Karma Is Not Your Bitch (And By The Way, You’re Using It Wrong)

Not only are people who get the word “Karma” tattooed on their ribcage doing themselves a disservice, they are also doing a disservice to all the people who don’t view their entire life philosophy in such simplistic terms.

Aug 20, 2013 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

Karma, life’s a bitch. You cheat on your boyfriend and then he murders you with garlic press? Karma. You talk about your friends behind their backs and then they burn you inside a giant straw man? Karma. You get cancer then you die? Karma.
 
Karma’s a bitch, baby, and you don’t want to piss it off by doing anything like having bad luck or double crossing someone who’s got a habit of invoking the great, all-smiting god of Karma.
 
The disease and genius of the internet is that everything can be reduced to a gif-heavy facebook status. So you get moments of pure brilliance and then all the other moments. Whenever someone uses the word “Karma” in a “Karma’s a bitch” context it’s one of those other moments. The suggestion that Karma is here to serve the individual or that it’s here to even the score is disrespectful and idiotic. Karma is not a bitch and it’s certainly not your bitch.
 
Now I know people have been having this ancient philosophical concept tattooed on their wrists in Papyrus font since the Pharaohs and getting angry about it now probably means I’ll be hit by a fireball-o’-Karma on the way home. But the other day a photo of someone with a freshly inked Karma tattoo popped up in my facebook feed and the general queasiness I feel whenever anyone disparages another person's personal, spiritual beliefs rose to the surface.
 
I don’t believe in Karma. I was raised as an atheist; to believe that all there is no supreme force, philosophy or reason behind the universe. I was also raised by two extremely moral and conscientious people who equipped me to respond to the world in a certain way.  
 
One thing that really stuck with me was that you probably shouldn’t knowingly dismiss, disparage or wilfully misunderstand another person’s spiritual beliefs. Unless they’re sexist, homophobic, an idiot or a Tory (UK version of Republicans). And pleading ignorance doesn’t really work what with the Internet and books and the general ability we possess to communicate with our fellow humans. So yeah, it pisses me off when people chant “Karma!” every time their ex gets cheated on.
 
Regardless of my own personal beliefs, there’s just generally something extremely irksome about people taking an integral part of someone else's spiritual beliefs and corrupting it for their own benefit. Karma is a philosophical concept concerned with mindfulness and the individual’s personal growth; the exact opposite of a wrathful deity. But so many people, online and in my real life, seem to have taken it as a tit-for-tat (pun intended) system whereby good luck makes you a good person and bad luck makes you a bad person.
 
Karma is not just an idea that we are "heirs of our own actions" in this life but that we also live out the consequences of our actions from our past lives and, vitally, in our next lives. It’s not like all past actions predestine your current life, it’s not a theory of fatalism or an argument against free will. It’s more subtle than that; we create our own realities (our internal life and external life) and can change our own experiences now and later by being positive in our actions.
 
Therefore saying “Karma” in terms of referring to the “cause and effect” system it’s bound up in is just idiotic and belittling. It takes a very complicated concept completely out of context to the point that it becomes meaningless.
 
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A fairly representative Karma tattoo.

 
Not only are people who get the word “Karma” tattooed on their ribcage doing themselves a disservice (by advertising the fact that they’re idiots) they are also doing a disservice to all the people who probably don’t view their entire life philosophy in such simplistic terms. I am discussing Karma through a Buddhist filter but a multitude of spiritualities engage with Karma; Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Falun Gong. Reducing any of them to “Well, you’ll get yours” is offensive and reductive.
 
Karma in its simplest form actually means "actions done by our own volition" but Vipaka, in Buddhism, is the term for the results of Karma (other religions have a different word, none of them use “Karma”). So when people misuse the term “Karma” to suggest “what goes around comes around” it’s usually Vipaka that they’re trying to refer to -- i.e., the effects or fruits of someone’s actions.
 
So to all the people who willfully or thoughtless throw out the word “Karma”: Karma is not here to serve you, so maybe show a tiny bit of cultural awareness because, apparently, Karma’s a bitch and if you start reducing this concept to a T-shirt slogan who knows what your life will become. You’ll probably end up being an ingrown hair in the middle of someone else’s Karma tattoo.