About ten years ago, I took an Eastern philosophy class and dedicated some time to studying Karmic principles within Hinduism. Up to that point, I had only been exposed to Judeo-Christian principles, so I found the idea of Karma much more sufficient in explaining the unfairness of this thing called life.
“In Buddhist teaching, the law of Karma, says only this: `for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful.' A skillful event is one that is not accompanied by craving, resistance or delusions; an unskillful event is one that is accompanied by any one of those things.”
A much exhausted debate in Christian apologetics is “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” I dare not open that can of worms. As I already said, the worms and the can are exhausted. But I found that I was comfortable with the Hindu answer: “A bad thing happened to that seemingly good person because that seemingly good person was a treacherous villain in her previous life.”
I could wrap my head around that. For me, there was some sort of justice in this cause and effect relationship. It also made me feel better when I thought about the good people all around the world who would give anything to have a bowl of soup so that they can possibly live for one more day. In my eyes, they weren’t fairing so well in their current life but I just knew that surely in their next life they would have plenty of delectables to devour. The principle of Karma also helped me make sense of why some are born into the most fortunate of circumstances while others are not. Maybe the soul in the Land of the Plenty suffered in his previous life and was reincarnated into a better lot in this life.
Fast forward to now and my love affair with the fairness and purity of Karma blows up in my face. I have a client walk into my office who has survived brutal rape. What am I supposed to tell her as a counselor? If I stick with my current way of explaining the world, then my approach to comforting her may sound something like this: “You see, sweetie, I’ve got it all figured out. You were raped for a reason. Either you’re paying for a mistake you made in a previous life, or you need to endure this trial in order to move up a level in the game of life. And, oh ya, all this pain – it’s called Karma. What goes around comes around!”
It was in that moment I realized how easily I can accept a principle, a theory or a theological stance. It’s so easy to say, “This is the way it is.” So easy, that is, until I have to look into the eyes of the exception. Looking at pain incarnate made me face that the principle I’ve found comforting cannot be said to those eyes. Because I know – and she knows I know – that I’m feeding her bull. A seemingly simple concept that provided an explanation for everything now means nothing.
No, everything isn’t going to be fine.
Yes, none of what happened makes sense.
No, everything doesn’t happen for a reason.
No, you don’t always get what you give.
No, life isn’t fair.
The downside to Karma and the Golden Rule is called the unpredictable tendencies of the darkness of human nature. So now I’m back at square one, searching for something that will make sense of why the world can be so terribly awful and so wonderfully beautiful all at the same time.