Is Karma Cruel?

By Rudra Shivananda

Oftentimes, spiritual students are confused by their emotional nature and unable to come to terms with their intellectual understanding of the deeper aspects of life. It is then necessary to contemplate continuously on a truth in order to remove the emotional blockage. A mere reading or nodding acceptance is insufficient.

A few weeks ago, during a workshop for self-healing, I’d just finished explaining the purpose and mechanics of the law of Karma in order to instill in the listeners the discipline of taking personal responsibility for our current situation. This is particularly relevant in that the model I use places the ultimate cause for all health problems on the shoulders of our own karma – that is, we are responsible for our own health or lack thereof. It also means that we are responsible for our own healing and others are only able to help us along.

A question/comment from one of the students resonated with the rest of the audience – why does the law of Karma cause cancer and other deadly diseases to occur? Can’t it function without ‘causing so much suffering’?

From an emotional perspective, I would sympathize with these feelings. However, upon deeper reflection, one should be able to understand that the responsible party causing the suffering is not the law of Karma but the person who has triggered the law. Now, this is not a viewpoint that is popular to share because it is can indicate callousness towards those suffering. This is not true. We are all enmeshed in this cycle of karmic suffering – we are all in the same boat and recognizing how we all got there doesn’t reduce our compassion for our fellow sufferers.

When a child touches the fire and burns her hand, we cannot blame the fire – it is its nature to burn. Even though we understand that it is the child’s action that has caused the hurt, we do not cease to comfort the child or help in her healing. Her hurt is the consequence of her action and we do not ascribe human emotions such as cruelty to the fire.

Take a step further and suppose a drunken driver misses a warning road-sign and does not slow down around a curve – he crashes of the cliff. Can we blame the road-sign that is a warning? Can we blame the law of Gravity that caused the car and driver to plunge off the cliff? We know enough not to do so.

We can begin to understand that the law of Karma is based on the law of causation and is as impersonal as the law of Gravity. We cannot blame gravity for our weight or our inability to jump one hundred feet on earth. However, since we are indicating very personal events to karmic influences and it appears so complex because of the difficulty of identifying the appropriate causal chains to a particular effect, we may wish that the karmic law should take a more gentle approach. And indeed, most often it does. Unfortunately, gentle reminders get ignored and stronger measures become appropriate – it is like the warning signs on the road … first it is a road-sign, then comes road-bumps and then a road-block. There is an escalation in the karmic effects.

When we consider if the law of Karma can be more benign, we are forgetting that it has evolved over billions of years in how it operates on different beings in different realms. I personally consider the miracle of human childbirth to be a needlessly painful process for the mother. However, nature has evolved this method as the most efficient one for mammals over hundreds of millions of years. We cannot ascribe cruelty to evolution.

Let us not project our emotional reactions onto a universal law such as Karma. We should broadly try to understand its nature and meditate to remove our anthropomorphic projections. Instead, we should heed the injunctions of the sages and modify our behavior to confirm to our higher nature and control our lower animal nature so that we can further evolve our consciousness.


  1. // Reply

    This is helpful. I have noticed that the more conscious I am, and the more I pay attention in my daily live, then the more likely I am to notice the “gentle” karmic messages. Acting to correct myself early prevents more serious consequences later. Also, the action required is less in those early stages, almost just a matter of being more attentive and present in the eternal now. Paying attention. When I don’t pay attention… the consequences are more serious.

  2. // Reply

    Awesome explanation.


  3. // Reply

    Yes, it is.
    To travel in the journey of the Karma is like a trekking toward the top of a mountain.
    We need to pay attention, to be careful to the path…. were we put our feet, wich is the right sign to turn and it is useful to change….
    We can’t forget our purpose: to reach the top of the mountain 1) for our physical and pshycological wellness at the begining and 2) to reach God when we are more expert spiritual seekers in the travel of Karma and finally 3) understand that we are the Top and so every pain disappears as a dream and we smile of every nightmare that we ave had in our little life.

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