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Why I Don't Believe In Karma

Updated on March 21, 2008

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a friend where he proclaimed a firm belief in the idea that "if you do good things, good things will happen to you." Further prying revealed that he did indeed have a strong belief in Karma. This is something that I could never buy into. So, I offered a counter-example, "Well, how do you account for an infant's death? A baby is born and after living for no more than a few days, he dies of an illness. Something bad happened to him, yet, he did nothing wrong. How do you explain that?"

Of course, I was fed a completely unsatisfying answer, "I believe in Karma but I don't think it always applies." So, basically, I'm being told that when you do good things, sometimes good things will happen to you and when you do something bad, bad things might happen to you.

Before I continue, there is one thing I should make clear. I think there is a definition of Karma that can be kept completely secular. I'm referring to the concept that by doing good things for others, they are more likely to do good things for you. The same would hold true for negative actions. Nothing supernatural is involved. However, the Karma I'm referring to here is the supernatural definition of Karma. The one that says it is a law of nature that you will be rewarded for good, moral actions and punished for bad ones. This supernatural Karma is what I believe is non-existent.

Let's imagine for a moment, a world without Karma (difficult, isn't it?). In this world, there is no balance between good and bad, meaning that doing good things does not ensure a stream of goodness coming your way. On the same token, you won't necessarily "get what's coming to you" for doing bad things. Therefore, the combination of good and bad that you or anyone experiences is based solely on the nature and actions of what surrounds you. So, sometimes when you do good things, good things will happen to you and sometimes when you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. Sound familiar? It should, because that is the exact same world being described by my friend who supposedly believes in Karma (sometimes).

As if it is necessary, besides the above example, there are plenty more reasons to discount the existence of Karma. For one, it intrinsically necessitates objective morals. If Karma is to apply to everyone, there must be some universal definition of good and bad. I think anyone can realize that morals are subjective. For example, one person may see homosexuality as evil and unethical, while others (me included) see it as a personal choice that does not in anyway present a moral quandary. On top of that, I believe morals can not exist without humans. Karma requires morals and morals were created by people. Therefore, Karma could only have been created by people. Unless someone has magical powers and was able to create an invisible, universal system to punish the "bad" and reward the "good", this is impossible.

Ultimately, as if it's not already clear, I do not believe in Karma. Just based on personal experience it doesn't seem to hold true and I think by its own nature, it is impossible.


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      thetruth 4 years ago

      I agree with just because you do good doesn't mean good things will happen.

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      DK 5 years ago

      You guys don't even know the meaning of karma. The only way to get the exact definition is studying pure Buddhism. We don't what happens out of the earth. And remember there is a lot of things we can't explain in this universe. Find what Einstein said about Buddhism. We are not genius like Einstein. We can't change things happening in this massive universe. Although we like to think that karma is not true.. It won't be changed as we wish.

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      DK 5 years ago

      karma is not that simple. You can't talk about it without learning it. Why you are a human while another living being is an animal. Both have thoughts, feelings, hopes. And both are living beings. So why are they different from their birth? Why someone is rich while someone even hasn't anything to eat, has nothing to wear. There are for types of karma. You only know about 1 of them. First study about Buddhism. Then you can think about karma. It's a complex concept. Buddhism is not a religion. Study it. You'll realize that it's not so simple.

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      KT 5 years ago

      I am with you on this one. Every single person that I know believes in karma. I don't believe in karma, but you know what I do believe in? I believe that everything happens for a reason. Some things just happen out of the ordinary, whether it's good or bad. Both good and bad things will happen to us no matter what. Life is full of the unexpected, definitely.

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      snowman 5 years ago

      Karma is a device created by the weak to counter the strong...

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      gregk 5 years ago

      Thanks for you thoughtful posts. I have been thinking about Karma all my life and studied and practised as if it existed. That has been my experiment and I find it has brought me very good results.

