“Karma’s a bitch,” right?
We hear that all the time. Somebody does something good, they get good karma. Something bad happens to someone, that’s because they had bad karma. But that’s not how it works.
What is karma?
Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning “action.” It refers to a cycle of cause-and-effect that is an important concept in many Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism.
In its essence, karma refers to both the actions and the consequences of the actions.
Importantly, karma is not set in stone, is not out of our control, and is not indirect. By this, I mean you don’t do good things with hopes of getting a randomly good outcome (karma is not doing your chores this week in hopes of winning the lottery).
Instead, it means that the steps of your life, your spiritual development, and your personality are directly moulded by your thoughts and actions. Present you affects the future you.
Don’t believe me? Let’s ask a Buddhist master for their explanation of karma.
A Buddhist Master’s Simple Explanation of Karma
To begin with, let’s get one thing straight:
Karma has nothing to do with “fate.” If you do something negative, it doesn’t mean that something negative has to happen to you to “even it out.”
Karma is based on your actions and thoughts in every single moment.
So what is the definition of karma, then?
“The word “karma” means “action,” not “fate.” In Buddhism, karma is an energy created by willful action, through thoughts, words and deeds. We are all creating karma every minute, and the karma we create affects us every minute. It’s common to think of “my karma” as something you did in your last life that seals your fate in this life, but this is not Buddhist understanding. Karma is an action, not a result. The future is not set in stone. You can change the course of your life right now by changing your volitional (intentional) acts and self-destructive patterns.”
Action, not fate! Karma is the energy we create from our actions, from our thoughts. It’s a dynamic force!
What is the meaning of karma?
The meaning of karma is literally “action, word, or deed.”
However, when we talk of karma, what we are referring to is ” the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect).” Thanks, Wikipedia!
So, is it just “you reap what you sow?” Close, but that’s not all of it!
While karma has a strong core of “cause-and-effect,” it’s more than your actions and thoughts will affect how you live your life. It’s less of an “Oh, I picked up recycling outside so I’ll get a good thing later on,” and more of a “the good actions I choose now will mould me into a virtuous person.”
To quote from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, “A man of good deeds will become good.”
You see? It’s in the doing of the good deeds that we make ourselves better people. That’s karma!
Why do we get karma wrong?
Why does mainstream society get karma so wrong?
Why is it that karma in pop culture is just “you get what you deserve?”
How did we develop this view?
Because pop culture takes the easy route. It’s easier to say “bad makes bad” rather than “there’s a dynamic energy system that responds to our every action.”
Because we have this misguided perspective that we aren’t in control of our destinies. What? I’m serious. Karma is not fate. Karma is an internal power that we create, for good or bad.
When we shift this to say “that’s karma,” when a bad thing happens to us, we are giving up our internal power. We are giving up our ability to change things. It’s because of this false view that we desire to transform karma into a sort of cash machine based on our ethical and spiritual behavior.
However, if we can let go of this understanding of happiness, we can see that all we need is to live deeply in the present moment with mindfulness and discover our true nature.
Karma is simply energy. It’s our intentional thoughts and actions. The energy we generate now and in the future will affect us. It has nothing to do with reward or punishment. Karma is unbiased and it’s ours to control.
Let’s take a look at some examples of how karma actually works. First let’s look at bad karma (it’s best to get the bad out of the way first).
What are some examples of bad karma?
- Oppressing people
- Abusing power
When you create bad karma, you will bear bad results. Some of these results could be:
- Enfeebling society
- Destroying your close relationships
- Losing your sense of self
- Being punished by society
And good karma?
- Volunteering in your community
- Loving others as yourself
- Choosing what is moral over what is easy
- When you create good karma, good results will come. What are the results?
- Strengthens society, which ultimately benefits you
- Increases your wisdom
- Helps you keep your negative emotions in balance
- Heals your soul
You see? When you perform certain actions, you will bear certain consequences. This is how karma works.