Karmic Justice

>> Saturday, October 27, 2012

I don't often pose questions in my posts. I'm more of a musing on my own sort; however, I'm curious this time as to what people think: do you think people live under some variation of karmic justice (with or without exceptions)?

It may seem an odd question, especially those of you who think I'm vehemently anti-religion. I'm not though. I've always believed in a form of karmic justice, whether I should have or not.

My own beliefs (which I am not trying to push anyone to share) encompass a belief in a benevolent but not omnipotent higher power who would prefer thinking caring independent children to mindless obedient drones and my own general appreciation for the concept of reincarnation. I do believe in karmic justice, both in that one's karma is partially determined on what you learned (and how it shaped you in previous lives) and partially on your behavior in this one.

I don't say it's absolute and don't blame every bad thing that happens on this karmic justice. I think there's a certain element of crap shoot involved and some behavioral aspects as well. Obviously, there are plenty of examples of horrible things happening to people who have never had the chance to be bad, like children, or people who are demonstrably kind and should, in theory, never be on the receiving end of bad karma. Or big natural disasters that wipe out a section of Italy or Pakistan or Japan. I don't put my version of God behind that - this planet is fraught with peril. If you live in places where disasters are just part of life (like, say, natural disaster central aka Japan), you live with the consequences. If you've been kind to children and animals all your life along with smoking three packs a day, lung cancer is not an unlikely result. And sometimes it's just the luck of the draw: a small kid with leukemia or a brain tumor or diabetes or muscular dystrophy. Reality is a harsh place.

But much of that is just reality, I think. Bad things happen that you are powerless to control (or perhaps just powerless now: 40 years of smoking won't go away overnight if you give it up at 65). That's part of life and I don't expect it to be fair.

But I do believe that what you make of the life you've been given, how you respond, what you let it turn you into, is under your control. You can't control what people do around you, but you can determine your own behavior, what you let your life make you. And, in that, I always felt we drove karmic justice.

Now, karmic justice as a notion's pretty prevalent in most religions that I know of. In some places it's the belief of some sort of resort vacation after you die where you're pampered and spoiled to make up for the struggles/temptations you went through without letting it corrupt you with the down side being if you're corrupted (by whatever that religion's definition of corruption might be), you lose it all and go straight to eternal torment. Others are similar in nature to my own (Buddhism/Hinduism, for example) where you get multiple tries make yourself a good/enlightened individual until you've finally figured it out to go to the next level.

Most religions also have elements of the "what goes around comes around" philosophy for the same life, that includes the pagan ones and the ones who can't mention heaven/hell without laughing and wiping their eyes. Reaping what you sow, getting evil you spread threefold back, etc, these are all common notions just like the Golden Rule (which is pretty much the common kernel in every religion I know about).

The problem is, at least for me, I want to believe it, and wanting something to be true does terrible things to your objectivity. I want to believe that people who are ruthless assholes end up being lonely and emotionally bereft even if they are outwardly successful. I want to believe that people who are kind and giving never end up dying alone and forgotten. I want to believe that the caliber, if not quantity of the people who love you are a reflection of your own capacity for love, for giving, for fun, and perhaps intelligence and general interesting,er, -ness.

---------The following section is optional whiny self-pity and skipping it is recommended----------------
But I don't know that it's true and now, as I slide into what is undoubtedly the second half of my life, I find my beliefs challenged: either it's not true (which is certainly possible but very depressing), I have done some pretty horrible things in my past lives that have doomed me to loneliness in this one, or I'm not nearly so nice a person as I want to think I am. I'm not sure which idea is the most tragic. 

So, given that most of my trains of thought have been leading me down the spiral to greater misery, and self-pity makes me hate myself passionately which is hardly conducive to breaking out from depression, I thought I might just be spending too much time in my own brain. 

Maybe some of you have some insight that might help me see this in a new perspective. 

