What Is Karma?
essential to understand karma as a foundation for our behavior, for our dharma practice, and for the quality of
our lives as a whole.
Sanskrit word karma means action. This refers to intentional
physical, verbal, or mental actions. Karma is directly related to our intention or motivation while doing
simply, we receive what we give; we harvest exactly what we plant. Our actions, whether they are positive or
negative, virtuous or non-virtuous, leave imprints or seeds in our minds, and these imprints
ripen into our life experiences when the appropriate conditions come together.
the universal law of cause and effect. The seeds of our actions continue with us from one lifetime to
the next and do not get lost. Our relationship to karma is very simple—we are the actual product of our
karma. We are the product of every thought, feeling, word, and action from our past and we will be the
product of our karma in the future as well.
Life is a
seamless continuum, uninterruptedly weaved together with the threads of our karma; our volitional (intentional)
actions. Whether it is good or bad, our karma follows us everywhere, in this life and the next.
If we are
compassionate, wise, honest, and skillful, we create positive and harmonious circumstances in this and future
lives. Committing cruel, dishonest, and other unskillful actions of body, speech, and mind, we will certainly
not escape the consequences of these deeds, either in this life or in the future.
happiness and good fortune we experience in our lives comes from our own positive actions. Our problems and
conflicts also arise from our own negative and destructive actions. Karma is our only true property—for better
or worse, it follows us everywhere. Therefore, the Law of Karma teaches that responsibility for unskillful
actions is born by the person who commits them. Again, karma is our only true property.
It can be
confusing when we see cruel people in positions of great power, wealthy people who are dishonest or selfish, or
very kind people who have bad things happen to them or who die young. Seeing this, we may certainly wonder about
the Law of Karma.
largest obstacle to understanding or even believing in karma may be the factor of time. Most often, the
results of our actions will show up after a delay of time. As ordinary human beings, who have not developed the
omniscient eye of wisdom, we cannot see into past lives. Thus, it is difficult to discern which action caused
which result. We must realize that we are only looking at a very small period of time in this one life. Many of
the experiences we have in this life are the inevitable results of actions done in previous lives. In addition,
the seeds of our actions in this life will ripen in future lives.
The following contemplations were offered by the Buddha in the Upajjhatthana Sutta: “I am the owner of my
actions (karma), heir to my actions, born from my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my
judge. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, that I will inherit.”
Source: Used with permission from Neil Cohen at Naljor Prison
Dharma Service, PO Box 1177, Mount Shasta CA 96067.
Photo Credit: Intellimon Ltd.