How karma screwed me over

I was born and brought up in a progressive Hindu family. Everyone around me was ‘mildly’ religious. We celebrated all the usual festivals and said the mantras and recited prayers. Customs and traditions were followed with a certain degree of flexibility. I have some of my fondest memories associated with these festivals because they were, more than anything, a time to meet people and celebrate. And as such, during all those days even thought I did all the religious things asked of me, I was never forced to believe in God. I am very glad that I have always had the freedom to have my own religious views and my own philosophy of life.

Yet, that freedom could not stop me from absorbing many of the core values of Hinduism. During those years, sometime quite early in my life, I was introduced to the concept of karma which is undoubtedly one of the core values. As most of us know, the laws of karma are quite simple: “Every action has a reaction” or “What goes around, comes around”. It seemed like a beautiful concept and everyone around me believed in it; some even without consciously treating it as karma. Some people strongly believed that God plays a role in the delivery of karma and such divine intervention then put the concept beyond the realms of reason and doubt.

Then somewhere along the way, with the help of my little brain, I transformed that concept into something that seemed more practical to me. I started treating ‘efforts’ as a way of building up ‘good’ karma or countering ‘bad’ karma. I thought that if I worked hard and put in enough efforts then, of course my ‘good’ karma bank will increase and I can cash it for good results.

What I did not realise at that point was that the underlying assumption of all this philosophy or the basic tenet on which all this was based on was that ‘the world is a fair place’. And that thought became an integral part of my way of thinking, unfortunately, unknowingly so. Once I started viewing the world through these glasses, it was very easy for me to start strongly believing in a meritocratic society and a just world. It wasn’t that unnerving to see corruption or crime in the media because, of course, the karmic balance will be preserved; the corrupt will be caught and the perpetrators punished. I believed, naively so, that people who made use of their clout to achieve something or earn a business contract or gain some fame must not be happy or satisfied people. They must not have been able to have a good night’s sleep.

It was a great coping mechanism; when things did not work my way, I partially blamed my karma but mostly blamed my efforts.  When things did not work my way and worked for someone else who used unfair means then I would partially blame my karma but mostly blame their karma and believe that some day they will learn their lesson. Often without my knowledge, I would also filter the kind of friends I made by simply understanding if their beliefs aligned with mine. All the news about corruption or violence or discrimination did not affect me as much because I believed that justice will be served someday. My way of studying was literally governed by these rules, I used to put in a certain amount of effort and then only take a short break to save my karma points. I helped others because that gained me more karma points. It let me be selfish and selfless at the same time.

As it is said, it soon became of a way of living. I mostly saw things that reinforced my belief like the time when my exam results came out as I had expected, or a politician got caught and was sentenced or a friend suffered when he cheated. I opened myself to these experiences because they could be aligned with my philosophy. When things did not work the way karma should have made them work, I closed myself to those experience. Then came the most common excuse that spiritual leaders make: “In a complex world, it’s too simplistic to always expect thing to work immediately. What goes around will come around one day”. And, of course, it was easy to believe in that excuse because it helped me align the irregularities to my beliefs. So questions about unfair means could be countered with an argument that karma is not bound by time and thus justice will be served in this life or the next or the next or questions like ‘what about the innocents who die in a terrorist attack, did they all deserve it?’ could be countered with ‘Surely not, but karma can be carried to the next life and then they will live a better/happier/longer life then’ or the questions like ‘what about the massive inequalities that we see around us?’ could be countered with ‘those who are on the richer end of the scale must’ve got good karma from their previous life or vice-versa’. All this logic (it’s the issue of shifting the burden of proof) helped me to preserve my view of the world and NOT change it.

But finally now I’ve broken out of this bubble and I know that the world is not a fair place. Although changing my belief system has been a lot of pain, I think it’s for the best that I have undergone this transformation. More about the transformation in the next post.

