Karma and compassion – do they meet?

A common but short sighted interpretation of karma (also common psychology btw) is as follows:

They’re hurting because it’s their karma (aka their fault). I’m hurting because it’s their fault. I’m happy because of my good karma (aka I did well). They’re happy because things went well for them.

This is easy because it only makes the good things that happen to us OUR business, while it makes the bad things that happen to us the result of circumstance. This would be fine if we thought the same for other people, but generally we don’t. Generally we blame others more easily than ourselves, both for the bad that happens to them and the bad that happens to us.

An expanded version of this post appears in my book Essays on Karma.

18 thoughts on “Karma and compassion – do they meet?”

  1. Deepak Choprah tells us that when we are happy then that is great. However, if we have a friend who is also happy then our happiness is enhanced by 10%. If they have a friend that is also happy then our happiness is increased by 5%, even if we do not know that person.

    That means that if we ignor another person’s suffering, when we have the ability to help, then we decrease our happiness level accordingly.

    We are all living in the same pond of energy. We are effected by all the energies that are excreted by every being. So, it is important for each of us to heal ourselves And love thy neighbor.

  2. This is a good observation. In the Kabbalah tradition, there is the pillar of mercy, and the pillar of severity. The idea is for people to develop the “whole thing”.

    One problem I suppose is when people can’t accept your compassion. In such a case, you must respect their right to suffer. In the sense that can’t accept it, it is their karma. However, if someone is willing to listen, then I think compassion can win the day.

  3. Wow Katinka, that is a great image of you there on the right and btw love your haircut there! Very cool! Your site is pretty amazing too…. Yes I agree with you that karma and compassion have a special connection that is ignored by the Secret. Everything we touch and see and think takes the impression we give it. When we see suffering, we commit karma just by looking at it. Thoughts and feelings create karma. It happens so quickly we can miss it completely unless we are mindful. From her article, The Psychology: The Science of Soul, HP Blavatsky says: Thought acts on the brain matter through the medium of Fohat focused through one of the principles…furthermore: And what is it that presides so judicially over the mental changes? What is the noumenon of those mental phenomena which make up the external consciousness of the physical man? What is it which we recognize as the terrestrial “self” and which–monists and materialists notwithstanding–does control and regulate the flow of its own mental states. No occultist would for a moment deny that the materialistic theory as to the relations of mind and brain is in its way expressive of the truth that thesuperficial brain-consciousness or “phenomenal self” is bound up for all practical purposes with the integrity of the cerebral matter. This brain consciousness or personality is mortal, being but a distorted reflection through a physical basis of the m

  4. This could be described in a simple principle “You Are Responsible For Everything.” Where You is “you” and YOU is the collective. and Everything means no exceptions. So that if we look at our individual lives and our collective lives — all that exists we have created. We can think otherwise however there is no one to blame — – The individual view of Karma as I am the center and my karma is separate from others karma and after I pass from the body I am still separate, I would offer is an illusion. So from this perspective We are All Here Together.

    “This means that

  5. Hi Katinka,

    Thank you for a timely essay. I agree with almost all that you’ve expressed so well especially that we are all responsible for what we experience.

    In my studies and experiential use of the Edgar Cayce readings, an ultimate truth about reality is that the others are us since we are all one, i.e., the creations are not separate from the creator. So, what I see in “another” is a reflection of a part of myself that I have drawn to myself to see. Therefore, it is important to be at least compassionate to others because I am also learning the value of compassion and more for a part of myself. (You’ll notice that I keep saying “a part pf myself.” I do that despite the fact that, I believe, I have one soul. Because I have many ideas and experiences some of which may be conflicting, each of these has an aspect of my personality associated with it; so, I have many parts to my being and soul.)

    In this spirit, commenting on the commenter part of myself, if a choice is made to suffer by “another”, they reflect the choice of a part of myself to continue suffering. So, I need to understand why a part of myself chose that by asking that part of myself what value the suffering has; and if not changing, is consistent with my spiritual values? If I ask these questions with compassionate, I am more likely to get a substantive answer. And, if I successfully answer myself in a way that causes me to make a better more compassionate enlightened choice within myself then I can see my reflection change.

  6. Hi! I’m new to the site and am really enjoying your thoughts.

    I think we often see other people in a bubble, which is where our judgements come to play and why “we blame others more easily than ourselves”. You make a simple but solid point that we are all in the same boat. That perspective strips away the judgement and allows us to “replace indifference with kindness”.

    You are very wise and well written.

  7. I like what you said about karma, specially the part where others suffering is also a projection of my inner turmoil, is also my karma. Most of us find this very hard to accept and understand this truth.

  8. This is an interesting discussion. I used to think of karma as divine justice as in cause and effect that teaches us to become co-creators with our divine source. Now, though, I’ve begun adding to that the idea of compassionately forgiving any negative karma as a way of freeing myself from it.

    For example, if I killed someone in a past life — and the chances are good that I did considering how many lives we probably all have lived — I can avoid being murdered in this life by witnessing a murder and looking on the murderer with eyes of compassion. Once I forgive this person’s crime and see them as wholly innocent, I free myself from the unconscious guilt and karmic debt that I’ve been carrying.

