"I am the owner of my karma .
I inherit my karma.
I am born of my karma.
I am related to my karma.
I live supported by my karma.
Whatever karma I create, whether good or evil, that I shall inherit."
The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya V.57 - Upajjhatthana
"Countless rebirths lie ahead, both good and bad.
The effects of karma (actions) are inevitable, and in previous lifetimes
we have accumulated negative karma which will inevitably have its
fruition in this or future lives. Just as someone witnessed by police
in a criminal act will eventually be caught and punished, so we
too must face the consequences of faulty actions we have committed
in the past, there is no way to be at ease; those actions are irreversible;
we must eventually undergo their effects."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from 'Kindness,
Clarity and Insight'
The Sanskrit word Karma (or kamma in Pali) literally
means action. In Buddhism however, karma mainly refers to one's
intention or motivation while doing an action. The Buddha said:
“It is volition that I call karma; for having willed, one acts by body, speech, and mind.”
AN 3:415, from In the Buddha’s Words, p. 146.
(In the west, the word karma is often used for the results of karma; the Sanskrit words for the effects or results of karma are 'vipaka' or 'phala'.
The shortest explanation of karma that I know is: 'you get what
you give'. In other words; whatever you do intentionally to others,
a similar thing will happen to yourself in the future. Causing suffering to others will cause suffering to ourselves, causing happiness to others will result in happiness for oneself.
Perhaps our biggest to understanding or even believing in karma
may be time. The 're-actions' or results of our actions usually show up
with a big time delay, and it becomes extremely hard to tell which action
caused which result. Actions done in a previous life can create
results in this life, but who can remember their past life, and who can tell exaclty which action caused which result? For
ordinary humans, the mechanisms of karma can be intellectually understood
to some extent, but never completely "seen".
The idea behind karma is not only found in Buddhism and Hinduism;
it seems that the Bible certainly conveys the same essence. although here God is the medium that links actions to their results:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what
All things whatsoever you would that men should do to you,
do even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Also the 'Golden Rule' of Confucianism makes a similar statement:
Tzu-kung asked, "Is there one word which may serve as a
rule of practice for all one's life?"
Confucius answered, "Is not reciprocity such a word? What
you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."'
From His Holiness the Dalai Lama's book Path
"Some people misunderstand the concept of karma. They take the
Buddha's doctrine of the law of causality to mean that all is
predetermined, that there is nothing that the individual can do.
This is a total misunderstanding. The very term karma or action
is a term of active force, which indicates that future events
are within your own hands. Since action is a phenomenon that is
committed by a person, a living being, it is within your own hands
whether or not you engage in action."
You can find suggestions for a meditation on karma (or other subjects)
in the List of Sample Meditations.
WHY BELIEVE IN KARMA?
Simply said, if we chose to ignore the workings
of karma, we tend to create many problems for ourselves.
if we like to have something expensive, but we cannot afford it,
it becomes very tempting to steal. If we are smart and attentive
enough, we may never be caught stealing. However, by stealing, (according to the law of karma) we
create problematic situations for ourselves in the future,
like poverty, or being the victim of robbers. Therefore, if we chose
to ignore karma, the results of our actions will still haunt us.
Every mainstream religion teaches us about the
consequences of our actions. The explanations may differ, but does
it really matter in the end whether the law of karma causes us trouble
or God himself in his final judgement?
When we meet with big problems; disease, loss of family or friends, getting trapped in a war or natural disaster. At those times, we suddenly wonder: "Why me?" The law of karma does not look for a reason outside ourselves for our good or bad fortune, it simply explains our own suffering as a result of our negative deeds towards others, and our happiness as a result of our actions to help others.
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Two of my personal favourite reasons to believe
in karma, are that it represents ultimate justice as everyone will
harvest the results of their actions, and even if karma would not
exist, as long as I try to avoid negative actions, the world would
be a better place to live in for everyone anyway.
