Printed in the Fall 2012 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Kuntzelman, Emanuel "Healing the Karmic Field " Quest 100. 4 (Fall 2012): pg. 139-142.
By Emanuel Kuntzelman
"Well, it must have been my karma." How many times have you heard someone say that lately—usually with a tone of resignation? Such statements are becoming more common, even among those who are skeptical about Eastern philosophy. The reason is that the law of cause and effect makes sense and is deeply entrenched in our cultural upbringing, no matter where we live. Things happen that cause effects. It is simple, linear logic.
Karma is a Sanskrit word that means "action." In the deepest and most complete sense, this includes thoughts, words, and intentions, all of which produce effects that create karma. We know this is true in our everyday acts. If we smile at someone, we are likely to get a smile in return, whereas if we shout angrily it is not surprising if we get a similar sort of response. All of this action, whether mental or physical, accumulates as a field that influences the probabilities of future action that we might receive. This web of life—the karmic field—provides the moral fabric behind what otherwise might seem to be the unfair and irrational circumstances of our existence.
The concept of karma, by whatever name, is prevalent in most of the world's religions and philosophies. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is sound advice and provides excellent moral guidance. It makes us feel responsible for our actions, providing a sense of long-term justice and meaning to our lives. As such, it is a sacred principle.
Be that as it may, I would like to suggest that a large portion of supposedly negative karma is either a figment of our imagination or something that could be eliminated by implementing some emotional intelligence. There are two basic kinds of karma: collective and individual. With the collective aspect, many of the karmic consequences that happen to us could be avoided by disassociating ourselves from the groups we feel overly attached to. On the individual level, we could serve ourselves well by dropping the grievances we feel towards others and sending out compassion to those we have offended. By paring down our attachment to group karma and cleaning up our individual karma, we can bring the emotional baggage of our lives into better balance, creating effects that will be the new causes to help heal the overall state of the karmic field and accelerate personal and social transformation.
Before analyzing how we can make this rather large leap in our thinking, however, a brief discussion of reincarnation seems appropriate, as it is a necessary adjunct for long-term karma to work. To begin with, it is helpful to understand that reincarnation is not strictly a theory of the Eastern mystical traditions. Plato and Socrates both made strong arguments to support the transmigration of souls, and the idea has continued to resurface in Western thought up to this day.
Beyond the history of belief systems, there is the actual evidence that has been compiled to support reincarnation as a fact. The late Dr. Ian Stevenson, a leading scientist in reincarnation research and Carlson Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia Medical School, compiled over 2000 convincing cases of possible reincarnation throughout the world, and his colleague Jim Tucker continues with those investigations today. Although it is beyond the scope of this article, their research presents evidence to convince even the most ardent skeptics about the case for reincarnation.
Working through multiple lives, karma provides a basis for the continuing evolution of the soul and a moral basis for society. But as we evolve toward a higher state of consciousness as a species, it behooves us to use this theory wisely and not let it become an excuse for failing to overcome some of the habits and cultural conflicts that hold us back in our personal and social evolution. Let's take a closer look at how we might work on healing the karmic field, beginning with the collective component.
We are born with a gender, a race, and an ethnic background, and we belong to a long list of groups that heavily influence how we perceive ourselves. These collectivities establish the cultural context for how people react to us and how we in turn respond to them, and they form a significant part of the energy field out of which our soul evolves. The challenge is to break out of this collective karma whenever it consists of self-imposed, stereotypical grievances.
The history of civilization has been, to a large degree, the history of war, crime, and humans' cruelty toward each other. Thus we have all probably been subjected to some amount of violence, whether physical or psychological, in this life or a previous one, and therefore we have some reason to hold a grudge because of some misdeed in the past. As such, we might assume that there is a huge negative balance of karma weighing on the world, and in these times of crisis it often feels that way. It is important to understand, however, that karma by nature has to balance itself out. Karma works in a similar way to the law of physics, which says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Great reservoirs of unbalanced karma are not stored for long periods of time. We only do that in our minds, often thinking the world owes us something. But nature always brings us back to equilibrium. If that is the case, then we must have mentally created a great store of negative karma that does not necessarily exist beyond our imaginations.
