When Karma Doesn’t Add Up: Why ‘Unfair’ Is Fair

Apr 17, 2024

The Law of Karma

Buddhism has become all the rage in the West over the past few decades.

The Buddha himself has practically achieved icon status, his image plastered on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs.

And one of his key teachings — the idea that every action has consequences, that ‘what goes around comes around‘ — has become widespread in our modern language and culture.

But while the general concept of “good karma” or “bad karma” is widely recognized, the nuances are often glossed over — mainly because they are not understood.

In this post, we’ll have a look at why what’s judged as “unfair” must necessarily be fair, and how the simple idea that ‘you get what you give’ is far from the full story.

Baby with spirit around them

An Intro To The Law of Karma

The concept of karma is central to Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which teach “the law of cause and effect” — and that’s, essentially, what Karma is.

The the law of karma states that our actions, both good and bad, create corresponding experiences in the future.

‘Good karma‘ is the result of positive actions, while ‘bad’ karmic karma follow negative actions. 

We often think of karma in a very simplistic way: You do good, good comes back to you; you do bad, bad comes back to you.

For example, if someone hits us and we hit them back, that should mean we’re equal: 1-1 = 0. Right?


Not necessarily.

Karma is WAY more complex than that.

Karma Complexity

Although The Law of Karma is incredibly complex, it’s also incredibly FAIR. 

The reason we might think something is unfair is simply because of our ignorance – because we can’t understand the particular effect we are observing in its full context.

And that’s no surprise, because karma operates on a cosmic scale and across periods of time that are completely unfathomable.

When you consider the fact that you’re dealing with a ridiculously complex field of causes and effects created across a mind-bendingly long timeline throughout a series of very complex lifetimes (don’t forget the idea of past lives, not all of which have even been in human form), that fairness doesn’t always manifest in the way we might expect!

Out of context, what happens to us can seem completely unfair, cruel even. . .

An Example Story

Thai maid looking sad in a modern Thai house

The point of my post today is not to unravel the complexities of karma.

It’s to show you how a simple equation (1-1 = 0) can be wrong, DESPITE it seeming perfectly logical and fair.

Do do that, I’ll use the example of a Thai family and a maid:

The Question:

Is Nuch, the mother, right to mistreat you, the daughter?

After all, YOU mistreated HER terribly in the last life when she was your maid.

Take a moment to consider it. . .

The Answer:

Logic tells us that you deserve this mistreatment, since she previously wronged you.

You could say Nuch (the former maid) has every right to dish out that ‘karmic payback’.

But the problem is, in this lifetime, Nuch’s role is that of a MOTHER – and a mother has a sacred duty to care for all her children equally, regardless of what happened in the past.

That’s the curveball; the nuance; the variable that spoils the otherwise simple equation.

By following the powerful emotions that tell her to treat you badly in this life, what Nuch is actually doing is creating new negative karma for herself by favoring one child over the other.

She’s unknowingly creating karmic causes that will eventually come back to bite her in the future.

Cosmic Justice

It turns out that the universe has a wicked sense of humor — the more you try to “even the score,” the deeper you dig yourself into a karmic hole you’ll never escape from.

We need to understand that Karma will take care of things in its own way and in its own time.

The fact you mistreated Nuch in the past means that you WILL pay for it.

You just don’t know when and how.

When karma is created it can’t simply disappear until: a) it’s paid off in full (by experiencing the karmic result) or b) the person who created the karma reaches nirvana and attains enlightenment.

If you choose not to change, then YES, you’re trapped in an endless loop of creating karma and then suffering from the consequences.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You CAN begin to free yourself from this endless chain – by NOT taking action against those who have hurt you.

There’s no need, as their own karma will take care of them by itself (and will do a far better job of it than you could!).

You can be sure that their karma will catch them.

There’s no outrunning it.

No outwitting it.

No corrupting it.

Just like you’d let the police deal out justice to a criminal, let karma dish out its cosmic justice to those who have wronged you.

Everyone reaps what they sow.

Man in space wrapped in chains, freeing himself from them

Breaking The Chains

The truth is, karma is far from simple.

It has its own mysterious logic that doesn’t always align with our human sense of fairness and justice.

When we sense things that happen as unfair or unjust and that we need to take action ourselves to make sure that justice is served, all we are doing is getting tangled up in the web of karmic actions and effects, which creates more and more karma.

The best thing to do is try your best to maintain mindfulness (as this will help to stop you from following the constant push and pull of your desire to take action and ‘right’ the ‘wrongs’).

You also need to main a strong confidence that the karmic process will take care of things as needed.

My advice is to trust the universe — it’s got plenty of experience. . .


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