Science itself comes with another argument for
karma. In physics. like every other Western science, there is a
direct causal relationship between action and reaction. It may be
interesting to look at the next explanation of the four laws of
karma and see how "scientific" it sounds.
the Buddha taught:
"Do not think a small sin will not return in your future
Just as falling drops of water will fill a large container,
The little sins that steadfast accumulate will completely overwhelm
Do not think a small virtue will not return in your future lives.
Just as falling drops of water will fill a large container,
The little virtues that steadfast accumulate will completely overwhelm
The Auspicious or Endless Knot (see image on the
right) symbolises the nature of reality where everything is interrelated
and only exists as part of a web of karma and its effect. (It can
also be seen as an auspicious sign for long life, as it is endless.)
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HOW KARMA WORKS
A very good and succinct explanation by Geshe Tashi
Tsering in his book The Buddha's Medicine for the Mind: Cultivating
Wisdom and Compassion:
"Intention is the most important of all
mental events because it gives direction to the mind, determining
whether we engage with virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral objects.
Just as iron is powerlessly drawn to a magnet, our minds are powerlessly
drawn to the object of our intentions.
An intention is a mental action; it may be expressed
through either physical or verbal actions. Thus, action, or karma,
is of two types: the action of intention and the intended action.
The action of intention is the thought or impulse to engage in
a physical or verbal act. The intended action is the physical
or verbal expression of our intention. Karma actually refers to
the action of intention but in general usage it includes the intended
action and the seeds that are left in the mind as a result.
How do we accumulate karmic seeds? Every physical
and verbal action is preceded by mental activity. Goodwill motivates
a kind gesture; ill will motivates nasty words. Ill will is the
intention to cause mental, emotional or physical harm. Thus, before
and during a bad action, ill will is present in our mind. The
presence of ill will before and during this act has an impact
and influence on the mind due to which a certain potential is
left behind. This potential is a karmic seed, a seed planted in
our mind by physical, verbal or mental action. The strength or
depth of this seed is determined by a number of factors, including
how strong our intention is, whether we clearly understand what
we are doing, whether we act on our intention and whether the
physical and verbal action is completed.
Seeds will remain in the mind until they ripen
or are destroyed. Seeds left by negative mental events and actions
can be destroyed by the four opponent or antidotal powers. The
most important of these four powers are regret for the negative
act and a firm resolve not to act that way again in the future.
Seeds left by positive mental events and actions can be destroyed
Even if we do not act on a negative intention,
a karmic seed of diminished potency is still left in the mind.
This incompleted seed is easier to remove. If it is not destroyed,
a negative seed will eventually produce an unpleasant and negative
effect while a postive seed will produce a pleasant and positive
effect. Karmic seeds do not go to waste even after one hundred
aeons. They will come to fruition when the time comes and the
Actions motivated by the wish to attain Buddhahood
for the benefit of all sentient beings and dedicated to that end
have a special feature. The positive effects of such an act will
be experienced many times over without being exhausted. For this
reason, virtue dedicated to complete enlightenment is likened
to a magnificent tree that bears fruit every season without fail.
Such virtues will bear fruit until Buddhahood is attained."
A fragment of the The Sutra of the Causes and Effects
of Actions by Shakyamuni Buddha, from Lama
Yeshe Wisdom Archives that probably conveys the idea very straight-forward:
"Then the Buddha spoke to Ananda thus, “This
question that you are asking--it is all on account of a previous
existence, in which every one’s mind was not alike and equal.
Therefore, in consequence, the retribution is of a thousand and
a myriad separate and different minds.
Thus the person who in this world is handsome comes from a patient
mind, and the ugly comes from amid anger; the needy come from
The high and noble comes from prayer and service, and the lowly
and base comes from pride.
The great and tall person comes from honor and respect and the
short-legged person comes on account of contempt.
The person who hinders the bright splendor of the Buddha is born
black and thin; and the one who tastes the food of the fast is
born deprived of food.
The person who is too sparing of fire and light is born infirm;
the one in whose eyes fault always appears is born night-blind.
