Many people don’t believe in karma, although it seems that many of these people do wish that karma existed. For better or for worse, karma does exist, but it won’t seem this way for those that don’t believe in reincarnation. In other words: karma doesn’t seem to be working fairly or correctly without taking into account the fact that a person’s negative karma may not “catch up” with him or her until a later lifetime.
The Law of Karma
Contrary to popular opinion, karma is not about rewards and punishment. Instead, karma is a law of nature. It is simply a way for the universe to maintain balance, from the point of view of justice. In the Bible, the phrase “an eye for an eye” is not about revenge or just punishment. Instead, it is an explanation of the law of karma. When you do something “good” to/for somebody, somebody will eventually do something good for you. And if you do something bad to/for someone, the same will eventually happen to you.
How Karma is Acquired
There is a gap between the time that you do an act for someone else, and when that act will return to you in kind. The accumulation of positive acts that have not yet been returned to a person is known as “positive karma”. Likewise, negative acts that have not yet resulted in negative consequences can be thought of as one’s negative karma.
Note that positive karma is acquired by doing selfless acts for others that legitimately make the recipient(s) feel better. Giving an unwanted gift (that is often for the purpose of inflating one’s ego) won’t work. The point here is that doing selfless acts carries the risk of not producing any positive karma, but that is kind of the whole point of the “selfless” part. Also, note that many outwardly selfless acts are only selfless from the selfish ego’s point of view.
In contrast, negative karma occurs by committing an act that inflicts emotional pain on another person. Note that sometimes all choices will end up inflicting pain on another. I.e., it isn’t always possible to avoid negative karma (or at least obvious how to avoid it). But it’s generally better to be aware of the consequences instead of being ignorant about them.
In addition, there are no clear cut rules that can determine whether or not something will produce positive or negative karma. When in doubt, check in with that intuitively feels like the right decision. Ultimately, it is your “conscience” that is the best judge in any given situation.
In many cases, the consequences of one’s karma will occur in the same lifetime. But in many other cases, the consequences of one lifetime only occur in a later reincarnation. This itself might seem unfair to someone who has no past (conscious) recollection of the previous lifetime, but there is a purpose for this. If negative actions always had immediate negative results, then free will would essentially not exist. And since free will is essential for soul development, the consequences of karma can neither be immediate nor extremely obvious. (On a side note: the more spiritually evolved a person is, the more immediate his/her karmic consequences tend to be.)
Life is not about being perfect and always making the right choices. Instead, we learn from not knowing the right choices and making decisions that turn out to produce “less-than-optimal” results. By experiencing the consequences of our actions (which will eventually catch up to us sooner or later), we as souls evolve in ways that otherwise would not be possible.
Abusing the Concept of Karma
As with all spiritual concepts, the concept of karma is easily (and often) abused. This is unfortunate, because this results in more negative karma. Let’s look at an example of how this works.
Let’s say there is someone that you really dislike and is always doing mean things. If you wish for this person to suffer the consequences of their bad karma (as soon as possible), the wish itself will add to your negative karma. This is because (in contrast with popular opinion) thoughts do have consequences, even if they can’t be seen. Therefore, it is never a good idea to judge or to wish anyone harm. Furthermore, nobody living on the Earth plane has the proper perspective to judge another person. Let’s take a moment to explain why.
When a soul is preparing for its next incarnation, it will meet with “spiritual advisors” to discuss options for lessons to be learned in its upcoming life. The soul might consider various options, including a relatively easy life. Alternatively, the soul might choose a life with many challenges and hardships.
Part of the decision-making process involves deciding which unpurified aspects of the soul to work on in the upcoming life, and how many. Please note that souls did not all “start out” with the same degree of imperfections, and in many cases the souls that “started” with more imperfections are in this situation due to volunteering to take on heavier burdens. Why and how this happened is outside the scope of this discussion, but I do think it’s important to make this point.
