The Accountability of Karma

By Dirk Hughes
It is not the Wave which drowns a man, but the personal action of the wretch, who goes deliberately and places himself under the impersonal action of the laws that govern the Ocean's motion. -- H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine 2:305

Pessimism, anger, and frustration are the seeds of unhappiness. They grow from a belief that the world is against us, that we have no control over our lives. They come from our shattered expectations and the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies an inconvenience or tragedy thrust upon us. It's not our fault that the person in front of us on the highway is driving too slowly and makes us late for work. It's not our fault that our favorite TV show is preempted by the President's State of the Union address. It's not our fault that someone runs a stop sign and hits us, causing hundreds of dollars' worth of damage if we're lucky, or actual physical injury if we're not. But karma argues the contrary, and because it does, we are able to find happiness and tranquility in the face of adversity.

For those who do not understand or accept karma, situations of inconvenience and danger are just examples of how unfair life is. They are scores on the world's tally sheet in its victimization of humankind. But when viewed from a karmic perspective they are simply balanced steps forward in the undeniable progression of the universe -- the natural result of the engine of existence. Karma makes us responsible for our actions. Karma holds us accountable for what happens to us from day to day. Karma gives us complete control in a seemingly harsh and random world. There is something very empowering about this fact. By understanding karma we can be assured we will get exactly what we deserve . . . eventually.

Another way of grasping karma is by accepting accountability. Whether we like it or not, karma lets us reap what we sow. Some would prefer to sow nothing, practicing the blind talent of avoidance. If we refuse to take credit for our actions, how can we ever get in trouble? By holding someone else accountable for what happens, we think we can avoid punishment. In general, we view punishment as something bad and reward as something good. Some of us waste our whole lives avoiding one and seeking the other.

Those who hold themselves responsible and accountable for what they get in life, however, know they can't have it both ways. They would rather be free than comfortable. They know they cannot act toward pleasure and refuse to act toward pain. They know that life itself is action! According to Rabbi David Cooper, author of God Is a Verb (1997), life is not a "thing," but rather an infinite string of "events," a continual parade of present moments forever changing, unfolding, and improving. Living leads to action. Action leads to cause. Cause leads to effect. This is the nature of things and the nature of karma. If we are willing to be held responsible for triumph, we have to be willing to be held responsible for failure.

Knowing that we are the pilots of our own lives puts us in control. With the realization that life doesn't just "happen" to us, but rather "because" of us, we are freed from the chains of happenstance. No longer are we imprisoned by a world that rains bad luck on us arbitrarily. Instead of wailing against the inequities of being ruled like peasants, we become the kings of our universe (not all-powerful kings, but kings nonetheless). With this power comes confidence. With confidence comes choice, freedom, and joy.

If we can accept the fact that every situation in which we find ourselves is a direct result of our actions, whether from this life or from a past one, our complaints become invalid. There is no one to complain to but ourselves. Thus we begin to see life for what it really is -- an expression of ultimate justice. Just as we were pessimistic with anger and frustration when we thought we lived in an unfair world, now we can be optimistic, happy, and tranquil because we know we live in a fair one. Though the mind which understands karma knows it has to pay for the past, that is of little account when it realizes it also has to create a future. We are happiest when we have options and are free to act on them. Karma is the blank sheet of paper, but it is up to us to decide what to write upon it.

(Reprinted in Sunrise magazine, February/March 2001 from the Kali Yuga Rag, Newsletter of the Great Lakes Branch TS, Summer 2000]

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