It is popularly held that the law of karma functions as a type of judicial system, meting out “good” to the “good” and “retribution” to the “evil”. When this is not obvious in a particular lifetime, the notion goes, then it will be served up in a subsequent incarnation. Karma is then seen as a type of divine providence or machinery of justice that is able to weigh up the good or bad deeds and mete out the required recompense.
While this notion has its apparent benefits to those in power in the world who would like to curb the impulses of the masses, it is clear that it is far too mechanistic and far too wooden in its construction to actually capture the essence of the true action of karma.
The question arises, can good lead to bad, or bad lead to good? We can see, in fact, that karma is a working of energy not a legal justice system, and thus, the energy will have its effects, regardless of the moral or ethical interpretation that we put on the actions from our own limited perspective. We can see, in fact, throughout the course of history that some actions that were interpreted as “good” led to negative consequences later; and those that were interpreted as “bad” actually led to a long-term positive result. And then there is the “law of unintended consequences” where the intention was good, but the energy that was put into motion had “side effects” that could be disastrous.
We face certain of these quandaries in our society today. In trying to heal people of various diseases we have developed antibiotics. These have relieved a lot of pain and suffering, but eventually, they are being used so widely that they are getting into the water supply, and breeding “super-bugs” that are antibiotic resistant and potentially capable thereby of creating a scourge far more deadly and wide-spread than the diseases that those antibiotics were intended to treat.
Removing our short-sighted ethical and moral judgments and simply looking at the energy and its impact, we can assert a “law of Karma”. The subtlety of this working and its significance is a subject that will occupy further posts.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 22, Rebirth and Other Worlds; Karma, the Soul and Immortality