I was having a conversation with a friend recently about politics (which I talk and think about wayyyy too much for my psychological well-being). She jokingly mentioned the ways karma might punish some of the most evil players.
I know a lot of people refer to karma as a form of cosmic punishment but there seems to be a gross misunderstanding about what it actually is.
Karma is not a punishment that one must suffer for doing bad things (not exactly, anyway.) Rather we must each suffer the consequences of “bad” or unproductive behavior in order to understand how that behavior/attitude hinders our spiritual development, if not in our current lifetime then in the next.
For example, someone who is bigot may come back as a member of the oppressed group they hated, finding themselves now subjected to that same bigotry. Simplistically, that might seem like a punishment. But I would argue that it is rather an opportunity to learn the lesson they did not learn in previous lives, and which they must learn in order to advance karmically.
This is not to suggest that everyone who is a victim of ethnic, religious, or racial hatred was, themselves, a bigot in a previous lifetime. That implies karma as retribution or that the experiences of each lifetime are in direct correlation to the actions of previous lifetimes.
This is not necessarily so. Or at least not in a way that many humans simplistically understand it.
I (and many others) believe that we choose the basic circumstances of our lifetimes — our parents, our social situation, our position in society, our physical attributes, our intellect – while we are between lives. Our spirit reviews what lessons we have learned already and what lessons still need to be learned, and we choose the life that will put us in the path to encounter those lessons. However, whether we actually learn them is up to us.
So, using that same example: someone who suffers racial discrimination in this lifetime, might have chosen such a path not because they needed to learn the lesson of bigotry as a victim, but perhaps what they needed for their personal growth was to be part of a community that is bound together by the prejudices of others. Or maybe they need to find their voice and rise up against their oppressors. Or perhaps they need to succeed in spite of the obstacles. Or possibly the lesson comes via feelings of anger or helplessness. Or maybe they needed to work through specific issues that are intrinsic to a particular ethnic/culture/religious group. Or it might be any one of a million other reasons I can’t begin to imagine.
And likewise, a life of privilege is not necessarily a reward for living a ‘good” life previously. As we have learned through many of the narrators, very often lives of privilege have their own challenges. Wealth and power are rarely positives from a spiritual perspective.
It’s also possible that some souls choose come back to a life of suffering, whether physical, emotional, or psychological, not because they need the lesson for themselves, but because those in their soul group need the lesson. For example, a sick child might have agreed to a short life full of pain and suffering not for their own spiritual development but for the benefit of their parents and/or siblings; for the lessons they could learn. It was a karmic arrangement made in the in between.
Thus, karma is not a punishment but rather an opportunity.