      Firstly it is a big question what is good and bad, but no one has mentioned this simple answer. That which causes suffering to oneself or others is bad and that which causes happiness for oneself or others is good.

      For example killing living beings, stealing, adultery, lying, and the consumption of alcohol and drugs are bad as they cause suffering to oneself or to others.

      If you take each of these you will find that all the things we fear in the world and which we feel would cause us suffering are related to these.

      Most of our societies rules are somehow related to trying to instill these principles in our actions as individuals.

      As I have lived according to these principles I have watched others in my lifes circle who have not. I have watched my friends die from drugs, I have watched some go to jail. I have watched them cause suffering to themselves and others by lying, stealing, etc. Our newspapers are full of these everyday.

      Yet for me my life has been pretty cool. I have accumulated wealth and have given lots of it away. I have fed the poor and built houses for those who needed them. In my mind this has always been an experiment because how else would I find out if it was true or not? But it has lead me to this understanding that the good we do does protect us and I could summarise it as this.

      That goodness which is in all of us is the most beautiful thing in the whole world. It is like a light that shines within us that cause good action and protects us. All the happiness you experience in this world is produced by that goodness without it the world would be very dark indeed.

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      Mallika 5 years ago

      Today we find a lot people talking about karma and we have a lot of asian monks from different disciplines of dharma preaching it. Some see sense and some don't, some practise and some only talk.

      But the theory of karma is not only very ancient but also very complex to understand completely and when you do its very difficult to explain. It is an experience and a journey which you have unknowingly started your by reflecting on karma.

      I like you started this journey with disqualifying it for it did not make sense nor did it seem just. Why is a child being punished when he is innocent? Why are so many people dying of hunger? how come the rich become richer in spite of evil deeds? Remember only when you doubt and question you find true answers. Complete blind surrender leads to nothing but ignorance.

      To understand karma you first need to understand what is good and the bad and second the cycle of many lives. You are right what is good or bad is a perception but our intentions never are.

      Lets start with polygamy in Islam it was preached because there were a lot of widows after a war and unlike now then women could not earn their own bread so polygamy was encouraged. This act had good intentions but in the long run it became evil. So the men practicing polygamy then had good intentions and most men practicing it now don't have good intentions. ( again the intention varies from person to person)

      Second instance socialism when Karl Marx wrote it was with a good intention, he wanted to distribute wealth in society so that all men could share status and wealth, back then social and wealth differences was vast and the middle class was as good as non existent, Thus from this we conclude that Karl Marx had good intentions however his teachings were manipulated by many and a good teaching turned into evil.

      Our charitable celebrities, politicians, industrialists etc..... when do charity to gain a reputation and hold a positive image than their intentions for kindness is fake.

      Thus deeds cant be judged for being right or wrong but intentions at the moment of performing the deed is what grades our karma.

      Thus we cannot fairly judge anyone's act as good or evil but our own because we can only completely know are own intention. And ironically that exactly what the whole world seems to do judge every one around them. my above examples are also presumptions for i cannot completely know what Karl Marx intended :).

      There is so much to say but i am running out of time will write some more some other time :)

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      Bel 5 years ago

      What I learned was to not expect the world to be good to me just because I'm good to it. It doesn't work for me. To me Karma is an excuse people invented to have something to take blame off their shoulders. I believe in good luck and bad luck. Sometimes no matter what we do, good things happen and sometimes no matter how good we are bad things will happen. And babies with death illness due past life behaviour.. pfft it's too much of a too mystical theory for me.

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      sionvsion 6 years ago

      I don't expect good things will happen when I complete a “good” act. I believe in Karma in a different way I guess. I believe we create, through our actions, what "Socially Acceptable" is. We act out our lives believing nobody sees our dark side or imperfections. Then we expect perfection from others. We believe we are better liars than we really are. We see through each other better than we can lie. Then we pass this behavior along to others and they do the same thing.

