Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Karma and blaming the victim

Here is a word that gets thrown around a lot in pop-culture: 


And it is really starting to annoy me. 

It seems that every time something tragic happens to a group of people, someone says, "Well, they did _____, so that's just karma. They got what they deserved." 

First of all, it is very unlikely that everyone affected by a catastrophe should be 'guilty' of something that warrants such widespread suffering. But even if it were true, is that really the correct attitude to adopt when something bad happens to someone else? 

Is this what we would want others to say, if we were affected by tragedy?

Let me tell you something about karma. Back in my Sangha at university, people would often be surprised when I declined to discuss it. I gave two reasons: 

1) I was not well-versed in how different Buddhist traditions might view and discuss karma. 

2) In my experience, when not done mindfully, such discussions easily lead to intense metaphysical arguments, which I believe are not helpful (and could perhaps even be harmful) to practice. 

In my opinion, and from what I have read and observed, karma is laden with innumerable variables, too vast and complex for most of us to comprehend, let alone explain to others. It is not the same thing as justice under the law, where there are specific consequences for those who are found guilty of a crime. Despite its pop-culture meaning, karma is not merely a punisher. It is a phenomenon that directly affects every one of us, not based on guilt or innocence, but on all our actions. 

We have all experienced times when we did something we thought was very skillful, only to have something unfortunate happen as a result (or vise versa!). Looking at our infinite number of thoughts, words, and actions (and also, as Buddhists believe, lives), and how they are so intimately intertwined with those of others, we may never know why things happen the way they do. 

But the important thing is that while we acknowledge our lack of total control, we also realize that we do own our thoughts, words, and actions, and must take responsibility for them. The idea is not to control or decipher our karma, but to find ways (i.e. make choices) to improve it without being preoccupied by the outcome. After all, the only time we ever really have is the present moment

That is why I believe it is very foolish to invoke karma to collectively blame victims of tragedy. This is because it is truly a waste of the moment in which we respond to bad news, a moment that could make an unpredictable and sometimes scary world a better place. While every tragedy surely has a cause, victims of such events need only one thing from us, and that is our compassion

Do you think there is a knee-jerk tendency for society to blame the victim/s of tragic events? If so, what can we do differently?

May all beings be happy!


  1. I totally agree with you...

    Karma is one subject that even I have yet to actually confirm that its true and have yet to seen it at work eventhough my karma reach fruition... I know the cause of my karma, I now know why I am suffering but eventhough all this is happening, I still cannot see it at work...

    But eventhough all seems rather big and deep, I think we can find the answer once we practice enough of our mindfulness or awareness.

    Peace be with you.

    1. Thanks so much, xenusfreeman, for your insightful comment. Karma works in mysterious ways :)

      But you are right, whether we understand or not should not hinder us from practicing mindfulness.

      With Metta,


  2. I totally agree with your views. Society does seems to blame the victims of tragedy and personal misfortunes. The most important thing as you say is the present, a mindful present is the only way to create a better future.

    1. Thanks so much, Animaadversor, for your compassionate comment. The more I observe and study the problems in the world around me, the more I feel mindfulness is the answer- or at least the appropriate response.

      With Metta,



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