A karmic debt is, basically, any cause that hasnít yet found its effect.
According to the rishis, punishment in the afterlife is the result of unpaid karmic debts. If I commit a crime and donít pay for it here on Earth, I will pay by suffering later. Hell is the condition of karmic suffering. It is worth remembering that hellish experiences donít depend upon dying. People have seen Satan in dreams, visions, imagination, and even in the flesh. Our minds put us in hell, and they can take us out again.
Whether suffering is created here on earth through physical pain or in the afterlife through psychological torment, the causes remain the same, since they can be tracked back to the working of Karma.
By saying that bad karma will one day catch up with wrongdoers, are we guilty of wish fulfillment? Skeptics would certainly say yes, because if a karmic debt is paid outside the material world, it isnít being paid at all.
The matter canít be easily settled, but in spiritual terms we can observe the difference between someone who is mature–and by implication has paid off some debts–and someone who is immature, loaded down with unpaid debts. The spiritually mature person pursues a meaningful life through self-worth, love, truth, appreciation and gratitude, reverence, and non-violence.
Adapted from Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2006).