A rational explanation of karma

In my previous article, I alluded to some of the teachings of Buddhism that I have objections to. While I was researching for a potential article on this topic, the subject of karma naturally came up. I hold some very strong objections to certain principles of Buddhist karmic teaching, but this article should not be read as an attack on any particular spiritual tradition, and if it were to be read as such then Buddhism would not even be the major target. Rather, this is an attempt to cast a critical eye over some of the popular, superstitious beliefs associated with karma to see whether they stand up to the scrutiny of logic.

Some may consider it arrogant of me to take my axe to the root of this millennia-old teaching; but frankly, it’s long overdue. I’ve done the same thing before with the new age gospel of prosperity and the idea of heaven as a place – and the people who have taken the trouble to comment have generally thanked me for finally making sense of an otherwise foggy topic.

 

There is an unfortunate belief amongst new age people that karma is a vindictive like-for-like law, by which our every thought, word and deed, even the most trivial ones, rebound upon us in exactly equivalent measure. I suppose one of the reasons it has taken such deep root in new age thought is because we humans find it so difficult to forgive others. If we have any sort of spiritual aspirations then direct hatred is out of the question, so karma allows us to spiritualise our revenge by reassuring ourselves that we’ve fully forgiven the person – but that’s OK, because karma will get him in the end.

It’s not just vapid new agers who believe in this idea, though – it has even taken root in the minds of some scholarly individuals of the New Thought persuasion. I was shocked to find that even the great biblical scholar Emmet Fox subscribed to this like-for-like idea, which he believed to be supported by Christ’s sermon on the mount. In his book on the sermon, Fox writes:

For every unkind word that you speak to or about another person, an unkind word will be spoken to or about you. For every time that you cheat, you will be cheated. For every time that you deceive you will be deceived. For every lie that you utter, you will be lied to. Every time that you neglect a duty, or evade a responsibility, or misuse authority over other people, you are doing something for which you will inevitably have to pay by suffering a like injury yourself. With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The first major logical flaws in this interpretation of karma are that it interferes with free will, and appears to create a sort of infinite spiral of negativity. If I murder someone, then someone else will be compelled to murder me, either in this life or the next. The person that murders me is then required to suffer murder, compelling someone else to murder them. And logically, the cycle appears to be incapable of being broken. The only possible way the scales of karma could ever be balanced in such a situation would be if the perpetrator and the victim were the same in both cases. In other words, Cain murders Abel in one lifetime – then in a future lifetime, Abel murders Cain, and the scales are balanced. In this situation, there is no need for an ongoing cycle of violence. But what sort of justice is this, that compels Abel to murder Cain, just because he himself was murdered by Cain in a previous lifetime? That is neither just nor a free act of the will.

And Fox would have us believe that all acts create karma, even the little ones. This puts us at the mercy of an iron-clad destiny where everything that comes to us, big and small, is the result of our past actions. And all the actions we take, big and small, are seemingly preordained by the necessity of fulfilling some karmic return in the people we come into contact with.  Some will dispute this by arguing that there is no need to compel anyone to perform any particular actions, because human nature is such that there will always be people willing to commit all manner of acts, good and bad, and that the Universe is simply rearranging circumstances to satisfy justice, using the materials it is given to work with. But this argument has the same flaw discussed above – it requires an endless cycle of evil acts, and appears to prevent humanity from ever evolving beyond it. Furthermore, any universal law that has fickle human nature as one of the links in its chain of causation, is no universal law at all. The laws of the universe are self-balancing by their very nature. Gravity, for example, does not require the co-operation of humanity to carry out its effects. However predictable human nature may be, it is impossible to guarantee the operation of any universal law that is dependent upon the actions of a free human will.

The old Buddhist teaching that evil karma results in us being reborn as one of the lower animals has similar problems. Firstly, it is completely opposed to the universal law of growth, which is a forward-moving, evolutionary momentum, not a shrinking, devolutionary one. We may frustrate the law of growth through negative actions, for sure. We may create so much resistance that we even slow it to a crawl – but it is there nevertheless, nudging our soul onward towards its final destiny to become God in individualised form. The law of growth cannot set an opposing, devolutionary momentum in motion. Such a momentum would be tremendously difficult to escape from, and would surely result in the eternal doom of many souls. In fact, it would probably doom all of us, since we have all surely committed some major evil act throughout our soul’s journey across lifetimes.

