I was listening to our music collection via 'mediaplayer' on our computer yesterday, with the mix on random. John Lennon's "Instant Karma" came up and got me to thinking. I think I understand the concept of karma as well as any 'western' non-Hindu, non-Buddhist can. I don't know what John Lennon meant but, to me, instant karma might be the idea that every action that we commit becomes a part of us, that each of us is a sum of our actions, and to some extent, of our thoughts. If we commit right action we become 'good' people and our lives reflect a state of positivity (good karma). If we commit what we know to be wrong action (sin, if you will) we become 'bad' people and our lives are negative and egocentric (bad karma). Unless we are like Christ or the Buddha, most of us are in some state of balance between the two.
I think the first thing that made me think in this direction was reading about some people I know. They are an elderly Quaker couple who's adult daughter was brutally murdered a few years ago. The man who committed the crime was quickly apprehended and brought to trial. The prosecutor wanted to seek the death penalty and would probably have gotten it, because the case was pretty cut and dried, but this couple, having learned about the life of the man on trial and finding they couldn't see him only as the man who killed their daughter but also as a human being, spoke about forgiveness during the 'victim impact statement' at the close of trial and stated that they did not want this man to be put to death. I think the man got life without parole. After the trial, the couple began corresponding with the man and have since visited him in prison. From what I have read and hearing them speak about this, I think that their act of compassion for him as a human being was, perhaps, the first time anyone had ever shown him compassion. I think their act of forgiveness was a gift of life beyond this physical one. I think they showed him his humanity and gave him the opportunity to live in Grace for the first time in his life. He is now full of remorse for taking the life of their daughter.
This man was first the victim of the choices made by the people who should have cared for him in his childhood. But, at some point, he became responsible for his own choices. At that point, his actions lead to his self-concept. He acted in a way that caused harm to himself and others therefor he believed himself to be bad. Because he was bad, he caused more harm. This lead to his heartbreaking disregard for human life culminating in the death of the daughter. But, the couple, having compassion, could not see him as bad, only as a very flawed human. They looked in his eyes and showed him love. They showed him his humanity, perhaps for the first time he was able to see himself as something other than bad. He could choose to act in a way not harmful and, as I understand it, has chosen to do so.
This is an extreme example of cause and effect. For me, instant karma is more effected by the way I snap at my children when I'm trying to make dinner, the way I take my husband for granted and the way I'm so cynical and negative about so many things. When I make these actions, I reinforce that I am a cynical, negative person who is impatient and ungrateful. When I become aware, I remember to stop the wrong action. This day I will try to be mindful of how I speak with my family; I will try to have patience and compassion for those with whom I am the closest; I will try to embody love.