(Oh Inigo, you will never not be appropriate here…)
Mr. Montoya has aided me previously in explaining why the popular (mis)conception of karma as being poetic/cosmic justice is a deeply inappropriate distortion of the original concept. Well, today he will be helping me again.
A poster on a Buddhist forum I frequent (and, full disclosure, where I am now a moderator), recently asked why it’s seen as improper to view karma as retribution or punishment. The answer came almost immediately: who is doing the punishing?
Karma is not a sentient being. It has no mind, no cognitive faculty, no thoughts. It is a force of nature, like a storm. And just as the same storm that breaks a drought and revives crops can flood rivers and drive people from their homes, karma causes both joy and suffering.
It’s time to talk about karma again, which means I get to drag out Inigo Montoya
I see karma get romanticized a lot, even identified with the Wiccanate “Rule of Three.” In the pagan community, it’s widely misunderstood, and talked about as some sort of universal balancing principle. Instances of poetic justice are pointed to as Karma in action. Case in point:
Let me say something right now: STOP IT.
Karma has nothing to do with poetic justice, or the just world fallacy. It is not victim blaming or the law of attraction, or the power of positive thinking. It sure as hell has nothing to do with the Law of Threefold Return. I have encountered people who rejected the concept of karma because it was linked with these ideas.
Karma has been reduced to a punchline in NeoPagan spirituality, twisted into justification that allows the privileged to enjoy their comfortable lives without question, because hey, they must have earned it somehow. When you strip karma from its original framework, you lose the next half of the equation – pleasure now means pain tomorrow.
There is no such thing as “destiny.” You and I were not “fated” to be together, or anything like that. Yes, there’s karma that drew you to me, just like it did in past lives. But here’s the thing: you made a choice to follow that thread. Our relationship was not just destiny. It was a choice you made. It was a choice we both made.
Why am I having you post this? Well, because I want people to remember that they’re supposed to have choices in life.
You can choose your own adventure. ❤
No. Seriously, no. Karma is just a bitch. Period.
It’s nice to believe that what you put into the world influences what you get out, that if we just keep our heads down and are good little children, God/Goddess/The Universe/Nature will shower us with blessings. It’s nice to believe that people who are jerks to you will get what’s coming to them. But….life just doesn’t work like that. Karma doesn’t work like that.
Karma isn’t when a thief is himself robbed trying to sell stolen goods. That’s poetic justice. Karma is more like when that thief is caught stealing from his employer, and then isn’t able to find a good job ever again. Sure, the first scenario is much more appealing, but “cosmic payback” just isn’t a real thing.
And you know, normally I wouldn’t care. Cultures borrow from one another and then adapt those borrowings into their existing frameworks. It’s just that the “if you do good, good will come to you” line of thinking passed as karma is actually really ugly when you think about its implications.
I was bullied as a child because I was (and still am) autistic, and my social awkwardness made me an obvious and easy target. Yet following the logic above, if I had just been nice to all the other kids, they would have become my friends. If that sounds like blaming the victim, that’s because it is.
In Buddhism, karma is the omnipresent web of interrelated causes and effects that tie all beings together in samsara. It is not a cosmic payback system. You don’t want good karma. You want no karma. Why? Because today’s good luck can lead directly to tomorrow’s misfortune. Ever have something wonderful happen to you, and then have it suddenly turn into something awful? That is karma.
Poetic Justice may be really satisfying, but it isn’t karma.