“What goes around comes around.” – Timeless Idiom

Long before I understood what Karma was, or that there were laws that supposedly governed it, my platoon sergeant instilled in me a certain appreciation for it. One particularly hot, humid morning on the battalion parade field, I watched as a fellow lieutenant screamed at a couple of the older warrant officers, berating them obscenely for muddling their way through calisthenics. The louder he yelled, the more uncoordinated they seemed, and the angrier he became. “I need to put an end to this,” I said, and stepped off in their direction. “Let it go, L-T,” the older noncommissioned officer said. “You wait. What goes around comes around.”

He was talking about Karma. And while I really didn’t know that much about it, he was talking about the first law of Karma: the Great Law. And, a few months later, it did come around. During a transfer of property between the lieutenant and another officer, several thousand dollars’ worth of tools and equipment proved impossible to find. Tools and equipment the lieutenant was responsible for but were nowhere to be found. An investigation ensued, liability assigned, and the lieutenant docked a month’s pay. Several months later, with the lieutenant reassigned to a new unit, some vaguely familiar tools and equipment magically reappeared. The warrant officers, of course, knew nothing about the entire incident. “What goes around comes around,” one senior warrant officer proclaimed with a smile and a wink.

12 laws of Karma

Fundamental to Hinduism and Buddhism, Karma describes the concept of getting back whatever you give—good or bad—to the universe, and it is central to the idea that what you do in this life matters in the next. For followers of Hinduism and Buddhism, Karma is an essential part of life, the ethical net that links your present existence with your future one. Ideally, when you live your life according to the 12 laws of Karma, you “pay it forward” with good Karma in your life; in theory, following the laws of Karma increases the likelihood that good things will follow.

But regardless of whether you are a follower of those belief systems, the 12 laws of Karma can shape a better life for you, and for those around you. The laws not only ensure you are always in pursuit of your best life, they all but guarantee you will always be in pursuit of the best you.

The Great Law

Also known as the law of cause and effect, the great law is what most people convey with an idiom like, “what goes around comes around.” It’s the general idea that what you sow, you reap. Treat people with dignity and respect, and that energy comes to you in return. Treat people like dirt, well… that will eventually come back to you, too. The only downside to the great law is that we’re rarely there to see it come around, even though we very much want to be.

The Law of Creation

Simply put, the law of creation implies that good things don’t just happen, they come to those who put in the work. In other words, we create our own good luck. A good work ethic goes a long way to generating good Karma.

The Law of Humility

The law of humility boils down to the idiom, “it is what it is.” Before you can change something in your life, you first have to accept your current reality. Much of the power to change comes from self-reflection; the rest comes from accepting who you are and possessing the humility necessary to own the path to being the best version of yourself.

The Law of Growth

The status quo will kill you. The law of growth embraces the concept that self-development is a lifelong task: if you want to be the best version of yourself, you have to be willing to put in the work necessary to change. And, as you change, so does the world around you. As a result, the work never ends. The minute you decide to accept the status quo, you stop growing. That’s a scary place for most of us.

The Law of Responsibility

The law of responsibility is the “you break it, you buy” essence of Karma. We are ultimately responsible for everything in our lives, good and bad. We make choices, we determine our own paths. We can’t just accept responsibility when good things happen. We have to acknowledge our role is the bad things, too.

The Law of Connection

Everything is connected; nothing happens in isolation. Period. Your past you is inherently connected to who you are today, and the things you do in the here and now have a profound effect on the future you. This also applies to those around us. Just think of Newton’s laws of motion, but in a Karmic sense.

The Law of Force

Put it this way: We really don’t multitask; we commit our energy to one task at a time and shift that energy as needed to accomplish a multitude of tasks. The law of force acknowledges this simple fact, that you cannot commit your energy toward to tasks simultaneously. Do one thing great at a time rather than a bunch of things half-assed all at once.

The Law of Giving and Hospitality

In Karmic terms, the law of giving and hospitality ensures that you don’t just talk the talk, you walk the walk. Instead of posting to Twitter about doing good things for others, actually commit yourself to doing them. It’s nice to advocate for being a better human being, but it’s better to follow through with some action.

The Law of Here and Now

Too many of us live in the past, reliving former glory or imagining a better former version of ourselves than existed. Set aside your inner Uncle Rico and be present in the here and now. A life lived in the present, one that accepts who you are and where you came from, is much more rewarding and energizing. Besides, you never could throw a football a quarter of a mile.

The Law of Change

The law of change might be better remembered as the Groundhog Day law. If you continue to find yourself in the same situations over and over again, that’s the universe nudging you toward needed change. The patters of life will continue to repeat until you learn from the experience and begin to make different decisions. This is an important part of becoming the best version of you, but you have to make a conscious decision to change.

The Law of Patience and Reward

The law of patience and reward is another Karmic law closely tied to your work ethic. Put in the hard work and eventually you will see the reward. What is best in life is more than a line from Conan the Barbarian. It requires patience, diligence, and a willingness to give your very best effort every single day.

The Law of Significance and Inspiration

We all have gifts; we all have a positive role to play in the world. Some days, it’s just hard to see it all. The law of significance and inspiration reminds us that we all have value, especially if you’re giving life your best effort. Draw a little inspiration from that and give it your all.

Karma, baby. It’s a real thing.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.