The Law of Average Karma and Good and Bad People
(this is part two of my discussion of karma. view the first part (click here))
Here I propose the existence of a certain level of karma which I will describe as the average level of karma in the world or in a specific karmic system (such as a country). In fact there cannot really be a limited domain of karma since all countries and communities in the world interact, although not always to a great extent. But the idea is that there is a certain average level of karma, at which about half of the people will be above, and half of the people will be below.
Outstandingly good and outstandingly bad people, are in my view affected by this differently. The very good person, who has rather good karma, is held back by the average level of karma around them. They are constantly constrained by the reactions and actions of those around them, which prevent them from reaching higher levels of achievement.
The rather bad person,on the other hand, is able to take advantage of the positive karma of people around them for their own benefit. If most people are good for example, the bad person can use this to their benefit. For example, if most people do not lie, and we don’t expect people to lie, the bad person can take advantage of this, because they can be dishonest, and many people will believe them. If most people are non-violent, they can do many bad things and never suffer any bodily injury because of their behaviors, because the ethical codes of the people around them prevent them from doing physical harm to that person.
The point is, that rather than good people always being rewarded by their actions, they may actually encounter resistance which is quite unjustified by their conduct. And the bad person can actually escape without ever truly bearing the karma or consequences of their action.
Of course, good and bad people are affected directly in other ways by their own actions. The good person will have an inner sense of peace at being a good person, while the bad person will either 1) construct elaborate psychological defenses to prevent them from feeling like a bad person, or 2) they will feel like a bad person inside. Even constructing a defense mechanism is hurtful in that it prevents that person from having a more truthful perspective on life and achieving higher levels of understanding, of which a certain degree of realism about their own behaviors is necessary.
The truly good person can also benefit and insulate themselves to a certain degree by surrounding themselves with other good people. And truly bad people will be relegated to the domain of other bad people, or they will constantly be moving around to avoid their previous actions catching up with them. This will prevent them from having enduring positive relations which are important to us as human beings.
I also theorize that the average level of karma in the world could improve or get worse at different points in time. For example, right now in the world, many people are suffering as a result of higher fuel and food prices, which may, in desperation, lead them to commit acts which they previously would not have considered. At the same time, people are probably more frustrated and overworked at this time, which may make them more irritable and less able to be kind to others. Similarly, the current high degree of polarization in geopolitics, especially between the Muslim and Western worlds, could lead people to develop greater prejudice and hated towards members of other groups.
Karma, Caste, and Passivity in Issues of Justice
One of the reasons that I reject the interlife (reincarnation) view of caste is that it serves to justify and perpetuate systems of injustice such as the caste system. It should be apparent to anyone that the caste system is extremely unjust. Yet the belief that one’s birth is conditioned by previous life actions justifies this, proposing that if one is born into a low caste, that it is actually one’s own fault. This not only justifies the system of caste, but disempowers those who should fight against it, since they often buy into the belief system of interlife karma.
Belief in the idea of karma can also make a person passive in the face of injustice. This can happen in two ways. First, people I have observed in Buddhist countries sometimes believe that if a person is wealthy or powerful it must be because of their good karma. This makes them accept class injustices in their society which actually should be challenged. Or if one of these wealthy or powerful people is the perpetrator of some kind of abuse, the people’s awe of this person prevents them from seeing the perpetrator as they really are.
The second way it makes people passive is through the belief that “karma will somehow repay the perpetrator”. The person involved feels like they need not do anything to the perpetrator, since they will ultimately suffer as a result of their bad karma. As I have said, I think bad people can get away with it because their bad karma “dissolves” into the larger system, without ever coming back to the perpetrator. In that sense, for justice to be served, the victim, in my view, should actually pursue justice themselves rather than expecting the karmic system to do justice.
As an example, a friend of mine was recently discriminated against by her employer and fired in a way that was a violation of the law. I advocated the person should pursue the offense in the context of the law, and assert her rights, but she was content in the thought that karma would eventually make that person suffer for their wrongs. This is just an example, and perhaps not pursuing it was the best choice, but it illustrates the concept. I feel pretty strongly that the perpetrator in this case will never suffer from their wrongdoing.
Karma in Interpersonal Relations
We often take very simplistic views of karma in interpersonal relationships. We tend to emphasize the karma of the other person and fail to recognize our own. For example, I do something, and it “makes” you act in a certain way. You emphasize that I MADE you act that way. However, this ignores the reality that a third person may react totally differently to the same stimulus, which shows how important the receiver of the original action is in their own reactive behavior. I’ll use the terms person “A”, the original actor, and person “B”, the receiver and reactor, to make it easier to follow my discussion.
In fact, in any interpersonal relationship, the reaction is a function of both the initial action (from A), and the person receiving it (B). The person receiving it acts a filter, through which the action passes, which then conditions the response that they give. The filter is formulated by the accumulation of their karma and experiences in life.
The original actor(A) will then act as a filter to the reaction, and produce a further reaction from the original doer.
Let me give an example. Recently a friend of mine did something to me that I didn’t really like. I felt like she was being unfairly judgmental towards me. As a result of that, I took certain actions designed to eliminate this kind of behavior in the future. My friend was really hurt by this reaction, and complained to me about how mean I had been. However, she was unable to see her own role in it through her original action, and instead placed all the blame on me.
I tried to emphasize to her that it was at least partly her own karma by her original action. However, I did not claim that it was all her fault. Instead, I recognized that my reaction was partly my own karma as well, since the person I am is conditioned by my experiences and choices in life. And ultimately, I chose to react in the way that I did. I also recognize that another person in my same situation may have reacted completely differently.
The value of this perspective is two-fold. First, it allows us to recognize that in any events between two people, there are always two players involved. We should never say that “you MADE me do that”, thereby acting as if we had no role in it.
Second, in any conflict, we may allocate blame, but we need to recognize that ultimately it is a subjective process. I may argue that you were at fault because you yelled at me, but the other person may say that they yelled at me because of something I did. The only way we can resolve this is to appeal to some standard of proper behavior, which may be held by a majority of people, but which is usually not universal. Only if both people accept the standard can there be a resolution about allocating blame. There may also be cultural or even gender differences about what those same “standards of behavior” are or should be.
Often, however, what really stands in the way of one person accepting blame is ego, emotion, or fear. For example, their sense of ego prevents them from recognizing their own fault. Or they may feel hurt by something that happened, and ultimately don’t want to accept responsibility because of that. Or they may fear the consequences of accepting blame (for example the end of the relationship, or demands for a change in behavior that they aren’t prepared, or able, to make).
Which is one reason why I think in interpersonal relationships, one should not be attached to one’s sense of self, or ego. And at the same time, two people must always try to moderate their emotions (i.e. not get too emotional).
Going Back to Popular Use of Karma
As I noted at the beginning of the other post on karma, it is popular when something happens to someone, to allocate that to their karma. This is a kind of self serving judgement which reflects our hope that they will be repaid for some perceived injustice. While I cannot say that a person should never entertain this thought, we should always question this thought process, and remain open to the idea that what happened to our friend or acquaintance was actually a result of injustice or chance. And ultimately, even if we are thinking that, we probably should not tell our friend that we think it was their karma that caused their misfortune, as they are most likely hoping for sympathy at that moment, not judgement!
I would be very interested in your thoughts on this subject! Please leave a comment- I think its an interesting philosophical point…
View the first post of two on karma- (click here)