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In the West, we have a view of karma which is not correct.

alleyway in Varanasi

For example, three weeks ago, I had a Wacky Wednesday. Two car “incidents” on the same day. First I bumped my car against my colleague’s in the parking garage (with Amy Winehouse music playing at 06h55!) and then in the afternoon (listening to talk radio this time), I was car number 4 in a 4-car pile-up.

The driver (car number 1) who caused the pile-up sped away from the scene. My immediate thought was: something somewhere will happen to him that is not so good in return for his bad deed. I did not want something fatal to happen. Maybe just something a bit unfortunate e.g. running-out of bread at home late at night, assuming he is not banting. Perhaps getting a speeding fine the next day or being spammed by people who spam my blog offering liposuction. Karma at play.

This notion that someone higher-up has a chalk board and is totting-up our wrongs and our good deeds is a misinterpretation of karma as found in Hindu and Buddhist teachings.

I am studying yoga philosophy through the Oxford Centre of Hindu Studies and karma was one of the topics two weeks ago. Karma means “action” in Sanskrit. Hence what we call the Laws of Karma refers to the functioning of our actions. Simply put: every action leaves a trace which will cause further action in future. All the traces build-up to create a cycle of action. The result of an action may not be experienced in this life, but in another. ¬†There is no divine intervention in the process; karma is a natural occurrence.

BKS Iyengar

BKS Iyengar

The crux, however, is not the action or misdeed itself but the intention behind it. If one were to commit a bad deed but it was innocently done, then no or little karma attaches to the action. When I bumped into my colleague’s vehicle in the parking garage (a very big vehicle that sticks out of the standard 14m2 parking bay), there was no malice on my part and my colleague similarly had no bad intentions by buying a big vehicle. This means, karma will not attach to our inner selves, or if it does, it will be minimised.

If I had purposefully bumped the side of my colleague’s vehicle to cause damage to either vehicle, then karma will be at play and it will attach to me. One really does not want the natural workings of karma, good or bad, to attach to you if you follow Indian religion, particularly Hinduism, as it means you will be caught-up in the cycle of rebirth. Possibly only a dip in the Ganges, being cremated at the Ganges (the very ultimate option) or strictly following yoga with all its dimensions as outlined in various ancient and less orthodox texts of the medieval era (likely also later texts of about 1500 CE) can free the soul or atman from karma.

So, whilst my two “incidents” on the same day have come with challenges, such as repeatedly having to explain to my insurer how it is possible to have bad luck happen twice in one day, I am at least not going to be burdened by excessive karma from both “incidents”. The moral of the story is keep your intentions pure, drive in silence, avoid large vehicles in the parking garage and remember the positives from the Wacky Wednesday: an unphased colleague, helpful drivers of cars 2 and 3 of the afternoon “incident”, a reliable traffic officer, an efficient policewoman and a car that will get a good wash when she finally goes in to be repaired.