Believing that there could possibly be a devolutionary momentum in the universe is equivalent to the old, noxious error that has retarded humanity for millennia – that is, believing in evil as having a substantive existence in itself. This is the chief error warned against in the parable of Adam and Eve in the garden. All Adam and Eve’s problems are caused after they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There are not two opposing forces in the universe, but only one – and what may appear to be a negative power is only the one good power being used destructively rather than constructively. Refer to chapter 2 of Thomas Troward’s Bible Mystery and Bible Meaning for the definitive explanation of this topic.

By the way, some mistakenly believe that being reborn as one of the lower animals is a tradition held in certain third world countries, which is not actually supported by any Buddhist teaching. This is incorrect – every school of Buddhism that I know of teaches it, although I have heard some teachers explain it away as a parable, or a non-literal teaching of the Buddha that was used to make an impact on his hearers. Still, by my reckoning most serious Buddhists believe in it as a literal truth. They generally teach that the lower animals cannot accumulate any further karma, which eliminates the possibility of an endless downward spiral but still leaves the lower animals trapped in their state for a potentially very long time, with no guarantee of escape. Presumably, if rebirth into human form ever happened, such a person would hardly be well placed to avoid falling back into the animal state again. The whole thing is difficult to reconcile with the law of growth and the concept of an all-good, all-loving universe.

It also compels the Buddhist to make a moral judgement over another living soul, because by the very fact of him being in human form, the Buddhist must assume his moral superiority over the animal. Of course, no Buddhist who is serious about his religion would suppose that he is permitted to indulge any feelings of superiority over any other living creature. Much less would he consider himself entitled to abuse animals in retribution for the animal’s past sins. Such actions belong only to ignorant people who cling to Buddhism as a superstition and a hollow identity but who do not care to follow any of its teachings in any detail. Still, a judgement of moral superiority over animals is required in order to fully accept Buddhist teaching – thus putting the Buddhist at odds with Christ’s warning to “Judge not, lest ye be judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

We are forced to make an even greater judgement if we accept the old Hindu superstition that the Indian caste system is the natural outcome of karma. The lower castes have long been fed the offensive lie that being born poor or ugly is the result of bad karma in a previous life. Being born beautiful and rich is, naturally, the result of good karma. This belief serves the higher castes well, but it is instantly disproved by the complete lack of any correlation between the possession of wealth and the practice of virtue, or the possession of beauty and the practice of virtue.

So what is karma, really? The first component of genuine karma is what I call explicit karmic energy. These are a specific species of negative energy that can be identified and cleared by the subconscious mind, and which appear to be created by the subconscious as a sort of internal response of the higher conscience. Such energies are usually only created in response to relatively large infractions. For example, thinking a single unkind thought about a person is unlikely to generate any of these energies, but being severely unkind to them over a period of time will very likely do so. The judge of the matter is our higher conscience, and its assessment does not always marry up to our ego’s typically flattering assessment of our own actions.

These energies can be easily cleared from a subject, as long as the subconscious is able and willing to divulge their existence – which it will usually do after some investigations by a skilled healer. If the energies are not cleared, then they form a sort of debt that must be paid by attracting circumstances that tend towards making amends. The beauty and perfection of the Law of Growth is evident in the fact that karma is more rehabilitative than punitive. Of course with that said, the rehabilitative circumstances attracted by such karmic energies may not be to our liking, and we are well advised to avoid accumulating any such debts.

The other component of what we call karma is simply the natural, unavoidable consequences of our own life choices. For example, if we are in the habit of stealing, then we are sending out an energetic signal of scarcity and dishonesty, which means that we are more likely to attract scarcity and dishonesty to ourselves.  The more negative thoughts, feelings and actions we indulge, the more of them become ingrained in our energy system – either as rigid beliefs and habits, or as stuck energies that can’t be cleared from the energy field without a rise in consciousness or the intervention of a healer. Any explicit karmic debts we accumulate are also added into this mix, and the resulting negative energetic signal put out by us will have a tremendous impact on the kind of circumstances we encounter in our daily life.

Even if the person ceases from overtly dishonest acts, he may still have to suffer additional consequences for a period of time, until his energetic system is purified by his persistence in virtue. Thus, all residual negative energy caused by persistent negative acts forms a kind of debt that must be paid. The only way around payment of the debt is to repent of the negative acts so completely and thoroughly that our consciousness is raised to a higher level. In a higher state of consciousness, negative energies cannot affect us, and they begin to be automatically cleared by the body.

Thus Christ’s instructions to the recipients of his physical healings: “go, and sin no more.”

For those who cling to pretty spiritual beliefs as a sort of security blanket, the old beliefs on karma die hard. But for those of you who are seeking rational spiritual beliefs to give your assent to, I hope this article was of some use.