by Al Maxey

Issue #234 ------- February 9, 2006
Cause and Effect: the Chancellors of God.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

The Doctrine of KARMA
Reflecting on the Twelve Laws

As many of you probably know, I have a great, life-long fascination with the rich history and tradition of eastern religions. I have studied them for decades, and was blessed to have lived in, and even traveled extensively among, many of these nations. As anyone who is even remotely familiar with these various religions knows, a central concept that is common to most of them is Karma. Westerners, as a rule, are greatly misinformed as to the significance of this concept, frequently perceiving it, mistakenly, as a philosophy of fatalism. If something bad should happen to us, we resign ourselves to this inevitable destiny, saying, "Well, that was just my fate; I guess I have bad karma." It is the cosmic roll of the dice, and some simply come up losers. It's all a matter of chance, fate, destiny ... karma. "What will be will be." The luck of the draw. We are just pawns in the great chess game of life; moved here and there by an unseen force. Karma. Such is often the perception of this teaching in the western world, but it is not the prevailing understanding of these eastern religions.

The Dalai Lama, in his book describing the "Path to Bliss," wrote, "Some people misunderstand the concept of karma. They take the Buddha's doctrine of the law of causality to mean that all is predetermined, that there is nothing that the individual can do. This is a total misunderstanding." This, of course, is absolutely correct. Karma is not "resigned fatalism." Far from it. There is tremendous free will evidenced in this doctrine; we are each perceived as masters of our own destiny. Stated simply, karma is the law of cause and effect, one of the most basic truths in the universe! Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), in his well-known Third Law of Motion, for example, provided the classic principle of cause and effect: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Our actions, therefore, will almost always produce some reaction: sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and sometimes neutral. Cause and effect. Inherently, karma is neither good nor bad. It is neither a system of rewards nor a system of punishments. It is simply a "law of causality" that is impartial. Our actions will bring about a result, thus we must choose our actions wisely. It is probably best stated biblically by Paul -- "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7, KJV). Karma, in many ways, is simply a restatement of the eternal principle of Reciprocity. In the field of psychology, noted psychologist Melvin Lerner theorized that people have a "cognitive bias" that predisposes them to accept a karma-like "just-world phenomenon," which simply means there is a tendency for people to believe the world is "just," and therefore people "get what they deserve," whether those "just deserts" be good or bad. Many psychologists feel such a view is critical to the avoidance of cognitive dissonance.

This concept of reciprocity -- reaping what one sows; getting back exactly what one gives out -- is a fundamental teaching of Confucianism. For example, Tzu-kung once asked Confucius, "Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" To this great question Confucius wisely responded, "Is not shu (reciprocity) such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others" (Analects 15:23). Jesus Christ, of course, taught the same truth in His "Golden Rule" -- "Therefore, whatsoever you want men to do unto you, do also unto them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). Cause and effect. Karma! Confucius (551-479 B.C.) stated the principle as a negative; Jesus would later rephrase it as a positive ... both declared the same truth. I would encourage the readers to examine again: Reflections #172 -- The Principle of Reciprocity.

The word "karma" originally comes from the Sanskrit, which is "an Indo-European classical language of India and a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It has a position in India and Southeast Asia similar to that of Latin and Greek in Europe, and is a central part of Hindu tradition. Its pre-classical form of Vedic Sanskrit, the liturgical language of the Vedic religion, is one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family, its most ancient text being the Rigveda" (Wikipedia Encyclopedia). "Karma" comes from the root word kri, which means "to do," signifying a deed done. In other words, its basic meaning is of action, and, by extension, the ultimate effects of such action. Thus, the concept of "cause and effect." Where this doctrine quite obviously parts company with Christian theology is with respect to past and future lives. Those religions embracing the doctrine of the transmigration of souls would declare the Law of Karma to apply not only to the effect of our actions in this present life, but to the effect of our actions in past lives upon both present and future lives. Thus, the "cause and effect" spectrum is much broader in many eastern religions than is accepted by the Christian faith, although this ancient philosophy is clearly making progress in western thinking through the New Age movement.

