Since action is the conduit of love and happiness in their truest forms, it’s no wonder that the concept of cause and effect is critical to understanding karma. So it makes perfect sense that karma is also synonymous with action – because what you do necessarily affects what will happen to you.
Western society has grossly misinterpreted and misapplied the true meaning of karma. Now, not everyone holds such a simplistic understanding of karma as to believe that you’ll wake up with a bruise because you punched someone, or the fact that you were subjected to a particular wrong means it’s a transgression you must have committed yourself. And while it’s often true that what goes around comes around, that’s not because there’s some entity who whips your misdeeds back at you from some kind of cosmic boomerang. Western religions tend to structure people’s morals according to not only right and wrong, but reward and punishment.
But if you’re avoiding doing something ‘bad’ because you will be Judged when you die, or you’re behaving in accordance with the religious/spiritual expectations of your community in order to achieve acceptance or salvation, I’m afraid you’ve missed the point of what it means to be ‘good’ – whatever the hell (pardon the pun) that means. Cultivating good karma doesn’t mean doing things so you’ll be safe, happy and prosperous. Nor does it entail dropping a coin into your local barista’s tip jar (as hip as it may seem). It means doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Over our lifetime (or lifetimes, if you’re into that) we develop what are known as samskaras – these are imprints on our subconscious left by our actions. Everything we do is stored in the very fabric of our mind and soul. I see it as a sort of inertia – the more you engage in certain behaviour, the more likely you are to repeat it with or without realizing. With every decision you make and everything you do, you’re breeding your own karma. And by simple cause and effect, there will be consequences to your actions. So even though you might think any given asshole seems perfectly happy and is prospering despite their deplorable actions, you can be sure of one thing: they don’t know true love or happiness – the two things really worth living for – and that’s the grimmest consequence I can think of for cultivating bad karma. This reminds me of the song Just by Radiohead:
“You do it to yourself, you do
And that’s what really hurts
You do it to yourself, just you
You and no one else
You do it to yourself
You do it to yourself”
When you do things that are disrespectful, selfish, harmful, etc., what you’re really doing is making your journey much longer and harder than it needs to be. The concept of reincarnation at its core is all about each lifetime teaching you the lessons you need to become an enlightened being full of peace and love. If we accept everything that happens as an invitation to make the right decision when we’re faced with temptation or difficulty, it will only become easier and easier. That’s karma. That’s good karma. And I do believe that eventually, we’ll all reach our destination.