      Everything we do effects our environment and those things come back to us later in life through different circumstances because we taught the world it was acceptable. The Karma happens because nobody taught the world anything different. The only way to make the world become better is to become better than the world is teaching you to be.

      You become “god” when you quit letting the world create you and you start creating the world better. This is what I've experienced anyway...

      I can look back into my childhood and look at the decisions I've made and how they affected others. I only learned how my actions affected others after I was affected by similar actions. I don't go through the world trying to make a trade with everyone. Karma doesn't work that way from my experience.

      Bad things happen to me all the time and I really try my best to treat others as I would myself. A lot of the worst things that happen to me are due to my own ignorance. I’ve burned others and I have been burned. When I was younger I taught the world that my behavior was acceptable and everyone else taught the world how to be through their actions. The youth of the world now is a reflection of the past. What they believe will create the future. It doesn't matter if we pretended to be good because the future will tell us if we were or not. I think Karma is like saying "Don't pooh where you eat, blame it on the dog, then complain about the taste of the food".

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      Salia 6 years ago

      I don't believe in karma,however I do believe in God,I have seen with my own eyes what he do.Yes I am a good person,but do good things happen to me? No,expecailly not in love,but the bad things I do,I seem to receive payback for them without a doubt.So I guess it goes like this.... Bad things happen to good ppl and Good things happen to bad.

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      Stephan Thurman 6 years ago

      Julie, you hit some very good points that I agree to, but I feel you are a little off based. You shouldn't even rejoice when someone gets a 1st degree murder by your statement. What if a person is wrongly convicted or received the worst punishment possible because of his or her circumstances? Every situation is different, unique, and unexplainable.

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      me. :) 6 years ago

      Some people just want to have something to believe in. Karma is a good example. Things happen to us every single day of our lives. We don't know what will come/what to expect. If I go to a store right now, and steal something.. I can't just say to myself, "Oh, now karma's going to come get me!" And then BOOM, 20 years later, I get into a bad car accident... I can't just say, "20 years ago, I knew karma was going to come and get me. It's all because I stole from that store." No, that's just ridiculous. Those things happen to us. It's not karma. Karma isn't real. We just want to blame it on something. What I do believe in, is, 'EVERYTHING happens for a reason.' Because everything DOES. There are reasons for everything. Absolutely everything.

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      A random passerby 6 years ago

      Hey, it is really really great to see people share thoughts on their aspects of beliefs. It is understandble why an infant would die. But I often think that people refer to death as something really horrible and unpleasant. But I mean who knows what really happens afterdeath. What I believe is that death is a transformation. The body isn't alive anymore but the soul is still conscious. Why does death have to be something really bad? I mean how do people know it's what we have perceived it as? All I am saying is that maybe the infant's family isn't ready for the newcomer and that the infant would have been better off with it's soul in a place where there is only peace and quietness.

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      Anonymous 6 years ago

      "Morals are obviously objective".

      Morals are a part of culture. What one culture considers heinous may be considered acceptable in another. History is proof of that and so is the modern age. I'm not trying to bash a belief in "Dharma" or anything, I'm just stating the facts about culture. Sure, Karma and Dharma cannot be disproved, as proving a negative is near impossible, but they can't be proven positive either. Dharma and Karma are parts of a religion. By default, that's belief, not objective fact. Fact and belief will always be different. Of course it's possible for there to be objective morals, but by the look of the world, that chance is slim at best. Anything is possible, but things can be extremely unlikely. That's just the way I see it. I used to believe in things like Karma and objective morals, but I'm just going to say that what you see and experience can easily change that.

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      julie7774 6 years ago

      And lastly, I forgot to put in the fact that fighting is sometime unavoidable when it means standing up for what is right after exhausting other options or preventing further damage. Bin Laden was never gonna gonna get taken out by Karma...*however* he was taken out...he can no longer hurt me or anyone else- and YA... I'm good with that.