31 thoughts on “How karma screwed me over”

  1. Your post reminded me of one of my colleague who would check the muhurtam before uploading the manuscript..!
    I think some beliefs are man-made which go against the nature. Most simple example would be food chain (or Pyramid) where every organism at top level has to eat the one in lower. Equal value to life of a Lion and Rabbit or deer is what human has conceived.
    And regarding karma, I too don’t believe in it. Since nature plays jokes with lives where a criminal may never get punished in any of his lives and innocents might never get repayment for loss of their lives. The problem lies in the differential perception of good and bad. Killing can be heinous crime in humanity but for a lion, chasing its prey till it gets tired and savoring it till last drop of the blood is perfectly natural.

    1. “Life plays a joke on us”

      Neat way of putting it.

      “differential perception of good and bad”

      Very true. If the definition of good and bad themselves can be so subjective, how on earth can there be any possibility of a karmic balance.

  2. Wow this is definitely one of my favourites of your blog posts! You writing here has really incredible lucidity! I wish I could write like this.

    I agree very much, too. One question: could you expand on the connection to the burden of proof concept?

    1. Thank you sir. Your words definitely make the my effort worth it. And your writing is better than mine, there is no doubt about that.

      I will expand on the connection to the burden of proof concept in the next post.

  3. Your karma concept is very true…but practically if you see you might not be able to get the desired effects/returns…..again rightly said that you might get the benefits of your good karma in your next life…..but, how much can you wait or believe or have faith in ‘do good unto others to do good to you!!’??? In reality it seems to never happen……

    Not that one who has belief in doing good in life should stop being/doing good……but just hold onto that belief and be happy & contended in life with the belief that- what goes around comes around, some day!!

    Thanks akshat for such an article.
    Hoping to get to read more such ones on life 😉

    1. Thanks for reading Dittu. Hoping to write more. 🙂

      I am really glad to see that so many people agree with me on this. I don’t know why was I left in that karma bubble for so long then?

      1. I like what you have shared as you have pondered the karma principles. I did a google on this topic because I am questioning this myself.

        I recently read some stories about past life work with an intuitive healer in my area. She was sexually abused by her father. She talks about doing much work in meditation and contacting her “past selves” in past lives. She began to see that she was a man in a past life and was abusing and dominating woman. She draws the obvious conclusion that this present life is paying “karma” for her past deeds.

        When karma transends lifetimes it can be hard to keep track of the tab! All of the “bad” deeds we are witnessing in the world may not be instantly called due. Perhaps we do switch rolls- the victim and perpatrator eventually. Perhaps do one gets away with anything.

        The Christian’s version is that when you die you will be judged for your life and go to hell to your “sins”. God is the ultimate judge. Then you will be held responsible.

        Mankind is not holding each other much accountable now. It is obvious in how we are treating each other and the planet. But that is just the surface reality, right? What a mysterious thing it is being human.

  4. Great penmanship Akshat. No doubt about that. You have voiced not only your frustration but the dormant thoughts of tens of thousands of youth in our situation. Teenagers brought up in a modernizing India amidst religious dogmas of parents and grandparents. The conflict of these two worlds is inevitable. It seems like we are expected to chose one and let go of the other. But do we really have to..??
    I’m not arguing against your conclusion . Merely pondering over the other possibility. Maybe then ‘karma’ still does its ‘life is a circle thing’. Even though the situation might seem bleak now, there is always hope. The question is whether we have faith and patience to see the ‘cosmic balance’ even out all discrepancies over a person’s entire lifetime. I’m sure you’ll agree that most of us have had comfortable life experiences so far to have to question the ‘fairness of the world’. The interesting thing is that the idea of ‘karma’ is not like a religious dogma. Whether you are a believer are not, it applies to all. Not that its a bad thing! 😉

    1. I guess the point is that Akshat is talking about the way things _are_, not the way someone might _wish_ them to be. The universe is not going to change its nature to accommodate the way we might _like_ it to behave. Either there is a force in the universe that maintains karma, or there is not, and every piece of evidence we have so far indicates that it is the latter.

