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I don't believe in karma. I believe in doing good things for the sake of doing good things, not because I'm hoping to cancel out misdeeds of the past or because I'm trying to rack up life points to cash in at some later date. Though not a religious person by any means, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm against the notion of an underlying interconnectedness in the universe. But I definitely do not think there exists some impossibly complicated web of unbreakable strings tying our actions and decisions to future outcomes, or that we are ever truly "locked in" to a particular destiny or divine purpose. To me that just reeks of fatalism, which I've always thought of as a way for others to absolve themselves of responsibility and control for their actions or inaction.

Depending on your viewpoint, you may or may not be surprised to learn that I have been lambasted in many a group conversation for not believing in karma. Especially in the thought that because it isn't a real thing, someone who has an excess of "bad karma" can choose to write off this imaginary debt. It's not about acting like it never happened, but about moving forward in spite of it. How could it possibly be helpful for anyone to sit and lament the wrongs of their past and only feel the drive to do better for fear of similar wrongs befalling them? One may argue that this is better than someone never feeling motivated to do good in the first place, although a true believer in karma would have to admit that a right and a wrong canceling one another out is the same net result as doing no right or wrong in the first place.

Whenever this subject comes up, I inevitably feel the need to make a distinction between writing off one's karma and the expectation of consequences and/or forgiveness. If you rob a bank, you will probably end up in jail. If you hurt someone I love, I will find you and hurt you at least twice as bad. Neither of those things are examples of karmic retribution. It's simply the consequence of fucking up. You fuck up, you learn better, and you move on. Sometimes you're forced to learn better while being spooned by a giant Neo-Nazi named Tommy in federal prison. It's just the nature of cause and effect. But unlike karma, there's no predetermination of the outcome being positive or negative. There are plenty of people who have robbed banks and gotten away with it, or done far worse things for that matter without suffering any negative consequences. Unlike karma, reality doesn't always dovetail nicely with our society's shared vision of storybook fairness.

Ultimately the choice to make the world -- or even just a small corner of it -- a better place is within us all. It's a choice we can make every day. Sometimes it's the choices we don't make that have the greatest impact. Other times it's the choice to make ourselves better. The best any of us can do is find the version of ourselves that makes us feel complete, which will invariably inspire greatness in those around us.

Karma is fundamentally flawed because it's hinged on the idea that the universe can owe you something or that it would ever expect anything from you. Sit atop a mountain and quietly turn to dust. Save a thousand babies from a thousand fires. I can assure you that the vastness of existence will not skip a beat to deliberately punish or reward you either way.

I'm sure to most I probably come off sounding wildly cynical. To others I might sound pathetically practical. Perhaps both are true. From my perspective it's a very basic refusal to believe that the course of my life is beyond my own control, or that some spiritual pretense exists in which I am not accountable for my choices. In the end, I will let the merit of these choices be judged by those who feel their influence. And to anyone living under the burden of guilt or remorse, know that you're best chance at being who you've always wanted to be rests not in scrubbing away the past, but in building a better future on top of it.

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5 Reasons to Live

  • Michon  
    June 11, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    You sound exactly like my hubby. I tend to think we should do good things for the sake of doing good things also. But I believe that if you fuck someone over, you'll get that energy coming back at ya.

    Sorry for being all cussy....

  • James  
    June 11, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    What the fuck. Where's my graph about nipples and Republicans? Or my sketch of a donut doing unspeakable things to a grilled cheese sandwich? Or my funny but educational story about pubic hair, french fries and lighter fluid? I've been robbed!!! Karma is going to get you now!

    Karma is silly. A-holes get what's coming to them not because of cosmic forces or midi-chlorians or whatever, but because of fucking science! If you're a douche long enough, statistically speaking, you'll eventually get punched in the balls.

  • Mandy_Fish  
    June 12, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    As a Buddhist, I have a very different understanding of karma. It is not some mystical power of the universe. It is only you and your actions. A "What you reap, you will sow" type of thing. Treat people badly, and you will have poor relationships. It's really just common sense. Though I realize this is not what many people mean when they say "karma." They usually mean some sort of mystical magical universe-force that is out to get them for their bad deeds. I just want to clarify that this thinking is not Buddhist.

  • The Grunt  
    July 1, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    All these philosophical and religious notions keep us tame to a degree. I haven't yet determined if they are more for our benefit, or for the few who got us by the short hairs. I certainly enjoy living in a community that tries to love their neighbor. I hope that doesn't go by the wayside. I like the idea of karma; it sounds great. Too much chaos and randomness in the world for any of this to hold water.

  • busanalayali  
    July 27, 2012 at 3:16 AM

    Thank you for taking the time to write on this topic. toko baju muslim

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