Last week we were discussing what suffering is and a couple of approaches to how some people deal with suffering in their lives. Today, let's talk about karma and its role in suffering.
Some people believe that suffering is caused by some wrong action or thought pattern that a person has done in the past, whether in this life or in a previous life. To me, that speaks of some sort of retribution on the part of Life on someone because of an evil act or some unhelpful thoughts they had. I find that people who preach this often come across as judgmental and lacking in compassion. It's as if they blame the person for their suffering, say "Tsk, tsk, bad karma," and walk away. I find that very unhelpful.
Karma, put simply, means what you sow, you will reap. In other words, if you eat unhealthily and don't exercise, the consequence is a flabby, unhealthy body. Or if you are a constant fault-finder and alienate all your friends, your loneliness is a consequence of your words. That's karma, and there is wisdom in learning from that.
But if a person experiences suffering when there is no obvious antecedent to the situation, such as when a child has cancer, can we blame some thought or action from a previous life as causing this? To me, saying that Life punishes us for transgressions from previous lives is like hitting a puppy on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for peeing on the carpet three lifetimes ago. It makes no sense to the puppy, and it makes no sense to us.
So, what is the purpose of suffering, then? More on this next week.