It could well be that in a previous life we belonged to one of the groups that we now see as the enemies of our well-being in this incarnation, which is a good reason why we should not identify so strongly with the groups we find ourselves a part of now. As long as we carry a sense of entitlement for the wrongs that have been done to the groups we are part of, there will never be peace and understanding on earth, because we are creating a karmic debt that does not necessarily apply to us as individuals. Therefore we could clear the air of nonexistent negative karma by dropping the strong identifications we might have with our gender, race, country, culture, or religion. This is not to say that we should become apathetic or forget our work for just social causes, but rather that we should choose our causes with great care, avoiding involvement with any fanatical activity simply because we are socially and culturally immersed in a given group. Our chosen collective karma needs to expand, taking on causes that represent the whole of humanity and embracing its diversity. There are still plenty of issues to be passionate about on the global scale, like caring for the earth and promoting world peace.
If we can move beyond the unnecessary affiliation with some of the negative group karma that socialization processes normally instill in us, is it also possible to reevaluate our personal history and release ourselves from some aspects of our individual karma? Common sense, as well as the Buddhist concept of dependent origination, would argue against such an idea. If there is to be moral justice involved with karma, then it follows that we cannot exonerate ourselves from it by merely thinking, or wishing, that it no longer applies to us. If at some point in the past we have done someone a serious disservice, we deserve to pay for it in the future. We must remember, however, that retribution, whether as punishment or reward, is relative to how it was created and evolves within the karmic field. Not all debts have to be paid back with an "eye for an eye" compensation. Perhaps an analysis of our power to create reality and how our feelings and intentions impact the quality of the field will help us understand that individual karma is not as fixed and retributive as we think it is.
Quantum physics shows that on a fundamental level we have the power to create our own reality. The subatomic components of the universe can be either waves or particles. It all depends on what a physicist in a laboratory wants to find. If the intent is to measure a wave moving with velocity, that is what we get. On the other hand, if we seek to locate a particle at a set point in space, that will be the result. Such is the power of this finding that it has been argued that our consciousness determines the nature of reality by setting intentions and "causing" them to happen.
The way we look at things and the intention we put into our actions certainly do influence the effects we produce. With positive actions, we assume that if we make an act of charity, kindness, or love it will someday be returned to us. The question is, will it always be reciprocated with an equal amount of positive effect? Studies on remote healing, for example, have shown that its effects can vary widely. In her book The Intention Experiment, Lynne McTaggart presents research demonstrating that healers are significantly more effective if they are not attached to the outcome of their efforts. In a similar vein, it stands to reason that any act of giving is more meaningful when it is done unconditionally, rather than with an expectation of receiving something in return. If we tell our significant others that we "love" them simply because we want them to acquiesce to a favor we are going to ask, then our statement of love is highly conditioned and diluted. On the other hand, if our words of love are genuine, the emotional energy that the other receives will be more powerful and more likely to produce a positive countereffect in the future.
Thus the karmic field established by our positive actions partially depends on the state of mind in which those actions are produced. As a field phenomenon, karma is not linear, but rather systemic and holistic, taking in all the attributes of an action. The probability that a karmic consequence will arise is directly related to the intention and feeling involved with the original action.
This is also applicable to negative actions. Even our criminal justice system differentiates according to the intention of an action. To take a hypothetical example, if an automobile strikes and injures a pedestrian, the punishment will obviously vary depending on whether it was an accident, a deliberate act, or, perhaps, something in between. Again the critical part of the field effect for retribution is closely linked with the intention involved with the act.
Given this discussion of our power to create reality and the relativity of intentions, to what extent can we improve or heal our individual karma? Let's first look at what can be done to ameliorate our feelings about the retribution that we assume is owed to us.
Peace activist and author Masami Saionji contributed a chapter entitled "How You Can Invite Happiness" to Ervin Laszlo's book You Can Change the World in which she describes how we can gain insight on influencing our feelings and relationships. She discusses cause and effect, and essentially speaks about karma, although she never specifically mentions the word. Saionji goes back to the old adage: what came first, the chicken or the egg? Which one is the cause and which the effect, and does it really matter? We normally assume that our emotional states have been "caused" by some previous event, and so we are not responsible for them. For example: today I'm feeling a little down. What was the cause of that? Well, I was thinking maybe it's because I don't like my job. The cause of that? I took a job that wasn't the best because I didn't have a great educational background. And that is because I didn't study very hard in high school because I was too busy taking care of my younger siblings because my parents were too busy—because, because, because.