Therefore, a person’s life situation is never just about the consequences of bad karma. A highly-developed soul may choose to incarnate as a homeless person in order to finish purifying the remaining aspects of his or her soul that need purification. On the other hand, a wealthy person may have chosen an easier life (at least from a financial perspective) in order to focus on one aspect of the soul that needs spiritual purification.
That is not to say that this is always the case. Instead, the point is that it is never possible to judge a person’s spiritual development based on either his/her life situation, nor his/her personality and behavior. Once again: that alcoholic uncle that you really hate and think is a jerk could be much more spiritually evolved than you. Or not. But you simply do not know either way.
Positive vs. Negative Karma
I used to think of karma as some sort of spiritual bank account. If I did something positive, I would earn positive karma, which would wipe out negative karma. And if I did something negative, then positive karma would be “taken away”. But this isn’t actually the case.
Instead, there are two “accounts”: a positive karma account and a negative one. Adding positive karma “offsets” the negative karma, but it does not make the negative karma “disappear”. This is important from a spiritual perspective because as souls, we can’t evolve past a certain point without somehow dispensing the negative karma.
Think of negative karma as something that “drags you down” and positive karma as something that “lifts you up”. By accumulating positive karma, you can lift yourself up to a higher vibrational state, which is part of the process of the soul’s evolution. But as long as you have negative karma, the highest point that you can reach is limited. (This might not make sense, but keep in mind that positive karma is also released every time something good happens to you. Therefore, there is only so much positive karma that one can accumulate at any given point.) In order to free yourself from the limits of negative karma, you must directly release the negative karma from your system.
Before going further, I want to discuss a topic related to karma that is somewhat of a current fad. In today’s society, which includes a rather extreme amount of wealth inequality, there is often news of wealthy individuals who give their fortunes away to charity upon their deaths. It is almost as if they are trying to buy positive karma. For the record, that is not how karma works. Giving away money to charity at the end of one’s life (now matter how large or small the amount) does not “buy” a person positive karma.
First of all, any money that is given away publicly will not incur positive karma. Secondly, once you are dead you can’t use your money anyway. So in a spiritual sense, you haven’t given up anything. Instead, you are merely controlling how the money (which is no longer really yours) should be spent after your death, which is somewhat selfish in itself. Third, if the money you give away does not present a real “sacrifice” in some way, no positive karma will result. It may leave you warm and fuzzy inside, but that’s the extent of your karmic payback.
Having said that, let’s discuss something that is often overlooked when it comes to money. Any wealth that you hold onto for selfish purposes accumulates negative karma. To understand this, it is necessary to be aware that every soul at some point or another must learn the concept of faith. Not faith in God per se, but faith that one’s idea of God (which could mean life itself or the universe) will provide you with what you need at every step of your life journey.
By hoarding money (while others are in obvious need), a person is symbolically revealing his or her lack of faith. It is an attempt to override Divine/Universal will using person/selfish will. Such a person is basically stating that – due to fear – he must “look after” himself to ensure he gets what he really wants. The trouble is that the selfish ego doesn’t know what its soul actually needs for self-purification. In most cases, what the ego wants is in direct conflict with what the soul would wish to happen to further its development.
This is not to say that having money or earning money is bad. On the contrary, money in itself is “neutral”. It is your intention (positive or negative) about what you do with the money that incurs the positive or negative karma. As a side note, the same is true about sex. Having sex is in itself neutral. Sex can be used for self-gratification, or it can be used as a tool for cultivating mutual love and affection. In either case, it is the intention of what you are using it for that is of the utmost importance.
Karma and Free Will
Another interesting topic relating to karma involves extra-terrestrials. (Note: if you don’t believe in aliens, you can safely skip this section as it is not an integral part of the discussion.) As some people already suspect, aliens are currently monitoring human activity. These alien species have far superior technology compared to humans, and could easily destroy all of us if they so desired, or at least force us to behave more “humanely”.
The reason they don’t (even though it could be argued that they should) is because these aliens are more spiritually evolved than humans. As such, they have a much better understanding of the karmic consequences of interfering with free will. As previously mentioned, free will is a necessary part of a soul’s evolution, as it is impossible to learn without the freedom to make mistakes. Even among humans, trying to force another person to do what you wish will incur negative karma.
