“No…! Really? That’s terrible…” It may well have been, but I doubt the subject of their gossip would have appreciated the evident relish with which the two women were discussing her misfortunes. I wasn’t eavesdropping, the strident voices were inescapable in the waiting room.
“Must be karma…” She folded her hands on her bag and sat back, nodding sagely.
“Yeah,” the lady almost licked her lips, “She must have done something really awful in a past life to deserve all that…” Here we go again, I thought, itching, as always, to jump into the conversation on that one subject, at least. Then, I suppose they would say the same of me…
It is no secret that I have fulfilled the criteria of the infamous ‘Chinese curse’ and lived in ‘interesting times’. What with one thing and another, life has never had chance to become monotonous, though some manifestations of ‘interesting’ I could well have lived without. Except, that I couldn’t, as to do so would have removed essential elements of the story that has shaped me and brought me to this moment. Without those ‘interesting times’, the person I think of as ‘me’, would not be me.
Have I ‘deserved all that’ as the two ladies were asserting about their absent friend? In all honesty, for a good proportion of it, I must accept the blame. Not necessarily through any conscious actions or omissions, but simply because life is a learning curve and we learn best from our mistakes…and of those, I have made plenty. Until we have made them for ourselves, we have little or no chance of ‘knowing better’ or behaving any differently, in spite of anything our elders may try and teach us. In that respect, our mistakes and errors of judgement can be seen as life’s opportunities for growth.
Some things, though, are out of our control and simply descend upon our lives unheralded and unavoidable. All we can do is deal with them as best we know how. The scenarios are many and varied….and can be devastating. We can learn from such events too, and grow… but do we deserve them? Not necessarily.
I do not believe that karma works that way. It is not an ‘eye for an eye’ scenario, where what we do is ‘paid back’ in full measure. I see it more as a that pair of scales that features in the iconography of almost every culture throughout history. In one pan, the good that we do…in the other, the ill that we cause. Finding the balance, in this case, is literal… and making sure that better pan outweighs the other is our goal. Karma kicks in, life upon life, to even up the balance…or allow us to do so.
Imagine, for a moment, that A hits B over the head with a brick. In the next life, does B have the right to hit A in exactly the same way? Possibly in the classic misconception of karma… but would that not simply perpetuate violence? Would it not be better for A to learn regret and allow it to change his behaviour, while B learns forgiveness and compassion, forgoing such a negative emotion as revenge? Both could learn and grow by that.
What if A had lived a life doing nothing but good, and hit B, for example, in defence of a child? Or by accident? Would he deserve an exact retribution? Circumstances can mitigate the apparent facts. Intent counts for a good deal… and I believe intent may weigh heavier than action in the pan of the fabled scales.
Karma can be used as a good excuse for the events that befall us, just as we occasionally blame some predestined and nebulous fate. The concept that is missing here is that of personal responsibility. My belief is that, at the end of one life the nature of the balance we have achieved determines the circumstances we need for a future life in order to grow. We are responsible for our own thoughts and deeds, and for the consequences of our actions. Should we blame or thank ourselves for the opportunities for growth that then arise, in this life or another? What we deserve and what we need may be worlds apart… or not so very different at all.