    I have a spiritual counseling practice where I help people reach this point of compassionate self-forgiveness.

  9. Thank you Katinka. I really enjoyed reading this and it made me contemplate the topic. My understanding is that compassion is a quality of Buddhahood which as a follower and practitioner of Buddha’s teachings I aim to reveal in my life. This is also my karma, my thought and action (today). As such the more I meditate or chant or study the more karmic benefit I receive; the more I am able to change karmic tendencies and past karmic retribution and therefore the more compassion I am able to show. The more compassion I am able to show the less self centred I am and the more awakened I become. I think the value here is to fully understand what compassion really is? Sometimes it is not something that is simply ‘given’ and it is never something that requires ‘acceptance’ for that would be a misunderstanding of the logic of compassion (as I understand it so far) for it is unconditional, therefore acceptance or not makes no difference. It is dedicating our lives to others, taking on their suffering which is the key to transforming negative karma. In this way compassion and ‘good’ karma are one and the same.

  10. The older I get, the more compassionate I become. When someone is suffering – even when you are not particularly fond of them, or they have done you a disservice in some form – it is always a great way to use it as a learning tool. By being truly compassionate you are helping those in need. Providing a comforting thoughtful word not only changes their lives – but yours. I pray for relief in the form of understanding.

  11. I believe the 2 go hand in hand, without them, where is the growth that we all need in order to reach our full potential.

  12. To me ,karma is a balancing force..:What you put forth..you receive..I do not believe it’s a tool for punishment or reward..it is merely self generated for self reflection.
    Compassion does meet when one respects the other for the so called karma he/she has brought upon her/his self ..good or bad which in turn are interchangeable depending on the perspective .

  13. These two can meet to the extent the person in question has risen above the worldly, by nature or by training. Think of what an eighty year old monk freed from 20 years of imprisonment in Chinese jails shares with the Dalai Lama as the biggest crisis during that entire period. Not a life threatening torture, but just a thought, once or twice, that he would not be able to have compassion for his captors! Just the thought of not being able to consider the captors worth compassion any was the biggest crisis of during 20 years of sufferings at their hand.

  14. I think that we shoul help others. When someone is suffering, we can help to fight with his pain. And it’s shouldn’t be a duty, but our free choice.

  15. There cannot be love and compassion where there is self centered existence driven by thoughts and memories. So we are all the same just bound by different types of karma. And this should generate a kind of compassion because we are all in the same boat.

    Now spirituality is hard in the sense that 99 percent is not equal to 100 percent. There cannot be such thing as becoming more compassionate, either you are compassionate and unconditional love which is not bound by anything or you are not. There is no middle ground. There cannot be. you can say you are improving by various practices but that is not living in the truth. The process of getting to the truth is not truth itself. There is a vast difference. Billions of people exist in this void between trying to get to that point and point itself.

    All the great teachers and religions just give pointers to the truth. We dont know if anything of this thing is true until we have realized it ourselves. One has to seek and find his own truth. In that sense they have told kill the buddha and find it yourself.

  16. There are many words, in many books, that offer us tools for living a more peaceful life. But to only collect them and not use them does no good. Until they have real meaning, through experience, they are only words.
    We have become a people of wanting fast results, big pay offs, with little effort. Forgotten are the words, ‘ That which is worth having is worth working for.’
    Continuing to spend our days complaining, worrying about the state of the world, our lives, and the emptiness we feel inside, yet we go right on doing the same things we do. With the slightest of effort, we could realize that it is the things we do, that brings the things it does. And so therefore, it makes sense to think, we should do something different.
    Taking responsibility for my actions, is a good place to start. My thoughts, words and deeds are very powerful and I’m constantly creating the world I live in within my heart and the world I see… with them. When I take responsibility for my actions, chances are real good, I’ll make better ones.
    Only when I make choices that unite rather than divide, will peace live in my heart…and the world. One by one…little by little, the molehill becomes a mountain.
    * smiles*

  17. A way to look at this place (among many others): you have your own personal stream of time. Time as rule does not exist. It seems time exists only because you create it for yourself, more or less consciously.
    More accurately we see a series of nows that exist in three dimensional space. One can add time to this observation by being willing to do so.
    One exists within this chosen time stream more or less consciously. How much of the overall one is willing to see can be called one’s reality One’s immediate awareness can be called focus. The degree to which your relative focus is on what you see and not unconsciously on something else determines how much you know of you.
    Other folks’ time stream exists in proximity. No one has the same time stream, but one observes what another seems to be observing. Truly seeing another’s viewpoint is quite enlightening.
    The system is set up to show you what you don’t know about you, in steps of time. So the person, place or thing in front of you is next. The more consciously, the more complete acceptance and understanding you have to the next, the better you will see you and how you relate to the entirety.
    Easy to say, maybe not so easy to do. But if you want to understand, this is a good way to go about it. And since you are here, understanding the other folks makes life a lot more pleasant.

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