As I parse it from my half-assed study, Karma goes to all actions, and this includes relationships that might be established in one life and continued in subsequent one. Until your actions, which can include not only what you do, but what you think, get all sorted out, you are condemned to stay on the Great Wheel of Birth. Once you work everything out and Do The Right Thing, then you can escape the Wheel and either ascend to a higher spiritual plane, or if you elect, stick around as one of those Realized Beings who helps others get there.
This is a little on the simple side, but consider the source ...
Anytime you interact with another person, you twine your Karma with theirs, and that eventually has to come round and be worked through.
Back when we were meditating, we had a spiritual teacher come over from India to give us our personal mantras. Up until then, we'd been using the entry-level mantra. (This term is a sound that one intones to achieve a state of no-mind, either aloud or silently, and most folks know about Om, which is supposedly the universal sound.)
Um. Anyway, Dadaji, one of Baba and Ma's top lieutenants, all in his orange robes, came over and sat with each of us in the back room of our rented house by LSU. Eyes closed, facing each other in a cross-legged sitting position, he would tune into our vibrations, determine our level of spiritual achievement, and then give us our personal mantra based on that.
In this particular Hindu tradition, mantras are magic sounds, and as such, never to be revealed to another; so doing voids the warranty, rendering the magic inert.
Dadaji's own spiritual development, we were told, was such that he could leave and return in ten years and he would be able to tune back in and recall each and every mantra he had given out.
I was pretty impressed with this, and looked forward to testing it.
A brief digression: Later, after discovering that all was not entirely copacetic in our chosen cult, the local meditation group began to have suspicions that perhaps some of the things we had been told were, um, open to question vis a vis the truth.
One day in a discussion of the weekly lesson, one or the other of us allowed that we had come across our own magic sound while reading one of the texts we all studied.
Hey, me, too! Which, uh, chapter was it in?
Really? Mine, too! Which page?
No shit?! Mine's on that page, too!
Which line ... ?
Hey, Bob, how about you? Your mantra on this page, too? It is?
Cleverly, we thought, we were able to determine that the entire group had been gifted with the same "personal" mantra, without ever speaking it aloud. So it still had the magic.
Except that, of course, once we realized this, that killed the magic pretty damn dead ...
We were pissed-off.
Now, a spiritual teacher with any wits could have simply told us, "Look, you are all karmic wrecks and at the bottom of the mountain, so you all get the next-level mantra, but it's the same because you are all essentially the same, that's how it goes.
But allowing instead that we were all going to get our own special magic word and that it would be unique was, we thought, a shuck. Kind of hard to believe folks once you realize the wool has been pulled over your eyes.
Our meditation group dissolved shortly thereafter.
No wonder Dadaji could come back in ten years and remember what he'd told us. Big deal.
But back to Karma: Dadaji was a celebati. And so concerned with the worry that he might mingle his Karma with that of a woman that if a woman in our group offered him a glass of water, he would take great care not to even brush his fingers against hers when he accepted it. Even a touch would create unwanted Karma. Tricky stuff, Karma.
All of which I told you to get to this story I wanted to tell:
When I was in Louisiana earlier this spring, come Sunday morning, my mother wanted to go to church. We were raised Methodists–sprinkle, don't dunk–and that was Mother's church long after I left home, but twenty years back, she switched to Baptist.
So I got my father dressed–he never went to church, but I couldn't leave him home–packed up my mother's walker, and off we went to the Comite (pronounced "Co-meet") Baptist Church. I dropped her off, took Daddy to the store to buy groceries and ran those home, then went back to pick up Mama.
While I was putting the walker into the trunk, somebody called out my name: "Hey, Steve!"
I looked up to see a tall, heavyset, gray-haired woman in her sixties smiling at me. She came over, hugged me. I had no idea who she was.
She said, "You don't have any idea who I am, do you?"
I confessed that was so.
She told me her name. Didn't ring a bell. Well, that was her married name. She told me her maiden name and that did trip an old memory.
Fifty-four years ago, my mother was an assistant coach for a girl's summer-league softball team at the local park and rec near where we lived. This woman–call her Sharon–had been on the team. She would have been about thirteen or fourteen, and I would have been ten, going on eleven. She was a tall, skinny jock, and the team had gone to the state finals. I remembered her and her sister, also a player.
I never would have recognized her, nor she me, save she knew my mother and made the connection.
That's a pretty thin thread, but it was still there after all this time. I find that, as Spock might say, fascinating ...