The word “karma” is the normative form of the Sanskrit word, “karman,” literally meaning, doing or making; action. The ancient and current cultural user of the Sanskrit word most assuredly understood karman in its most universal and comprehensive connotations. However, its meaning and usage particularly in our country has been greatly modified, owing to the relative freshness of its association with our culture. What has been generally accepted of this comprehensive, universal law is a rather narrow and hazy expression of its moral effects causing “good” or “bad” karma. In the New Testament, Galatians 6:7, we read the familiar quote, …”whatsoever a man shall sow that also shall he reap”…, and more contemporaneously, “If you want to dance, you must pay the band.” In the lexicon of our language there is no equivalent word for “karma,” only paragraph upon paragraph of explanation.
Although the concept of karma has always been held through the entire history of our country, by isolated groups and individuals, its has never quite flowed into the mainstream of our nation’s belief system. Today however, a fringe element of the concept of karma has infiltrated our cultural mind. Its awakening has come about because of a growing interest in Eastern religions and philosophies. That is not to say that the East has originated the concept of karma. The East has simply embraced karma as a fundamental doctrine most closely related to their spiritual bend of mind. Karma is not indigenous to any specific culture. In truth, it is more a principle or universal law than a developed philosophical doctrine. It is analogous to the scientific principle of gravity, where its application and manifestation is taken as an immutable scientific law. Karma is however, far more universal in its application, and virtually infinite in its expression.
The keynote of karma is balance and harmony. Nature works incessantly to restore equilibrium wherever it is disturbed. Science knows of this balance/reaction as the law of cause and effect; that every action and reaction are equal and opposite. Science focuses its attention exclusively on the phenomenal causes and effects or the outside wrappings of our world. Karma’s focus is on the comprehensive world, the outside and the inside, unerringly considering all planes: the physical, psychic, moral, and spiritual. Karma considers human beings to be the initiator’s of their own causes, and as such directly responsible for the consequences of those causes. Every desire, thought, word, and deed is karmaicly tied to the initiator. The American poet, Emerson, intuitively describes the workings of the Law of Karma with regard to the merit side:
“If you love and serve men, you cannot by any hiding or stratagem escape the remuneration. Secret retributions are always restoring the level, when disturbed, of the divine justice. It is impossible to tilt the beam. All the tyrants and proprietors of the world in vain set their shoulders to heave the bar. Settles forevermore the ponderous equator to its line, and man, and mote, and star, and sun, must range to it or be pulverized by the recoil.”
In one of the passages of the “Darmmapada,” (one of the most authoritative and respected scriptures of the Hinayana School of Buddhism), comment is made on the demerit side of the karmic ledger:
“Not in the sky, not in the midst of the sea, not if we enter into the cliffs of the mountains, is there known a spot in the wide world where a man my be free from an evil deed.”
Another descriptive portrait of karma in operation can be found in Charles Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol.” Especially in the beginning chapter were Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased partner, Jacob Marley, who in life was a greedy, mean, unsympathetic man, forged his life thought by thought, deed by deed.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied Marley’s ghost.
“I made it link by link, and yard by yard, I girded it on of my free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
When a human acts, he acts through an expenditure of his own native energy. His actions put into motion energy which brings forth either an instantaneous or delayed reaction, and that reaction in turn impacts his immediate environment, and Nature in general. In other words, Nature reacts either against or in accord the impact of a human’s expended, native energy, and the combination of these two causative and reactive energies is what is called,”karman.”
Karma, as an active principle, is all-embracing. It goes beyond the idea of moral retribution to incorporate causes, (physical, psychic, spiritual), put into motion by all of Nature, from atom to star. Nothing escapes this great law, for it operates within the infinite breath of Universal Nature.
In anticipation of an argument coming from the reader/thinker which would go something like this: ‘Karma cannot stand the test of unfailing and universal justice or can it reconciliate the terrible injustices that befall on the human race, under the above definition. Also there seems to be no advancement, progress, or even regression, only the eternal wheel of pleasure and pain.’ Here is an answer to that argument. The remedy for the argument lies in the doctrine of reimbodiment. The doctrine of karma perfectly correlates to the doctrine of reimbodiment. Karma says, that causes set into motion by us or any entity, atom or star, will reap their effects, unerringly. Reimbodiment says, that in order to balance and harmonize all effects of all thoughts, words, desires, actions, put into motion in any one life time takes many life times. Karma and reimbodiment assures us, all humanity, of the application of perfect justice, throughout the course of time. The combined doctrines remedy the seemingly injustices of the world, and clearly portrays Universal Nature’s supreme attribute of compassion.