The word karma is now in familiar usage in the west. Like the words “guru” (spiritual teacher) and “pandit” (Vedic priest), both are of which are now used to refer to experts in anything from hair products to investment portfolios, it is heavily misunderstood and misused.
Actress Sharon Stone recently got into trouble for touting her own brand of lipstick diplomacy when she offered her opinion that the disastrous earthquake in China was bad karma for the Chinese government’s mistreatment of the people of Tibet. Then there was the infamous Pastor John Hagee who said that Hurricane Katrina was punishment to the people of New Orleans for holding a Gay Pride Parade. In light of the terrible suffering experienced in both these disasters, these comments seem at a minimum superficial, glib and insensitive; more to do with some personal agenda than compassionate understanding. From this kind of perspective, the government of China could claim their actions in Tibet were karma for some previous misdeeds by the Tibetans; and so it could continue, with one party blaming another, into eternity.
In the Bhagavad Gita, which acts like a pocket book version of ancient Vedic knowledge, it says that the laws of karma are unfathomable. In other words, it is beyond our ability as humans to appreciate the infinitely complex workings of Nature; so we are not really qualified to say with any certainty that one specific event is the direct result of another. Perhaps a subtext of this is that judging others is not really our job. Compassion and understanding seem a better option (and isn’t that what Jesus taught, Pastor Hagee?)
Having said this, there is a scientific foundation behind the law of karma (ie. the Newtonian law that every action has an opposite and equal reaction) which is well worth taking heed of. While we may not be able to fathom the detailed manifestations of karma we can sure appreciate the underlying principle that good actions produce good results and bad actions negative consequences.
In this context, there may be something to learn from recent events in Iowa. Flooding can be seen as a way for Nature to purify itself; rain, rivers and the ocean being part of a natural cleansing cycle. Sometimes extra water is required to thoroughly clean an area, just as we have to take an extra long shower when we are extremely dirty.
There was a time when it didn’t require vast quantities of poisonous chemicals to grow healthy crops; when rivers, hedgerows, birds and animals were not destroyed to make way for commercial needs; when industrial waste and sewage was not dumped directly into waterways; and when artificial barriers were not constructed to restrict the natural flow of water. Are we are putting too much pressure on our environment in our rush for the (once) mighty dollar and is Nature now responding in the only way it knows how? If we continue to over-tax and mismanage our environment as we have in the past, then we may be in for more flooding as Nature attempts to clear itself of the toxic burden we have created.
If we can learn how to live in cooperation with Nature rather than opposition perhaps we avoid tragedies of this kind in the future. It will need to be a collective effort, and will involve deeper comprehension of the collective responsibilities of our actions, more understanding of natural laws, and perhaps a little less selfishness and greed.
But if we can do this….well maybe then our karma will be better.