You Can Only Reap What You Sow

A modern and pragmatic interpretation of Hinduism’s karma

Karma is the Hindu idea that good deeds generally lead to good luck and bad deeds often lead to misfortune. In Hinduism karma is tied to reincarnation, past lives, and other parts of the Hindu religion; what if you strip away all that? What if you remove all religious aspects of karma, and simply use it as a guiding principle in life?

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

What is karma?

The basic idea of karma is simple. All your actions have consequences. Sometimes the cause and effect are obvious and immediate: studying more leads to higher grades. Working more leads to more money. Eating more leads to gaining weight. Sometimes, cause and effect are less obvious: You start doing stretches. This does not have any obvious consequences besides less back pain, but feeling more comfortable because your muscles are no longer tight leads to tiny changes in your behaviour. You become a little happier every day and are a bit more friendly to other people. Every interaction being 1% more pleasant adds up and a few years down the line you are in a totally different place than you would’ve been.

Science generally supports this notion through chaos theory. Tiny differences in chaotic systems lead to majorly different results. The classic example of this is the butterfly effect: a butterfly flapping its wings can lead to a tornado on the other side of the world a few months later.

So now that we know what karma is, how do we best utilise it in our daily lives?

Outcomes aren’t fixed

Because of the butterfly effect, the results of actions are never fixed. However, they are not entirely random either. Every action has a multitude of possible outcomes, some more probable than others. Reading generally has a positive effect. However, there is a chance that a book you decide to read is bad, and you end up wasting your time. Conversely, eating fast food is generally bad, but you can run into a friend at McDonald’s, and hang out together, which would make it a good thing.

To make things even more complicated, some things have both positive and negative side effects. Social media decreases your sensitivity to dopamine, which is bad, but it also lets you know what your friends and family are up to. Is it worth the trade-off? I don’t think so, but everyone has to make that decision for themselves.

Implementing karma in your daily life

To utilise karma in your daily life is to realise the following: Every action has consequences, both positive and negative. You can not determine the outcome, you can only influence the probabilities.

Every time you study, you increase your chances of getting high grades. Nevertheless, it is possible to start studying for an exam months in advance and still get a low grade because you hit your head and have a brain injury the day before the exam. You can have bad luck, and that’s out of your control. However, this does not invalidate that in general, studying more leads to higher grades.

The reasonable thing to do, because of this, is to maximise the number of things you do that generally have a positive outcome. If the best possible outcome of reading books is finding valuable information that changes your life, and the worst-case scenario is losing a few hours and €20, why not read? Even if the probability of a book significantly improving your life is only 5%: read anyway. If you read 1 book a week, you will find such a life-changing book every 5 months. And many of the other books will still hold a smaller amount of valuable information, or entertain you.

Sowing seeds for your future self

What you are essentially doing, is sowing seeds for your future self. Yes, sometimes those seeds get eaten by crows. Sometimes those seeds fail to sprout. Heavy rainfall drowns them, or drought kills them. Nonetheless, some of them will sprout and grow into crops that you can later reap.

What you should do, is sow as many seeds as possible. Every day, water all your current seeds, and if you have time left, sow, sow, sow. You can only reap what you sow, and by maximising what you sow, you maximise what you reap.

Your quality of crops also tends to increase over time. At first, you just have a bunch of random cabbage seeds that wildly vary in quality. However, after harvesting, you can choose to only replant seeds from the top 10% of cabbages. Life tends to work in the same way: As you read, you figure out which writers are and are not worth your time. As you create YouTube videos, you start getting a better and better understanding of which types of videos do well with the algorithm and which don’t.

You also get better at farming. An expert and amateur farmer will get completely different harvests if given the same seeds. Similarly, if you give an expert and amateur writer the same idea, one of them will turn it into a bestseller and the other one will be lucky to sell 10 copies.

If positive outcomes are crops, negative outcomes are weeds. Once weeds are in your field, it is difficult to kill them. Removing weeds takes a lot of work and may end up hurting crops. Because of that, it’s better to never let them infest your field anyway. Every time you decide to look at pictures of social media influencers instead of doing literally anything else, you are sowing metaphorical weeds in your brain, making you less sensitive to dopamine and less motivated to do anything productive.

Giving to your future self

The quality of life of your future self is entirely dependent on what you do now. You can choose to not put in any effort now, but that means your future self will be miserable. You can also choose to suffer through hard work now, in order to make your future self happy. You can steal happiness from your future self and spend it now. You can also choose to take merely suffering from your future self, and give back happiness and security.

In conclusion, karma means that all your actions have consequences. If you don’t sow now, you won’t be able to harvest tomorrow. Yes, not all your seeds will sprout into crops, but if you don’t sow none will. And if you choose to not sow, your future self will have nothing to reap, and they will be miserable. If you do choose to sow, your future self will be grateful and happy. You either steal from or give to your future self, which one you choose is up to you.

High School Student from the Netherlands--part-time writer, full-time thinker

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