Bear in mind that I do know I have a great deal to be grateful for. From a material standpoint, I'm in far better shape than many (and what challenges I do have make me wonder how single mothers working minimum wage possibly survive raising children alone). I have children with some challenges, but they are sweet, beautiful, unique and healthy. I have friends, mostly at a distance, who are the very finest people, though I wonder if distance actually helps them stay friends with me.

I know that focusing on what one doesn't have is a recipe for disaster, but, when I try to just accept my current situation as my life for my remaining few decades, it's like stepping into the abyss of despair. I'm thinking that can't be good. I had not realized how much of my life I've tolerated and swallowed and accepted the situation because I believed, in the long run, someone someday would be able to love me as myself. I don't know what to do if I have to accept that isn't true.
---------------End (no really) of whiny self-pity section. Hopefully, I'll excise it in a revision----------

So, what do you think? Do you think our fates are predetermined, solely a result of our own actions, or a combination? Do you think that, one way or another, people get what they deserve?

I could use some outside opinions.


  • Darrell B. Nelson

    I do tend to believe in Karma, mostly because I see no downside. Being good to people and helping others is its own reward. If it doesn't come back, oh well.
    As far as "getting what they deserve" I don't believe in that so much.
    I as far as the self pity section, I think you're a nice person. You helped me when I was at a pretty low point in my life.
    You are a fun, intelligent, creative person and I'm sure you'll find someone that will see that.
    That being said, I don't think you can spend too much of your life worrying about being accepted by someone else. You've got a lot going for you as a person, when you see all the good things about yourself, it won't matter what someone else thinks.

  • Stephanie Barr

    You have a point about the punishment side of things. I've never really worried that much about that - perhaps I just assumed they'd have more ground to cover in the next life or because I knew I'd never know their whole situation. Maybe there's a reason for it.

    And I do do things because they make me feel better. I like doing things for my children, for instance, and few people are less grateful than children. But I wouldn't NOT do it even if I knew they would hate me later in life. I hope they don't, though.

    I like helping people, smiling at them for no reason, treating people with courtesy. Heck, I would hate to be the person who didn't do what she could - talk about hating myself. If I let circumstances change me into someone I despised, I really would hate myself.

    As for that last bit you gave me, I can't argue with you. That's what I've been telling myself for nearly 45 years as I've been breaking records with my unpopularity.

    It's still lonely.

    BUT, I appreciate your kind thoughts. It's certainly not impossible that this whole post was an attempt to fish for compliments, which is also pathetic, but it makes me feel better that there are some people who find me interesting. And are willing to tell me. Thank you.

  • Stephanie Barr

    The problem with being a self-sufficient self-starter is that everyone assumes you never need any support.

    It's a little humiliating to realize that I sometimes do.

  • Relax Max

    Too much here to address with just a passing blog comment, of course. But, to respond to some of the questions you pose, no, I don’t believe in “Karma” or “Good Vibes” or the like. Karma is a concept from Hinduism and Buddhism and is therefore a religious concept, as you say. There is a great downside to believing in these things, and that is you have to give up on the belief that you are in control of your own life, master of your destiny, as they say. I’m not ready to give up on that concept of control, not ready to cast my fate to the wind and live my life dealing with the random consequences, one after another, that believing we are pawns of some external power entails. I don't want to spend my life in a defensive posture, simply putting out fires as they are thrown at me daily. We all form our own life philosophies. We either latch on to a life-path or set of moral rules that someone else has written (religion) or else we simply gather tidbits along the way that we learn are good things to espouse. This latter comes from simply living life and trying not to make the same mistakes over and over again; a firm foundation for living slowly evolves. I believe (though you may NOT believe) that we are not predestined to live a certain way or are in any way at the whims of “the fates” or any other external "power". I DO believe that life has a tendency to “even out” over time, good and bad. Perhaps you might think this itself is a believe in a higher or external power. I think it is simply the law of averages. Bad things sometimes keep happening to us because we keep making the same choices and taking the same actions over and over. The continued same result is thus a scientific certainty, not "fate." Change the input and the output will change. But have a master plan. A master plan, or life formula, that does not depend on fate or a god concept to make it work.

