Most of us are familiar with the term karma and likely have a general understanding of what it means. Perhaps we use it in our vocabulary – “oh yes, well that’s just karma” – referring generally to a negative or positive situation. I can only speak for myself here, but my use of the word was no indication that I had any idea about the laws of karma or why such a thing would matter to me.
After spending a fair amount of time in Asia, I became more familiar with the term and it’s profound importance in Eastern philosophies and religions. Karma is defined as “any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical,” which creates the cycle of cause and effect. All good and bad action constitutes karma and involves both past and present actions. Karmic reactions (or vipaka, meaning the result of Karma) at present can even be from actions in past lifetimes according to Buddhists.
For most of us, we would often view our present situations as strictly negative or positive, that we have been dealt a bad hand by Almighty God or are unlucky. “I just can’t believe my wife left me” for instance, or “wow I’m so lucky I won the lottery.” Yet, with the laws of karma, our present situation can be viewed as a consequence of past actions that we must work through. Even if we see our present situation as crap, we still have the power to create fresh karma which can lead to our own progress or downfall in this life.
Eastern philosophy has obviously made its way into Western societies – being a “Buddhist” and taking up meditation has become somewhat of a trend. However, we continue to be deeply influenced by our capitalist system of productivity and our Catholic conditioning of an almighty God controlling our destinies. As a consequence, we often behave in ways that benefit us individually but may not benefit the individuals or communities around us. In other words, karma isn’t really something that is deeply rooted in Western culture or our daily thoughts and actions.
Learning about karma and Eastern philosophies has helped me to view things a little differently than I previously have. For instance, two days ago I found a five dollar bill on the ground. For a moment I thought about selfishly keeping this five dollar bill for myself, as I previously would have. I could use that for groceries or coffee I thought to myself. But then I decided to donate it to a park that I frequently visit instead without thinking much of it.
The following day I was walking down a busy street on a Friday night and noticed a twenty dollar bill that others had obviously walked past. I looked at the twenty dollar bill and began to laugh to myself. Though this little situation may seem incredibly coincidental, it was a very powerful reminder that our actions strongly influence our lives – we are our thoughts, actions, and intentions.
Perhaps this little event was not some huge karmic lesson, but it reminded me that what we give comes back to us when done without selfishness, craving, expectation, or delusion. When we act with our hearts, with kindness, and with selflessness, the world presents us with a joyful picture, as that is what we are giving out. When we do not, and I have experienced both aspects, the world presents us with a dark, unfriendly, and lonely reality.
It is this very simple formula that one tends to easily forget: we are the life we choose to live and we are the energy we choose to put out.
So friends, which kind of karma would you like to create? Do you even believe in karma?