Karma is B.S.

March 2, 2015

The idea of “karma” has really been bothering me lately, for at least the last month. It probably started when I was reading the Ram Dass book, Polishing the Mirror, and then went back and re-read his original book, Be Here Now. In both books, he, like many other writers, states “karma” as though it’s a fact.

But is it a fact? If karma is real, who can see it? Who can prove it? If someone can prove it, why don’t they?

An old Buddhist guy who killed a lot of people

There’s a story about a Buddhist guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, and he killed hundreds of people in his lifetime. I don’t remember if he was a king or military guy or what his story was, but if anyone should have had bad karma and gone to some sort of hell, that guy should have been right there on the list behind Hitler. (I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I’ll add it here when I see it again.) But no, not only did he not go to hell, it’s said that this guy was enlightened before the end of his life, that he became a Bodhisattva and his karmic cycle here on Earth was over.

That strikes me as a bunch of B.S.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with him being “enlightened” by the end of his life, because as I understand it that just means that he lives in the present moment, and that he dropped his attachments and his concept of Little Ego, and had entered the stream and all of that. So he was able to forgive himself for killing all of those people, and that helped him live in the flow.

I have no problem buying that. Shoot, I can even see him getting up every morning and saying a prayer, “Please forgive me for all those people I killed,” and I can see how that would clear his mind and conscience. But if karma is real, don’t all of those people he killed have any say in the matter of his karma? Is there no cosmic penalty for killing hundreds of people?

Karma and natural disasters

A different example where I don’t buy karma is Hurricane Katrina wiping out parts of Louisiana. Did everyone in those areas really have such bad karma that they were dealt with equally? Were there no good people living in those areas?

No proof, no karma

I’m drifting off point a little, so let me come back to it:

I'm tired of people stating that karma is real without offering any proof of its reality.

One reason I got into Zen was the promise that “You don’t have to believe anything you can’t demonstrate to yourself,” but as I stray from Zen to the more general concept of Buddhism it feels like I’m supposed to accept the concept of karma without any proof.

Karma reminds me of my parents (grandparents, actually) saying, “If you do XYZ you’re going to go to hell”; it’s the same sort of eternal warning that’s supposed to make you behave better out of fear. Well, I hated them for saying that crap, so I’m also calling “B.S.” on karma.

If/when I can see karma in the flow of the universe -- or otherwise prove that it exists -- I’ll be glad to share that proof with other people. But until then, if that old Buddhist guy could kill hundreds of people and still become enlightened, well, I can think of quite a few things I’d enjoy doing again.


It’s important to state that I think both of the books by Ram Dass are very good, even excellent. But the point where it gets to, “Karma is real, trust me,” I’m not buying that.

I’ve given this quite some thought lately, and I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just saying, “Show me some proof.” As a result of this, I can see where people are much more interested in mindfulness than they are in Buddhism. Mindfulness, like Zen, doesn’t ask you to accept any dogma without proof, it just says, “Stay in the present moment and see how that treats you.”

Also, as I wrote in Giving Up On My Dreams, I’ve had experiences that sound an awful lot like samadhi and jhanas, and when those experiences happened I wasn’t exactly the nicest guy on the planet. When they happened I was extremely focused on the present moment, but an hour before or after that I was nothing special. Believe me, I know who I was.

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