When we start looking for the causes of how we are feeling, we may never get to the root of the problem, because the causes are endless and are interwoven into the complexity of the karmic field. Rather than desperately seeking the causes of the current effects we are feeling, let's turn it around and think of the idea that our effects create causes. Saionji suggests that instead of worrying about what caused the burdens in our current state of mind, we should create a new effect to carry us happily forward, such as: "I'm emanating peace and love."
This effect will create a cause: sending out peace and love will make people around us feel better, which will in turn cause a ripple effect to others throughout society, helping them feel more positive. With this simple flip-flop of the karmic process, we have liberated ourselves from looking backwards and trying to analyze a past we cannot change. We are freed to say, "I can create my own reality with a new effect." Rather than dwelling on what might have happened in the remote past to cause our current emotional state, we concentrate on creating a positive emotion in the present that will set off a new chain of positive effects into the future.
It seems clear that this exercise in reprogramming our emotional intelligence can liberate us from carrying karmic baggage about retribution that we might have thought was owed to us. We no longer feel like victims in this scenario, but what about those people who were the victims of our past negative actions? If it were that easy to clean up our karma, then common criminals could commit all the egregious acts they want, have no guilty conscience about doing so, and move on into a self-constructed happiness. Obviously the process is more complicated. To truly change our individual karma, we should undertake these four steps: recognition, forgiveness of self, projecting compassion to the recipient, and expressing gratitude to the universe.
Let's take an example. Suppose we called a friend a bad name in a heated argument. Presumably this will come back to us someday in the form of someone unjustly referring to us with a nasty name. However, if we sincerely recognize that we did this thing and that our friend did not deserve it, then we have begun to clear the air. Next we should forgive ourselves for having done this. Our culture with its moral code has conditioned us to believe that we should feel guilty about our bad actions. This is all right up to a point, but there comes a time when we should realize that it really doesn't do any good to walk around feeling terrible about the things we have done in the past. It doesn't help the recipient of our action and it doesn't help us, as we just feel remorseful and miserable. So we have to forgive ourselves, admitting that we goofed up, and move on. Step three—and this is what truly separates us from the common criminal with no conscience—is to project compassion towards the recipient of our act. This should be done in all sincerity, preferably in a state of focused meditation, emanating compassion with all our heart. If it is possible to locate the person we have offended in the past, then we should obviously do so and make our retributions directly, with an apology and a good hug. Clearing the air with friends and family members of the victims of our inappropriate past actions is also recommended. Finally, we should express gratitude to the universe for the fact that our consciousness has the power to forgive us and reconstruct reality.
When this process is complete, will we have succeeded in alleviating part of the harm we have done to the recipients of our past actions—especially if the victim is someone we cannot readily find or identify? If we view the karmic field from a holistic perspective rather than as a direct linear and reciprocal relationship, we begin to comprehend how it could be so. The positive energy we put back into the field does create an effect, which causes an improvement in the overall energy level of the field. Besides, if we have already made a concerted effort to forgive others for any karmic debt they might have with us, the natural law of balance will improve our karma. Although the individuals that we have offended in the distant past or a previous life will obviously not receive a direct apology, the subconscious well-being of their souls should benefit from our acts of compassion. And the stronger our belief in the effect we are creating with positive intentions, the more likely we are to improve our karma and restore balance in the karmic field.
In conclusion, our psychospiritual and emotional states play an important role in establishing karma. Carrying self-imposed burdens of group karma and individual remorse for past actions only perpetuates the chain effect of negative karma. By extricating ourselves from excessive collective identity, freeing our minds of guilt, and consciously contributing compassion to the universe, we liberate ourselves from karmic burdens and clean up the field in the process. We can produce a new effect of joy, compassion, and gratitude, the cause of which is simply our conscious effort to emotionally heal ourselves and the state of the field. In the process we have caused something quite beautiful to happen. The karmic field, the web of life that holds the history of all thoughts, acts, and intentions, is now a bit more balanced, vital, and healthy. What used to be our karma has become the creative potential for personal and social transformation.
Emanuel Kuntzelman is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Interchange in Chicago and the Foundation for the Future in Madrid, Spain. Both organizations support the worldwide Greenheart movement and are dedicated to promoting cultural exchange, fair trade, environmental awareness, and world peace. He gives lectures and workshops and organizes retreats in conjunction with Greenheart Transforms and can be reached at www.emanuelkuntzelman.com.