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      julie7774 6 years ago

      Additionally, I just want to say that I love the fact that you went after the concept of Karma. I wish though, that you actually went after the "secular" Karma. To exegete the concept as a "force of nature" would really involve going back to the original manuscripts and have some knowledge of the original language. As I'm sure we can agree that once translated, the original message may be compromised with varying degrees of possible depending on whether it's an ancient language, etc...and I certainly don't know much if anything about the original texts on which it is based.

      On the other hand, people do like the idea of what i refer to as "lazy justice/lazy reward". If someone has wronged you, you need not deal- Karma will take care of it. If you want to increase your good Karma, then do good. I'm pretty sure it's also up for debate as to whether or not it's a linear scale with intergers or if two separate and distinct scales exist. I believe the former is the preferred by most of the population as it allows the good to extend past the bad and therefore negating it.

      Playing my cards immediately- I accept the concepts of grace and mercy as well as justice. (Grace=possibility of getting a reprieve we don't deserve, while mercy= possibility of not getting the wrath we DO deserve.) Separate is the concept of justice in which someone who is (usually) non-repentant getting what they're going to get.

      In justice, generally, I take no delight in seeing the accused receive their sentence. (exceptions aside, such as 1st degree murder, etc...). To me it's sad because an unrepentant heart is always unquieting in my opinion. On a more personal level, even "someone who doesn't get caught" usually makes not one, but a series of bad decisions in their life that come back to bite them at some point. This is not Karma. Additionally, I believe that confrontation is often a great thing. Many a score has been settled by talking and it just takes one party to initiate. I also personally have no concerns about a good throwdown- I say step up to the plate and be confident enough to defend your position. (polite phrasing for "grow a set").

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      julie7774 6 years ago

      Karma is on all levels (pop culture/ ontologically/metaphysically incompatible with Christianity. It may be consistent with Dharma, I don't have sufficient understanding of the concept.

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      toy 6 years ago

      I have readied all of the comments above and still don't understand. Karma and logic will never go together because you all made good points. I think karma is just if you believe it or not just as if you believe in God or not (whatever religion) I can up with many things that say karma is not real example what’s going on in the world today. How women and kids are dying for no real reason. Then I can say karma is real, if you do your research it go's back to the life you lived before. The thing is and this is the only question I have. Why be punish for something you don’t know you did??? Karma is not real it has no base to it.

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      insanogil 7 years ago

      Mark - what you've described is a quasi-spiritual version of the secular karma I described above. Obviously, if you do good things for people it is more likely that good things will happen to you.

      Also, I'll point out that since writing this article, my views have changed a bit. I do now believe that an objective morality exists, however it is derived from logic not from any supernatural source.

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      ash 7 years ago

      karma is a crock of crap!! i feel how fred does. fred deserves love for all he has given, if he desires love on earth before he dies and he is a good person then technically 'karma' should have rewarded him by now because he is deserving. reap what you sow is if you put love in you should get love back. karma has failed many people! i see good people that just want to be loved and willing to do anything for this type of happyness only to find that life keeps shitting on them, nice people are easy targets for people who use and abuse. goodhearted people are getting screwed, and because they are good the only thing they can do is roll over and take the abuse. people who win in life, love, money, success, are very competitive.... it truly is a dog eat dog or survival of the fittest out there... alot of these life winners who have it all are not nice people, just menipulative caniving souls who somehow always mannage to get there way and don't nessicarily deserve it.

      and to TaRa, shame on you for telling fred he will reap what he sows but in heavin [what after he is dead?] that is crap! he deserves love while he is still alive! him finding his soul mate after he is dead wont mater much now will it. everyone wants to be loved while they are still alive. this world is very lonely and cold without love. i feel bad for fred. karma has failed the majority of us living folk!

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      Bindii 7 years ago

      I don't believe in Karma either. I believe that we live in a dangerous yet wonderful world and random things just happen for no reason whatsoever. Humans have only created these 'theories' about life to try to make some sense of our crazy existence.

