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Does belief in karma kill Compassion?

Dry wing scrapes over the dead land. Young boys cry, flies on their mouths, air in their bellies. Famine. Drought.

Hopeless reality for millions of human beings.

I can just see those Krishnas now, smugly sitting back, “Karma this, karma that.” (Karma, you know: “Everything happens because of destiny, blah, blah, blah.”) Believing in karma is crazy. It makes you a compassionless robot who doesn’t care about the problems of here and now.

Karma, in fact, means: “Every action has a reaction.” For example, if I act like a jerk I’ll get a reaction—I’ll turn people off. Or if as an infant I burned my hand on the stove, even once I’ve forgotten about it I may still have the reaction—a lifelong fear of hot things.

Whatever mess I find myself in today results from what I’ve done in the past. For some, this is hard to accept. It means I’m fully responsible for my own life. No scapegoats, no one to blame, just me. And other people are also responsible for their own lives. They bring about their own suffering and enjoyment.

So are people in Ethiopia suffering because of their own acts, their own karma? That seems like an awfully cold way to look at things. If it’s their karma, why try to help them? They’re just getting what they deserve.

Deeper Understanding

So do we go around sneering and pointing at old men in wheelchairs—”Hey, you deserve it, buddy”? Of course not.

He doesn’t deserve it. Yes, karma gives what he deserves—but he doesn’t deserve karma in the first place. The soul in its natural state is free from all karma. So people don’t deserve to suffer. Anyone who understands this becomes truly sympathetic and never tires of helping others get free from suffering.

Most people only feel compassion for certain special others—the retarded, the homeless, the hungry. But a person who fully understands karma feels compassion for everyone. Everyone’s got karma,so everyone suffers, sooner or later. That’s why compassion and kindness should go out to everyone.

Understanding karma doesn’t stop one from feeling compassion or the urge to help the world. In fact, it extends and magnifies that compassion so it embraces all living beings.