The person who slanders the Law is born dumb; and the person who
does not want to hear the Law is born deaf. .....
The person who is compassionate is born long-lived, and the one
who kills living beings is born short-lived.
The one who gives gifts is born rich.
The one who gives a gift of horse and carriage to the three jewels
has many horses and carriages.
Then the person who reads and asks about the sutra is born intelligent;
but the stupid person comes from an animal existence.
The person who cannot stay in his place comes from among the apes;
the one who binds the hands and feet of living beings is born
paralyzed in hand and foot.
The person who is of evil passions comes from snakes and scorpions;
the one who keeps the precepts (sila) is complete in the six kinds
of organ, but the person who breaks the precepts is incomplete
in the six kinds of organ.
The unclean person comes from the existence of pigs; the person
who likes song and dance comes from among actors. The one who
is greedy comes from dogs; the one who eats alone, their neck
The one who castrates living beings has incomplete pudenda; the
one who on one side abuses his superior has a short tongue.
The one who seduces the spouse of another, after dying falls among
the geese, and a person who commits incest will fall into the
existence of sparrows."
are similar to the cause.
Simply said, when I cause other
people harm, I will harvest suffering myself. It is important
to note here, that "positive" actions are defined as actions
that have happiness as a result; "negative" actions are defined
as actions that lead to suffering as a result.
- No results without a cause. As is obvious within science,
things do not just appear out of nothing.
- Once an action is done, the result is never lost. Similarly
as above, things do not just disappear into nothing.
- Karma expands. Once we have an imprint of an
action in our mind, it tends to be habit-forming. As is often
said in wars for example, killing the first enemy is tough, but
after a handful, one quickly loses count and it becomes "normal".
Also psychology often stresses a similar point when e.g. explaining
actions of adults from their childhood experiences.
WHAT IS NEEDED FOR KARMA TO
- A previous action, or karmic potential.
- Conditions: the circumstances must be available before I can
undergo a specific result (vipāka).
- A deluded mind. Without delusions in our mind, we will
never experience the results of previous actions. This happens
to Arhats and Buddhas; their minds have been purified from delusions,
and they are beyond the realm of karma.
It should be realised that without any karma to ripen at all, we
could never experience anything unpleasant - most likely, when this
occurs, we are in a blissful state of nirvana or full enlightenment.
WHAT DECIDES THE SEVERITY OF THE RESULTS?
The severity of the results of our actions depends on various factors:
- Our intention or motivation - the intention is the most important
aspect by far, as karma is mainly connected to the intention of
the action, be it positive or negative.
- The nature of the action: obviously, gossiping is less severe
- The actual deed: whether we kill in self-defence or sadistically
torture someone to death does make a difference, usually this
directly related to intention.
- The basis or object: it does make a difference whether we kill
our mother or an ant.
- Repetition; how often do we repeat the action, which reinforces
the habit, and makes even killing feel less negative.
- Doing the reverse: if we always behave negatively to others
and never try to do any good, consequences will be severe.
How we experience the result of an actions does
depend on our other actions in life. For example, if we experience
the result of being hungry for a day, there is a huge difference
whether we experience this as a malnourished person in a hopeless
situation, or as a healthy fast for an obese person.
WHAT DECIDES WHEN A CAUSAL EFFECT
From: The Four Noble Truths by His Holiness
the Dalai Lama:
Question: "Could Your Holiness
please explain why the result of karma is sometimes instant and
why on other occasions we have to wait lifetimes before the causal
Answer: "One factor would be the intensity
of the karmic action itself. Another factor is the extent to which
the various other conditions that are necessary for that karma
to ripen are complete, and this is dependent, in turn, on other
karmic actions. Vasubandhu addressed this in the Abhidharmakosha,
in which he states that, generally speaking, the karmic actions
which are the most forceful tend to produce their effects first.
