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Understanding the Law of Karma In Different Contexts

Aug 17, 2007
What goes around must come around. This is the basic understanding of the "Law of Karma" in the Western world in which it has already become an integral part of the prevailing culture and philosophy. In fact, you can trace similarities between karmic principles and those from modern cultures and religions. It can be related to the concept of doing good deeds in Christianity if interpreted as "if you do good things, then it will come back to you" or conversely, "if you do bad things, then bad things will happen to you." The stark difference, however, comes with the Christian belief that everything can be overcome by love and forgiveness.

Meanwhile, modern spirituality, which revolves around the principle that virtue is rewarded and that sin leads to suffering, draws heavily from the "Law of Karma." For a lot of people, it is a more sensible take on spirituality compared to that of eternal damnation for sinners.

Karma literally translates to "deed" or "act." It is the law of moral causation that specifically includes the whole cause and effect cycle. According to it, nothing happens to a person that he does not deserve. Karma sums up everything that a person has previously done, is currently doing, and will be doing in the future. It is a universal principle, which means that no one can change its course except God or the Higher Universal Force.

Karma implies that a person is inherently accountable for everything that is happening to him. This implies that whether he experiences happiness or misery all depends on his actions. Karma encompasses all actions, and not just those perceived by the public. Even thinking badly about another person has its consequences.

The Law is central to Asian religions that were mostly created in India such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, although there are stark differences between how it is explained.

In Hinduism, the "Law of Karma" involves the concept of a God and is used primarily to provide enlightenment on what is evil. It is broadly explained as the action-reaction relationship that universally governs our current and previous lives. The concept lies on our passionate or conscious action, and the corresponding dispassionate or unconscious reaction.

The Law was first explained and illustrated in the Hindu epic Mahabharata through a dialogue between the protagonist, Arjuna, and his charioteer, Krishna. The dialogue touched on various themes of morality and philosophy; and together with the Vendanta and Tantra, it has served as the cornerstone for the original Hindu concept of karma.

In Buddhism, the "Law of Karma" is used more in an ethical sense rather than an explanation for natural phenomenon. While differing in specific details with the way the Hindus see it, karma for believers of Buddhism focuses on the belief that actions of beings will affect their own future. In short, everything has its consequence. Those consequences may come within one lifetime or in one's succeeding lives.

Note that in Buddhism, karma is focused more on the effect and not on the cause. The consequences of one's actions are based on certain conditions. Karma entails the notion of Buddhist rebirth but is not its sole basis.
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