The Law of Karma – Intentional Actions and Their Consequences
What is Karma?
Simply stated, Karma means to do good and good will come to you both now and later.
Do bad and bad will come to you both now and later. In the language of science, it’s called the law of cause and effect. Karma is an intentional or volitional act and its result – whether good or bad.
The key here is that the cause or act must be intentional.
Ignorance that your intentional bad acts will have a negative result will not help you avoid the negative consequences.
How long does it take for Karma to work?
The result may ripen immediately after the act or at some remote time in the future, but an effect that matches the cause will eventually follow. The effect of karma can be long lasting.
In other words, Karma means that we will reap what one has sown.
If you plant good seeds, will have a good harvest. If you plant bad seeds, you will have a bad. Buddha summarized good and bad Karma as:
“Mind is the forerunner of all things: think and act with a corrupt heart and sorrow will follow one as surely as the cart follows the ox that pulls it.”
“Mind is the forerunner of all things: think and act with a pure heart and happiness will follow one as surely as one’s never-departing shadow.”
How do we know that Karma is real?
The skeptic in all of us will ask: How can we know that good actions will produce happiness and bad actions, unhappiness?
That short answer is to wait and see – time will tell.
Buddha taught us to judge wholesome and unwholesome actions based on their long-term effects.
Sooner or later good actions will result in happiness for you and for others, while bad actions will result in suffering for you and others.
Why is Karma important? Does Karma cause suffering?
There are many natural laws that govern our lives but the law of Karma is the most important.
Karma concerns everyone and there are many different aspects of it. No one can change the working law of Karma and everything is subject to the law of Karma.
It is important to know and appreciate the law of Karma in order to avoid unnecessary suffering.
In life, some types of suffering are avoidable and others are unavoidable.
Suffering such as growing old, coming sick and dying is unavoidable. However, there are certain sufferings we can avoid such as drinking and driving which will likely cause an accident. The Buddha taught that not all suffering is due to Karma.
Besides Karma, there are other factors that can cause suffering. Suffering can come from our natural environment such as the weather or air pollution, from accidents, or from our own carelessness.
However, things mostly happen because of Karma.
What are some common misconceptions about Karma?
Many people have incorrect views and beliefs about Karma. The wise person will contemplate and abandon the following misinterpretations of Karma:
- Believing that everything is solely the result of actions in a previous life;
- Believing that everything is the result of what is willed by a Supreme Creator; and
- Believing that everything arises without reason or cause.
- Believing that Karma only impacts people of certain faiths or religions. Your destiny (happiness or misery) in this life and the next does not depend on your chosen religion or lack of religion. Instead, your fate depends solely on your deeds committed by your body, speech and though.
Karma is an invisible force that we cannot see with out eyes. Karma can be compared to a bank account:
A person who is virtuous and charitable is like a person who is adding to his or her “good karma” account. This accumulated good karma can be used to ensure a trouble free life.
But the person must replace what is taken or else one day, the account will be empty and that person will go bankrupt.
If this happens, that person and that person alone is responsible – no one else can be blamed for their miserable state.
How do we create Karma?
So, how do we create Karma?
Karma is created through body, speech and mind. Through the body, we can kill, steal and commit adultery. Through speech, we can lie, cause harm by gossiping and spreading rumors, or by using vulgar and abusive language.
We create mental Karma when we have excessive greed or anger in our thoughts with some kind of intention behind those thoughts. Before we do any Karma, we should reflect to ourselves, “Is this Karma that I am going to do through my body, speech and/or mind going to harm somebody or myself?”
If so, then I should not do it. However, if it benefits some other being or myself, then I should do it, and do it again and again.
We should also reflect while doing Karma and continue to ask ourselves, “Is what I am doing now right or wrong?” If right, then continue. If wrong, then stop immediately.
After the action is done, we should again reflect and think carefully about whether what we did was correct or not. We should also consider whether we should have done it or not.
When we reflect on our actions in this way, we will be living our lives skillfully and will avoid unnecessary suffering.
What is good Karma and what is bad Karma?
Good karma (aka wholesome Karma) is that which benefits living beings, helps living beings, and makes them peaceful.
Bad Karma (aka unwholesome Karma) is that which harms living beings, such as killing or stealing, that results in the suffering of living creatures.
The Buddha advised that to avoid bad Karma, we should uphold the five precepts (see Step: 3 Code of Ethics) of basic moral conduct every day: 1) do not kill (see Can Buddhists Eat Meat?); 2) do not steal; 3) do not commit adultery; 4) do not lie; and 5) do not take intoxicants (see Can Buddhists Drink Alcohol?).
By creating good Karma and avoiding that bad, you will improve your reputation and you will have nothing to be ashamed of. Another advantage is that you will have a clear mind as you grow older because you will have no remorse or regret to disturb you.
As you age, you do not want unwholesome Karma plaguing and troubling your mind.
There are three types of action that will product good Karma: charity, good moral conduct, and mind development.
If we’ve created a lot of bad Karma in our past, then we must do a lot of good deeds now to overcome our past. Buddha gave the following illustration:
Suppose that a man pours a bunch of salt into a glass of water, stirs it, and then drink it. The water would taste very salty and wouldn’t be drinkable.
However, if the man pours the same amount of salt into a river, stirs the river water, and then drinks from the river, the water wouldn’t taste salty at all because of the large amount of water in the river.
Buddha said that the water represents the good Karma and the salt represents the bad Karma. So a lot of good Karma dilutes the effective of the bad Karma.
What is past, we cannot change; we can only take care of the present. To take care of the present, we must do a lot of good.
What is neutral karma?
In addition to the two main types of Karma, good and bad, there is also neutral Karma. Neutral Karma is action that has no moral consequences.
This is because the action was done either involuntarily and unintentionally or because the very nature of the action has no moral significance.
Examples of activities without moral significance include include walking, eating, sleeping, breathing, or even making crafts or pottery.
An example of an unintentional act is if you step on an insect when completely unaware of its existence. Such an act is considered neutral Karma.
What are the benefits of understanding the law of Karma?
In short, an understanding of the law of Karma encourages us to abandon unwholesome actions and to practice wholesome ones.
More specifically, once we understand that each and every intentional action will produce a similar and equal reaction, then we will refrain from unwholesome behavior to avoid the painful results of such actions.
Similarly, once we know that wholesome actions will cause happiness in the future, we will do our best to cultivate such wholesome actions.
You are the owner of your Karma
We must reminder that we are the owners of our Karma, we will inherit the result of Karma and we must be careful and protective of our Karma.
Buddha taught that the world is the creation of consciousness or mind.
A pure mind creates a happy world and an evil mind creates a woeful world.
The law of Karma should empower you – we have every opportunity to determine our own Karma and thereby influence the direction of our lives.
At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own happiness and our own misery.