Karma is a well known but poor understood concept in the West. It is intertwined with the concept of reincarnation which is mainly associated with oriental thinking. However western schools of thought have their fair share of it. For example Plato in his Politeia describes a scene where souls gather after death and choose their new lives. I say the concept of Karma is often poorly understood as for most Westerners it has a notion of judgement or punishment evident from phrases as: “Karma is a bitch”, “He/she will have what’s comming to him/her”, or just pointing out “karma” when we feel someone got what he deserved. Western culture has its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, that both have a strong emphasis on judgement/vengeance (Judaism) and guilt (Christianity). We all know the famous ‘An eye for an eye’ and the concept of the ‘original sin’. It is therefore understandable that we tend to interpret karma in that way.
However ‘karma’ is Sanskrit for ‘action’ and the law of karma can be explained as every action has a corresponding consequence (somewhere in the future). It’s that simple; when you plant apple seeds you will grow an apple tree. Karma is not necessarily fair from our subjective perspective (then again who is to determine what is fair), nor will the consequences necessarily manifest in the near future. The connection between action and consequence it not allways obvious and can be beyond the scope of a human life.
Most oriental schools of thought accept karma as a law of nature and have developed ways to accomodate to it, the same way we got accustomed to Newton’s laws of motion and gravity. People often speak of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ karma, traditionally there is no such thing; good and bad are inherently subjective. Karma is usually classified by color: actions which generate white karma generate favorable consequences, black karma generates unfavorable consequences, grey karma is a mixture of black and white and will generate mixed consequences accordingly. Lastly there is colorless karma, action which has no consequences (other than the intended result). While white karma may seem favorable to most people, actually colorless karma is deemed to have the highest virtue. White karma generates consequences which in turn will generate new karma keeping one stuck in an infinite loop of action and reaction, death and rebirth, or ‘samsara’. The color of karma is determined by the nature, severity, frequency object and intent of the action. For example: using violence to save someone else’s life has different consequences than using violence out of anger or for material gains.
How then is the concept of karma applicable to the everyday life of an ordinary down-to-earth person like you may consider yourself to be? The next time something unfavorable happens to you, try to step back and ‘see’ the chain of events that led up to that situation. Analyze the intent of your actions, be honest with yourself. If something repeatedly happens to you, there is a pattern. Try to see the pattern, and then break it. Choose a different action next time and see what happens.
Here’s a bit more elaborate version of the above: