*~* Witchcraft and Wicca Forum *~* EUTM


A Deeper Look at Karma

Feel free to copy this information to your Book of Shadows.

A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby Xiao Rong » Wed Nov 11, 2015 11:37 am

TAKING A DEEPER LOOK AT KARMA
One Witch's Perspective


In this article*, I want to take a closer look at one of those concepts, karma, and explore it a little more deeply -- and how it can apply to our magic. I am not an expert on Eastern philosophies, and I'm open to discussion on the subject. However, this is what I've come across in my time thinking about this very fascinating philosophy.

In witchcraft, we talk an awful lot about ideas like the Law of Return, the Secret, the Law of Attraction, and the Threefold Law. Usually these are warnings that have to do with how we practice magic -- some variation on "What goes around, comes around", or "you reap what you sow". So be careful of the spells you cast! It's a very popular concept in Western thinking.

The premise behind all of these ideas is the "Just World Hypothesis" (sometimes known as the Just World Fallacy). I think the vast majority of us which that the world is fundamentally fair. The good people win, the bad people always lose. We work hard, so that we are rewarded with riches. We want the bullies to get their comeuppance in the future. For this to work, this usually assumes there is some external force out there (God, perhaps, or "the universe") that can impose cosmic justice and mete out reward and punishment fairly**.

Sometimes people throw around the term "karma" to refer to the Law of Return, or as a shorthand for that mysterious cosmic force that will make sure that all receive their just deserts. There's "good karma" and "bad karma", and we shore up our "good karma" by doing something nice, to be used up at some later time (like a savings account, perhaps). We delight in saying "karma's a b****" when you maliciously try to kick the dog into the water but lose your balance and fall in yourself.

Image
I'll admit that searching for gifs tagged 'karma' is hugely entertaining.

However, most sources agree that karma is significantly more complicated than that. Most Eastern philosophers are unanimous in saying that karma is one of the most misunderstood concepts. The idea of karma is basically "you get what you deserve" is really a Western distortion of the concept, which as you probably know originated in Hinduism and Buddhism. As one blog explains:

When Western scholars and philosophers were first exposed to Buddhist thought, they naturally tried to fit Buddhist concepts into Western frameworks. Western thinking, particularly since the development of the scientific method, is largely reductionist and relies heavily on the notion of cause and effect: one thing acting on another to produce an effect. Scientific research seeks to trace the chain of causes that produce a given effect. Since karma apparently describes how the world and living beings comes to exist, it is often interpreted as a theory of causation and christened (irony intended) “the law of karma” (after other scientific laws such as the law of gravity).

The heavy handed application of Western thought structures to Eastern thought has often created serious impediments to accurate understanding. The application of Western grammatical concepts to the Tibetan language is one instance that I have run up against. In the case of karma, Western notions reinforced by naive Eastern explanations, have led to a host of problems. How does an action in the past cause a specific experience in the present without some kind of pre-determinism? If everything is pre-determined, how can we attain freedom from the cycle of existence?

Source: [1]

In my research on karma, my understanding is that karma simply means "actions". Another interpretation of the word is "action-seed-consequences" [1]. (not unlike a lot of Eastern wisdom which sounds "well, duh" on the surface but actually has a lot of depth). Your actions will affect you, mentally, physically, or emotionally. Here's an example:

I have a friend who had his car stolen recently. He told me was mad when someone implied it was ‘his karma’ because he reasoned he hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve it. But he was misunderstanding it, because it isn’t about ‘deserving punishment’ or anything of the sort. The fact of the matter is he parked his car there that night. It was his action, and so it was his Karma. He parked his car there, and it was stolen, it was his Karma, but it doesn’t have anything to do with him stealing a car in the past, or stealing a horse and buggy in a past life, and now being punished for it. It was just the action he enacted, and he got the results that resulted.


Source: [2]

Another source writes that karma is "As you sow, so shall you reap" but in a VERY direct way. Hogen Bays, Zen Buddhist priest writes, "If you dig a hole, what you end up with is a hole. You don't end up with money. If you plant virtue, you reap virtue, not success." [3]

It's not about "you deserve what you get" -- it's simply that your actions have consequences. Some of it may seem more directly related (e.g. you are rude to your friends, and so your friends don't hang out with you anymore), but they don't have to be. Through your karma, you create the world that you live in. Not in the sense that you are nice to people so you will receive lots of money in the future -- but that you will have to live by the consequences of your actions.

Specifically, karma applies to your intentions. Kozak writes:

Karma only involves intentional actions. Therefore, if you were to step accidentally on a spider, you would not invoke karma. You unintentionally stepped on the spider. There was no intent to hurt the spider.

However, if you decide beforehand that you are going to kill the damn spider that is living in the garage and stomp on him with malice aforethought, you will experience the karmic ramification of an action that is laced with hatred and aversion ... If you understand karma as one moment conditioning future moments, you can see the interdependent chain of cause and effect. When your mind is clouded by aggression, this will generate particular effects. When your mind is occupied by peace, this will produce its own particular effects. This effect will be on your own mind moments and on your behavior, that in turn, affects others.


Source: [4]

As I see it, karma is simply about becoming mindful about your intentions as you go about your life, as your actions will inevitably have consequences. Everything you intend to do is your karma, and you create your karma minute by minute.

Rather than think about "good" vs. "bad" karma, Kozak urges us to think about "skillful and unskillful actions" [4] -- to be mindful or our thoughts, intentions, and feelings, because they will have impact. To act from generosity, kindness, and wisdom is to act skillfully; to act from greed, hatred, and delusion is to act unskillfully [4]. Through the intentions behind our choices, we can cultivate our karma.

One important thing: Karma is mysterious and complex; you cannot fully know your own karma, much less others'. All of our actions have complex effects, both inside and outside of us; sometimes it takes a while for the "seeds" generated by our actions to grow into their full consequences. It would be a mistake to look at someone else and try to judge what their karma is.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MAGIC?

Okay, so what does this mean for magic? I spent a long time thinking that karma was BS because I didn't believe in the Law of Return, but now that I've gotten a little more nuanced in my understanding of karma, I actually do incorporate it into my practice now.

Part of the problem is that so often we use the Threefold Law and "karma" (the Western idea) as a way to caution newbies, who get a little heady with the amount of power that they suddenly have access to (or think they have access to, anyways ... it's not like witchcraft is a superpower!). We use the Law of Return because we think that without an ominous warning that, "REMEMBER ... If you curse someone, you will receive the same curse but THREE TIMES WORSE!" then they may go crazy with the revenge spells and the hexing! Most of the experienced witches I know don't subscribe to such a simplistic understanding of the effects of spellcasting. (In reality, I don't think that the ethics of spellcasting are significantly different than the ethics we use for regular situations. I usually compare cursing to slashing tires -- I would not curse someone for the same reason I would not slash someone's tires in the middle of the night.)

With a more nuanced understanding of karma, we have to remember that:

1. Actions have consequences ...
They will have consequences within ourselves, on others, on the world. I see spells as simply another way of taking action. Karma reminds us to take responsibility for our actions.

2. ... but we can't predict all of those consequences.
We cannot always know how our actions will unfold over time, even if we can see some immediate effects. Yet those are a part of our karma.

3. Intentions matter.
In my opinion, the only thing we CAN know about karma is what effect our actions will have on ourselves. If we cast a spell out of kindness and wisdom, then we know we have cultivated kindness and wisdom within ourselves. If we cast a spell out of maliciousness and hate, we are cultivating hate within ourselves. In this way, we are creating our karma.

Intention is not a surefire guarantee that everything will turn out perfectly and the consequences of our spell will unfold exactly the way we want it to, with no bad effects ever. But I think karma is a reminder that we all have to take action at some point or another (magic is simply another kind of action in our toolkit). No matter what we do, our consequences affect us, sometimes in unpredictable ways. In the absence of perfect certainty, the best we can do is to choose our actions skillfully or unskillfully, thoughtfully or unthoughtfully, and in doing so create our future.

-------------------------------------

SOURCES

[1] What is Karma?, by Unfettered Mind: Pragmatic Buddhism
[2] Misconceptions of Karma, by oneBREATHmeditation
[3] Karma, Buddhism's Most Misunderstood Concept, by Nancy Haught on Amarillo.com
[4] The Everything Essential Buddhism Book, by Arnie Kozak

------------------------------------

*I originally wrote pieces of this article as a reply to another thread, but I have decided to expand it and flesh out some of my thoughts.

** Sadly, the world doesn't always work that way. Sometimes bad people win, and sometimes good people suffer for no reason at all. In my opinion, suffering, pain, and evil are just part of the way the world works -- like gravity, their existence is simply part of nature. No amount of wishful thinking or positivity will ever make suffering fully go away. And I think there is a very real danger that we might ignore someone's suffering because they must have done something, in this life or a past life, to "deserve" it.
~ Xiao Rong ~ 小蓉 ~ Little Lotus ~
User avatar
Xiao Rong
Site Admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3457
Joined: Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:58 am
Location: New England
Gender: Female

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby SnowCat » Wed Nov 11, 2015 4:49 pm

I can think of a couple of occasions when I seriously wanted to slash someone's tires. I restrained myself, not out of innate goodness, but because I don't want to get arrested.

Snow
Daughter of Sekhmet
User avatar
SnowCat
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 5719
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 6:29 am
Location: The Spirals
Gender: Female

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby Rathac » Thu Nov 12, 2015 1:57 pm

SnowCat wrote:I can think of a couple of occasions when I seriously wanted to slash someone's tires. I restrained myself, not out of innate goodness, but because I don't want to get arrested.

Really? With a certain amount of prudent planning, you could surely get away with the act. In other words, I would bet there's probably more at work which restrains you other than strictly the fear of getting caught.
Rathac
 
Posts: 25
Joined: Fri Oct 23, 2015 11:07 am

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby SnowCat » Thu Nov 12, 2015 2:30 pm

One of the parties in question has a security camera aimed at my front yard. If I do something like that, I lower myself to her level of idiocy.

Snow
Daughter of Sekhmet
User avatar
SnowCat
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 5719
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 6:29 am
Location: The Spirals
Gender: Female

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby Rathac » Fri Nov 13, 2015 8:23 am

Trust me, I'm not saying you should do something like that! It is good that you don't.

For someone to point a camera at your property is telling. There must be a great deal of animosity there. It's just difficult for me to believe you don't lash out simply because you might get caught. After all, slashing tires is one small way to harm someone. There are an infinite number of ways to unleash one's anger at an enemy who, in one's mind, is deserving of it. Yet you do not lash out.

Hypothetically, if you COULD get away with it, would you then do it? You don't have to answer that, of course, but I want you to know that I am not being negatively judgmental. On the contrary, since you keep yourself in check, it shows you value something higher than mere pragmatism. Personally, I suspect you wouldn't do it, because people who truly wish other people harm successfully find ways to inflict that harm, and it's often very easily accomplished. Those kinds of people are not put back on their heels by only a few barriers, and their anger fuels their determination.
Rathac
 
Posts: 25
Joined: Fri Oct 23, 2015 11:07 am

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby SnowCat » Sat Nov 14, 2015 5:29 pm

I tend to be more of a "kill them with kindness" person. My revenge on my ex, was to have a much better life without him, than I would have had with him. And my neighbor is just unpleasant and paranoid. I'm planning some sort of outdoor altar in my front yard. Something that will be right in the eye of her security camera.

Snow
Daughter of Sekhmet
User avatar
SnowCat
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 5719
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 6:29 am
Location: The Spirals
Gender: Female

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby corvidus » Sun Nov 15, 2015 10:13 am

SnowCat wrote:One of the parties in question has a security camera aimed at my front yard. If I do something like that, I lower myself to her level of idiocy.

Snow


Then go out the back door ;)

@Xiao Rong:
Thanks for posting this. When I was studying karma more indepth, I found it to be intimately connected to the idea of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhist philosophy (there is even a four-fold interpretation of karma, as well). These Four Truths help an individual accomplish liberation and enlightenment, which in a way is the freeing of oneself from the laws of karma.

It would be interesting to hear your opinion on this, and also an opinion on how humanity's collective karma relates to 'One Witch's Perspective' as well :)

-cheers!
User avatar
corvidus
EUTM Support
EUTM Support
 
Posts: 1083
Joined: Mon May 18, 2015 7:57 pm
Location: Bridger Mountains
Gender: Female

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby SnowCat » Sun Nov 15, 2015 1:21 pm

Going out the back door isn't really an option. The gate to the backyard is nailed shut, and it's on the same side as where her camera faces. I don't have a chimney either, or I would consider that route.

Snow
Daughter of Sekhmet
User avatar
SnowCat
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 5719
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 6:29 am
Location: The Spirals
Gender: Female

Re: A Deeper Look at Karma

Postby Xiao Rong » Wed Nov 18, 2015 3:20 pm

Corvidus,

Thank you for sending me that link! That is a very interesting perspective on karma, and not inconsistent, I think, with my understanding of karma above -- they even rely on a similar metaphor, involving actions as planting seeds and eventually bearing fruit. In many ways, I consider this to be very similar to the Norse idea of Wyrd -- that actions in the past are immutable and have a profound influence on the present and future, but we have choice in how to act upon our wyrd.

I do depart from a lot of Eastern philosophies on the Four Noble Truths, however. I see the core of Hinduism and Buddhism as fundamentally world-denying -- that is, the ultimate goal is to escape an ultimately imperfect world, and recognize that pleasure and relationships as an illusion and distraction that leads to suffering. One seeks the sacred, which is really outside of this world. I don't particularly care for that philosophy -- what I love about Paganism and Witchcraft is the way that it affirms our current lives and relationships in the here and now, in this world.
~ Xiao Rong ~ 小蓉 ~ Little Lotus ~
User avatar
Xiao Rong
Site Admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3457
Joined: Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:58 am
Location: New England
Gender: Female


Return to Witchcraft & Wicca 101 - The Basics of the Craft

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests