Can Belief in Karma Motivate Social Injustice?

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Critics have argued that belief in karma, which posits that how a person will be reincarnated (reborn) in her next life will depend on how she lives and acts in the present life, can motivate social injustice and do away with much need compassion.

This critic argues that that karma can do away with the social compassion persons can have towards those struggling with unemployment, poverty, discrimination, and neglect. For many people, compassion constitutes a very important (and moral) feature of human life that should be taught, nurtured, and cultivated. Consider, for example, the impoverished and hungry person begging on the sidewalk for scraps of food. Those who hold to strong convictions on karma would likely believe that the 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 a form of legitimate suffering (his evil deeds are being deservedly punished) it would likely cause many to turn a blind eye to his pain. But, as the critics might argue, if everyone behaved and thought like this it would produce an indifferent society that neglects the suffering of victims.

There is also a further concern about implicating oneself in the karmic cycle. Should one take pity on the impoverished man and provide him with some material comfort, it will influence the karmic cycle in an unseen way. On the one hand, an act of compassion will avoid the man completing the payment of his karmic debt in full. The man is meant to suffer and he himself is convinced that he is paying off a karmic debt. He might even repudiate any attempts by others to help him thinking his suffering is necessary and that preventing this will avoid him from attaining the goal of paying off his debt. Further, the person who desires to help out of compassion might fear that intervening in the poor man’s life will be interpreted (by karma) as a bad deed and therefore come back to haunt her in the next life. On such a view, one might just do better to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. As scholar of religion Dale Tuggy explains,

“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).

References

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

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