Are all tests due to karma?


Are the tests that come to us always due to karma, or are some tests just tests?

—Jim, USA


Dear Jim,

Many of us at Ananda vividly remember Swami Kriyananda starting a talk on karma with these words: “Great Masters have said that everything is determined by karma. Everything!

Paramhansa Yogananda said, “God is not a creature of whims! It may look like that way sometimes, to people who cannot see the causal influence of past karma. But why would God go against his own law?”

Sincere truth-seekers would be wise to understand that whatever comes to us is something we have earned and that there is something important we need to learn from everything that happens to us—no matter whether it seems beneficial or harmful.

One difficulty in understanding karma is that often people think that all karma is bad karma. This is not true. Karma means action, and an action can be good, bad, or neutral. Certainly, it would seem that a difficult test in our lives is due to our past bad karma, and most likely, it is the result of an error in our behavior in the past. However, this is how we learn to correct our errors, through our karma and our tests, which are pretty much the same thing.

One other important point to consider: There is such a thing as mass karma. Tests we experience may not be due to our personal failings or our own past bad karma, but rather due to the group karma of a country, business, family, etc., of which we are a part. For example, we may live in a country being led by a person or persons who lie, cheat, steal, or otherwise behave very badly, for which the country will eventually suffer; and we may have to suffer along with it, simply because we live there.

Here is an excerpt from The Essence of Self-Realization, which contains three inspiring sections on “Karma and Reincarnation.” I highly recommend that you read it, if you have not done so already. See:

A disciple: “Master, is karma only individual, or does it affect also groups of people?”

Yogananda: “Karma is action, simply, whether physical or mental, whether individual or performed by a group, a nation, or a group of nations.”

Disciple: “To what extent is an individual influenced by mass karma?”

Yogananda: “It all depends on the strength of his individual karma.

“In an air crash, for example, it needn’t be that all who died in it had the karma to do so. The karma of the majority in that disaster may simply have been stronger than that of the minority to live.