Do you believe in Karma?

Yesterday I came across a blog post that related the sad story of a 76 year-old Trishaw driver in Singapore who was taunted and abused by 3 young and (obviously) immature men. (link to Youtube video)

In the last sentence of the post, the author extols us to “take a good look at those bastards and remember their faces. Ever see them around when you travel, don’t hesitate to give them good punches in their faces and kick their crotches between their legs.“It was interesting to see that he post was entitled “I believe inKarma; Do you?”, because with this closing paragraph, the author revealed a very shallow understanding of the law of cause and effect, or ‘Karma’.

Just as fascinating as the post itself was the litany of comments that followed. A few went along the lines of “I am Catholic, so I’m not supposed to believe in Karma… “. There were also references to the Bible’s reference to “What a man sows, this he will reap” (St Paul’s letter to the Calatians 6:7). And another one said “These two should get the karma they deserve.”

I must admit it was disturbing to see 3 young and fit men riding in the back of a trishaw that was pulled by someone twice their age. To see the lack of respect shown to this man trying to earn a decent living was heart breaking. And I do believe that sooner or later, what you do catches up with you. I have no doubt these 3 will suffer the consequences of their actions.

But the original post reminded me just how misunderstood is the concept of karma. ‘Buddhism for busy people’, by David Michie is one of the best and easiest to understand books I have read about Buddhism; and has a great explanation of Karma and its more interesting details:

You see, it’s not only the big things we do that matter. We don’t have to do anything as dramatic as defraud our employers, or write a large cheque to charity, to create negative or positive karma. Both of those actions, like all others, began as ideas in our minds, so that it is here, in our mind, that karma arises.

We all tend to have habitual thoughts, or attitudes, and we need to be very careful about these. Often they build up, and have a cumulative effect which is immense. As Buddha said in the Dharmapadda:

The word manifests as the word;
word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into a habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
and let it spring from love borne out of concern for all beings…
As the shadow follows the body,
as we think so we become.

We can see then how these young men’s actions are already part of their karma. And how they will also continue to shape their future and destinies. What is worth highlighting is that according to the passage above the mere thought of violence is something we must carefully watch and guard against just as much as we guard against violence itself. It is in thoughts that our Karma is born, Buddha argued.

Within this context, the original writer’s desire to have other people seek these men and punch them in the face or groin is just as heinous as the act that these 3 committed when taunting the old man. I know it sounds extreme, but let’s explore how that could be true. The thought gave rise to the words on the blog. The words on the blog may plant a seed on some Singaporean visitors’ minds. And these seeds may germinate and develop into actions. And who is to say these actions may not target some innocent bystander that ‘looked like’ one of them?

Both Buddha and Jesus spoke of love and compassion. Jesus himself loved those that were considered ‘unlovable’ by most of his contemporaries: Prostitutes; Thieves; Criminals. Buddha teaches us to have compassion for those that are confused and do not yet understand the nature of Samsara. Jesus teaches us to offer the other cheek. It all comes down to Karma, in a way. Read the words above. Think of the consequences that your thoughts can have. Watch carefully, and sow the habit (and the character) of love and compassion in your everyday life.

There is one more misconception that is evident in the original post and the comments that followed. Karma, as a Buddhist concept, is closely related to the idea that our current life is one of many that we have lived, one of many that will be lived. Reincarnation is a key tenet of the Buddhist philosophy, as it means that ‘getting it wrong’ will simply mean a longer path to Nirvana (salvation, in Christian terms). Unlike the Christian view that we have ‘just one chance’ and will then be judged, with the result of going either to heaven or to hell; Buddhists explain that we have an infinite number of lives to learn from our mistakes (Although some would say that getting ‘stuck’ in this crazy world for a long number of lives would be the same as being in hell, and that the two views are thus in fact one and the same). Within this context, the comments made by others to the original post miss the point: Karma does not dictate that these 3 men will be ‘punished’ for their actions. Rather, Karma articulates that their actions will have a consequence. That is why Karma is also called ” The Law of Cause and Effect”. It does not establish a punishment; simply that whatever thoughts and actions we have and live will have a reaction (consequence), and we will have to live with them.


2 responses to “Do you believe in Karma?

  1. Hello there. I’m the author whose blog entry you have quoted from. I don’t know about you and how your country’s culture is like. Firstly, our singaporeans’ response towards this incident was pretty strong as we felt injustice done to our own old fellow countryman.

    When somebody does something very wrong, i believe that he needs to be punished in a way. Perhaps that particular sentence in my entry has led you to misunderstand that I have a vague understanding of karma.

    May I ask you, do you in a fit of anger (a situation that literally makes your heart boils), say things or shout nasty words BUT you know deep down you don’t actually really have the intention to do it. You are angry, you just feel that something really have to be done.

    I’m sure you will agree with me that these 3 men are actually “reaping what they sow” now as news were splattered all over the media, even reported on UK news I believe. They are now known for their acts. This is considered a form of punishment as pple came to know of them and criticised their actions, against of their immaturity and disrespect towards an elderly person.

    “take a good look at those bastards and remember their faces. Ever see them around when you travel, don’t hesitate to give them good punches in their faces and kick their crotches between their legs.” – my this specific sentence actually emphasized and expresses the anger in me, THAT they should receive the punishment they deserve. Do I literally encourage pple to really go thrash them?? I don’t think my words are certainly that impactful. Any reader would be sensible enough to know that these were written because I’m mad at the occurence of the incident. Every one does penned down their inner feelings. When people tell you to “Go to hell!”, do you literally go to hell??? No.

    But I can honestly tell you if i ever recognize them (you don’t go round punchin wrong pple in their faces, any sane person knows that), I will not hesitate to give them a good dressing down! (if I’m “lucky” enough to be able to bump into them) Because o date, do you know that in one of the news reported that they were interviewed – they know they were overboard with their actions, but they still refused to admit they were wrong.

    I hope you could have a better understanding now. I appreciate ur heart felt comments towards the horrid episode.

    Much to what I’ve said, a blog is a blog where pple penned their views down just like you did. You don’t have to really mean to execute what you penned down. it’s not a contract or whatsoever. you are free to write in your virtual world.

    Thank you.

  2. Hello jinny; thank you very much for posting a comment to my post. I would like to respond to a few of your points in your comment. I hope you will understand I never meant to offend you nor your readers with my post. In a similar vein, I have no intention to insult you nor offend you with this post. Simply to clarify some of the things I said, and my interpretation of your reaction to my words.

    In your comment you ask about my country and its’ culture. With regards ti the aspect you enquiry about, It is not that different than your country or culture. For the record, I was born in Colombia, South America; and now live in Sydney, Australia. Like any other country, we have social rules (as well as criminal law) that stipulate what is acceptable and what is not; and have several degrees of ‘punishment’ for misconduct. Like you, I believe some sort of punishment is in order for those 3 men. Unlike you, I do not believe that violence is the answer. If I was a judge hearing this case, I would sentence them to pay monetary retribution to the old trishaw worker, in an amount that is significant enough to hurt their pocket – and their pride. I would also sentence them to community service, ideally pulling this man’s trishaw for a period of several weeks, with a warning that were they to ignore the mandate, they would end up in jail for contempt of court.

    You also asked me if I have said things I regret having said in a ‘fit of anger’. Of course I have!! Like you, I am only human. Now, I want you to reflect: Do you regret what you said? Or do you simply think it is ok to have said them because you never intended to carry them out? If the former, I’m ok with it. If the latter, then I would have to sustain my belief that your understanding of Karma is somehow shallow. Read the words of Buddha transcribed in my post: So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love borne out of concern for all beings… . Saying it is ok to think violent acts because you don’t plan to carry them out is not good enough when it comes to Karma; The mere act of thinking them will have an effect on your own Karma.

    Lastly, you say that your words are ok because you would of course not influence others; and you can not be held responsible for their actions. You said I don’t think my words are certainly that impactful (sic). Any reader would be sensible enough to know that these were written because I’m mad at the occurence (sic) of the incident. Yet two paragraphs below, you reiterate that you hope you are ‘lucky’ enough to bump into these men, you will “give them a good dressing down!”. I am a bit confused: Do you think you will, or will not act in a violent way if you were to run into them?

    You are right at the end of your comment that a blog is “simply” a lace where people express their views; and that you can ‘rant & rave’ without ever having the intention of carrying out any threats. Of course the words you commit to posterity are not a contract, nor legally binding. But beware: They do have legal connotations. If you were to run into these men; and attacked them; and they reported the attack with the police; your previously ‘penned words’ could be used as proof of premeditation, which will make your transgression more grave in the eyes of a judge.

    There is a much more important reason, however, to watch what you write. According to the Law of cause and effect (or Karma), your very thoughts, and your very words, will have an effect. And just like the flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a fierce storm many miles away; your simple words in a blog could have devastating consequences. You just never know.

    Good luck in your journey through life; and thanks for replying to my original post. By the way, I liked your blog’s subtitle “My life through rose tinter glasses”. A beautiful image to use for your writings.

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