    You are no more susceptible (or prone) to having bad things happen to you than the rest of us. Remember the old saying (William James?) that, while we may sometimes have no control over what happens to us, we absolutely have control over our attitude toward these things, and that by changing our attitudes we can, in fact, change the outer aspects of our lives.

  • Anonymous

    OK, this is an immediate, off-the-cuff response to your query.  I'm sure if I spent the teensiest bit of time pondering the matter, my response would likely 'evolve' a tad but it's close enough as follows:

    I believe that there could be some form of karmic justice; anything's possible.  However, it is quite strange that we learn truth through application of reason, yet evidence of any karmic justice must be viewed through a rather deformed lens to feel good about it.

    Clearly, bad stuff happens.  And it seems random but not completely random.  As you say, some consequences are all to foreseeable (smoking, living by tsunami-vulnerable oceans, etc).

    My belief is that either: (1) we are merely intellectually advanced 'animals' fighting for survival and conquest and that there is no higher power or karmic justice, at least not such that its influence can be felt here and now; or (2) there is a higher power but one whose actions are so incomprehensible as to provide no value in modifying our behaviors, assuming free will exists (and is not merely the confluence of trillions of individual causes/effects that biochemically cause every thought, fantasy, reasoning, emotion, behavior and, thus, free will 'choice').

    For all I know, the bad stuff that happens here might just be collateral damage from powers, being wielded far away, by entities who neither know nor care that we exist and have been affected.  Not unlike ants wondering why their compadres, kind and hard-working as they were, suffered inexplicable death by the great shoe in the sky.

    Or it could be that time travel is possible so long as one doesn't travel to a part of space that affects the traveler's future (think space partitions that prevent any physical interaction with each other).  Perhaps a team of alien scientists are modifying various points in our history to alter things a bit, then observing what effects it had - a grand experiment.  Our multiple futures could be occurring and unraveling at the same time (makes for an interesting novel I suppose).

    If one is Christian, there is also the idea that God is not just.  After all, if we have all sinned and deserve destruction, then granting mercy and saving us is the opposite of justice.  So a God that chooses injustice (in our favor) might not be too concerned about justice the other way at times.  Anything is possible and that's what makes life interesting.

    In any case, I hope you soon feel better.  You are a good person and quite brilliant.  If there is no future (afterlife) then you have today to enjoy the best you can.  If there is a future, I suspect you've earned enough bonus points to at least upgrade from the cargo hold in that big spaceship to heaven.

    Mike H.

  • Shakespeare

    I do believe in karma -- and perhaps, now, you believe that bad stuff has happened to you because of something you did.

    The problem is that it's not all about you. It's not just your karma that matters... and you have only your finite lens through which to see what is going on. For all you know, all this crap has to happen so that it can move you forward into the best damn crap you could possibly imagine, better than anything you've had up to this point. The point isn't that karma makes you feel good all the time, but that it gives you what you need, what you should have, so that you are led on the right path towards ultimate happiness.

    Notice that I said "ultimate" and not "immediate" happiness. I know of no one who deserves constant happiness. I sure don't.

  • Anonymous

    Happy birthday, Steph!  I realize you do not have time (or perhaps interest) to deal with blogging right now but I still wanted to wish you all the best today, on the anniversary of your birth.

    You have enriched a lot of people over the years with your unselfish kindness, your sense of duty and loyalty to your work, your strength in the face of intense adversity, your creative and personal writings, your primeval wisdom, and so much more.  Thank you!

    Mike H.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Thank you for your kind thoughts, Mike.

    I am being lazy, again, but I have not forgotten blogging or my many good friends who keep remembering me despite my laxity.

    Whatever issues I occasionally have to deal with, I am very fortunate in the caliber of my friends.

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