Karma — A Modern Day Perception

Along with the theory of yin and yang propounded by Taoism, the concept of karma is perhaps the most popular– and most misunderstood– philosophical theory of all time. Used widely in common parlance, movies and TV shows, the meaning of karma has come a long way from its initial connotation and scope.

The word ‘karma’ originates from the Sanskrit root ‘kri’ which means ‘to do’ or ‘to act and react’. ‘Karma’ literally means ‘action’ or reincarnation’. More broadly, it delineates the universal principle of cause and effect, which Hindus believe governs all consciousness.  Contrary to popular perception, karma is not fate; a line drawn on our palms that directs the way our life will move, but is instead a beautiful concept which states that your karma i.e. your actions, determine your destiny– it believes that we are the creators of our own fates, depending on the moral nature of our actions. A few schools of Hindu philosophy also believe that we do not face the consequences of Karma immediately, rather that the fruit or punishment of our our actions, if any, is faced by us in our next life.

However, with with the horde of ‘spiritual gurus’ preaching about karma today, maybe the concept has become an ideal action instead of a daily principle. One cannot miss the quirky T-shirts by websites such as that print the ‘cycle of karma’ on a plain black shirt, and find it on their best-selling list. This makes one wonder if this concept has been reduced to some sort of inside joke that everyone finds funny, or just plainly relatable, in a rather dull sense. The ‘do good and good follows you back’ principle seems like an old proverb that’s gotten rusty, unlike the eternal truth that we were taught it was. This alienation from what karma actually is may be due to a lack of concrete evidence or statistics to prove its validity, or perhaps a denial of an inner knowledge that  we haven’t been as good as we could have been– an idolization of the concept of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’. Another reason could be that most of us seek a reward that is greater than the effort we are putting in, and so the principle of ‘we get what we give’ seems to fall short of our expectations. However, we need to remember that life isn’t an everlasting Christmas where you’re gifted with presents under a tree by Mr.Claus if you’ve been good– life is more carpe-diem than most of us think. Instant gratification is the key to life, and so is instant retribution for mistakes made.

Here, a symbol of karma can be useful as a constant reminder, but unlike the permanent and popular symbol of yin and yang, karma is represented through many symbols in circulation, depending on the culture or religious path. The most well known symbol is the Buddhists’ Auspicious or Endless Knot (shrivatsa). It is a geometric diagram that symbolises the nature of reality where everything is interrelated and only exists as part of a web of karma and its effect. Also, it represents the illusory character of time, and a long life as it is endless.

It can be said that the film Nanny McPhee (2005) accurately portrays the nature of karma by showing how the characters go through both tumultuous and clement times in their lives. Just as Nanny McPhee said “When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.”, karma also has its own ways to make its presence felt.

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