Karma can be scary. Does it mean if we get sick we have done something wrong in our life? This was one of the question on my friends lips in her dying process. ‘What had she done so wrong to get pancreatic cancer?’
Nothing, she had done nothing wrong. The only karma in her dying is that she was reborn as a human, and if we take a human birth we will inevitably get sick, or age, and die.
If I get a cold it does not mean I have been unskilful. It could mean though that I went out in the cold, didn’t wrap up well, and so I caught a cold. Hence my action had a consequence. But someone else may have done something unskilful, gone out in the cold weather without wrapping up well and not catch a cold. Their actions had a different consequence. They may well not have been under the weather. There can be so many factors to why if we commit the same action, why the consequence is not the same.
In 1999 the captain of the England Team preparing for the world cup Glen Hoddle was sacked because of his misguided and ignorant views on karma. He believed that the: ‘disabled, and others, are being punished for sins in a former life.’ This was also once an ignorant view of black people and sadly today some people can think this of the Dalits of India.
The Four Reminders
- The first reminder: My precious birth
- The second reminder: Death and impermanence
- The third reminder: Karma
- Fourth reminder: The defects of samsara
Most Buddhists do not talk of sin. We speak about unskilful and skilful actions. And furthermore there is no devil to punish us for our sins in Buddhism. There is only the mind that can haunt us like a tormented ghost. The leader of the Dalits, the late Dr Ambedkar once referred to caste as nothing more ‘than a notion of mind.’ Most definitely not a sin, or a punishment due to past lives. Therefore he believed we could liberate the mind, and he changed the Karma of his people by converting to Buddhism because this was the religion that would emancipate their minds. His mass conversion in 1956 allowed hundreds of thousands of people who were called ‘Untouchables’ to rename themselves as Buddhists. It was the beginning of the uplift of his people. If we were to recognize the potency of the mind we would be able to step out of the confinements of the body we are born in and free ourselves from societies oppressions.
My karma as a black woman was that I used to let society’s prejudice oppress me. I in fact oppressed myself with my own thinking.
Karma is about our actions having consequences. And each consequence may be a gain or a cost. That’s it, in its simplicity. It’s not that if you do an unskillful deed you will be punished by the wrath of God. But yes, if you do an unskillful deed there will be a consequence, which may mean that it will prey on your mind, prey so much that you turn to another unskillful action to get rid of the thoughts in your mind. Creating a vicious cycle.
My karma is this. My actions will have consequences. Full stop. If I don’t accept reality, see things as they really are. If I don’t accept that I am going to die, my living will be full of suffering. My dying will be full of suffering. This is the law of karma. My actions of denial will have a consequence.