Did the title make you wince? Good. It makes me wince every single time I hear it.
Above saying is part of common talk but it goes deeper when we see it in writing, doesn’t it? We say it and listen to it without a blink of an eye but do we know what it really encompasses? Why karma is such a terrible thing in our life? Personally, if I haven’t learnt and read about the concept, due to its frequent use in everyday communication, I would know it as something negative, that may provide some solace after a heartbreak, for it is a particularly popular saying when we wish hell on an ex-partner, being convinced that they are the source of all evil in the universe – fear not, karma will sort things out.
Or will it? Would it be that easy? Well, we can only hope that those who hurt others will learn the lesson and turn into decent human beings at some point in life. Sometimes they do!
Karma is a timeless law, fundamental in all Oriental phylosophy, not only in Buddhism. The Buddha became a commodity in the West in the last many decades though, and that’s why the most of what we believe to know about the big Orient, reaches us through Buddhism. We love quoting the Buddha for example but we never check whether those sayings come from a reliable source. And let’s face it, most of us couldn’t even verify their authenticity for the early Buddhist texts were written in Pāli, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Khotanese or Chinese, among other languages.
As an addition, in those times only the initiated had access to religious materials, they studied the texts with the help of more experienced scholars, who were high-ranking monks. It’s not possible to comprehend those writings without a dedicated teacher and years of learning.
Imagine, how much, as second-year university students my classmates and I understood of a Tantric Buddhist text written with Tibetan scripts, but mainly in Sanskrit. The meaning of individual words you could find with a bit or more research and imagination, but you do need focused learning on given tradition, and most of all a teacher, to comprehend a concept and a context. At uni, they gave us a semester for one type of textual tradition!
There are of course lighter writings, like the stories that are meant for laypeople and they aim to teach us some lesson, those we could read fluently after a year of learning. However, rest assured, when it was about texts that came from a given Buddhist school or tradition, that is they were written for scholarly examination, for monks who chose monastic life, we exited the classroom at the end of the semester as enlightened as we entered at the start.
Karma is a no less complicated concept and it’s a pity that we simplify it to the extent that we mainly see it as a negative one. For above-detailed reasons I will not attempt to unwrap the idea this time, my reason for this short piece of writing was mainly to point at how shallow our understading is of sayings we use so often. How little we understand our own words. How little we know about places and cultures despite being so interconnected.
Karma is neither negative nor positive, it ‘simply’ refers to a principle of cause and effect, or causality, that principle you can find popping up throughout history in various philosophies, a concept that even science cannot ignore.