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Tonight a dozen friends discussed the question “Is karma a useful concept?” It turned out to be a great discussion topic, because it has so many nuances. There was some discussion as to what the terms meant and if there was any scientific testability associated with the concept. But then it didn’t seem that testability was essential to its usefulness, even if some parts of behavior could be tested and measured. Does the belief in even a provable nonexistent thing make it useless? Perhaps not. Remember the old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes, when the bombs are falling.” The implication being that even atheists will, at least for a few moments, pray that a falling bomb won’t hit them, even though they don’t believe any god is actually listening. If nothing else, thinking those thoughts gives endangered foxhole atheists something to focus their thoughts on and distracts them from the danger and terror of their situation.

The karma concept also gives the feeling that there are ultimate consequences for our actions even if we can’t see them at the moment. We can choose to believe that if we behave in a moral way we will eventually be rewarded, and if we behave in an immoral way we will eventually be punished. An additional benefit of this belief is that it eases our pain. When we see other people who are behaving in clearly immoral ways and benefiting from their short-term self-serving actions, we can rest assured that they will suffer grievously in the future. We can have this easing of our pain and even a schadenfreude satisfaction at their coming suffering, because with our belief in karma we know their evil behavior will bounce back on them.

Do I control karma, or does karma control me? It would seem that both are correct, but our personal control of karma is in the form of our intentional personal actions, because what we intentionally do is what will bounce back to us. The part where karma is in control of us is the aftereffect of what we have intentionally done and supposedly karma is inexorable. The only part of the whole karmic cycle under anyone’s control is in our intentional behavior. Our intentional I and its behaviors are the foundation of our future joys and sorrows, thus “I am the captain of my soul, the master of my fate.” I am in control the karma that is going to come back to me.

Karma by many different names and with many different nuances is a cautionary encouragement to be a better person when relating to other people, than you might otherwise be. It has been one of those ideas that has endured for thousands of years because it functions to help people live longer and more contented lives.

My belief in karma helps me be a kinder and more contented person.