Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Interfaith Blog Event #1: Karma

Welcome to the first Interfaith Blog Event! In each installment of this series, which we are hoping to do on a monthly basis, we'll explore a single topic across three different religious traditions. I am writing about the Pagan perspective while Jon, from Jesusfollowers Journal, will be writing from a Protestant Christian perspective and Mike, from Unknowing Mind, will be writing from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

The first topic we'll be discussing is the following:

"How do you view karma, the thought that your actions in some way determine your experiences, in your spiritual path?"

Here are links to Mike's essay and Jon's essay. (Links will be added as they are posted.)

Although I have already posted a question that I had regarding the possible relationship between karma and sin, I realized that I didn’t mention much about how Pagans actually view the concept of karma. This interfaith event is giving me a chance to revisit this topic.

While there doesn’t seem to be too much in-depth discussion regarding the Pagan viewpoint of karma, it is mentioned quite often, usually off-handedly, in regards to Pagan beliefs. Karma’s roots come from Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism, and it is a concept that many Pagans have no problem embracing, albeit in a slightly different way.

Pagans tend to regard karma in a way that helps to explain what has happened to them, usually in regards to a particularly good or bad event. As a way to further explain karma in terms of Pagan beliefs, the use of the three-fold law is quite common. The three-fold law states that your actions, good or bad, will return to you in a form that is triple of what was sent out. Even though the concept of the after-life may be mentioned in conjunction with the Pagan view on karma, I usually don’t see an emphasis on that aspect. Instead, it seems that when it is mentioned, it is in regards to the current actions and intentions of one person to another.

While I personally do mention the concept of karma from time to time, I have a tendency to mention the long terms effects more so than the short term effects that seem to be mentioned in Pagan beliefs. I don’t mention karma is a way that implicates that the good day that I am having is a direct result of the good deed I did for a friend last week. I don’t think that the concept of karma works this way. As Deborah Lipp states in the Elements of Ritual, “karma isn’t judgment, punishment, or reward” (pg. 31). I believe that we can never know how our actions have affected what has or is happening to us in such a direct way.

When I think of this, I admit that I am taking my background of psychology into account. Just as with the nature-nurture issue, we can never be sure about the exact cause of a certain reaction and therefore we can not determine whether our actions, good or bad, produce a good or bad reaction. It is also true that we cannot know if “action A” is directly related to “reaction #1” as there are so many factors that could also be related. While I do believe that every action has a reaction, I don’t believe that every reaction can be observed in a way that says "A" caused "B."

My view of karma is that the whole picture needs to be taken into consideration but that we have no direct way of stating the reasons for what is happening in our lives - past, current or future. One act is not going to determine how a significant event in your life will turn out and we cannot state that because of certain things we did, we will be able to determine what will happen to us next. Although we have no way of truly knowing, we humans sure do like to speculate on the possible implications of our actions.


Lipp, D. (2003). The elements of Ritual: Air, fire, water & earth in the Wiccan circle. Llewellyn: St. Paul.


Sojourner said...

If you are trying to leave comments, and cannot, it is because I switched over to the new blogger system.

Try posting a comment as 'anonymous' but make sure you leave your name so I know who you are! Or even better, come join me at the new blogger!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sojourner,

I think you are right on the mark that, in life, we cannot say that doing "A" caused "B," like we can in a Newtonian Mechanics-based system such as billiard balls on a pool table (if the 8-ball hits the rail from an incoming trajectory of 45 degrees, it is going to leave the rail at 45 degrees, neglecting the force of english applied to it by the cue ball). Karma doesn't work in the short-term, like you said. It's a long-term process. The more you build up a friendly disposition, for instance, the better your relations with people tend to be, given your approach to them. That doesn't mean that being friendly to Bill over there is going to cause Sallie to be friendly to you. It just means that, in general, people will act better toward you because you're acting better toward them.

I'm always curious to see the emphasis placed on the past-life aspects of karma. I agree with you - while that aspect is definitely present, it's not usually necessary (or useful) to focus on that level. Staying with the present life is inherently more useful because you can affect your current life. You can't do much about your past life, now can you? :)

Nice work!


Sojourner said...

Mike said:

Staying with the present life is inherently more useful because you can affect your current life.

I think that it may be considered more useful because the present life aspect of karma is something that most people can relate to. Although people may understand it, I think that many people have a difficult time comprehending the connection between what you did in a past life and what is going on in your life now.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I thought you might be interesting in reciprocal linking with my blog at where I blog on interfaith issues from a Christian perspective. I am reasonably conversant with Pagan traditions and am wondering if you're open to interaction between our respective paths.

Matt Stone