Society harbors the common belief that Karma is a life principle that is absolute. That is if you send out positive feelings to everyone, that’s what you’ll receive in return. Or if you do a good deed, the person will do a good deed to you in return. It is sometimes compared to Newton’s Law of Physics–for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unfortunately, in real life, this is not always the case.
As a matter of course, once a person does an act, equal or opposite reaction cause some degree of effect on one’s mind. When we do a favor for an acquaintance, we feel gladness about our act or it might make us feel regret if the acquaintance misinterprets our motivation for helping her. This type of Karma is internal.
There is also the type of Karma that is popular in our culture. That is when people do bad and harmful acts, they will receive blowback and punishments in return. However, we also know that this does not always happen to wrongdoers. Indeed, many culprits not only get away from prosecution for their misdeeds, but go on to receive great benefits and public acclaim for their deceptions and swindles. This tells us that comparing Karma to Newton’s Law of Physics is an inaccurate analogy.
On the other hand, it’s easy to cite instances when Karma appeared to hold sway, such as when the bank robber is convicted of the crime and is sentenced to a term in prison. A politician who pads his assets by engaging in a money laundering scheme is investigated by the FBI then is sentenced and punished while also being publicly disgraced. These examples can be thought of as tangible Karma because the wrongdoers receive public scorn and are the subject of Schadenfruede.
The differences between traditional notions of Karma and tangible Karma are subtle. Traditional Karma resides in the mind of the believer; it can be rationalized and interpreted to suit the preferences of the believers. Tangible Karma is conditional upon physical and institutional structures; it has actual, palpable consequences.
If we honestly ponder our past actions and speech we can interpret their real-world consequences as tangible Karma. How does what we do and say carry over into our present day character, behavior, and beliefs? Does a particular deed or conversation make one feel bad or good about oneself? In hindsight, would we have done or said something differently? How have our actions and speech affected our self-respect and respect for others? Will this introspection motivate the drive towards integrity or will the feelings be swept under the rug?
Our past beliefs, speech, and actions have had formative power over us. We can imagine how life would have turned out differently if we had cultivated different beliefs, communicated more honestly, and behaved more authentically. We can imagine scenarios as far back as we can to remember how what we said and did affected who we became in later life. Understanding this tangible Karma helps us better discern our decisions regarding actions and speech in the present and future.
In summary, while society projects its desire for revenge and Schedenfruede against people who disobey social mores into traditional Karma; actual benefit to the individual comes about through pondering personal, tangible Karma. The desires for the sanctimonious revenge according to popular notions about Karma are destructive to the individual spirit. What is helpful in our work to become our best selves, is to be mindful of our own tangible Karma. Tangible Karma is rational, palpable, and germain to our own lives and how we interact with others.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the First Chinese Buddhist Patriarch, Bodhidharma. “Regardless of what we do, our karma has no hold on us.”