What is Karma?
Karma means action. It refers to the intentional deeds we do with our body, speech and mind through action, talking and thinking. Karma is the law that every willed deed, given the conditions, produces a certain effect.
How does Karma Work?
All deeds leave imprints or seeds on our consciousness, which ripen into our experiences when the appropriate conditions come together. For example, if we help someone with a kind heart, this action leaves an imprint on our mindstream. When conditions are suitable, this imprint will ripen in our receiving of help when we need it.
Karmic seeds continue with us from lifetime to lifetime. However, if we do not create the cause or Karma for something, we won't experience that result. If a one doesn't plant a certain seed, that plant will not grow. The Buddha taught:
According to the seed that is sown,
So is the fruit you reap.
The doer of good will gather good result,
The doer of evil reaps evil result
If you plant a good seed well,
Then you will enjoy the good fruits.
What are the Effects of Karma?
Karma affects our future rebirths and influences what we experience during our lives: how others treat us, our wealth, social status etc. Karma also affects our personality and character: our talents, strong personality traits and habits. The kind of environment we are born into is also influenced by Karma.
We are according to what we have done.
We will be according to what we do.
What Kinds of Karma are There?
If an action brings pain and misery in the long term for oneself and others, it is unwholesome or negative Karma. And if it brings happiness, it is wholesome or positive Karma. Actions aren't inherently good or bad- they are only so according to the results they bring. Whatever happiness and fortune we experience in our lives comes from our own positive actions, while our problems result from our own negative actions.
Who Controls Karma?
There is no one that decides the "rewards and punishments" for what we do. We create the causes of our actions, and we experience their results. We are responsible for our own experience. The Buddha discovered the law of Karma- He did not create it. By teaching us the law of Karma, the Buddha shows us how to work within the functioning of cause and effect in order to experience happiness and avoid pain.
Is Everything Subject to Karma?
The law of Karma does not apply to "mindless" actions such as walking, sitting or sleeping. Such actions do not produce effects apart from the actions themselves. However, Karma applies to the thoughts the person is thinking when he is doing them. Similarly, accidents are considered neutral action (Karma) because they are unintentional. However, we should always work towards increasing our mindfulness so that accidents will not occur.
Can Karma be Changed?
Karma is not inflexibly fixed- it does not mean fate or predetermination. Intentional actions will at some time or other produce their effects under certain conditions. Though people in their present lives are experiencing the effects of their past actions (Karma), it is possible to change or reduce the effects of these past actions through present actions, which affect the immediate future and future lives. Understanding the law of Karma helps one realise that we are whatever we make ourselves to be. Our are entirely responsible for our destiny.
Is Karma Always Fair?
When we see dishonest people who are wealthy, or cruel people who are powerful, or kind people who die young, we may doubt the law of Karma. But many of the results we experience in this life are the results of actions in previous lives, and many of the actions we do in this life will only ripen in future lives- this is called long-term Karma. (Short-term Karma is that which show results within a short term of time.)
The wealth of dishonest people is the result of their generosity in past lives. Their current dishonesty is however, leaving karmic seeds for them to be cheated and to experience poverty in future lives. Likewise, the respect and authority given to cruel people is due to positive actions they did in the past. In the present, they are abusing their power, thus creating the cause for future pain. Those who die young are experiencing the result of negative actions such as killing done in past lives. However, their present kindness is planting seeds or imprints on their mindstreams for them to experience happiness in the future.
How Can We Purify Negative Karma?
Purification is very important as it prevents future suffering and relieves guilt. By purifying our minds, we are able to be more peaceful and understand the Dharma better. The four opponent powers used to purify negative imprints or seeds are:
The four opponent powers must be done repeatedly. As we have done many negative actions, we cannot expect to counteract all of them at once. The stronger the four opponents powers are, the firmer our determination not to repeat the action and the more powerful the purification will be.
Does Karma Influence Whom We Meet?
Yes- but this does not mean that relationships are predetermined. We may have certain karmic predispositions to feel close to or to have friction with certain people. But, this does not mean that our relationships with them must continue along the same lines. If we are kind to those who speak ill of us and try to communicate with them, the relationships will change- creating positive Karma that will bring happiness in the future.
We are not karmically bound to others- there are no special people who are the one and only one for us. Since we had many past lives, we have had contact with every being sometime before. Our relationship with any particular person also changes constantly. However, past karmic connections can influence our present relationships. For example, if someone has been our spiritual mentor in a past life, we may be drawn to that person in this lifetime, and when he or she teaches us the Dharma, it may have a very strong effect on us.
If Others Suffer Due out of Negative Karma, Can We Help Them?
We know what it is like to feel miserable, and that is exactly how others feel when they are experiencing the results of their own destructive actions. Out of empathy and compassion, we should definitely help! Though others created the causes to experience their difficulties, maybe they also created the cause to receive help from us! We are all alike in wanting happiness and trying to avoid pain. It does not matter whose pain or problem it is- we should try to relieve it. For example, to think, "The poor are poor because of their own past lives' miserliness. I would be interfering with their karma if I tried to help", is a cruel misconception. We should never rationalise our own laziness, apathy or smugness by misinterpreting cause and effect. Compassion and universal responsibility are important for our own spiritual development and for world peace.