that “karma’s a bitch” and “they’ll get theirs.” This did us no good, what was our karma that put us in this situation, what on earth did my son have to do with anything, he was only 5 years old at the time of our first encounter with these people.

    My husband dug in and held our family together. I dug in and held our family together. As the recession hit, further weakening our financial position (I own a small biz) we let a lot of things go. Our notions about “making it” our ideas of “landed gentry” my Barney’s charge card (lol).

    Frankly I felt mostly like a fish on the hook, with the fisherman waiting patiently for me to stop thrashing and just lie down dead. Eventually I pretty much did just that. Giving up my house and the lifestyle that I had always wanted. They were swept away. I was constantly asking my self “what am I supposed to learn here.” It was ridiculously frustrating and ultimately useless.

    So I was a good person having bad stuff happening to me. What was the karmic payback that was happening.

    At this point I don’t know and I don’t care. A worker in my house heard my story and stopped me dead in my tracks with his response …

    “you’re not supposed to be here, you need to move on, there are always gifts once you let go.”

    God was he right. My rented apartment is in a neighborhood I was too snobby to look at before but that I truly love now. My son is close to some great kids and thoroughly enjoys our new life. My husband and I are blessed to be at the best point of our relationship in 11 years of marriage. We truly know we have the other’s back.

    We focus on keeping our family strong more than our careers. We prioritize family first always, no exceptions.

    I have a new career opening up to me now because I’ve let go of some preconceived notions and I’ve already had more amazing things happen on this path than I had on my old one.

    So did I really experience bad karma? Or was the universe trying rather bluntly to kick my ass to a new path?

    It doesn’t matter ultimately, I’m happy where I am.


  62. Mekhola says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    What a thought provoking post. I’m from India, have been meditating for several years, and with each evolving level of perception am beginning to appreciate just how deep, subtle and sophisticated our Sanatan Dharma – Eternal Principles for Right Living – philosophy is, imparted by our enlightened spiritual masters (incorrectly called the Hindu religion – there is no such thing, but that’s a discussion for another post).

    Karma is complex until you understand how it is generated and how it works. Karma comes from the Sanskrit root ‘kri’ (kriya or verb) which simply means action, to do.

    We are all energy beings. All our bodies, the physical as well as higher energy bodies, are made of a range of energies from gross to subtle vibrations. And so is the Universe. On the other hand God, by whatever name you call Him/Her/It, is beyond the energy game. And so are self-realized masters, who have discarded the limiting individual identity that cocooned them to grow to full spiritual stature, one with God or vibrating at the Divine frequency. Such beings are no longer fooled by maya (illusion), every act of theirs is leela (play) and they accrue no karma, just like God. So they are god-like.

    Karma is generated by every action of ours – every thought, every word spoken, every act done. The more emotion-laden, the stronger the karma and the more obvious its consequences. Repeated thoughts, words and actions strengthen the energy net around us. Which is why saints advise us to repeat holy mantras, not negative ones like “I hate him/her” so that we are surrounded by positive energy.

    However, while our energies are still within the karmic range, we keep receiving the results of past actions, and keep generating new karma for ourselves. This is a cause for both despair and hope. Despair over its fatalistic nature, for we have created this fate for ourselves by our own thoughts, words and actions and are bound by it, and hope because being energy, we can change it anytime we really want to.

    Collective karma accumulates when a body of people hold similar thoughts. If positive, like the Findhorn project, even plants respond and grow well. If negative, it suppurates like a boil to just burst one day into natural or man-made disasters, spreading pus and infection all around.

    Also, while karmic entanglements remain, we are caught up in the cycle of apparent life and death. Why apparent? Because both are an illusion – the day you REALLY die, released from all karma, you will not need to take birth again on this plane.

    Past lives are like a stretched-out time cycle of what we undergo every day. Suppose I were to fly to the US tomorrow. What would I be doing today? Finish my packing, leave instructions to make sure my business and home run smoothly while I’m away, maybe attend a farewell party or two given by friends. Tomorrow I spend travelling – take the train up to Delhi, maybe meet people there, wait in the airport and catch the flight out. And moan over my upset tummy, after all the rich food I ate last night! The day after, I land in the US, and it’s a whole new set of experiences.

    Now consider each day a life of mine, and intervening sleep periods the death intervals. Can you see how my thoughts and actions in each ‘life’ are governed by past decisions and actions, and are a logical follow-on? But if I could not remember any of my past actions, my life each day would seem quite arbitrary, maybe even unjust. Eg. on Day 2, I may love the constant travelling, seeing new places and meeting new people, or consider it a tiresome lifestyle. And would probably groan over my delicate digestion, thinking how unfair it was that fellow travellers were fine while ‘God’ was a tad inefficient while creating my innards and cursed me with more trips to the bathroom, than to new places. But it was not God, but me who overate. I had the choice to eat moderately, or just skip the parties.

