My understanding of karma comes back to habits. Habits of the mind, habits of the heart, habits of the word and habits of action.
We know that all thought strengthens certain pathways in the brain. From a theosophical, Buddhist and Hindu perspective these thoughts aren’t just strengthened in the brain, but in a more lasting way than that as well. For our daily life however the difference isn’t too important.
What we know is this: thoughts strengthen thoughts of the same nature. Watching sleazy video’s will make your mind consider such topics more often. Similarly contemplating spiritual topics will strengthen pathways of the soul which are more spiritually inclined. Thinking selfish thoughts will strengthen selfish thoughts and thinking about the needs of others will make your future thoughts more selfless.
So far this is a kind of perpetual motion machine: what we think is after all not just producing our future thoughts, but is also produced by our earlier thoughts.
So where does our own practice come in? What we do today is easier to do if we did the same yesterday. That is: for a selfish person it is easier to keep on being selfish. For an unselfish person it isn’t as hard to stay unselfish. But both can change. For instance the unselfish person could learn that they need to stand up for themselves in order to get what they need. This brings the seed of selfishness in them and if pondered on, and acted out, will make that person slightly more selfish. Similarly – if in a generally selfish heart a crack appears, thoughts about the welfare of others may appear. Those thoughts may even lead to action, and a cycle of growing goodness may start.
Generally of course most of us are neither perfectly evil or perfectly good. It has been said, and I do believe that, that in some ways it is easier for a sinner to go into heaven than a proper ordinary person. Why? Because an ordinary person may be so wrapped up in how right their life is that they don’t notice all the things that aren’t right. The prim and proper housewife comes to mind. Does she realize how annoying her fuss over the dirty footprints on her floor is? Does she care about the kids who get teased? Does she notice the people who clean her husbands office, living near or under the poverty line?
The sinner on the other hand has made mistakes that are too big to ignore. They have crossed the lines society sets on ‘appropriate behavior’ and will have to face the consequences of that for the rest of their lives (after all, leaving prison does not generally mean getting back a normal life). If there is a genuine change of heart, the result is less likely to be hypocritical and more likely to be open to all kinds of people.
So, is it easy for a sinner to go to heaven? Well – I meant that figuratively. What I do believe is that a sinner who has a change of heart may well be a better person than the proper respectable homemaker. And this will have results in their next life. But getting back to those habits… the sinner will have made all kinds of bad habits, which will be hard to counter. The respectable homemaker perhaps didn’t realize her faults, but her habits will be generally more positive.
There are two differences between them. One is the difference in direction. The sinner who repents has made a change and moves in a direction of greater spiritual purity. The prim housewife is not moving spiritually, but perhaps her starting position (caring for her kids and husband for instance) is better.
Ultimately I think the direction matters more than the current spiritual state does. But that’s only true if the sinner keeps remembering what made him change. In other words: he has to keep on course.