  5. Very well put Akshat! I have been through similar upbringing and I still believe in karma. I have a new perspective to add here. I am not talking about karma as a cosmic force, it is rather entwined with the theory of 6 degrees of separation. And karma (good or bad) propagates along the lines of this theory across the world and gets back to you. A friend you had helped in the past may be singing your praises to an unknown person across the seas. And you never know when you meet that unknown bloke (or the friend himself) in your difficult times (and that again depends on your friend’s karma towards the bloke). Good karma is never wasted- even if you are dead, your descendants reap the fruits (thanks to my parents, our list of crisis-busters is endless) and if they are wise enough they realize the power and practice good karma (I am assuming that every person deeply wants his kids to be happy and good human beings; so good karma pays back, doesn’t it?)…As for bad karma, it never goes unnoticed because either you or your kids face the flak (the kids, again if wise, learn from their parent’s mistakes or repeat history)…That’s why if you concentrate on history, you come across an entire clan/race being wiped out-that is karmic balance…
    The massacre of countless innocents by terrorists is indeed a good and mind-boggling example against the law of karma. But if you consider human race, innocence doesn’t exist (except babies!). Every person has some dark action or behaviour of the past kept hidden tactfully from the unsuspecting, prying eyes (alike!) of the world. I know some extremely dark and baffling secrets about people whom you won’t imagine doing the same in your wildest nightmares! If most of us are not privy to these depths past the facade or image the person showcases, how can we decide whether he has been rightly rewarded or punished for his karma?…Only you can truly judge the payback of your own karma, not that of others…Karma is singular in this sense and yet it has to propagate and travel across several people and their karmas to shower you with it’s effects….Ironical, isn’t it?…
    This is the first time I read your blog and I loved it. Keep writing Akshat :)…And read my blog too if possible 🙂

    1. I am not sure what you mean when you are trying to mix the concept of karma and the survival of the fittest. Care to elaborate?

  6. HI there,
    Your this post is really very interesting; even I can relate myself to your thinking. I am also very lucky that religion was never imposed upon me and I am free to make my choices and free to think the way I want. Though sometimes there are some heated arguments with elders, as my thoughts are quite radical to their belief. But let me stick to the theory of karma, it is the most misunderstood theory. I don’t know whether there is past life or after life…I don’t know.. I know only of this life and of this Karmas I do now. Now people argue that people are born according to their Karmas, so if your past is good you are born in good house, if bad you are born in poor house, but I totally disagree, its true you have no control where you will be born but most important is how you are brought up, that is what makes and changes the way you perceive things. Every household gives a different treatment to child. Children brought up in orphanages have their own perception; its not that they have done something bad in their past to be born orphaned; it is all about the different conditions being given to learn differently. Child on a street can be more happy than the child born in rich house. And world is cruel to none it is just like a Pandora of opportunities, who clicks best gets best… and through out life we prepare ourself according to the way we refine and channel our thoughts. Now the people who are innocent killed in terrorist attacks yup! what is their fault…? their fault is the kind of negativities nurtured inside them and not the past karmas. You treat your world the way you want the world to treat you but the basic problem is we don’t realize how we treat our world…..what goes eventually comes around…. is indeed true… why not focus on people who survived amidst attack…. they survived because they intended to…………. world is fair to everyone only we have to train ourselves to be fair……….
    I may not know my past, the future…. but I know my present. You know I have experienced one thing in life and I am sharing this with you and your readers that people who are sad, have themselves created the sadness for them how much happy and wealthy and healthy they might be…and people who have chosen happiness are happy no matter how hard their life may appear to you.

  7. Karma is what makes a person, in the true sense of the word. Had one not done things that he did, he wouldn’t have been who he was. Now since most want to be good people when they grow older, it leads them to do good Karma. And the ones who end up doing things that we call bad Karma have very convincing justifications for their actions. So in their minds they are doing not-bad (if not good) Karma, which is what drives them to squeeze benefits out of all their deeds, that later look like unfair deals to us.
    Life is unfair, yes, but it is unfair to everyone. Capitalize on this.

  8. Must say Akshat, your writing is incredibly good. Hinduism is a very sensible religion, made by the brahmins and perfected over thousands of years. Even the caste system is made to bring discipline and felicity in day to day societal duties.

    Second, almost everything I see in Hinduism is gradually getting proved by science. Every ritual has a scientific and logical reason behind it.

    Third, if Hinduism does not insist on having faith in god, it is only because there is no place for god or any almighty. As the vedas don’t have any reference to any gods other than Vishnu, Surya, Vayu, Varuna, Agni and some essentials.

    Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has space for non-believers and even the ostracised communities like homosexuals. Hinduism clearly admits that the world is not fair, and as an apology says you will be able to credit your bad tidings into good ones in the next life. And how is anyone sure about your next life?

    There are so many other things in this religion, like its disrespect for life which ensures that even if keep having sex and bear children, there is no population explosion. Ayurveda only treats peripheral diseases, but does nothing to alleviate terminal and life-threatening diseases. It believes if you are unhealthy, you should die, even if you are a king.

    Lastly, if you are born a Hindu you are always a Hindu, no one can convert you to anything else, or bring anyone into its fold by conversion. It is not expansionist in nature, and no one has to kill or die for this religion. That is why I am proud to be a Hindu. And I am an apostate.

  9. Hi Akshat,
    Its the first time I am reading your blog and I must say that I am impressed by your writing. Your thoughts are certainly logical and have substantial rationalism. But I must give you some food for thought.
    Firstly, I do believe in the concept of Karma, although many experiences keep giving jolts, big or small, to this belief. This makes me appreciate the thoughts put down here by Rati and Mr. Anil Nair.
    Think about it this way… if everyone stops believing in Karma and acts the way one wants to, how many people will be inclined to do good to others? This concept is probably a very effective way which our wise ancestors deviced to make this world a better place to live in. If one believes in the concept, one will be good to others on most occasions. If one doesn’t believe, one may or may not be good to others. So more the number of people who believe in the concept, the better and happier the world is. For many, simply keeping the faith in this concept helps them go through troubled times with a hope of having something great in the future.
    There is no doubt that the outlook of people towards karma has changed with time. Often, person A helps person B with a simple expectation that person B will do something in the future that will be useful to A. Isn’t this a small illustration of ‘Karma’ in the modern world, whether or not A believes in or is aware of the concept? In the present day world, the problem is that person B turns out to be ungrateful more often than not. But that should not take anything away from A. Maybe a more straightforward, but extremely difficult to implement, solution would be that A should help without expecting returns in the first place. I guess this is what is mentioned in the bhagwat gita, isn’t it?
    Karma should not be looked at as a phenomenon where you get what you give or vice versa. It is a concept which keeps you motivated to do the ‘right’ things irrespective of the consequences. It is a belief, which if one ingrains in oneself, helps one stay afloat without drifting from one’s goals even during troubled times.

    So…just keep believing…and stay happy..:)


    1. Dear Swapnil,

      Thanks for your kind words. I am glad that you enjoyed my writing and shared your view on the matter. You’ve raised an important question on morality and be rest assured that I will address that soon.


  10. I came across your post via a Reddit link just now.

    At last, someone has come out in the open and said it. “What comes around does NOT go around”. It SO doesn’t that I can scarcely believe this hackneyed old cliché gets trotted out time and time again as some sort of “cover all”. Inevitably, whenever it is proved wrong there is the ultra get-out clause of past lives and/or future lives.

    I know people who sail through life dispensing their own particular brand of cruelty; they always seem to come up smelling of roses. It doesn’t stop me trying to do the right thing; my credo is “can I sleep at night if I do this?”.

  11. Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed reading.

    I like that credo of yours. But I think one needs some sense of morality to be able to use it effectively. I k now that many people who do wrong things also sleep well at night.

  12. Although pessimistic, i say only this..”you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.” Lets just humour this and say that that the Karma system were indeed real, Either way you’re gutted, i mean its not as if you as person had any control of what you’re predecessor did in his or her previous life…only to wake up and realise “oh shit im screwed”. Karma is believed to be a fair but thats far from the truth imo it just imprisons you. I will say this though i surely wouldn’t wan’t my soul to suffer in future lives due to my circumstances and the way i had lived this life, its not as if that vessel had any control/choice over my actions. As far as we know you are born due to natures will and/or randomness. We have absolutely no power to change it.

    As for everyday life…i suppose people just have take it one step at a time and try not to worry about superficial things like status,wealth,vanity it will only eat them up on the inside..heh

    If there were proof, and if i did happen to meet ‘God’ boy would i give him/her a roasting..:P

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