Belief in Karma Can Motivate Social Injustice

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As noted perviously, karma posits that how a person will be reincarnated (reborn) into her next life will depend on how she lives and acts in the present life. If one engages in bad behaviour a sort of karmic debt shall accumulate and lead to a bad rebirth. Alternatively, engaging in good behaviour will lead to a good rebirth.

Some critics of this ancient belief have pointed out that karma could do away with much needed social compassion within societies which have many such problems, including unemployment, poverty, discrimination, and neglect. For many people, compassion constitutes a very important (and moral) feature of existence that ought to be taught, learned, nurtured, and cultivated. Consider, for example, the impoverished and hungry man begging on the sidewalk for scraps of food. Those who hold to strong convictions on karma would likely believe that poor man’s situation is an unfortunate result of bad deeds he must have committed in his previous life. The impoverished man is paying off his karmic debt, and because this might be seen to be legitimate suffering (i.e. evil deeds are being deservedly punished) it would likely cause many to turn a blind eye to his plight. Critics have argued that we ought to show a concern with such a belief, because should everyone behave like this it would produce a tragic and indifferent society where the suffering and victims of social injustices are neglected.

There is the further concern of implicating oneself in the karmic cycle. Should one take pity on the impoverished man and provide him with some material comfort, whether money or food, it will influence the karmic system/cycle in some unseen way. On one level it will negate the man completing the payment of his karmic debt in full. If the man is himself convinced he is paying off a karmic debt then he might even repudiate the attempts of others to help him. He knows that their assistance will prevent him attaining the goal of paying off his debt. Further, the one who wishes to help might fear that intervening in the beggar’s life will be interpreted (by karma) as a bad deed and therefore come back to haunt her in the next life. One will do better by just turning a blind eye to the suffering of others. Scholar of religion Dale Tuggy explains that,

“You might also worry that this [karma] is going to take away your motivation to prevent injustice and bad things happening in the world. Who are we to stand in the way of these cosmic wheels of justice that are turning?” (1).


YouTube. 2014. Hindu doctrines, schools, and history – Brahman, atman, and reincarnation.

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