Therefore, the aliens who monitor the planet will not get involved in “human affairs”. They will assist people who ask for help (with certain spiritual matters). Otherwise, they abide by the same protocol that is used by “spiritual helpers” such as angels. I.e., they can help if assistance is requested, but in order to maintain free will, assistance must be requested.
There is another important caveat in regards to aliens interfering with free will, and that has to do with nuclear weapons. Because of the way that the universe is constructed, it is possible for man’s use of nuclear weapons to not only destroy the planet, but also negatively affect other parts of the universe as well.
In this case, aliens are allowed to try to prevent such an event from occurring, as this would affect them as well. So while aliens might not be allowed to interfere with a limited use of nuclear weapons, they are allowed to ensure that “galactic catastrophes” are avoided. This is not to say that they have a 100% chance of preventing such an event, but they are allowed to do what they can to try to stop such an event from taking place.
Releasing Negative Karma
As discussed previously, negative karma cannot be erased by accumulating positive karma. Luckily, there is a way to release our negative karma, but it should come as no surprise that releasing negative karma is unpleasant. In short, negative karma is released through physical and emotional suffering.
Before going deeper into this idea, let’s back up a moment and talk about the effect of negative karma in the “between lives” phase. For those souls whose development still includes physical incarnation (which is near the lowest end of the soul-development spectrum), the soul is enclosed in what I will term an “astral” body. Please note that authors of various spiritual texts may use different terminology, so please don’t get caught up on the idea of “no, it’s not the astral body”. Instead, just try to understand what I mean when I am using this term.
In this case, the astral body is an energetic body that clothes the soul for a period of time, just as the body “clothes” the soul during a soul’s physical incarnation. In the between-life state, a soul’s negative karma can be plainly seen and felt in the astral body. Additionally, there is no way to rid the astral body of negative karma: negative karma can only be released via the physical body. As a result, souls waiting to be incarnated are anxious to begin a new life in order to have the opportunity to once again release negative karma.
But once we are back in physical bodies, we no longer remember the true purpose behind our suffering. Instead, we feel victimized and resentful (typically against life or God) for having to experience pain. We have forgotten that this suffering is in fact the opportunity we have been waiting for in order to deal with the karma that was accumulated in previous lifetimes.
As mentioned previously, karma is released through suffering. This suffering is the direct result of the same action that you committed against another being committed against you at a later point in time. In the case that this is not possible, certain symbolic illnesses may develop. For example, skin disorders that result in itchy rashes (such as eczema) are an indication of animal cruelty in a previous life. Out of an abundance of caution, I will point out once again that it is never wise to judge anyone for any illness (or life situation), unless you wish to add to your own negative karma.
In general terms, all emotional pain from other’s actions, as well as physical pain from illness, are a way to release karma. It is analogous to letting air out of a pressurized container. As such, it is possible to further harm someone during the experience of releasing negative karma. And more often than not, this tends to be what happens. For example, a person who is bitter about a painful illness can end up complaining and making the life of others who are caring for him or her more difficult. Or a person who gets dumped in a relationship may decide to act very aggressively and meanly toward the person who left him or her.
This is the reason why it is so important to understand the meaning of life’s suffering. If we were to realize that the experience of pain was “part of the whole plan”, it might help people make much more sense of their lives. From an ego’s perspective, having to suffer pain for the wrongs done in a past life may not seem very fair. But from a soul’s perspective, the suffering is a welcome way to release the burden of negative karma.
Therefore, to have a clearer understanding of one’s life events, a person should aim to become more aligned with the perspective of the soul. Some of the most popular ways to do this is via meditation, prayer, or other sort of spiritual contemplation technique. Note that if we could more closely connect with the consciousness of the soul, we would have a greater understanding of the need to experience painful life events, as well as the lessons that can be learned from them.
Photo credit: Jonny McKenna