Karma: The Good, the Bad and the Creative

Social Science, Philosophy and Religion Department, Central Library,
Buddhist monks
Buddhist monks

Several months ago, while driving home during rush hour on a Friday night, my fiancée and I noticed a young teenager lying unconscious on the side of a busy street. We pulled over and called 911 to hopefully provide some help for him. We stayed close to him until an ambulance came and were able to transport him to a hospital. As paramedics were loading up the young man, a passerby looked at us and said, "That’s a good thing you guys did, you guys just earned some good karma."

From this encounter, I began to think more about the concept of karma. Though much of my own rudimentary understanding of karma has come from cursory readings and even some pop culture references, I knew I needed to dig deeper to understand the intricacies and depths of karma. But what is karma? According to the Encyclopedia of Buddhism, "In popular usage in the West, karma is thought of simply as the good and bad things that happen to a person, a little like good and bad luck. However, this oversimplifies what for Buddhists is a complex of interrelated ideas which embraces both ethics and belief in rebirth."

The idea of karma is a central tenet in several religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The word karma derives from Sanskrit and translates to "action" or "deed." Several sacred texts, including the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, have mentions of karma and how it can influence your life and potentially future lives. The concept of karma in each of these religions can be slightly different. The Jainas believe that karma is a physical substance that is created by impure actions, and only through moral self-discipline can one free the soul of negative karmic residue. Though each of these religions believes in the doctrine of karma, their understanding of karma can vary.

Though many people may have a basic understanding of the doctrine of karma, there are many different interpretations of how to apply it in everyday life. Some people believe that karma is a consequence that is a direct result of good or bad actions. Others believe karma is a way to affect your fate in the next life. And still, others debate the basic idea of karma. For example, Christopher Chapple, in his book, “Karma and Creativity,” puts forth the idea that karma is not a consequence of actions but rather a creative freedom to positively affect actions in your own life.

Karma is such an intriguing topic because it can be a guiding doctrine. Whether you believe karma exists or not, several theologians, philosophers, scholars, and others have delved into the many possible ways to interpret how karma affects life. To further research karma, visit the Los Angeles Public Library Social Science, Philosophy, and Religion department to review our databases and books to assist you in your understanding of the concept of karma.

The Los Angeles Public Library subscribes to online databases that offer online journal articles and reference eBooks, which provide resources for further researching the topic of karma. The database ATLASerials, Religion Collection, provides online journal articles and book reviews from over 100 journals selected by scholars. Another database, Gale Virtual Reference Library, provides access to online reference eBooks to explore the concept of karma as well as many other subjects. These databases can be accessed from the Los Angeles Public Library homepage under the Research & Homework link (http://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/research-and-homework). Both databases may be accessed at any Los Angeles Public Library branch as well as outside the Library. Patrons accessing these databases from outside the Library will need to have their Library card number and PIN number to log in.

For Further Reading:

Exploring Karma & Rebirth by Nagapriya

129.4 N147

The Power of Karma by Mary T. Browne

291.4 B883-1

Everyday Karma by Carmen Harra

291.4 H296

The Upanishads introduced & translated by Eknath Easwaran; afterword by Michael N. Nagler

294.1 U65-17 2007

Karma 101: What Goes Around Comes Around; and What You Can Do About I by Joshua Mack

A Concise Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen translated by Michael H. Kohn

294.303 L679 2010

The Meaning of Life: Buddhist Perspectives on Cause & Effect by Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama; translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins

294.32 B9165-29 2000

Karma and Happiness: A Tibetan Odyssey in Ethics, Spirituality, and Healing by Miriam Cameron

294.34 C182

Jainism: A Guide for the Perplexed by Sherry Fohr

294.4 F657

The Bhagavadgītā: A New Translation translated by Georg Feuerstein with Brenda Feuerstein

294.5 B5742Fe 2014

Karma and Creativity by Christopher Key Chapple

294.5 C467