Karma is one of those words we don't translate. Its basic meaning is
simple enough — action — but because of the weight the Buddha's
teachings give to the role of action, the Sanskrit word karma packs in
so many implications that the English word action may not be able to
espouse its luggage. This is probably why we've simply airlifted the
original word into our vocabulary.
But when we try unpacking the connotations the word carries now that
it has arrived in everyday usage, we find that most of its luggage has
gotten mixed up in transit. In the eyes of most western people, karma
functions like fate — bad fate, at that: an inexplicable, unchangeable
force coming out of our past, for which we are somehow vaguely
responsible and powerless to fight. "I guess it's just my karma," I've
heard people sigh when bad fortune strikes with such force that they
see no alternative to resigned acceptance. The fatalism implicit in
this statement is one reason why so many of us are repelled by the
concept of karma, for it sounds like the kind of callous myth-making
that can justify almost any kind of suffering or injustice in the
status quo: "If he's poor, it's because of his karma." "If she's been
raped, it's because of her karma." From this it seems a short step to
saying that he or she deserves to suffer, and so doesn't deserve our
Have you ever caught yourself in a position where you want to do
something, but you end up not doing it fearing the outcome of the
action? A few days ago, I met an American lady in one of the compounds
in Riyadh who is a dog lover. She was sharing how her friend wants her
to adopt his pet dogs. She refused the offer. Her reason was —“What if
something happens to the dogs or they fall ill while they are with me?
I will be held responsible and it will also add to the account of my
deeds. I will get caught in the web of karma because of them, so it is
better not to take the responsibility.” While she shared her simple
reason for refusing with me, I got thinking, “Is this what karma is?”
In my conversations with people from different walks of life, I have
realized that a lot of them believe that the principle of karma is
only a manifestation of guilt and the fear of being punished in some
way by someone. The belief is that there is an external source
somewhere keeping a ledger of all your deeds, good and bad, like
maintaining a balance sheet of your accounts. In the end there will be
a calculation, the credits (good deeds) and debits (bad deeds) will be
measured and that will decide the quality of your future life. There
is God up there. That supreme power is the judge of right and wrong,
and based on his judgment, we will get our rewards or punishments.
In my understandng, I find it difficult to believe that a reality
called "karma" does exist. There are people who believe that there
will be rewards, punishments, redemptions, and atonements but the myth
is that the accounts are external and unrelated and whoever maintains
them is also an external entity (like God, as they believe). They
presume that the judgment of our deeds is being done somewhere else by
God. Actually this judgement is always an internal process. We judge
our deeds and intentions; we decide their outcomes and impacts. There
is never an external entity keeping an account, the punishment is also
not decided by that entity nor is our quality of our lives. It is we
who decide what’s wrong and what’s not. It is we who decide what
punishment we deserve for a particular deed, if at all. The key word
here is CHOICE, in my view.
It is we who have the power to forgive ourselves, learn from the
situation and move on, without the baggage of karma. All of us are the
creators of our own lives and destinies.
I decide what goes on in my universe as I am the center of my
universe. It is from me that the universe originates, and it is as
much internal, as it is external.
In fact, just like we all understand or even do not understand, God,
differently and our understanding as well as our relationship with God
is completely dependent on our interpretations and perspectives, so is
karma. What He is for you is not what He is for me or anyone else.
Similarly, what deeds are good for you may be not good for someone
else. Hence, our karma boils down to how we interpret our actions and
intentions. If our analysis is based on guilt and fear, we will
accumulate a lot of karma to deal with.
All of us at some point decide whether to take an action or not based
on our fear of the outcome. At that point we fail to understand that
the outcome is not only a result of our action itself, but also of our
intention behind that action. When we carry out an action based on
fear or when after the action we feel guilty, we create negative
karma. For this action, we keep punishing ourselves directly or
indirectly. Little do we realise that we always have a simple choice —
to eradicate the guilt and fear. If we realise that our action has
hurt someone, we can simply apologize and work towards not repeating
the same action or intention again. It is easier to learn from a
mistake, forgive ourselves and become better persons in the process.
Karma is what we make of it. We all have our own versions of truth,
reality, right and wrong. Your version might be true for you and false
for me and vice versa. All I share here is my own thinking,
interpretation and understanding of this thing called karma, that most
people like to jump on to.
