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About Karmic Debts & Payback
Question: Tom (names here are fictitious) is willing to lend Dick some money, which Dick badly needs. But Dick is worried that he might not be able to repay the debt in his lifetime. Tom, however, is happy to lend the money, even if he does not get it back before he (Tom or Dick) passes away. Dick worries about being karmically indebted to Tom both in this life and the next. He is also worried that his son Harry would have to bear the debt (karmically) on his behalf though Tom had also assured Dick that he will not pursue Harry for the money. What are your views on Dicks worries?
Answer: Karma does not always work in the simplistic ways Dick perceives. It is more complex than a matter of "balancing accounts", as there are many conditions involved. Dick probably mistakenly perceived the effects of karma to be measured in terms of dollars and cents only. Whenever someone does an act of evil, be it in the monetary sense or otherwise, one already incurs a negative karmic "debt" in the sense that one has to "payback" by experiencing negative experiences - if one does not repent and reform in time.
Negative karmic "payback" however, need not always be related to the person the evil was done to, though our karmic affinities from life to life can be closely knitted. For example, one who steals money is likely to experience some form of poverty karmically sooner or later but it does not mean it will definitely be through repaying money to the one money was stolen from. It can be through other means. There are two sides to the picture. We need to remember too, that the one who lost the money in the first place was also experiencing fruition of his own negative karma - through the theft.
Karma also does not always work in "a tit for a tat" way e.g. the idea that the one stolen from "will" steal back from the thief. It is lack of wisdom that leads one to cyclical vengeance. If karma "predestines" "a tit for a tat" manner of operation, there would be no way to be break free of being trapped in a vicious cycle of negative karmic rebound as both parties would be karmically "forced" to be unceasingly vengeful, thus creating new negative karma to one who created negative karma to oneself earlier.
Vice versa, when one does an act of good, be it in the monetary sense or otherwise, one creates positive karmic "wealth" - merits - which may or may not be in the form of money. With or without money involved, we are already "indebted" to one another in the interdependent web of life. We also continually carry over "debts" of kindness in life - both now, and from life to life. This is why we practise compassion and wisdom as much as we can so as to repay the often easily forgotten kindness of others. Also, when we create positive karma by helping others, whoever they may be, we are creating positive karma that helps to dilute the effects of our negative karmic "debts".
Borrowing money properly when in serious need does not incur karmic debts if one intends to use the money for a good cause, and intends to return the money as there is no evil (all of which arise only from intentions based on greed, hatred and delusion) involved. Not to borrow money when in real need is the lack of wisdom. Dick should be grateful that Tom's compassion, for being willing to offer help for a friend in times of need is a friend indeed! It is also Dick's positive karma bearing fruit, such that he encounters someone as helpful as Tom one who is willing to practise unconditional generosity to him. Tom also creates much positive karma by being unconditionally generous. Dick should treasure Tom's offer to help by having gratitude whether he borrows money from him or not.
If Dick decides to borrow money from Tom, even though Tom does not require him to payback, Dick should still do his best to do so be in the monetary way or by other good ways. The point is to just do one's best to repay the kindness of others in this and future lives. This is the expression of gratitude. It is ingratitude that creates negative karma e.g. if Dick decides to take advantage and borrows much money with no gratitude or intention to repay the kindness.
Though Tom does not expect any return of kindness, he will still experience the effects of his positive karma created eventually. In fact, the moment one is generous, there is already some joy in the moment. Also, one's karmic debts do not pass down to one's children. When children seem to bear the negative karma of one's parents, it is actually a case of the children having similar negative karma, which they created by themselves in this or a past life.
Being passively resigned to difficulties in life being nothing more than "fixed" karma is self-defeating - a karmically self-fulfiling prophecy. For instance, one who is born poor might mistakenly think that his karma for life is of poverty, thus never working diligently to better his condition - when all along he could. This is living the karma of delusion, with which he continually experiences the results - of remaining poor! But karma is dynamic - it changes according to our changes in attitude and actions. Everyone's karma is of their own responsibility, though we can also positively influence one another to actively create virtuous cycles of positive karma, instead of vicious cycles of negative karma.
- Shen Shi'an