Last week, I had a bit of head cold. And while it was quite mild, it was enough to slow me down a bit. One morning, for instance, I was leaving my house and kept fumbling for the keys in my pocket, lost as they were among coins and cough drops. I finally got my front door locked and made it to the top of my hill just in time to see the bus drive by.

As I frowned and started to recalculate how to get to work, I saw that the bus had stopped just a short distance away. Dashing across the street, I climbed aboard thanking the bus driver effusively. I was running late, and she would have been well within her rights to just keep on driving by. She smiled, almost embarrassed by my gratitude.

But this is the same driver I make a point of saying hi to every morning. And I couldn’t help but wonder if that somehow made a difference. Had my modest efforts of acknowledging her presence made an impression on her? Had she gone out of her way to be helpful as a result?

I don’t believe in karma, not as it’s been presented to me at any rate. There’s far too much injustice in this world for starters. Bad people live long and perfectly comfortable lives despite how much suffering they’ve brought about.

But I think that many of us Westerners get the concept of karma wrong anyhow. To my understanding, there are two basic approaches to karma. The first is a spiritual framework in which you actively try to acquire good karma in order to improve your lot in your next incarnation. It is (one hopes) a linear process, wherein you continue to evolve and ultimately achieve a higher state.

In the second version, you don’t want any karma at all — good or bad — because it keeps you tied to this world and, hence, illusion. Neither of these views is particularly attractive to me.

What I do believe, however, is in building a better world, often one small step at a time. We are active contributors to our culture, and we constantly shape it by the choices we make. And I want to live in a world where people greet bus drivers and return lost wallets and practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

We cannot possibly know the outcomes of our actions. I wasn’t nice to the bus driver to “bank” her goodwill for a time when I might need it. Our actions have to have meaning in the present as we perform them. And the meaning they have is only what we can give them, infusing them with our values and intent whatever these may be for each of us.

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