Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 1: What Goes Around, Comes Around

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Obtain a Newton's Cradle toy. Or, make a simple pendulum: Tie a stone (approximately 2 inches across is a good size) or a similar object to a string about 12 inches long, and tie the loose end of the string someplace where the stone can both hang at rest and be pushed into motion and swing freely.

Description of Activity

Participants explore the concept of karma, and the idea that all actions have consequences.

Ask youth what they have heard about karma. Is this a term that is casually used by family members or friends? As they have heard it used, does it have a specific meaning or more general implications? What does it mean to them? Does it seem important?

Share this definition:

Karma: inevitable results of actions, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.

Ask for participants' initial response. Did they notice the word "inevitable?" Do they feel their actions have inevitable results? Sometimes? Some actions? Always and all actions?

Say, in your own words:

Karma has important implications in some Eastern religions. In both Buddhism and Jainism, dispelling the accumulated effects of one's harmful actions-getting rid of bad karma-is necessary before someone can be fully enlightened and free of the cycle of reincarnation (transmigration of the soul). This accumulation is the work of all the lifetimes a soul has lived, but liberation can be achieved in a single lifetime if the person is dedicated enough.

Ask the youth what they think about this concept. Does it make sense to them? Suggest that whether or not they believe in reincarnation of souls, they might still believe in karma-that is, the idea that negative energy accumulates from our harmful actions. Allow discussion.

You might say:

Some people speak of "instant karma," meaning when they do something bad they are made to suffer for it immediately. Does this idea have meaning for you?

Demonstrate the desk toy Newton's Cradle, if you have one, or the pendulum. Explain that it is named for Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Let the youth play with it for a brief time. Comment that this toy demonstrates nicely the continuation of energy suggested by the concept of karma-when an action is taken, the action itself is not the end of it; there is more, and the outcome is inevitable.


The Law of Karma might be stated: "For every action there is an equal and congruent spiritual reaction."

What is the youth's response to this? Conservation of energy is a fundamental concept of physics. Does this concept extend to the spiritual realm? Do our actions have conservation of momentum in the spiritual as well as the material world?

Continue discussion with these questions:

  • What qualifies as a "consequence" to an action? Would you consider realizing you have done something wrong a consequence?
  • Have you ever known you have done something wrong but not felt bad about it? If so, was it still wrong? Why? If it was truly wrong, why did you not feel bad?
  • Do consequences have to be inevitable for the idea of karma to be an important idea?

Distribute lined paper and pencils/pens. Tell the group that in an episode of the television show "My Name is Earl," the lead character lists all the bad things he remembers doing and sets about apologizing to the people he wronged and trying to do nice things to balance his karma. Earl is not Buddhist, so his approach to clear his karma by apologizing and trying to rectify unpleasant situations he may have caused is a concept more modern American than Eastern. Despite that, do youth think it is a good idea? If so, invite youth to make their karma list, starting with two or three items. Ask them to reflect on how they can rectify a wrong. Remember that an apology is necessary, too. Invite a few volunteers to share their intentions with the group, if they feel inclined. Do youth feel that working on a karma list-whether or not you believe in reincarnation-is in keeping with their Unitarian Universalist values?