The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about how the spiritual law of karma can often times be used as a form of blame or as a way of not caring about bad things happening to our fellow human beings. It can be used as a way of saying that no matter what your misfortunes, it’s your own fault.
My new blogger friend Meyla wrote a very thought provoking post bringing up the question of how our patterns from the past create our future and that there is this theory that we might create suffering for ourselves because we haven’t learned our lessons from the past or changed our minds. Of course, there is truth to this – but it is a personal truth for our own personal journey, not a truth to point a finger at someone else. How that truth is interpreted makes a huge difference, and this is what got me thinking about the blame game of karma.
On a societal scale there are examples of the blame game of Karma both in the East and the West.
Here in America on the secular end, the wealthy and conservative elite and their mouth pieces in the media would have you believe that being on welfare, needing food stamps to have enough to feed your family or being poor is somehow a character flaw. The ugly side of “the American dream” is when those who have made it and are enjoying wealth beyond their dreams turn around and judge or shame those less fortunate, refusing to share or show any compassion to those who might be hungry. This unfunny phenomenon is shown quite hysterically in this clip from John Stewart:
If you enjoyed that – you can watch the equally funny second part here.
On the Judeo-Christian end there are passages in the Old Testament that make God out to be some kind of Cosmic Hall Monitor, busily watching our every thought and secret deed in order to administer swift punishment for any transgressions. Therefore, there was the thought that if something bad happens to you, it is God punishing you and you must deserve it. That misconception of God as a punisher was supposed to be changed with the teachings of Jesus (and the teachings of several other Jewish rabbis and prophets as well), but let’s face it, that is not a thought form that is foreign to Jews or Christians today and there are far too many who are more than willing to throw the first stone. And somehow the Golden Rule of love thy neighbor as thy self doesn’t always apply.
In India there are still social ramifications of the caste system – closely related to the class system in the West but also different. There it is thought by some that those born into the lower classes have been born into poverty and suffering due to their karma from past lives and it is simply what they deserve. When someone is born as an “Untouchable,” who according to scripture should eat their meals from broken bowls and wear the clothes of dead people, there is somehow a karmic loop hole in the whole idea of seeing the Self in the other and honoring the Divine in all of life that is central to Hinduism. Karma is used to justify oppression.
I have also come across this twist on the eternal truth of cause and effect in my own personal spiritual path. I was once in a very dysfunctional relationship. I was being mistreated, yelled at and belittled on a daily basis. There were many more dynamics to the situation that I won’t go into, but this was supposed to be a very spiritual relationship. When I finally got up the nerve to speak up and say something about it I was told that being treated this way must be what my soul was calling forth. It was explained to me how we create our own reality from our past karma and because I had not had the courage to heal my childhood issues of being yelled at and belittled, I was creating this again.
Hmmmm. This sounds a lot like “I’m yelling at you because you asked for it,” except in much more spiritual terms. When I asked, “well, what about your own responsibility for your own behavior?” there was not an equally gymnastic spiritual answer, so the topic was changed. I didn’t feel like debating karma or if I deserved what I got, so I decided I deserved to leave.
The bottom line that I learned is this: while on the highest level of reality it might be true that we are all responsible for creating our own reality – that does not mean that an abused child deserves the abuse because it is their karma. It does not mean that abused wives who married husbands similar to their abusive fathers deserve what they get because they never went to therapy. It doesn’t absolve the husbands from their responsibility of choosing to be assholes. It does not mean that poor people deserve to go hungry because they don’t have enough character and gumption to live the American dream or that God is punishing them for the sins of their fathers. It does not mean that Untouchables or lower caste people in India deserve to eat out of broken bowls or be discriminated against and treated as less than human.
As in most cases when the selfish ego mind gets a-hold of a cosmic truth – it goes terribly wrong. Karma is not meant to be an excuse for prejudice and blame. Karma is just an isness of cause and effect. The awareness of this cause and effect and the fact that we create our own reality is meant to empower us to create a kinder and more loving world. But we can only use this truth to look at ourselves – our own karma, period. It does not apply to us placing judgment on anyone else. Karma is not some justification for social injustice and it is certainly not an excuse to be anything but compassionate.
And if you haven’t already, please consider signing the Charter for Compassion.