Is Karma Real?
By Lila Herrmann
Contemporary society has popularized the notion that karma is a lighthearted concept of “what goes around comes around.” NBC's popular television show, My Name Is Earl includes a “karma quiz” on its Web site, and in the song Instant Karma, John Lennon encouraged listeners to be mindful of their actions. He sang:
But what is the true definition of karma?
The concept of karmic law comes from Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. In Sanskrit, karma means action
. Unity cofounder Charles Fillmore defined karma in The Revealing Word
: “The accumulated effects of the sins of past lives; the burden that those who believe in karma expect to carry for ages or until they work out of it. They are weary treadmill travelers from birth to death and from death to birth.”
Eric Butterworth, noted Unity minister and author, included a section about karma in his famous book The Universe is Calling
. He explained karma this way: “All mistakes, failures, and sins must be atoned for in some way at some time. They become a karmic debt that must ultimately, from lifetime to lifetime, be paid. In Eastern belief, karma explains everything in one's world: suffering, blessing, sorrow, joy, pauper and prince, the pitifully sick and the radiantly healthy.”
Does Karma Fit With Unity Teachings?
The widely accepted premise of karma implies a cycle of punishment. Teachings from a variety of Unity sources seem to indicate that karma in the traditional sense does not fit with Unity. In The Revealing Word
Fillmore continues, “There is no such hopeless note in the teachings of Jesus. He came to bring a full consciousness of abundant life, complete forgiveness, redemption from all sin, and victory over death and the grave, thus delivering man from any occasion for re-embodiment and from all bondage to karma.”
Faculty Member Robert Brumet believes that we are to learn from our experiences, not be punished by them. The consequences of our thoughts present an opportunity to learn and evolve he says, and “ultimately, the purpose is for the growth of our soul.”
Law of Mind Action
Butterworth explained that our thoughts do create consequences, however, through the law of mind action. In this sense, some elements of karma correspond with Unity teachings. He wrote, “…When we understand the way the mind works, we realize that to focus our thought on negatives we use the creative power of thought in a negative way; we literally generate pools of negative energy that will have to be experienced in our lives. …Some would call this the accumulation of karma. I prefer to call it consciousness.”
Brumet concurs. “For every action there is a reaction. It is not good or bad but simply a law of balance in a sense. When we take personal responsibility to choose life-affirming thoughts, words and actions, we experience a more fulfilling and abundant life. All our conditions are the products of our thoughts and beliefs, and we learn as we grow.”
Dissolve “Karmic Debt” Through God's Grace
In “The Gift of God's Grace,” Unity minister Phillip Pierson explains that before Jesus' time, the law of karma represented an inescapable destiny leaving humanity with a sense of hopelessness—without the inclination to grow. But, said Pierson, Jesus brought the gift of grace and the knowledge that God is loving, caring and forgiving. Therefore, as children of God we can learn from mistakes and grow in God's love.
Butterworth taught that affirmative prayer is the key to overcoming suffering. “… There is no law of retribution in God. … God never stops loving us, but we stop loving ourselves. … No matter what the causes of the karmic debt, the effects can be dissolved by ‘knowing the truth,' by raising our consciousness above the level of sin.”
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