I don’t typically use the word “karma” because it’s so easily misinterpreted and misused. Today I’m going to give it a go, however, because the grand Law goes a long way towards explaining the mess we are in as a human family.
There are at least two ways of understanding the Law of Karma. The first is this, that we experience who we are. There is no way to escape from the consequences of both our actions and the intention, the orientation, behind them. For example, lets say I have a habit of distrusting people. I am going to experience the karma of that in a variety of ways. On the most tangible level I will see deviousness or unreliability in others when it is not there, and will lose opportunities or spoil relationships. I may also be experienced by others as untrustworthy—we are what we project onto the world, you know, whether we like it or not. On a more subtle level Life/God (or whatever I call the mysterious something that makes everything happen) will appear to be unstable, inconsistent, unkind, or unjust—whatever “untrustworthy” means to me—when in fact none of those attributes are there. We all create the reality we live in through our relative understanding of the way Life works and the focus of our attention; there is nothing ultimately “real” in any of our perceptions, but we experience our assumptions and learned predispositions exactly as if they are truly embedded in nature. That “reality” is our karma.
Another way to understand karma is as a maintainer of equilibrium. It’s like a set of old-fashioned scales. There is a certain balance and harmony inherent in Life, which we can see everywhere in non-human nature. When that harmony is disturbed then there is a response within the simple mechanism we call “karma” that works behind appearances to bring things back into balance. This is easy to see in human life. If I lie in order to profit at the expense of another, for example, or if I steal a pleasure from someone that was not offered to me, this throws my relationship with Life and the world around me out of balance and the mechanism of karma responds to correct the deviation. Perhaps my business will suffer because of my untruthfulness; perhaps I will lose a friend. I see this aspect of Karma manifesting in nature as, among other things, the “Law of the Jungle”. Everything eats and is eaten; nothing is immune. Even the lion is consumed by worms when it dies.
One of the principles within spiritual life, at least in the way I understand it and practice it, is that it is possible through an understanding the Law of Karma to create a freer and happier existence upon this earth. If we reap what we sow, then if we are careful about what we sow then we can have a mighty influence over the consequences we experience. In the same way that I will experience the karma of distrustfulness I will experience the karma of generosity. There is no way around either one. It’s a powerful and motivating thing to live with this understanding, because it quickly becomes clear that every moment is important: every thought and action has effects that I cannot escape. In every moment of every day I am creating my future life.
The Law of Karma applies not just to individuals, of course, but to groups as well, and to the human species as a whole. As peoples we experience exactly who we are. For example, there has been a lot said and written lately about the supposition that one large factor in the success of Mr. Trump’s recent campaign was the growing gulf between rich and poor in this country. The few are hoarding the wealth of the community while the many struggle, some of them grievously. How does the mechanism correct for that? It puts a person in charge who, it appears, is an unapologetic paradigm of that very karma and has, possibly, both the disposition and the power to cripple, even destroy, the structures and institutions that provide the stability required to hoard riches. Mr. Trump also seems to have the inclination and the power to further the pollution and depletion of the environment, which everyone must experience no matter how much money they have. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit of a history buff, and this is why: looking back over what has occurred you get to see the way karma plays out and the inflexibility of the law. “Those who live by the sword die by the sword” as the saying goes. There is no escape.
When I look into the karma pervasive in the west, and particularly in America, what I see is self-centeredness and greed. Perhaps that has always been the case; when you get right down to it these are the only things that can throw the moment into disharmony, it seems to me. The conclusion I reach over and over as I, with my newly opened eyes fresh from the seclusion of the monastery, look around at this world we have created: it’s all founded upon selfishness. That is the seed we plant over and over again through time, in large ways and in ways so tiny that they infect our daily habits and even the direction of our thoughts, and the result is chaos and immense suffering. I hope it doesn’t take an apocalypse to correct this fault and bring us into harmony, but it might. It would be oh so much better if we could all just commit to doing the work of setting aside ego for the common good. That is a seed that would cause us to flourish. As an individual living within the consequences of our human unconsciousness this feels nearly impossible sometimes, but if we all made this our first priority I’m betting it would happen in a flash. We are not helpless: we area backed by the ancient Law that all existence stands upon. We have the power to absolutely change the world, but only if this is what we choose.