Tales of Karmic Becoming

Ræl H. Bishop

A couple of years ago, I took a course in college on karma. Most students in my class did their final projects in the form of an essay, on karmic metaphyiscs or theodicy or something equally pedantic. They read articles, dissected them, got graded, moved on. Typical undergrad stuff.

I decided to do something a little different. I wrote stories.

The purpose of these stories is largely to entertain, but also to demonstrate various karmic topics in a coherent and visible manner; to teach karma more with actions and less with exposition. Aspects of the karmic mechanic are detailed in each of these six stories. Everyday language is used in these stories to make them accessible to those with no prior experience with karmic doctrine, but to do so without muddling the underlying concepts. In these stories, ‘karma’ is most often written as ‘action’ and shown as actions bearing their consequences.

Karma is a fascinating concept that has been misconstrued in the popular conscious. Although the basic principle of “do good and good will come to you” holds true, it is often portrayed as a Newtonian process of actions ricocheting from start to end. Clear, poetic, just. But in truth, karma is seen as something more mysterious and deeply psychological. All causes have effects. All actions are believed to have reverberations carried by one’s body and mind, the two interacting in unison. Do malice, and you will be more inclined to be malicious the future. These reverberations remain in one’s being until they “ripen” in the form of a karmic effect, and are carried on between rebirths.

It’s also important to see karma not as a justice system, but as something of a “law of metaphysics”. It’s impartial and entirely situational. An act you do in this life can harm you many lifetimes from now, or ten seconds from now. A rainy day may be a punishment for you, but a blessing for the gardener down the street. And unless you spend years in deep meditation, you can’t know what you’ll have coming to you now. Your friendly neighbor could’ve been Genghis Khan in a past life; you could’ve been Vlad the Impaler or Mother Teresa. Steps have also been taken to avoid discussing karma in terms of "good" and "evil" to avoid theodicial implications. The source text themselves use "dark" and "light" instead, and all karma is viewed to be inherently "bad", as it further perpetuates rebirth and hinders us from spiritual liberation.

The karma presented in these stories is built on that of a Buddhist framework. Differences appear in the other members of the Indian religious (or ‘dharmic’) family tree. Hinduism, for instance, believes in the concept of an eternal soul to which karma is bound, whereas Buddhism rejects the soul and says karma is merely one of many aggregates (or skandas) that make up an individual in their present form. Jains believe karma can be exhausted through severe austerities, while Buddhists and Hindus believe karma must run its course. But the main principles of cause and effect remain the same across the religions. Given time in the future, I may write further narratives in their own narrative universe, using different forms of karma.

Being a Buddhist narrative, the figure of “the Buddha” makes appearances in differing forms throughout. However, it is important to note that the Buddhas shown here are fictitious devices, and do not correlate to any named Buddhas. Their dialogue, where it is present, is inspired by writings attributed Shakymuni (the most recent) Buddha in sections of the Pali Canon and the Dhammapada.

Please note that, as I am not a thus-come one, awakened one, sage, or any other person trying to sell you salvation, I preface the stories by stating that they are wholly works of fiction, and any and all factual errors contained herein are my own.

P.S.: Pay attention to the first letters of the names of characters and for recurring themes.


1. Image at the top of the page is a modification of ”Five disciples at Sarnath” from the Wikimedia Commons, originally released under a public domain license.

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