My morning started with the usual shit shave and shampoo, and driving
the girls and grandson to school. On my way to work, thereafter, my
thoughts raced to the fact that I will be turning 65 in February 2013.
Nice number, nice age. Only 4 short of the juicy oral fantasy that
most of us still enjoy and have also devoured during our early teen
years, be it Abbot, Housewife, or even a teenage Kella down Sagara
Then it occurred to me that all of us '59er dudes will be hitting 65
in 2013 while some ma have already reached the magic number in 2012.
It was only yesterday that someone sent me an email relating to the
life span across the many nations of the world and Sri Lanka was
placed at 74.3 or something. That meant that we still have a decent 9
years of power left inside us to ride the waves, play Bridge or
Scrabble, and even knock the daylights out of each other on email, be
it Tamil Tiger, Abbots, Rajapakshe romantics, or even business as
We do have a close and great bunch, among the six of us, who interact
on a daily basis on all these topics and more and keep laughing until
we doze off to sleep at night. What if one of us was to depart? How
would it affect the rest? Would we miss him as much as we think? How
sad would such an event be in our hearts and minds? Would we attribute
it to "KARMA" and feel that, "yes, he's gone and our time will surely
No doubt we have cultivated an even greater bond that we used to have
back at Royal in the 60's. This, in my view, has only been so
successful because of our age, maturity, openness, and the ability to
punch each other on the nose and still smile and be friends. A
tremendous leap from where we may have ended up not talking to each
other for weeks in the old school days.
So, there can be no doubt that we will all make that last train,
sooner than later. The question is, in what order?
Thinking loud, my own feelings are that we be thankful that we were
able to be what we are until the end. It’s a great feeling to know
that we have known each other for more than 55 years and are able to
stay in touch, thanks to old Mr Charles Babbage from Britain, and
still feel the warmth and goodness of our friendship over so many
decades, without any hidden agenda or conspiracies in our hearts and
Coming back to Karma. I don’t really believe in it based on my "out of
the box" life that I have chosen to lead in recent times. I observe
good people who are screwed over. I observe incorrigible people who
are rewarded for being assholes. The correct thing to do in life is to
try and be as "good" as possible. Some of you may then ask me, "what
is good"?. But it’s also important to be as true to who you are as
possible. And often this truth gets in the way of being good. There
is, I must confess, a great delight I frequently experience in being
"bad" or "naughty" if you may prefer the latter?. Of course, my sense
of bad is rooted in a baroque set of ethics that would take too much
time to explain. But I try not to go out of my way to hurt people. And
if I do hurt people, which is most often, unintentionally, I try to
atone with positive actions to others.
The standard understanding of karma is this: what goes around comes
around. I find this to be less true in practice than it is in
principle. I suppose I believe that if you are ultimately true to who
you are, you will encourage other people to be true to who they are.
And if karma is rooted upon this sense of personal truth, then I
approve of this. (And this seems to be more philosophical than
religious.) But this karmic idea is more rooted in action, as opposed
to some cosmic overseer who lays down the law for the universe.
If karma is rooted on coincidence, however, I cannot subscribe to it.
And I don’t see how any reasonable person can fully put their faith in
this. In fact, the sooner that other people understand this, the
sooner we can put the self-help industry out of business. Really,
they’ve made too much money exploiting human suffering.
The universe is based on one simple Newtonian precept: for every
action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. While this rule
applies to gravity, I think it likewise applies to life. But since
human beings decide how or when or if they wish to respond, one simply
can’t anticipate when that “equal and opposite reaction” will occur.
(And sometimes, it occurs from the unlikeliest of sources.) Hence, the
giddy values of chaos, which is a lot more fun than sitting around
worrying about when something will happen.
So I do look at any days unpleasant events and I figure that it’s
something I can write off as a reaction to something bad I’ve done
somewhere along the line. And I also look at the good things that
happened today, like the smooth ride I had to work on the road this
morning without even a single raghead giving me his overnight attitude
There’s certainly an ignoble self-justification of my own character
flaws here, but nobody’s perfect. (I’m certainly not a saint and I
even don’t want to be one if it is offered to me by the Pope.)
Certainly the universe isn’t. But if it were, then life wouldn’t be
nearly so interesting.