The critical point to make, however, with respect to our proper understanding of Karma, as perceived in the eastern religions that embrace it, is that the Law of Karma does not suggest men and women should live under a cloud of resignation and guilt, or that they are the "victims of fate." That is an unfortunate, but all too common (here in our western cultures), distortion of the true significance of this concept. The genuine meaning of this term is that one can be absolutely confident that their destiny, both in the present and the future, rests largely in their own hands. In other words, they have the power, as well as the free will, through their chosen actions, to transform their lives for the better. The principle of "cause and effect" places the "cause/action" within man's own power, thus making the "effect" subject to our determination, NOT the chance outcome of some predetermined fate. Thus, through ever increasing "enlightenment," men grow in their awareness of this "cause and effect" principle, and thus alter their actions so as to achieve the ultimate result (salvation, or joining with God, or whatever each religion perceives to be the ultimate goal for which men strive).

It is important to note that, according to these eastern religions, not all effects of one's personal actions will be experienced in this present life. It is believed that consequences for one's actions can at times accumulate, and these may spill over into a future life. It is this view that causes some to assert that those born into a lower caste, or perhaps with birth defects, may simply be experiencing the effects of actions that occurred in a previous life. In Christianity there is a somewhat similar concept, one that suggests one's sins may "pile up" before God, and that the consequences of those actions or inactions may not be experienced in this life, but will come back to haunt one at the judgment! It is still, however, the law of "cause and effect." This is clearly seen in the Lord's parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19f), where the ultimate results of both men's actions were not truly evidenced until their present existence on earth had been completed. In the teachings of the Christian faith those consequences would be meted out in the form of eternal reward or eternal punishment; in many of the eastern religions those consequences would be played out in future lives on earth, with such "cause and effect" experiences being repeated time and again throughout the eons.

In the theology of Buddhism especially, there is a way provided for persons to break free from this cyclical Karma, this cycle of rebirths and endless playing out of cause and effect, and to permanently enter Nirvana. This is perceived as a "liberating karma" (a cause that leads one to the ultimate effect). To achieve this requires great enlightenment and powerful concentration. The ultimate goal of these religions, of course, is to bring their adherents under the power of this liberating karma so as to assist them in achieving Nirvana. In a way, this is a form of behavior modification. One is enlightened and advised as to how to avoid certain actions, and to control one's actions, and to moderate one's physical desires, so as to break free from the cycle of rebirths. According to Buddhist understanding, we create our personal karma on three levels: thoughts, words, actions. The latter, of course, has the greatest impact. However, all three must be managed if one would achieve Nirvana (the realm of true being and true freedom). In similar fashion, Jesus informs us that our thoughts, words and actions (all of which originate from our heart) will have great bearing on our eternal destiny. Thus, in principle, the two teachings are certainly quite closely related.

The 12 Laws of Karma

As with most religions, there are a number of established guiding principles associated with Karma; practical ways in which those seeking souls may be encouraged and equipped to rise above the seemingly endless cycle of rebirths due to the law of cause and effect. Those who are seeking liberation must become enlightened. That spiritual encouragement and guidance may be found in a good many sources, including the many teachings of the great leaders of each of these religions (such as Buddha, Confucius, etc.). It may also be found in what are known as the "Twelve Laws" of the doctrine of Karma. One's hope for peace and joy are intimately tied to the understanding and personal fulfillment of these laws. One will also note, as they are briefly listed and discussed, that most all of them can find comparable concepts within the teachings of Christendom, as well as certain other world religions. In addition, although we won't go into much detail on this here, one should not discount the "Way of Works" (Karma Marga), especially in Hinduism, to one's ultimate liberation. "The Way of Works is a very old way. It could be called the way of ritual, especially domestic ritual. ... It is a methodical and hopeful carrying out of rites, ceremonies, and duties that add to one's merit or to one's favorable karma" (Dr. John B. Noss, Man's Religions, p. 186). The idea of "salvation by meritorious works" is certainly nothing new!

