How many times have you heard people say, what goes around comes around?
A while ago, a touching story of a man was trending on the internet. This homeless man had risen from rags to riches after he had returned an engagement ring to a woman who had clumsily dropped it in his donation bucket while putting some change in. This woman was so grateful, she ran a drive to collect money for this honest, poor man. Eventually, she went back and asked him what he wanted. He said he needed some money to get his cycle fixed. She got his cycle fixed and also gave him the money she had collected. The homeless man was able to buy a house and still had more than enough to survive on. He couldn’t believe all this had happened only because he returned what wasn’t his.
While there are many ways of looking at such stories, one perspective that stands out is karmic. Was the man’s honest act his karma? Have you ever thought of your own life in this light? Ever contemplated your actions keeping the consequences in mind? In this sense, has it occurred to you that your present could have been shaped by your past choices and actions?
Conventional wisdom, at times, indicates that karma is the situation you helplessly end up in. On the contrary, it is your actions that lead you to that situation.
A term that most of us would not need an introduction to, ‘karma’ of Sanskrit origin literally translates to action. It essentially means the onus for things you do is on you. Conventional wisdom, at times, indicates that karma is the situation you helplessly end up in. On the contrary, it is your actions that lead you to that situation.
A common truth
Whether we wish to call it karma or not is left to our discretion, but the simple truth is our actions matter as they cause a butterfly effect (a theory that a single occurrence can change the course of the universe forever).
All faiths and religions propagate the importance of one’s deeds. It is Tazkiya in Islam, the Golden Rule in Christianity, the three commandments of the Zoroaster in Zoroastrianism and the Jewish commandment in Judaism.
Karma that originated in faiths–such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism–finds acceptance as a universal law even among atheists and non-believers.
Karma as a concept is a highly nuanced one. For instance, in Hinduism, a religion that believes in the reincarnation of a soul, our todays are based on our actions in the past. Our past actions influence the present and the present actions influence the future.
“Unlike animals who go through life maximising pleasure and minimising pain, humans have a conscience and can differentiate between right and wrong.”
‘Actions’ find a place even in the realm of science. In psychology, collective unconscious is used to understand the nature of our actions. “In Jungian psychology, there is a part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory and experience. It is common to all and distinct from the individual’s unconscious. It includes everything from our past births, experiences, thoughts, views and traits which help form our present personality. This is termed as the collective unconscious,” says psychologist and hypnotherapist Tishya Mahindru Shahani.
Nuancing this thought philosophically, Gaurgopal Das, vice-president, ISKCON Chowpatty, says, “We often wonder why bad things happen to good people? This inequality is a result of their past karma. We are born human because of our good karma. It is a privilege because we have the freedom to make choices. Unlike animals who go through life maximising pleasure and minimising pain, humans have a conscience and can differentiate between right and wrong.”
Further, stressing on actions, Shahani says the existence of collective unconscious puts onus on our thoughts, words and actions. After all, our thoughts are the seed to our actions. It’s a vicious cycle that can be good only if our actions are consciously decided.
According to Buddhism, karma is the action and not the result. It is non-linear and complex. “Karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and present actions. Present actions shape not only the future but also the present,” explained American Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu in his essay Karma.
Stairway to heaven
Though Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) do not believe in the concept of karma, good deeds are of paramount importance in these faiths. Judaism, the oldest religion among the three, speaks of good deeds in one of the 613 Mitzvot (commandments). Ezra Moses, secretary and trustee of Thane-based Gates of Heaven Synagogue, says, “The Jews believe there is always an eye watching, an ear listening and a handwriting, so no action, word or thought goes unseen by the Lord Almighty.”
Moses further says Jews believe one good deed deserves another, which comes by in this lifetime. “At the same time, a bad deed calls for repentance and the doer should seek forgiveness from the person they have wronged and from the Lord Almighty,” he adds.
Most faiths believe we are evaluated on account of our actions. Good and bad deeds reap rewards and repentance accordingly. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Christians swear by this Golden Rule which is derived from a Jewish commandment. Rev. Jonathan Bangera of the Methodist Church of India explains, “Spirituality is seen as a moral transaction wherein good deeds are deposits and bad deeds are withdrawals. As long as we have more deposits than withdrawals, we can be judged good.” However, no amount of good deeds can make up for the bad ones. “One’s bad deeds receive the justice they deserve either by society, the universe or by the Supreme Being,” he adds stressing on the importance of actions.
According to Islam, good deeds pave the path to self-purification. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Founder of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality, says, “According to Islamic teachings, a person should train one’s inner self, a process for which the Quran uses the term tazkiya (20:76). Good deeds are a positive reflection of the trained personality of a person, while bad deeds are the immature or negative reflection of a person’s personality.”
The threefold path
Zoroastrians are taught to live by the threefold path–hú-mata, hükhta, hvarshta, which refers to good thoughts, good words and good deeds. They believe through good thoughts, you speak good words that leads to good deeds. Zoroastrians also believe that after living in this world, the soul is reviewed at the Bridge of Judgement. Good souls are led to paradise, while the evil ones go to the World of Punishment.
After all is said and done, the ultimate realisation circles back to our actions. We interact with the universe through what we think, say and do. We are the makers of our lives and destinies, with or without an overlord.