Saw this on FB today:
I’ve been thinking about the concept of Karma for a while now. I’ve always been tangentially aware of the Westernized notion of it, obviously, but in the past year or so, I’ve learned more about Eastern religions and (unrelated) a few relationships have ended. All this made me really take a step back and look at the idea of Karma in the context of my own life and the lives of those around me. These are the conclusions I’ve come to:
- First: The way we talk about Karma in Western society is infused with blindly ignorant cultural and religious approbations.
- Second: I think when someone says Karma will take care of revenge, it highlights the lack of control they feel in their own life.
- Third: Karma is not real.
First, Western notions of Karma tend to break down to this very simplistic idea of:
Oh, I perceive that person as treating me unfairly, therefore they are a bad person, therefore Karma will get them.
Ever hear the phrase, “The best revenge is living well?” This is a truth, but because it is true, it can seem to us that if we’re living well, then Karma dictates that whoever has wronged or hurt us must be unhappy or miserable. But that’s not it at all — Karma is not some sort of cosmic revenge on people we don’t like that will automatically occur because we feel offended or maligned.
According to Eastern Traditions, Karma is broadly and basically a moral law of objective cause and effect that spans past, present, and future. The long and short of this is that despite the Westernization of the idea, it’s not some sort of an immediate cosmic revenge for bad deeds or granting of a cosmic luck reward for good deeds. The Eastern School of thought views Karma as an immutable law, like Newton’s Third Law of Motion:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It’s not a judgement from some omniscient being regarding the people you disagree with or whose choices hurt you. I mean, personally, I don’t even think Karma exists, but even if one does believe in the notion of Karma, the Western notion of it is completely wrong-headed. It’s an appropriation and misrepresentation of another culture’s religious traditions, twisted to fit the Judeo-Christian ideals of a just world and the modern mindset of, “me, me, me.”
Second, the idea that some cosmic force will get revenge on people you’re upset with is so . . . passive, and it denotes an utter lack of control or understanding of one’s own situation. It’s this cowardly way of avoiding introspection by off-loading all blame onto the other person.
The best revenge is living well.
This is true. This is absolutely true, and not because you’re hoping the person who hurt you will see you living your awesome life and feel miserable and jealous. No, it’s because if you are truly living well, then you’ve moved on from that toxic situation or relationship. Living well is living a happy life in spite of the negative relationships and experiences you’ve had, not to spite the people involved in those relationships and experiences.
You’ve learned your lessons. You’ve engaged in some serious self-examination and determined whether you feel your actions were justified or whether you were unnecessarily cruel and hurtful. You’ve made amends and tried to become a better person, to learn from your mistakes and stand by your values. You have made what changes in your life you can and have control over to prevent a similar situation from occurring.
As a side note, engaging in active acts of revenge to cause pain to someone you feel wronged you is not living well and moving on — it’s kind of the opposite of that. Allowing a negative or toxic relationship to become the focus of your life and lead you to engage in active acts of revenge is an unhealthy level of negativity to cultivate. All you’re doing is taking what should have been an opportunity to break off the relationship (whether friend, family, or romantic) and redirecting it into obsessive hatred.
In other words, living well is an active process which involves taking responsibility for one’s actions and taking control (as much as one can) of ones own life to ensure you can avoid similar toxic relationships in the future; while relying on concepts of Karma is a passive process that assumes no personal responsibility and no control over one’s life. Acts of active revenge are just refocusing the sense of hurt or betrayal into unhealthy obsession as a means of attempting to find control, but it’s still just ceding control of your emotion and reactions to the very person you have deemed not worthwhile.
To invoke the Western concept of Karma in order to make you feel better about personal disagreements is not living well. That’s not to say someone who is living well will not invoke concepts of Karma; it’s just to say that invoking the Westernized concept of Karma as a revenge concept is an inherently passive and self-justifying act which views any perceived failure or setback in the other person’s life as the universe settling the scales of their personal drama. Both the passive and active senses of revenge are incompatible with emotional and mental health or self-awareness. A person who invokes Karma is a person who is indicating that they lack of sense of control over their own situation.
Finally, Karma isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. There is no cosmic balancing of the scales. Bad people get away with shit all the time, and good people face unnecessary hardships and cruelties all the time. I don’t like it either, but there it is. It is a fact of life. As human beings, we like to try and project a pattern, a sense of fairness on the world. This is a fallacy. In an immediate and personal sense, what this means is that when someone upsets, hurts, shames, or rejects us, we tend to view any future instances of hurt, shame, or rejection they experience as “Karma” for their actions toward us. In the U.S., especially, we conflate the myth of meritocracy with the idea of Karma, while ignoring all the times that people succeed despite flouting the traditional systems of merit, or fail despite adhering to them.
If we are honest, I think we would all admit that notions of Karma as referenced in Western society and through social media memes are not about Eastern notions of moral cause and effect. No, the idea of Karma which spread like a virus over the Western hemisphere and is illustrated by the quote at the top of this blog is all about justifying personal behavior in our interpersonal relationships and casting a nebulous, cosmic notion as judge and jury. It is the distorted idea that a life without challenges is proof of righteousness, while those who experience hardship earned it through their bad actions.
Oddly, this Western idea of Karma does not seem to encourage self-examination. People rarely seem to view their own hardships and shortcomings as the result of Karmic justice or divine justice derived from their actions. Instead, hardships that occur in one’s personal life are “tests of faith,” or due to unfairness created by another’s actions, or just the way life is. I suspect this contributions to the phenomenon of presented perfection on social media — if your life looks perfect, than it must be perfect, and people will know that you are a good person whom the cosmos have blessed.