Do you believe in Karma?
If you are of a certain age (mine), Karma was the number one buzzword when it came to guiding life choices, particularly in our teens and 20s. It was a sort of hanger-on in the free love, do your own thing society, forlornly trying to convince otherwise self-absorbed pleasure seekers there was something else out there.
I think it hitchhiked to America along with Baba Ram Das and the rest of the Hindu spiritualist movement. Or maybe it came from further east — I thought is was a component of Zen Buddhism. Or perhaps it was supposed to just come to you while you were transcendentally meditating.
I was predisposed to believing in Karma. I grew up playing baseball — perhaps the most superstitious of all sports. Don't step on the baseline, complete the bat-tapping ritual before every pitch, don't change your socks if the team was winning sort of stuff. These days, they use superstition as an excuse to grow extravagant beards and long hair (I don't get that).
But even in baseball, there were elements of Karma. Catch a break on a safe/out call? You can bet it will go against you next time. Get hit by a pitch? Your pitcher will hit someone on their team in retaliation. Hit a line drive right at somebody? A weak popup will fall behind the second baseman for a single.
Karma took on a bit deeper meaning as we all transitioned through college into adulthood. None of my friends were overly concerned that by killing that bug they'd end up being a bug in the next life (the ultimate Karma trip), but they sure believed in doing a good deed in hopes someone would do a good deed to them in return.
Drop the Indian trappings, and Karma became a basic philosophical (and physics) rule. Philosophy: Actions have consequences; sometimes unintended consequences. Physics: For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction.
But that's a bit too deep for most of us, particularly for daily use. It's easier to talk about someone having good Karma, or for bad Karma to come back and haunt us.
Notice how neither the scholarly approach nor the Karma approach promises exactly when this payback for actions taken is going to happen. That way, we have a whole lifetime to wait for the scales to balance. And, in a sort of feeble way, we can explain why bad things happen to good people, or vice versa.
There is, of course, another source that takes a slightly different look at this same deep-seated desire we humans have to do good. We call it the Golden Rule. And it comes from the Bible.
Everyone learns it as a child — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Only there's no second verse saying those others are going to do good unto you. You're supposed to just do it.
It gets harder. In another place it says you're supposed to love not only your friends, but your enemies too. There's turn the other cheek, and if a man steals your coat, give them your shirt too.
True, there's also an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But we "enlightened" Christians today just push that away as Old Testament rubbish we've outgrown.
I long thought that if I could just be good enough, I'd win the big prize on the top shelf (that's a metaphor for heaven, folks). Or at least I would earn myself a little easier life down here.
But as I age, I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't do much good to keep score. I'm not visionary enough to see the cosmic Karma scales balance, and I've been convinced that God does things in his own time, in his own way.
I'll continue to strive to do the right thing, the compassionate thing, the just thing. I'll try to close the door on that little thought that I will be "paid back" for whatever it is I do.
But I am human. So if God wants to let me win the lottery, I won't turn that down either.
After all, I've been a very good boy (I think).