Karma. It’s a word that brings up ideas of cosmic retribution coming to us from past lives. It’s a metaphysical, even scary sounding concept, but not one you’d use to make sense of world affairs.
Personally, I can’t imagine explaining world affairs without karma. Everything in the world arises as a result of a set of causes and conditions and from everything that happens or comes into being, new causes and conditions arise.
Karma is the principle of actions and consequences. From a Buddhist perspective, karma refers specifically to human intention and the action accompanying that intention.
The Buddhist theory of karma assumes that:
- Human beings have agency;
- Human beings act by exercising their will;
- The actions of human beings have consequences for them.
In Buddhism, human will is subject to many physical, mental, emotional and environmental influences. Political entities are even more complex. The nation-state, for example, is made up of territory, population, government and international recognition as such.
It’s government, however, that ultimately influences what the state is and what it does. What government doesn’t affect its own people through its laws and policies? What countries don’t affect others through their choices in foreign policy?
Everything that becomes, or changes must do so owing to some cause;
for nothing can come to be without a cause (Plato).
Karma also explains how the actions of nation-states affect both themselves and the world. The events of 9-11 and the policies of the Bush Administration squashed civil rights at home and devastated Iraq and Afghanistan. The rise of Donald Trump resulted from many conditions, including a severe recession, widening economic disparities, and the American electoral system.
But karma isn’t just something that happens to nations; it’s something that nations create. Getting the causes “right” moreover, produces the right effects. Economic growth and development in China, for example, came through a well-planned economic policy and strategy.
The state can produce good karma, that is it can act morally and produce positive consequences, e.g. prosperity, peace and stability at home and elsewhere. In Buddhism, this comes through the state following its dharma, that is in fulfilling its moral purpose of relieving people of distress and enabling their well-being.