A friend has rediscovered some of his military buddies, and they chat on line. The conversation has veered to one person who was injured in a firefight. One of the group commented, "I'm not superstitious" "but" he was glad when the injured person left the unit, because he had been injured before "and that kind of guy just brings down bad luck, don't want to be around him."
Apparently that type of thought train is common among combat veterans- I am surviving because I am lucky/skilled/tough and I don't want to be around people who are unlucky/unskilled/weaker because they may drag me down with them.
I have much compassion for the combat vet- getting scared shitless week after week tweaks your mind. But that is not how karma works
From About.Com Buddhism, by Barbara O'Brien:
In Buddhism, karma has a more specific meaning, which is volitional or willful action. Things we choose to do or say or think set karma into motion. The law of karma is a law of cause and effect.Buddhists posit that everything has an effect on everything else. A butterfly in Kenya may, in a long train of causes and conditions, cause an avalanche in Austria. Only some of what happens is due to karma, that is, due to causes and conditions of sentient beings, as karma is only one of a group of universal laws, including gravity and thermodynamics.
Further, only some of what happens that is caused by sentient beings is due to you, or to your friends or enemies. There are many currents in the ocean of existence. There are many beings out there, and they make choices, and the choices have consequences and other beings are affected and in turn make other, more or less skillful choices, and the wheel of karma rolls on. Not only the past, but also the present, affects the present and both past and present throw out streams into the future.
Buddhist theory posits that you do have some, limited control over your corner of the universe. You don't know all the consequences of your actions. You are a limited being. But: you can learn to make more skillful choices. Skillful choices lessen the suffering of the world, unskilful choices increase suffering.
How did the wheel of karma start turning? "Somebody made a mistake."
It should be pointed out here that karma is action: the results or more poetically, fruits of karma are often confused with karma.
Superstitious people think that various things they say or do will enable them to evade the inherent changeability of the universe, or the results of their own bad choices. A lot of the gun-clutchers think that their gun will keep them from harm: a deadly rabbit's foot. The military veteran in the above story thinks that some people are "bad luck" and if he avoids them, their "bad luck" will not rub off on him.
There is a kernel of truth here. Some people act without considering the likely consequences of their actions, and avoiding them may be the wisest action on your part. However, once the mistakes of these people have left them bleeding on the road, you do not get to leave them there, with the excuse that they did it to themselves. The Buddha also insisted that his followers have compassion for all beings. Who among us has not made mistakes?
One point of Buddhist philosophy evokes controversy- the doctrine that beings are essentially waves or nodes of the universe, that they arise and subside, and that the results of their actions impacts the formation of a new being, who is affected by the karmatic actions of the former being. This is seen as being unfair.
The response is that life is not fair. This can be seen by the patterns of people's lives. For example: a poor young man gets a job in a shipyard, which is celebrated by his entire family as a step up in the world. Forty years later, he is dying horribly of asbestosis. A bicyclist decides to turn left instead of right- into the path of a drunk driver. A little kid decides to watch a foot race from a vantage point close to where a bomber has decided to detonate a bomb.
The actions of the past being may predispose you to certain actions, but you don't have to act on them. You can say, "I will do things differently this time."
Making more skillful choices, even as you are, one small limited being, has the potential for great improvement to the limitless universe. A lot of the rest of Buddhist practice has to do with becoming aware of what exactly is going on, and understanding the probable results of our actions.