Law One --- As you sow, so shall you reap. Sounds very Bible-based, doesn't it? The majority of these teachings are. This first law is better known as "The Great Law." It is also characterized as the "Law of Cause and Effect." It is the embodiment of the principle of Reciprocity, which is what "Karma" is really all about. Our attitudes and actions impact the universe about us. A pebble dropped into a still pond causes ever expanding ripples. In time our actions come back to us! We reap what we sowed.

Law Two --- You attract what you are, not what you want. This is also known as the "Law of Creation." With whatever you surround yourself; the space you create within which to dwell in this life; declares who you are ... and one tends to attract to oneself those of like disposition. If your focus in life is on evil, for example, you will most likely attract evil persons as companions and find yourself within evil scenarios more often than not. One may say they desire to live righteously, but it takes far more than empty words and faint desire to lift oneself out of one's circumstances. One must actually begin to BE, if one would ultimately BECOME! In other words, we create both our circumstances and our destiny by who we choose to be in our journey through life. One's surroundings are strong clues to one's true inner nature.

Law Three --- What you resist, persists for you. This is the "Law of Humility." One can learn a great deal about who someone is inside simply by observing those things and those persons to which or to whom he objects. If one refuses to embrace the poor, for example, this speaks volumes about the condition of his heart, and that heart condition persists as long as he continues to resist acceptance of and association with and assistance to the poor of this world. The path to enlightenment and liberation, is the path of humility! If everyone who differs with us on some issue is viewed as "the enemy," then we are in a persistent state of enmity because of those whom we wrongfully resist. This is not the pathway to higher planes of existence.

Law Four --- Wherever you go, there you are. This is known as the "Law of Growth." True change must begin with yourself. Wherever you may flee to in life, in order to escape some situation, is pointless if the problem is you. Wherever you go, YOU will still be there ... and with all the same dysfunctions. Human nature suggests that we change everything and everyone around us; this law of Karma suggests we change ourselves. This is the source of genuine growth toward enlightenment and fulfillment. It is easy to change one's outward circumstances in the hope of finding greater peace and joy, but the reality is that genuine peace and joy come when we ourselves are transformed (from the inside out, which in turn will impact our external circumstances).

Law Five --- Whenever there is something wrong, there is something wrong in me. This is the "Law of Responsibility;" also known as the "Law of Mirrors." Simply stated, we must take full responsibility for our lives (both the good and the bad). It is easy to blame others when things go wrong, or perhaps not quite according to our expectations, but to determine where the real blame lies may require us to look intently into a mirror. There stands the one responsible! Are we part of the problem, or part of the solution? The answer may well lie in where we place the blame for the former.

Law Six --- Whatever you do may be insignificant, but it is still important that you do it. This is the "Law of Synchronicity;" also known as the "Law of Ultimate Connection." Everything in the universe is perceived to be connected, thus there is no action performed that is truly insignificant. What you and I might perceive as inconsequential, may actually, in the grander scheme of things, prove to be extremely consequential. Thus, we must learn personal discipline and humility, and fulfill our individual tasks in life with a sense of purpose and even pride. We each matter; no one is insignificant.

Law Seven --- You can't think of two things at the same time. This is the "Law of Focus." Some also refer to it as the "Law of Direction and Motives." We must possess a singleness of purpose; a spiritual focus; if we would achieve enlightenment. We must set our minds on things above, and not try to be "double-minded." Hidden agendas and motives are not conducive to spiritual liberation. We must be pure of thought and intent.

Law Eight --- If you believe something to be true, then sometime in life you must demonstrate that truth. This is the "Law of Willingness." In other words, if we profess belief in something, then we must be willing to personally invest ourselves in sacrificial service to that to which we affirm belief or faith. A life lived apart from visible demonstration before others of our convictions is a LIE. James, after declaring that faith apart from evidence is worthless, stated, "I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18). In other words, he was willing to demonstrate in his life the very truths to which he professed to believe. If one doesn't practice what one preaches, is such a one truly convicted of his or her beliefs?!

Law Nine --- You can't go home again, but you must try. This is the "Law of Here and Now." One cannot relive the past, although one can learn from it. Thus, we must "revisit" the past for the purpose of learning, but we must never seek to "return" there for the purpose of dwelling in it. The "what IS" will always suffer if we are fixated in the "what WAS," and we will never move forward into the "what CAN BE." The apostle Paul certainly was challenged by his past, and learned from it, but he chose not to return there "to dwell" upon it. "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philp. 3:13-14). Someone once said, "Dwelling on old dreams prevents you from having new ones!" If one chooses to "live in the past," one forfeits the future!

Law Ten --- The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is the "Law of Change." History will continue to repeat itself; the cycle of rebirths will not end; until we learn to make the necessary changes that will liberate us. Thus, it is not the change that occurs all around us that is critical -- in point of fact, there may be great change all around us, yet still nothing is altered with respect to our karma -- rather, it is the change that occurs within us that is critical, and will ultimately make the difference in realizing our ultimate destiny.

Law Eleven --- When you focus on your life, good things happen. This is known as the "Law of Patience and Reward." Anything that is good, anything that is worth having and of lasting value, requires patient, persistent effort. It also requires the proper perspective on one's life, and right priorities. Those who focus only on the rewards, may come up lacking; those, however, who focus on living their lives according to spiritual priorities, will experience the rewards of such living in due time. Cause and Effect. Focus on your life, and you will be rewarded; focus only on the rewards, and you may end up losing life itself.

Law Twelve --- What you put in, you get back. This is the "Law of Value and Upliftment;" also known as the "Law of Significance and Inspiration." Your contribution is of worth, and it will bring about a result. If you contribute something positive, you may expect a positive return; contribute something negative, and what comes back to you may not be as pleasant. Cause and Effect. Karma! Reciprocity! What you put in, you get back! One's contribution to something will either uplift it or decrease it, depending on the nature of the contribution.


Karma -- a fascinating topic. In this brief study we have only scratched the surface of the significance of this concept to a good many eastern religions. Also, as noticed, the basic principle itself is not unknown to many other religions, including Christianity. This particular article was suggested to me by one of the readers, a woman from the great state of Indiana, who wrote in late January, "Al, I am sitting here in the middle of the night printing off your latest Reflections to read. I'm up and wide awake; I'll be sorry tomorrow afternoon, I know! But, anyway, I have a question that perhaps you could write upon, and about which I'd like to know your opinion. It regards fate or 'karma.' I know that in one of your Reflections you mentioned being familiar with Buddhism and eastern thought, and I would imagine that comes in part from having been in Vietnam. I personally think there are some things in Buddhism that have merit. I don't have a particularly good grasp on this, or the consequences of such thinking, and would like to know what you think on this."

Yes, there are some wonderful concepts associated with Buddhism ... and also with each of the many religions of the world. I am fascinated by such religious thinking and practice. In college and graduate school I took as many courses as I could get on the various religions of the world, and even took an anthropology course on primitive religions. In all these various places throughout the world in which I have been privileged to live or to visit, I always made a point to visit the temples, shrines and religious sites of these religions, and, if possible, to mingle with and talk to the leaders of these groups. I have a genuine hunger and thirst to try and understand their way of thinking. It is my personal conviction that one can more effectively share his own faith with others if he has some appreciation for and insight into their faith. Mutual respect is always a great starting place for productive dialogue.

Although I have more than a passing knowledge of and appreciation for these various religions, let me make it clear that I am in no way an adherent of any of them. I am a "disciple" only in the sense that I am a devoted student of their history, philosophy and theology. Although there are indeed many similarities between these religions and Christianity, there are also some very significant differences ... distinctions that, in my view, can easily spell the difference between eternal life or death. Although I have great respect for them in those areas where their teaching and practice accords with Truth, I nevertheless have great concern for them in those areas where their teaching and practice clearly are in opposition to that Truth. In my appreciation for the former, I am certainly not blinded to the latter. Thus, I offer this present Reflections NOT as an endorsement of eastern religions, but merely as an effort to help us better understand our neighbors, and in so doing to perhaps more effectively relate to them the hope within us, which is Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, I appreciated your study "The Great Belly Button Debate" very much. One question comes to mind -- Adam and Eve were created as adults with the appearance of age. Was this deception?

From a Minister in Alabama:

Bro. Al, I agree with you that if one takes the view that Adam and Eve were the result of special creation, God would not have been deceptive and given the "appearance" of having been descendents of others (i.e., possessing a navel). It also goes to the argument about the "appearance of age" in the universe, which is a really poor argument -- God tells us to look to the universe for evidence of His creative hand. Would He then deceive us along the way as we looked to that evidence? The "appearance of age" theory is not consistent!!

From a Reader in Michigan:

Al, Another interesting article. We have some in our congregation who believe in a young earth. I don't think they have really thought it all the way out yet!!

From a Minister in Indiana:

Brother Al, You never cease to amaze me. From emerods (Reflections #135) to belly buttons, you cover the entire gamut of biblical trivia and minutia. After reading this issue of Reflections, I thought, "Al should have stuck with the emerods" -- in other words, you should have quit while you were behind!! I was unfamiliar with the term -- "The Omphalos Argument." However, your explanation was very informative. I agree with you that God would not create anything in order to intentionally deceive. This goes against His nature. I realize that I'm out of my depth when it comes to speaking intelligently about the young earth -- old earth -- creationist controversies. You are much more learned regarding these topics. But, I wanted to "weigh in" on the "Great Belly Button Debate" anyway. I appreciate your ministry!

From an Elder in Arizona:

Al, I just finished your treatise on the big belly button controversy. I was very happy to see (from comments you made in the Readers' Remarks section) that you are happy with the unification efforts to heal the split between us and at least one of the wings of the Christian Church. I intend to be in Louisville for the event ... Lord willing.

From a Reader in Indiana:

Al, You made me laugh with the navel gazing issue of your Reflections. Thank you! I especially got a chuckle out of the "Great Dusting Away." Hmmmm ... I'll be very surprised if you don't hear from a few women on that particular heresy!! Al, as I was meditating on what you had to say in this last issue, I realized that you teach on many different levels! You are a very gifted and creative thinker.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Al, I just read your article on belly buttons. I can hardly wait 'till Sunday! Now I can preach on Pre-Umbilicalism instead of Pre-Millennialism!

From a New Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Al, I live in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, and would like to be added to the mailing list for Reflections. I have really enjoyed reading some of the past articles from the archives, and I look forward to new ones. Thanks!

From a Reader in Washington:

Al, Bless you for your insights and willingness to share them. Many are blessed here in Washington by your writings!

From a Minister in Florida:

My dear brother Al, "Christians Bearing Arms" was a magnificent article. You did a fantastic job on a very difficult subject, and a subject which often brings up strong feelings when it is being discussed. But, I think you handled the subject quite well. Keep up the good work, my dear brother.

From a Reader in Australia:

Bro. Al, If you believe Adam and Eve were without navels, then just when did navels evolve? If Eve had no umbilicus, then Cain and Abel must not have had one either, which would indicate that all offspring were created without being attached to the mother by an umbilical cord. If Eve had no navel, then to what were the umbilical cords of her offspring attached? I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe such rubbish.

From a One-Cup Minister in Kansas:

Al, I enjoyed your article on "Christians Bearing Arms." I served in the US Army from 1972 to 1978. At the time I was not a Christian. The so-called leaders of the Old Paths Advocate group (see also their OPA Magazine), and they are quick to let you know that they are the "leaders," take a non-participation approach to military service. However, not all one-cup brethren feel this way. Many of us do not draw lines of fellowship on members who are in the military. We have members who are state and local policemen, campus police at universities, and so on. We reach out to non-members who are in service to our country and try to lead them to Christ. Many of us feel that the choice belongs to the individual, and we treat them as we always have: like a brother or sister. I do not know why the OPA leaders would oppose fighting; they've been attacking their own members for years!! Keep up the good work, Al.

From a New Reader in Missouri:

Dear Brother, You don't know how much I appreciate your Reflections. The preacher at my congregation recently introduced me to your writings. Our congregation is going through a time of change that is painful, but also joyful. Our elders recently went through a very controversial study on subjects such as marriage, divorce, and remarriage, instrumental music, and the role of women in the church. Need I say more?!! We have had about 15 families leave. I mourn in my heart for them, and for the distance they have put between us. My preacher pointed out something very interesting to me today --- although we have had 15 families leave over the last couple of months, yet more than that have come and placed membership!! I hope that the good Lord is showing us by this that we are on the road He wants us to be on. I long for that eternal day when I might have the opportunity to sit down with you and just talk about our Lord, and to give Him praise for all He does for us. Please add me to your mailing list for Reflections.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Brother Al, It is a shame that so much time throughout the centuries has been wasted on such arguments as these (similar to: "Where did Cain get his wife?"). I thank you for your analysis and for putting to rest such nonsense. I have always thought the matter to be quite simple: the belly button is possessed only by those who have been born via the birth canal and womb. Since Adam and Eve did not experience this, they could not have possessed the belly button. I am also still working on the "Silence of Scripture" question. This has posed a problem for many (especially myself) in recent months and years.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, If God wanted Adam and Eve to have belly buttons, then they had them. If He did not, then they didn't. Worry about something else!

From a Reader in Florida:

Bro. Al, The 2005 Reflections CD was received yesterday. Thanks for sending it so promptly! Also, I greatly appreciated the Reflections article addressing Christians in the military. I emailed it to several people whom I believe will be helped and blessed by it!

From a Reader in Michigan:

Dear Al, I have been reading your Reflections articles on instrumental music with interest. In the 1960s, our conference (the Free Methodists) went through a very rough time. They lost about 25 pastors over a disagreement that arose. They needed pastors to fill in until they were able to fill the positions with permanent replacements. I had taught adult Sunday school for about 20 years and felt God's call to fill the gap. My wife and I, from the time we were married, have been active in singing, and I played the guitar. The church I was sent to had never allowed stringed instruments to be used in the music. I brought my guitar the first Sunday we were there and they loved it. I felt they needed to accept us along with the talent God had given us. Psalms 149 and 150 speak of stringed instruments, after all. Will these churches do way with these two psalms? Brother, I appreciate your stand for Truth in this matter. Keep the Reflections coming!

From a Minister in Pennsylvania:

Al, "The Great Belly Button Debate" was a very interesting article. I think I may have mentioned to you once before that I've often wondered about another aspect of the physiology of Adam and Eve, namely: did they have fingernails and toenails? If we believe that death entered the world coincidently with sin, then it stands to reason that Adam and Eve could not have had toenails and fingernails as they are composed of "dead" cells. I've heard some very interesting ideas on what their pre-fall existence was like, especially with regard to the issue of death. Al, I continue to appreciate your challenges to me and so many others. Like some other topics you have addressed in your Reflections, I had never given much serious consideration to the "belly button question." May God continue to bless you in your various ministries.

From a Reader in California:

I hope you and Shelly are both well. I continue to read your Reflections, and enjoy them a lot. I read with interest your views on Christians participating in warfare. You really have a wonderful insight! My brothers went in as medics in WWII. I think your understanding will enlighten a lot of folk. It did me! Please continue the good work for our Lord and His people. I hope to see you some day here on earth, and especially hope to see you in the new earth!!

From a New Reader in New Mexico:

Al, Thank you for adding us to your Reflections mailing list. I have now read your articles on "The Great Belly Button Debate" and the one on "Christians Bearing Arms." All of which was very interesting and informative. I also really enjoyed reading all of the correspondence you received from readers in regard to your lessons. Al, you've got a talent that has to be very pleasing to God. Please stay with us here in Alamogordo, and may all you say be pleasing to God ... and to those it doesn't please, we pray they will have a change of heart. We love you, Al.

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