    And this is what we do in our lives. We just think, say and do things without a care, and are then upset over the after-effects. So in that way, karma is a great teacher. When you stub your toe enough times on the same stone in your path, you will learn to avoid it, steer round it or remove it altogether. Or take a new path.

  63. John Sherry says:

    Jonathan, what interests me is the complete shift in mass acceptance of spiritual practices and concepts as a means by which life is powered. From karma to The Law of Attraction to praying, life is now viewed as not being pure human and linear with things that ‘just happen’. There is no coincidence or ‘luck’ allowed or accepted anymore. The interesting question is why this is happening and what the message is rather than whether x or y is true. I’m calmer about karma but remain highly spirited about life. Wish you well in your karmic quest.

  64. It feels good to give. But if you give to feel good, it doesn’t feel so good. 🙂

  65. Tolle says:

    Are we, as primates, capable of truly understanding ultimate truth? No. However, we can build wonderful relationships, and build a better world based on consistently applying loving kindness – and the golden rule. Simple as that.

  66. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mahala Mazerov, Bridget Pilloud. Bridget Pilloud said: I think that @luminousheart 's reply (Mahala) is the best one of all. @jonathanfield 's post about karma : […]

  67. This is easily one of the most thought-provoking posts I’ve ever read. I’ve never spent so long reading- and TAKING NOTES ON- the comments.

    One common thread that I see weaving through this is that of treating karma- however you understand it- as an explanation, not a justification. I really resonate with this. Karma is a tool for seeing with compassion. For loosening a fatalistic mindset devoid of the compassion and kindness needed for unity. The only reason we need to acknowledge karma at all is because we are all on the way back to oneness. In what stage, who can say? But karma is one tool, one concept, for helping us to see the true nature of things and ultimately free ourselves from illusion.

    Is there any better goal towards which to strive?

    Three cheers to the articulate contributors who have graced this comments section with their explanations. This is definitely the most complete and thoughtful exploration of this topic I’ve ever come across in one place.

  68. Dana Shino says:

    Karma is way over-done in our culture from the intellectual perspective. Karma is not intellectual — it’s a spiritual, energetic balancing far beyond the scope of our three-dimensional world. To try to mentally rationalize it cuts short the scope of our connection with the Divine and the amazing eternal, multi-dimensional creatures we truly are. Karma aside, I believe the best we can do is focus on our present moment and be in that moment in the best quality of energy and consciousness possible. Easy? Sometimes. And sometimes is butt-ugly hard. In the end, THAT’s what we send out into the universe regardless of karma. I want to create in this way and be around others who are creating as consciously as possible.

    Great topic Jonathan!

  69. reese says:

    I have to think that karma in life is not a simple give/receive relationship. When seemingly good and innocent beings are destroyed for reasons we may not understand, I feel that these things happen to benefit others’ karma- even people that may not be involved. Horrible things happen to teach us to be compassionate, to roll with the punches, to trust in the spirit of the earth to nourish us in life and death. They teach us to help others (9-11), they teach us to learn from our mistakes, they remind us that life is precious! If there is no bad, there is no good. And of course, when you do good, you spread good, and when you spread good, you reduce evil, and certainly this cycle will most likley come back to you. Hopefully enough people will contine and start to embrace a life of kindness and karma- for I fear somedays evil reduces good vibes to a very frightening amount. All we can do is keep our energy strong within us, and send positive energies to as many people as we cross paths with. And karma for capital gain? That can be a wonderful thing, as long as there are pure intentions in the karma. Everything in our modern world is run as a business; so our goal must be GOOD business. Success is what you make it to be. Karma is the circle of life

  70. Your article reminds me of the following quote…

    “Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Good for you….

  71. Sandra Lee says:

    This has been a fascinating discussion. I’ve been deeply moved by some of the stories and comments. I think it’s wonderful to think deeply on these topics.

    The problem though is that most people do not understand karma adequately enough to explain it correctly. As such, there’s quite a bit of misinformation in this thread too.

    Karma is complex and not easily understood. To get a feel for karma, it helps to understand Dependent Origination, which the Dalai Lama speaks of in Chapter 3 of Ethics for A New Millennium – a book I highly recommend. There’s a whole chapter on karma in The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche, although this is not a beginner’s book by any means. Why You are Not A Buddhist by Dzongsar Khyentse might be a more basic read – not sure whether it covers karma though.

    Although reasoning and examination is highly valued in Buddhism, there are some aspects of the teachings that require a leap of faith. It is said only enlightened beings can fully understand the workings of karma.

    Good luck with your exploration.