(Note: the following contains unbridled cynicism)
Karma is the belief that the actions you do to others will double-back on you. For instance, you flip off a tailgater, and later, a full-grown Florida gator tails you for the rest of your life, which is not a fun experience. Terrible pun. Let’s start over.
Karma is a great way for stupid people to explain themselves out of dumb situations. “My car got T-boned at that intersection when I ran a red light. Oh well, must be karma from when I cut in line at the DMV.” In this one, the speaker is certified in both idiocy and asshole-ism and is guilty for inducing both situations, but I digress.
The way Americans typically think of karma can be summed up as “what goes around, comes around.” You do something bad, and someone else does something similar right back at you (it can also work with good actions, but people rarely take notice of those).
In preschool and kindergarten, karma is a fictional concept, similar to Santa Claus (sorry, guys), used to scare children into treating others with respect. Do unto others as you would do to yourself. Notice this common phrase circles the reasoning back to yourself. Because being nice to others just for the sake of it isn’t incentive enough, apparently. The incentive has to have some sort of selfish, tangible effect on the individual doing the action to convince her to treat others respectfully. If cookies aren’t working and spanking is child-abuse, an educator has to invoke Karma. If Ronny hits Timmy in the chest, God will suckerpunch Ronny in the nose.
All of this, however facetious, does have a teeny tiny speck of truth to it. The glib uses we Americans put karma to devalues its original Hindu meaning. The dictionary definition is as follows:
- (in Hinduism and Buddhism) the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
As one can see, this definition has some marked differences from the colloquial “what goes around comes around” used in our culture. In Indian philosophy, it is believed that future lives are conditioned by the sum actions and intents of the individuals past. Yes, it encourages people to live virtuously, but not in the slap-you-in-the-face literal way we think of it. The belief in karma presses one to be in mind of future. What I mean by this is that (reincarnations aside) one ought to want their future self to be good and virtuous, and in so doing should mold their present self on that model. There ought not be a threat of terrible punishments attached to it.
Karma also has a lot of religious meaning and details attached to it which I have not expanded upon (nor do I have the necessary knowledge in philosophy to do so). I have approached it from a fairly simple outlook, but there are many other fascinating aspects of the philosophy which raise a lot of important questions. I urge anyone reading this to do some of their own research. The point of this post has been to expose the differences between the original philosophical meaning of karma and our American colloquial definition. I hope it has been helpful, or at least entertaining.
This topic has been bloglifted from The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/daily-prompt-karma-chameleon/
Check it out, there’s lots of other posts on the idea there.