Q: I am very interested to know more about the concept of Karma. However, there is a wide range of viewpoints about Karma among spiritual masters. On one side Indian (past as well as present) masters equate karma to the deeds (and intentions) of the individual. Good deeds will result in good times and bad deeds in suffering. Some even go to the extent of stating that everything a person experiences in this life is the effect of past karmas. Also, it is stated that if you harm others, you will have to pay for it. Please if you can, explain how that works.
In contrast, some present non-dual teachers (especially in west as well as present indian non dual teachers) tend to undermine these explanations and tend to ignore the whole question of Karma, or just give a vague reply.
Overall, I would like your opinion on karma.
A: You are correct that there are lots of different explanations and concepts of Karma. It may be like the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each individual has a hold of a different part of the elephant and so one has the tail and says an elephant is like a rope. Another blind man has a hold of the leg and says an elephant is like a tree trunk, and so on. They are all correct in their varying reports, but none of them has a view of the entire elephant.
Karma is such a large and complex phenomenon that is unfolding on so many levels and that involves so many lifetimes and so many lessons, that it may be hard to come up with a single definition that covers every possibility. However, one definition that I like because it is a flexible definition is that Karma is a great and benevolent teacher that is showing us the many ramifications of our actions throughout this life and beyond. A very good teacher would adjust his or her lessons to the student. If a student learns a subject quickly and easily, then the teacher moves on to more advanced topics. If a student struggles with the more basic concepts, then the teacher takes more time and repeats the lessons as needed.
If what we call Karma is the wise and intelligent functioning of life to evolve and advance our human souls, then like a good teacher, she would be flexible and only repeat lessons as many times as needed for the student to learn. So to use a specific example, lets say someone is cruel to their child or spouse, but the pain of that experience eventually sinks in even to the perpetrator and so they change their behavior and even make amends to those they have harmed. In that case, the soul or souls involved may have learned their lesson and can move on to the next challenge in life. But if someone keeps repeating the same mistakes, then they may need many more experiences or even lifetimes of experiencing cruelty both as the perpetrator and as the victim to really learn the lesson. There is no simple formula for how the lessons we need to learn will unfold so that we finally learn them. If learning is the goal, then it does not make sense to focus on “good” and “bad” as those concepts tend to actually interfere with seeing clearly all of the truth about our situations and our actions. As for “paying” for harming others, again this would only apply if that would truly help you to learn the truth about hurtful actions. You would only need to experience whatever it takes for you to really understand the consequences of your actions, and ultimately to be able to act from that understanding.
There also comes a time when the teacher’s job is mostly done and the student has learned much and maybe even has learned how to learn. In that case, they will naturally have a very different relationship to the teacher. Similarly, someone who has moved through many of the human lessons we all seem to be here to learn may reach a point where Karma is not as important or necessary for them. This may be the case with some non-dual teachers, but I also think that sometimes we all have a tendency to bypass or avoid some of our lessons. Even some of the wisest and most profound teachers I have encountered also seem to still be learning more about the human aspects of their being. You might even be able to say that if someone is here in a body, there are probably still lessons that they need to learn. They may have moved well beyond some basic lessons such as how to be kind and loving, but there still may be subtle lessons of humility, true equality and integrity that they are still learning, even if they also are already functioning as a teacher themselves.
Life is a very rich and complex experience that unfolds on many dimensions simultaneously. Thank goodness we can take as long as we need in this school of life. Our true nature is eternal, so if we need to repeat a lesson here and there, that is really no big deal. We all literally have all of the time in the world to learn everything there is to learn. And like a kind and benevolent teacher, Karma knows just what to teach us next! And she also knows when we have learned how to learn, and so then she lets us find our own way.
Please note that any answer I can give is also limited by my own human viewpoint. Just like everyone else, I cannot always see the entire elephant. But if these words give you a more complete sense of how these vast and undefinable mysteries called life and Karma unfold, then I am glad to share.