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      bevita 7 years ago

      Hi, Just wanted to add that you have missed out the fact that Hindus believe in re-birth. This means that your past lives (although not consciously active)do play an active role in your present one. This is the explanation for the condiitons at birth (rich poor, healthy etc). It also explains why a new born baby would suffer - because of past karma of the child/coupled with the karma(past) & present actions of the parents (i.e. neglegence etc)

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      Mark 7 years ago

      Yvonne... thank you for your feedback, but I don't feel you truly understand Karma.

      As I previously stated, Karma is not a cosmic force. Karma is essentially the law of cause and effect. Every action you do is creating Karma, because it sets off various chains of events. Due to interconnectedness, the amount of positive karma you create through positive intentions sets of positive chains and vice-versa. The phrase "what goes around comes around" doesn't mean that some divine force will punish you for your misdeeds. However, the more negative karma you create in the world, the more potential you have that the negative chain of events you started will come back to you. Not every good or bad thing that happens to you is a result of past karma.

      Karma is a philosophical law based on human social interaction rather than a cosmic law, as you seem to be insinuating.

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      Yvonne 7 years ago

      karma is basically a threat.. same as relegion .. believe or else.... I didn't care about karma and stuff before and funny enough life was kinda calm and worked just as crappy as it does now .. actually its slightly worse now as I take the time to think about people feelings and the whole karmic balance/back lash.... and all it does is yep you got it.. a big fat ZERO

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      Mark 7 years ago

      This is an interesting article, but it exhibits a very common western misconception of Karma. It is inappropriate to regard Karma as a universal force of morality, although that is often how it is understood in a Christian culture that believes in heaven and hell.

      In order to understand Karma, one first must understand the interconnectedness of all things. In other words, no action or thing exists in completely in a vacuum from the rest of the universe. Every action you do sets off a subsequent chain of events, which further sets off other chains of events. Assuming that all things are connected, one can safely assume that a chain of events that you started will eventually come back to you, although not necessarily in a form that you recognize. It stands to reason that positive actions with positive intentions more often lead to positive chains of events, and vice-versa. In general, the more often positive actions are committed, the more often positive results are seen, which eventually come back to you.

      Karma cannot account for every result in the world. There are plenty of things which are outside of our control... natural disasters, accidents, etc. Nor can one say that something negative happening to them is necessarily as a result of his past Karma... tell that to the victims of the Holocaust. Still, it stands to reason that the more positive actions you perform, the more positive chains of events will occur and vice-versa.

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      TaRa 7 years ago

      You will reap your rewards in heaven Fred.

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      Fred 8 years ago

      I agree about Karma. It don't exist. Just like the bible where it says "You reap what you sow." I never reap what I sow. Espically love and helping others!!!!

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      Opiner09 8 years ago

      You're doubts of Karma are well grounded and logical.

      However, your assessment of universal morals is flawed. Morals are obviously objective, but that doesn't mean that some "being" hasn't codified the concept of morals. Hinduism has already considered this issue, so you don't have to waist any brain cells trying to reinvent the wheel. The codification of morals, what is right and what is wrong, is called 'dharma'. Dharma, in simple terms, is the 'moral law'. Hinduism obviously has its theory as to who created the dharma. So if that religion is correct, then we have the answer. However, the religion may be wrong on who or what created it. If Hinduism is wrong, it still doesn't prove that dharma doesn't exist; it just proves Hinduism is wrong about that concept. So, it's very possible that dharma exists, but we don't know who or what is responsible for its creation.

      Moreover, Hinduism attempts to interpret the dharma. Once again, the religion may be inaccurate. There are many priests who believe they know a lot about it, but of course even they can not be 100% certain. So, it's possible that dharma exists, but we don't know its exact specifications.

      I'm not arguing dharma exists, I'm just saying it is theoretically possible that a universal (supernatural) moral law could exist without it being created by humans or even known by humans. After all we lived most of our human history without even realizing many scientific truisms (i.e., medicine, electromagnetism, etc.).