When people say, ‘It is my karma,' they are usually referring to a
causal connection between action and consequence. They are looking at karma in
terms of reward or punishment, the consequences of actions past and present.
But karma means act, action, performance so why the shift in emphasis to
consequences? I believe it is because consequences help us understand the
nature of the choices for action that we make. As our choices are based on
imperfect knowledge, there are always unforeseen circumstances and there can be
no guarantee that we have made the right choices. Our actions, therefore,
represent leaps of faith and we get things right or wrong; even our belief in
the ‘rightness'/‘wrongness' of our actions and judgments cannot be taken for
granted. Nevertheless we believe and that is what Hindus call ‘maya'
(illusion), mistaking relative for absolute truth.
Though defined as act, action, performance, karma incorporates choice
based on uncertainty, and points to the ambiguity of our actions and of our
existence. It indicates the human paradox, human finiteness in an infinite
universe. The mystery of our existence makes it impossible for worldly truth to
be anything but relative. So we cannot avoid karma. And karma is the tool by
which to examine the complexity of our being in the world.
In our worldly existence, we have created superstructures over
uncertainty and mystery to give meaning and stability to our existence. Naming,
classifying and categorising give fixity and order to the conduct of our lives
and provide us with the alphabet to make sense of our world and the universe.
We rely on names, classes and categories for the truth of our beliefs. Though
such definition does not represent absolute knowledge, we nevertheless use the
term ‘categorical' synonymously with ‘absolute'. But as worldly truth is
relative not absolute, our ability to classify leads not only to the ability to
interpret, but also to misinterpret and therein lies karma - choice and action
based on incomplete knowledge, on ignorance.
In Hinduism, absolute knowledge is nirguna brahman. Relative knowledge
is saguna brahman, that is, the human construction of knowledge.