‘Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds’
quote from George Eliot
With retirement comes the time to look back at various life events and experiences and to reflect on whether we have lived good lives. If one has lived a good life filled with generous actions, respect, hard work, kindness and faithfulness in relationships, does it mean good karma in retirement? If we have done ‘right’, lived according to high moral principles and treated others well, will we receive good karma? What happens if we have fallen short of the ideal? Are we unfit to receive good things in our lives?
What is karma?
Karma is a Sanskrit word that means action. It refers to the universal law of cause and effect which has influenced Eastern religions especially hinduism. The idea behind karma is that thoughts, words and deeds carry energy into the universe resulting in changes that shape our lives.
In Western culture karma is often referred to as ‘what goes around, comes around’ or ‘the chickens will come home to roost’. While the religious definitions of karma are complex, the basic idea is that actions shape a person’s life and influence life’s direction — either positive or negative.
Do past actions, thoughts and words come back to us as bad karma?
People who truly believe in Karma think that thoughts and actions exist as energy that is not dispersed. Many psychotherapists also believe that thoughts, words and deeds don’t just disappear — they continue to exist in the unconscious where they have the continuing power to shape our lives.
This may be true in the therapy room but I find it difficult to believe that angry childish thoughts about teachers, parents or siblings continue to influence me 60 years later. Moreover, I don’t remember all the thoughts I had yesterday — never mind those that happened many years ago.
The human condition is such that nobody lives a perfect life. In my history, there were times when my actions were short of noble, polite, kind or respectful. I said things that I later regretted; I acted impulsively; and I ignored the needs of others around me. I have tried to learn from my mistakes as living with the inevitable remorse decreases happiness.
I don’t think those negative actions made me a bad person nor do I believe that bad karma will come back from these human transgressions. Overall, I see myself as a good person — and I believe that most people see themselves as ‘good’.
Good Actions don’t always bring rewards
Good actions don’t always bring rewards and, of course, bad things do happen to good people. Good people get sick, have financial misfortunes, and lose loved ones.
It is too simplistic to think that our lives are determined by whether we do good things. We won’t necessarily be punished for bad actions and we shouldn’t count on additional blessings for doing good.
Why? Because karma doesn’t work like a balanced equation. Positive actions may never bring quantifiable results. People who do good don’t always get a reward just as evil actions don’t always result in punishment.
Why choose good?
If it’s not true that you can expect rewards from good actions, why choose good? Each of us will have to answer that esoteric question in our own way.
For me, the golden rule ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ provides the answer. The golden rule is a foundational value of most world religions. It forms the basis of the great moral codes of human behaviour and of human rights laws. It has endured for thousands of years providing guidance for many civilizations.
Living by the principle of treating others as you want to be treated is a simple way to find peace and happiness in my postworksavvy lifestyle. Is it good karma? I don’t know the answer to that question but I do know that the golden rule provides simple guidance. Choosing to do good, choosing truth, kindness, love, respect and hope means a more fulfilling life. If that choice means good karma in my retirement, so be it.
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