Are you ready to explore what karma is and how karma is related to your fortune? This is going to be a long post.
Karma can be a common term heard during a fortune telling sessions. Most fortune tellers (and likely even religious clergies) use karma as a reason to explain why bad things happen to you or about to happen to you.
Karma is not something that I used commonly in my sessions because I have a different (and perhaps better) understanding towards the subject of karma and adopt a different attitude towards seeing that bad things happening to my clients (and myself!).
One of the main reasons I seldom use karma in any explanation during my fortune telling sessions is because the expansion on the topic of karma has to touch about past lives. Now, how do you verify past lives and specifically, which past life? Therefore, I choose to avoid spiral down the path of talking about things that cannot be verified. Yes, there might be some traits that you have that is so distinct that we may relate that it is something you have brought from some past lives but is this really necessary to help you moving forward by claiming it is due to your karma?
I have met practitioners who shed light to me about my past lives. Some traits made sense, some do not; but because I have a rather healthy outlook in how to handle such topic, they do not haunt or affect me too badly. However, not everyone has this type of outlook. Let us get back to what karma is before I sidetrack too much.
To understand what karma is and how to manage it is a brave step to take. I am writing this to help you discern truth from nonsense and save yourself from being exploited by many fortune tellers and new age spirituality practitioners.
So what is karma exactly?
This is actually a broad and deep question. The word ‘karma’ was first found in the Vedics and earlier Buddhist Scriptures. These days, the word ‘karma’ is so often used by many people across different cultures and beliefs that it can mean many things and likely to have deviated from its Vedic and Buddhist roots. Let me share some of the common contemporary understandings of what karma is:
1. You reap what you sow.
2. Actions begets reactions.
3. Tit-for-tat, what goes around comes around.
4. Divine intervened justice/retribution.
5. Karmic creditors claiming the karmic debt.
Sounds about right? But these have some problems if you give more thoughts in them.
You reap what you sow?
It is true that you cannot be harvesting apple if you do not plant apple seed to begin with. But the apple seed will not just grow into tree and bear fruits automatically. You need water, fertilizers, sunlight and other farming efforts too. This still sounds making sense but this is only if the happenings in the world are simple and linear. More often than not, we live in a complex world with complicated experiences that happen to us all the time. Some are within control and perhaps many are not necessarily within our control. But can this also mean that if I make sure I don’t provide ‘water, fertilizers and sunlight’ to the bad seed, then I do not have to face bad consequences right? So this spirals to another direction of discussion is there justice in karma?
Actions beget reactions?
This is which some people trying to make karma sounds ‘scientific’. Hence whatever you do will definitely get an outcome. But does an inaction considered as outcome? Say, someone slaps you and being the bigger person, you decide not to return with a slap. The passive karma-believers will say you have ceased a chain of reaction or you have thus return a karmic debt! But if the belief in karma of actions beget reactions is as true as gravity, then you have to return that slap! If not you have acted out of a truth!
Tit-for-tat, what goes around comes around?
I used to hear this very often. Say if you done something bad towards another, then you will get that exact type of ‘something’ thrown back to you. One example I used to hear often is that you will turn into an ant in your next life if you kill an ant in this life time; you will turn into a goat in your next life if you kill a goat in this lifetime; but this mechanism fails when it comes to killing a human in this life which this group of believers will tell you, you will end up in hell. So why the multiple standards?
Another loophole I have thought about is how do you explain plane clash? There were no airplanes for you to clash in ancient times right…? Ah…I will not be surprised some bolder new agers will argue that your previous existence came from another star systems where there were flying machines yada yada…Just things that cannot be verified but used as a weak justification.
Divine intervened justice/retribution?
This requires one to have some sort of religious/spiritual belief that there is a supernatural entity or a pantheon of supernatural entities to mete out punishments. One question you can keep in mind that will be – why these gods or deities still allow bad things to happen (especially on good) people? Why don’t these gods or deities intervene to not allow bad things to happen in the first place? Deists will be quick to defend that the gods see further and deeper and has knowledge beyond what you and I understand. And hence if you see someone suffer from chronic sickness and basically has little to no function over a long time, it is actually a punishment allowed by the gods.
Karmic creditors claiming the karmic debt?
This is heard more commonly heard in buddhist community. The belief that the people who often acted against you are people that you owe some karmic debt towards in some previous existence; or it is likely that there are some karmic creditor in spirit-forms ‘blocking’ your fortune if you persistently running some bad luck. This belief can only established with the belief, like the one explained in the paragraph prior, that there is ‘some sort of religious/spiritual belief that there is a supernatural entity or a pantheon of supernatural entities to mete out punishments’. If not, how would these karmic creditors so nicely placed before you, whether in human- or spirit-forms, to hinder your fortune?
What is wrong with these views on karma?
Basically, the above common views are flawed because they belong in seeing cause and effect in a very linear manner, and two-stage consideration. Whereas, karma is complicated and complex. The linear manner overlook other diverse situational conditions in current and previous existence. The two-stage consideration, which means past (usually the immediate past) and present life, overlooks the possibility of a deeper intertwined and entangled relationship one may have.
To often assume that you are suffering because you are clearing karmic debt is wrong because it can be the exact opposite of allowing your bully to build more bad karma because you allow the bully’s bad conduct to go unchecked hence helping the bully to grow into a bigger bully!
But they say birth details can tell your karma?