If the intensity of a karmic action is euqal to that of another
karmic action, then the result of the action with which the individual
is most familiar tends to ripen first. However, if two karmic
actions are equally forceful and equally familiar, then the one
that is committed earlier tends to produce its results first."
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WHAT IS "GOOD" AND "BAD"
Interestingly enough, the Buddhist answer to this
question forces you to think and decide for yourself.
Positive actions are defined as their result being a pleasant experience,
negative actions are defined by their unpleasant results.
Obviously, the results mentioned here are unlikely to come immediately
(so-called 'instant karma' is considered rare), instead the karmic
result may take lifetimes to ripen. For example, if I steal an ice-cream
and enjoy eating it afterwards, the enjoyment is not a karmic result
of stealing the ice-cream; it may be the result of helping someone
else long ago. The karmic result of stealing an ice-cream is an unpleasant
experience, such as being robbed.
Living Buddhism for the West, Lama Anagorika Govinda expresses
"All the suffering of this world arises from a wrong attitude.
The world is neither good or bad.
It is only the relation to our ego that makes it seem the one
or the other."
This approach relates to the way our mind perceives the world;
see the page on delusions.
WHAT CAN I DO TO REMOVE PREVIOUS NEGATIVE
Nobody likes to suffer, so we all like to rid ourselves
of negative karmic potential.
There are several possibilities, and in fact we may need to try
and apply all of these methods as much as we can:
- To avoid having negative thoughts that lead to negative actions
in the future, we need to observe and control our own thoughts
and behaviour, and destroy our negative attitudes.
- Similarly, we can observe/study (meditate) our own mind and
encourage positive thoughts that lead to positive actions.
- We can avoid negative karmic seeds to ripen by purifying it,
using the four powers of purification (see below). Although this
does not eliminate the negative karmic actions, it can avoid the
results to occur.
- Ultimately, when we realise emptiness directly (see
the page on Wisdom), and remove
all our delusions, we are not under the control of past karma
THE FOUR POWERS OF PURIFICATION
The purification practices found within Buddhism
are not unlike the practices applied in many other religions. The
most essential mental factor that one requires is sincerity or honesty
with oneself. When one wants to purify past negative karma, one
has to do some action with the correct motivation.
This is summarised in the following Four Powers of Purification:
- Power of the Object: One should practice thinking of
all sentient beings one may have hurt. Traditionally, one remembers
all sentient beings and the Three Jewels of Refuge (Buddha,
Dharma and Sangha), by generating compassion for all sentient
beings and taking refuge.
- Power of Regret: This should not be senseless guilt
or self-recrimination, which are said to be useless emotional
torture. What is intended here is to examine oneself and one's
actions and to recognise that negative actions done in the past
were very unwise.
- Power of Promise: As a logical consequence of the above,
one should promise not to repeat these negative actions. It is
good if one can promise to avoid a negative behaviour for a specific
time, or at least promise that one will put effort in avoiding
repetition. Not being honest at this stage makes the practice
useless or even harmful to oneself.
- Power of Practice: Basically any positive
action with a good motivation can be used as practice. Traditionally
in Buddhism, one can practice e.g. making prostrations (throwing
oneself to the floor - as a means to destroy pride), making offerings
(to counteract greed), reading Buddhist texts (to counteract ignorance
and negative thoughts), reciting mantras etc.
It is often explained that one needs to clear a field by purifying
it from rocks and weeds, then planting seeds by study and meditation,
giving water and fertiliser by doing positive actions, and automatically
new harvest will grow.
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PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES OF
"What fisherman looks for water in dry, dead riverbeds?
He who hopes for spiritual progress, but cultivates neither wisdom
His Holiness the 7th Dalai Lama, from 'Songs
of spiritual change' translated by Glenn Mullin.
To begin with, I need to understand that I cannot immediately change
my present situation, but I should understand that:
- The reason why I am experiencing this is only due to my own
actions in the past, my mind filled with delusions or positive
thoughts, and the right circumstances for the karma to ripen.
- I can chose to have a selfish reaction to my situation and
create my own suffering in the future.
