The law of Karma is most often thought of as some kind of ethical legal or banking system meting out exact rewards for our good and bad acts. The determination of virtue and vice for this system is of course based on our own cultural biases and limitations of vision, and the framework is one which tries to justify what happens to us in our lives. If the bad seem to prosper or the good to suffer, we need to find a satisfactory explanation and the law of Karma is therefore viewed through the prism of our limited viewpoint in our limited lives. At the same time, we do “good” because we expect a reward and avoid “bad” because we fear punishment.
Sri Aurobindo describes this common idea about the law of Karma: “Its idea of karma is a mechanical and materialistic ethics, a crudely exact legal judgment and administration of reward and punishment, an external sanction to virtue and prohibition of sin, a code, a balance. The idea is that there must be a justice governing the award of happiness and misery on the earth, a humanly intelligible equity and that the law of Karma represents it and gives us its formula. I have done so much good, punya . It is my capital, my accumulation and balance. I must have it paid out to me in so much coin of prosperity, the legal currency of this sovereign and divine Themis, or why on earth should I at all do good? I have done so much evil. That too must come back to me in so much exact and accurate punishment and misfortune. There must be so much outward suffering or an inward suffering caused by outward event and pressure; for if there were not this physically sensible, visible, inevitable result, where would be any avenging justice and where could we find any deterrent sanction in Nature against evil? And this award is that of an exact judge, a precise administrator, a scrupulous merchant of good for good and evil for evil who has learned nothing and will never learn anything of the Christian or Buddhistic ideal rule, has no bowels of mercy or compassion, no forgiveness for sin, but holds austerely to an eternal Mosaic law, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, a full, slow or swift, but always calm and precisely merciless lex talionis.