Karmacology: Mindful Living, Sacred Practice

Karma and the Chinese Earthquake

A great deal of Internet buzz has been generated about actress Sharon Stone's comment about Karma's role in the devastating May 11th earthquake in China. From the sidelines at the Cannes Film Festival, she said:

Well you know it was very interesting because at first, you know, I am not happy about the ways the Chinese were treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And so I have been very concerned about how to think and what to do about that because I don’t like that. And I had been this, you know, concerned about, oh how should we deal with the Olympics because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine. And all these earthquake and stuff happened and I thought: Is that Karma... when you are not nice that bad things happen to you?

See the YouTube clip here.

Celebrity gossip aside, there are now debates raging online over the nature of Karma, and if cosmic payback can take the form of natural disasters against an entire nation. This is not new; similar thoughts were voiced after the horrific December 2004 tsunami and 2005's Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. Some people were quick to shout that this was God's wrath, Divine Justice, or the working of Karma on a massive scale. But as convenient as it is to place the blame in the realm of the supernatural, is there any basis for such thoughts?

The Bible has ample precedence for the "Wrath of God" crowd, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as described in Genesis. Because of the wickedness of the citizens, entire cities were wiped out by the "brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven."

Likewise, there is plenty of mention of collective Karma within both the modern and ancient Theravada, where there can be "family Karma," or a larger sociokarma such as "national Karma." Anand Gholap goes so far as to describe group Karma in the context of natural disasters:

The rise and fall of nations are brought about by collective karma... Seismic changes -- earthquakes, volcanoes, floods -- or national catastrophes like famine and plague, all are cases of collective karma, brought about by great streams of thoughts and actions of a collective rather than an individual character.

I am sure that there are many people that sincerely believe in this form of divine justice. I do not. It seems to me to be the height of self-centered egoism to believe that the Creator would move Earth, sky and ocean in collective punishment of human sin.

That's not to say that a collective Karma does not exist. Whatever action we take as individuals, families, communities and nations will certainly have its reaction. But I believe those reactions are most often a true consequence of the actions we take, and not an arbitrary punishment sent down from Heaven.

The natural world, Prakriti in the Vedanta philosophy, operates according to its own laws. Long before there were humans, and long after we are gone, the stars swirl in their cosmic dance, the Earth turns and tumbles, storms lash and fires burn. It is unconcerned with the fret and strut of men. As has been said, rain falls on the just and unjust alike. The Earth and sky care little if we have been "nice" or "not nice."

Photo by star_trooper