Since the time I understood the basic idea of it, I have always believed in the Hindu concept of Karma. In its most basic form, that idea of Karma is summed up by the aphorism, “What goes around comes around.” This sense of Karma sounds godless, as if the thing that “goes around” (that which you send out into the world) just automatically “comes around” (comes back to you) without any intervention from any party, including God. This sometimes seems to be the case, but the Hindu idea of Karma includes the concept of a deity, who is active in the process of distributing the fruits of a person’s acts. This idea is may be expressed as: “God does not make one suffer for no reason nor does He make one happy for no reason. God is very fair and gives you exactly what you deserve.”
But experience teaches us that not all the good or bad things that happen to ourselves or those around us are deserved, either due to good acts or bad acts. It is almost axiomatic that bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Of course, our judgment about who is a “good person” and who is a “bad person” may be deeply flawed, but even factoring in some reasonable margin for error, it seems clear that the world is not set up or run in perfect fairness. If that is the case then, what role does this concept of Karma play? To me, the answer is found when we focus on our attitude and our feelings, rather than simply on events and occurrences.
Two people might have very similar events happen in their lives that might objectively be called tragic or happy, but the two people might have very different attitudes or reactions to those events. One way to think about Karma is to think of it as the thing that causes us to be able to be happy regardless of bad ocurrences we may experience or, conversely, causes us to be angry or unhappy even in the face of good events or experiences.
Wikipedia has this to say on the concept of Karma:
Karma is not punishment or retribution but simply an extended expression or consequence of natural acts. Karma means “deed” or “act” and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all life. The effects experienced are also able to be mitigated by actions and are not necessarily fated. That is to say, a particular action now is not binding to some particular, pre-determined future experience or reaction; it is not a simple, one-to-one correspondence of reward or punishment.
Karma is not fate, for humans act with free will creating their own destiny. According to the Vedas, if one sows goodness, one will reap goodness; if one sows evil, one will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate response.
While we may not precisely share a belief in reincarnation as is found in Hinduism, we as Mormons do believe that we are eternal beings: i.e., we lived in some fashion long before coming into this mortal existence and will continue to live in some fashion long after we leave it. We may not have many mortal lives in our belief system but in our system we will certainly have many types of lives other than our mortal existence throughout the eternities, including both before and after our current life. If that is the case, perhaps Karma can be seen as an eternal law that causes us to be able to find peace and happiness in our current life and/or in our future life. Something like this eternal law:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
-Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21
Therefore, if we want to happy in this life, or in our future eternal life, we have to do the things that will cause that result. The concept of Karma suggests that it is our own actions and words and attitudes that will cause our immediate and future happiness or unhappiness.
In this sense, it seems to me that the concept of Karma is very similar to certain Christian concepts and to those same concepts found in Mormonism. To me, the most important of these is this one:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he turned again to the multitude, and did open his mouth unto them again, saying: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
- 3 Nephi 14:1-2 (emphasis mine).
Is that not an almost perfect expression of the idea of Karma? You will be judged the same way that you judge others. You will be measured the same way you measure them. Does that terrify you? Maybe it should.
I have thought about that scripture often in terms of the final judgment. Christ is standing there to perform his role as the judge of all who have lived, and the question he asks before rendering judgment on each of us is, “Let’s examine how you have judged your fellow man, then we will know how to judge you.” That is concerning enough, but what if it’s more than that? What if God uses that same criteria to judge whether we are to get the blessings and help or the peace and happiness that we ask for or need on a daily basis? Perhaps that’s exactly what is happening, and why the idea of Karma and of Judgment should be an immediate and pressing concern for each of us.
What goes around comes around. Perhaps sooner than we think.