- I can chose to have a reaction considering others' welfare
and create happiness for myself as well in the future.
- If I react without thinking, it is easy to create negative
results for the future, and even make that a habit.
- The others whom I like to blame for hurting me, are merely
the circumstances that make my negative karma ripen.
- Understanding karma means that I have full responsibility for
everything that happens to me in the past, present and future.
- Positive thinking and acting will do others and myself much
more good than being negative and acting that way.
"Karma is not something complicated or philosophical.
Karma means watching your body, watching your mouth, and watching
Trying to keep these three doors as pure as possible is the practice
Lama Thubten Yeshe, "The
Bliss of Inner Fire"
FATE IS IN OUR HANDS - A PARABLE
In a time long past, there was an old monk who,
through diligent practice, had attained a certain degree of spiritual
He had a young novice who was about eight years old. One day the
monk looked at the boy's face and saw there that he would die
within the next few months. Saddened by this, he told the boy
to take a long holiday and go and visit his parents. 'Take your
time,' said the monk. 'Don't hurry back.' For he felt the boy
should be with his family when he died.
Three months later, to his astonishment, the monk saw the boy
walking back up the mountain. When he arrived he looked intently
at his face and saw that they boy would now live to a ripe old
'Tell me everything that happened while you were away,' said the
monk. So the boy started to tell of his journey down from the
mountain. He told of villages and towns he passed through, of
rivers forded and mountains climbed.
Then he told how one day he came upon a stream in flood. He noticed,
as he tried to pick his way across the flowing stream, that a
colony of ants had become trapped on a small island formed by
the flooding stream. Moved by compassion for these poor creatures,
he took a branch of a tree and laid it across one flow of the
stream until it touched the little island. As the ants made their
way across, the boy held the branch steady, until he was sure
all the ants had escaped to dry land. Then he went on his way.
'So,' thought the old monk to himself, 'that is why the gods have
lengthened his days.'
POSITIVE KARMA IS JUST A
In case you came this far, and the above did not bore you away,
you are already creating positive energy or karma.
It takes nothing special to create positive actions, you can do
it, even with a few simple clicks of your mouse and a compassionate
Interested? Why not click one or all of the buttons below while
you think of the benefit to others.
If you want to go a simple step further, change the home page of
your browser to www.thehungersite.com and take a second to donate
food for free every day you go on the Internet (see below how to
do that). Can it be made any easier?
HOW TO CHANGE THE HOME PAGE OF YOUR BROWSER
If you are using Internet Explorer:
Click the VIEW - menu at the top of this page, and select INTERNET
OPTIONS. In the window that appears, you can fill in the hungersite
web address: http:\\www.thehungersite.com at the location of the
You want to do more than just clicking? Need some
ideas? Try the following links:
A HINT ON MEDITATION ON KARMA
"Karma is often wrongly confused with the
notion of a fixed destiny. It is more like an accumulation of
tendencies that can lock us into particular behavior patterns,
which themselves result in further accumulations of tendencies
of a similar nature....But it is not necessary to be a prisoner
of old karma....
Here's how mindfulness changes karma. When you sit, you are not
allowing your impulses to translate into action. For the time
being, at least, you are just watching them. Looking at them,
you quickly see that all impulses in the mind arise and pass away,
that they have a life of their own, that they are not you but
just thinking, and that you do not have to be ruled by them. Not
feeding or reacting to impulses, you come to understand their
nature as thoughts directly. This process actually burns up destructive
impulses in the fires of concentration and equanimity and non-doing.
At the same time, creative insights and creative impulses are
no longer squeezed out so much by the more turbulent, destructive
ones. They are nourished as they are perceived and held in awareness."
Jon Kabat-Zinn, 'Wherever
You Go, There You Are'
See also the meditations
Just for fun:
Sorry Sir, but I'm afraid that my carma ran over your
Some days you are the bug; some days you are the windshield.
Good judgement comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes
from bad judgement.
updated: September 11, 2011