I belong to the camp that your birth chart can tell some inborn character traits and I can somewhat agree that the trait can be something that might be coming from one of your many past lives. But to assume everyone born at the exact same birth year, month, day and time carries the exact same type of karma into this present life? This sounds like every soul is packaged in a standard manufacturing factory and assembled with the same spare parts. This belief lacks flexibility and adaptability a person can cultivate to shape and improve his/her future.
Three reasons why believing karma affects fortune does more harm than good.
1. You have to assume you are the one who had done others wrong first.
A very self-inflicting mentality. The more you hold on to this belief, the more you find it harder to surpass your situation. Even if you have done others wrong in the first place, does it justify you been continued getting bullied or being put in a disadvantaged position? Sure the perpetrator, human or otherwise, need to learn how to move on right? This belief may also shaped an overly humble position that causes you lacking the drive and passion in pursuing the right opportunities.
2. You have to assume your bad situation is a way to pay of your karmic debt.
This is an expansion of the first point. It is true that we may go through some downtrends in life, but believing that this is clearing your karmic debt helps in further putting yourself down and likely lack the courage to be open to receive when the right opportunity comes. Because you may just want to keep paying off your ‘debt’!
3. You are prone to assume your oppressors will face their bad karma in due time.
If you combine the five common ideas of what karma are and the above two assumptions, then this assumption becomes paradoxical. This is because all the aforesaid are meant to conclude that you are going through bad times because you deserve it. Your oppressors are merely instruments of how karma is getting back at you so it is wrong to assume or even hope that bad karma to befall on them. So, we are now at an awkward juncture to decide whether are you innocent or guilty (hence deserve) your misfortune. But who are we to judge on our spiritual guilt?
What if, just what if, you truly deserve the misfortune that had or is happening to you yet you still hope, assume and wish for bad karma to befall on your oppressors. That seems like you are just generating more red ink on your karma account book right?
This belief is also what hinders actual justice from taking place. Like, for example, you see a bully at work or at school but you choose not to report but just assume that some sort of retribution will happen some time in future. If you ponder on this further, it disempowers you from taking appropriate actions. This belief is common among the older Chinese practitioners (in both fortune telling and religious/spiritual fraternities). They are good at criticizing other practitioners but usually choose to stay behind the scene but not actively doing anything to right the wrong because they believe one day (do not know when is that one day’) karma will befall on unethical practitioners.
So why is karma still popular among fortune telling…?
My observation is that life sucks and most people do not live exactly the perfect life they envision. By perfect life, it is a rather subjective take. To some, a perfect life comes with travelling in private jet and living in a landed property with a scenic view; while this may not be so for others. So by introducing karma, combining the common beliefs and assumptions, it sort of justify how does one feel subjectively that they are not living his/her ideal lifestyle (due to the supposedly ‘karmic hindrances’) and having some mischievous petty people 小人 hovering around him/her.
So what do I think karma is?
Other than the Ten Suchness that is taught in the Lotus Sutra, I am inclined to 2 other Buddhist philosophical takes on what karma is.
The first being that karma is one out of the five natural laws. They are physical laws (utu niyama), biological laws (bija niyama), psychological laws (citta niyama), universal laws (dhamma niyama) and law of karma (kamma niyama).
By understanding karma is one of the five natural laws, we can learn to accept that life can be random and not everything is cast in stone. So understanding the up- and downtrends in our lives from fortune telling perspective is helping us to manage our diverse life situations and challenges.
Another buddhist philosophical take I am in favour is the first two verses from the Dhammpada.
1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
You will find the five common beliefs and three assumptions illogical once you appreciate and understand what these beautiful verses mean. Because my understanding of karma takes the priority of our mental, psychological states more than the literal fortune or misfortune we are facing. This is not lacking the drive to breakthrough but actually remove both the self-inflicting (belief that you deserve misfortune) or self-victimization (belief that oppressors will meet retribution in due time) beliefs.
The usual karma-believers may still not able to accept the lack of tit-for-tat but if tit-for-tat is hard-coded, then the buddhists would have a hard time explaining how could Angulimala attained Sainthood in the same lifetime in which he had killed 999 victims. Then the usual karma-believers may argue (in the worst possible way) that the 999 victims had killed Angulimala in their previous existences! Then following this line of argument, surely the families of the victims who had abused him after Angulimala had turned into a buddhist monk creating new bad karma right? Then how is that justified in hoping justice done but getting more red ink in the karmic accounting book?
So my take on karma is firstly, do not assume you deserve misfortune to befall on you; secondly, do not assume your oppressors deserve misfortune; and lastly, dump that tit-for-tat belief that will led you hoping some misfortune will befall to your oppression because that kind of thought is not exactly a thought that comes from a pure mind.
So my take on karma is how our mind creates our ongoing experiences. You can seek justice with a pure mind – that is to prevent others from falling into victims – and take appropriate actions that are allowed in your realm. Rather than passively waiting for something to happen which is cause by someone else.
The understanding of these two verses is meant to empower us in our subsequent decision-makings especially during hard times.
So is my take on karma going to help you improve your fortune?
According to the first two verses from the Dhammapada, the answer is yes. Your subjective experience should generally be moving towards a more positive one. Will it improve your fortune objectively? I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe no. One’s fortune still largely depends on the energies of what your life chart has for you. But should the belief of your mind projects the reality you are living in, then perhaps, my suggestion on how you should take karma does help in improving your reality after all.