Was my mother a robber in a past life? We grappled with this notion during a debate over lunch on the difference between destiny and karma. I say they are polar opposites. Destiny is a belief in inevitability, in a grand scheme. Karma on the other hand, is a cycle of cause and effect: good deeds attract good luck, bad deeds bring punishment. My Buddhist mother, a believer in reincarnation, argued they’re one and the same. Behaviour in this life determines the outcomes – her destiny – in her next. “I have been burgled seven times,” she said. “I must have been a robber in a past life.”
This tripped us into a consideration of Christianity – the difference between Anglicanism, which is broadly destiny-based, and Catholicism which is more karmic. We talked about current world conflicts and the bending and stretching of belief systems: armies of men decimating peaceful communities in the belief it is their destiny to create states in their own image. The political response is imbued with paradoxical notions of karma: a fear of intervention in case it invites reprisals, and an imperative to offer humanitarian help – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Our personal belief systems don’t just shape our politics and our private behaviours: they affect our work. In literature, the writer’s viewpoint will often colour or inform a text both unwittingly and deliberately. Academics cite evidence of CS Lewis’s Christianity in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and the magic realist writer Salman Rushdie faced death threats for The Satanic Verses, a novel referring to prayers to the pagan goddesses of Mecca . I have ordered books of short stories by both writers, and it will be interesting to see what our Tricycle Readers group makes of them.
As for the difference between destiny and karma, I leave you with the Oxford online dictionary definitions so you may analyse the grey area between them for yourselves: