Western culture has a mixed-up view of many things; we’re living in the Kaliyuga, after all. One of the most misunderstood truths from Buddhism is karma. It seems like the teaching of karma has been somehow juxtaposed with the Christian “do unto others” edict, almost as a means of social influence. If the laws of karma supposedly require that whatever action you take on one person will be revisited back on you, then that’s a good motivation to be nice to people. Right?
Well that’s not how it works – though I’m not suggesting that you should be not nice to people, either! “Do unto others” is a fine way to be. It greases the skids of social interactions and makes the outside world a more pleasant place for all of us.
But when I see something like this:
When you’re kind to people in their time of need, God will make sure somebody will be kind to you in your time of need.
— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) April 22, 2014
Well that just gets me huffy-puffy.
That tweet makes it sound like you need to buy God’s future generosity towards you. I’m sure that’s not how the guy meant it but personally I don’t think it sends quite the right message.
You should be kind to people in their time of need because they are people.
(You should be kind to them when they’re not in need, too, just FYI.)
That quote above is surely well-intentioned but it’s spiritual pablum. What does it really mean?
It’s also coming from a place of fear: “I’m going to be in pain/trouble/desperation in some future time and I won’t be taken care of; I must take action now to build up an insurance policy against that.” No. Again, that’s not how things work.
The law of karma dictates that every thought, word, and action affects your state of mind. That’s it. There’s no scorecard. It’s not like “God” is sitting there keeping track of every time you’ve been kind to others and then will dole out kindness back to you based on that.
Karma is immediate. You do something, or think something, or act some way towards somebody, and “boom!” there’s a change within you. You’re kind to someone, it affects you NOW. Your attention will brighten. You’re not kind, then the opposite may happen (though you should also realize that sometimes it’s completely appropriate and even “kind” to call someone out or confront them or challenge them or whatever – behaviors that many might not slap the “kind” label on).
The clinging illusion that we’re subject to in the Maya of this world is that there is a past and a future. Most people’s idea of karma only perpetuates that illusion. All there is, is NOW. That’s where karma acts – NOW. In the present. And that’s the place from which you can go beyond your karma.