Thu | Apr 26, 2018

Religion & Culture | Karma: The force that determines our lives

Published:Sunday | April 9, 2017 | 12:29 AMDr Glenville Ashby
The Dalai Lama

Don’t waste your time on revenge; those (who) hurt you will eventually face their own karma. ­

-Matareva Pearl

There is a well-known saying that karma is a five-letter word best not written or said. We don’t need to be mystics to realise the incontrovertible, unmistakable truth to karma.

We find support in every sacred book. “He who lives by the sword dies by it,” and “As you sow so shall you reap.” And there is the famous proverb: “What goes around comes around.” I would be remiss not to mention karma’s ominous pronouncement: “An eye for an eye.”

Daily, we are made aware of this law. We hear of those who lived nefarious lives dying in like manner. We hear of those who have perpetrated mere infractions against others suffer for their misdeeds. We hear of tribes, groups of people that once committed atrocities now on the receiving end.

What of slavery, the Holocaust, the decimation of indigenous peoples? What kind of karma did they bear? And there is individual karma to examine. What have children done to deserve the wrath of others? These are perennial questions that have nagged every enquiring mind.


We know that every action brings a reaction ­ the law of cause and effect, or the principle of causation. For example, illicit sex, intoxication, unbalanced diet, gambling, treachery, theft and slander all bear consequences. Yes, karma follows us, for good or bad. We have always heard: “Do good and you will be given your just meed. Do evil and expect the same.”

But while this appears to be a sound narrative, there is a different kind of karma that seems inexplicable and troubling. We have already raised the question of atrocities committed against groups of people.

In every war, babies, children, and women perish in large numbers. What are the wrongs of innocents swept up by the most incendiary conflicts? Look no further than today’s acts of brutality.

Yes, we ask again, what evil has a child committed to deserve the horrors of war? What crimes have been committed by the children who have been maimed and mangled in accidents?

The bestselling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner, attempts to address this perplexity.

Kushner dedicated the book to his son who died at 14 years old from progeria, an incurable genetic disease. He controversially concluded that God may not be able to prevent every ill fortune that befalls us; that maybe we are the ones at fault.


Kushner’s thesis mirrors the philosophy of New Age Thought that we are architectures of our reality, knowingly or unknowingly. While there is some truth to this belief we again beg the question: What reality did a murdered baby create?

If we hold that this existence is the totality of all things that we live at a single time, then the death of a baby becomes difficult to explain and random selection surfaces as a viable explanation to life’s injustices.

But if we believe in reincarnation ­ that this existence is but one of many lifetimes ­ then we begin to understand that nothing happens by chance, that there is structure and explanation for every anomaly or incomprehensible occurrence.

For example, the following is a true life story regarding a baby who was given a few days at most to live due to a congenital illness. Remarkably, her single day on earth brought a fractured family together for the first time in a decade. Although alive for a mere day, this soul’s mission was purposeful and overwhelmingly impactful. Sometimes a single day of life can prove to be more meaningful than 50-plus years of a stagnated existence.

Regrettably, in our myopia, we fail to fathom the inner meaning of every experience.
Karma is not always easy to understand. In coming to grips with acts of genocide and slavery, we must be mindful not to condemn the victim. Still, we must consider that, like individual karma, group karma is very real.

We are bound to family, community and tribes. As such, individuals are impacted by the actions perpetrated by their groups. This reality has stirred robust, heated exchanges between supporters and opponents of group karma.


While karma has been discussed theologically, especially in Buddhism and Hinduism, little has been advanced to understand this concept from a scientific perspective. The question remains: Can karma be explained as a scientific truth? If karma is a natural law, it follows that we are also bound by its principles.

The logic of karma is explained in spiritual It reads: “Science has discovered that all of nature obeys laws. From the microscopic to the macroscopic, for any interaction of any kind nature follows laws. In fact, science is nothing but the study and application of nature’s laws. If all of nature is governed by laws, why should we humans be an exception to such laws?”

The argument is cemented with the following: “Just as the law of gravity is impartial and inexorable and acts on all physical objects indiscriminately the law of karma is impartial and inexorable and (impacts) on all living entities indiscriminately.”

Still, many believe that although our lives can be adversely affected by karma, we can, through prayer, fasting, charity, and genuine contrition, find favour with God. Others reject this theory, holding that one’s karma must be played out; burn its way through expiation and suffering.

Maybe the words of the reverential Tibetan leader Dalai Lama will shed some light on these opposing views: “Karma means action, so things change through action, not by prayer, nor by wish.”

These weighty words are echoed by the eminent Helena Blavatsky who wrote, “Karma is no respecter of persons; it can neither be propitiated nor turned aside by prayer.”

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of ‘Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend’ and ‘Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity’, now in audio book format. Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby