The Nuances of Karma
The word ‘karma’ sounds very romantic, because it is Sanskrit and people don’t know exactly what it means. To me, karma is some kind of natural law, which governs the things that are happening in our minds and within our lives. What is taking place has definitely not been created by anybody other than ourselves, yet, when we start experiencing the result, we have no control over it.
Table of Contents
Points to think about in Relation to Karma
- How do I create my karma?
- What are the characteristics of karma?
- How does it function within the individual?
- What kind of different results does karma give and how long does it take to complete?
- The most important question however is, How is this relevant for me? How does my behavior, my way of thinking, my way of living, my way of functioning, all that is relevant to me, combine with the picture of karma we are drawing?
We are not going to present the entire picture of karmic functioning on the blackboard in an academic fashion, just a little bit of a karmic picture so we can understand how it works and what it is. We’re also not simply going to meditate only, trying to deal 8 Karma Actions and their Consequences with the practical meditation part alone. We will try to put the academic picture and the practical functioning together. Then we will get some idea of what karma really is, what is relevant to me, and how with every act I perform and every thought I have, I am creating karma.
Our main interest is trying to link together our everyday life and the karmic view. Why? Because every experience that we go through, anything we feel, good or bad, happy or sad, is the result of our karma, according to the Buddha. Buddha says that all the pain and happiness we experience today has been created by ourselves through our past actions. Nobody else has given it to us or imposed it on us, nor can we experience the result of anything we did not create the cause for. On the other hand, if we did create the cause, we are bound to experience the result.
Whatever cause we created visual or audible, enjoyable or miserable – we get a similar corresponding result. The causes do not mix.
For example, let’s say you created some karma that brings happiness and also some that brings pain, so you try to create some more karma that brings happiness in order to square it up, hoping it’ll be equal now. That does not work.
Karma also has the power to multiply tremendously.
The popcorn story
A funny story illustrates this. Once while the Buddha was traveling, a lady on the road stopped him. She was carrying a handful of sweet fried grains, like popcorn, and threw these on the Buddha. Some of them landed in Buddha’s begging bowl. Buddha turned and said to her, ‘Hey, that’s great! By the virtue of this you will obtain enlightenment!’
Her traveling companion, slightly jealous and suspicious, thought, ‘What is all this nonsense?’ So he said, ‘Buddha, don’t tell a big lie like that for the sake of a little grain!’
Buddha turned to him and said, I am not lying. Look over there, pointing at a big tree under whose shade were parked five horse-carts. Look at that tree. When it first sprouted, it was very small, just a little seedling, and now it has grown that big. If outside things can grow that much, why can’t things grow like that on the inside, too? That convinced the gentleman.
What is the popcorn story telling us?
I might think that if I create one little karma, I get one tiny little result, but it does not work that way. Karma grows within us good or bad, whatever it is, it grows bigger and bigger every day. The pandits tell us that karma multiplies every 24 hours.
When we observe ourselves very carefully we see that we are producing tremendous amounts of karma every minute. Every minute that we sit, think, move and act, we are creating karma, and every one of us has a tremendous storage of previous karma, both good and bad, a boundless treasury of karma at our disposal. So another point we have to deal with, is, What do I need to do with that, how do I handle that?
What is karma?
Everybody will say: ‘The law of cause and effect.’ Actually, it is important to see that it is not really a law of cause and effect. When we say: ‘the law of cause and effect’ we may be describing the way karma functions.
We have an expression, ‘I fought with the law and the law won,’ right? In this way, karma is very similar to a law: if you try to fight it, you are not going to win at all. On the other hand, if you play within that law, you can do and undo a lot of things. Just as lawyers know a lot of ways and means to handle the usual laws, if you know the karmic laws and rules, it functions that way.
I mentioned earlier that every one of our thoughts and actions creates karma. This is a statement you have to underline and observe, because we don’t have to know that we are creating karma. We create much more karma without knowing than we do knowingly. In regular law I believe they say, ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse.’ In karmic law, it certainly is not. Whether you created it with or without knowing or realizing what you were doing, karma catches you.
How do we create our future?
Why are we here and why are we stuck here? That is the main question. Every one of us has a desire to be happy, every one of us has a desire to be more than what we are. Every one of us is looking for something outside, somewhere to go, I do not mean out of the country, but out of the whole circle of unsatisfactory samsaric existence. Every one of us has that desire, but still we are stuck here. That goes for everybody, those who are practicing dharma, and those who are not practicing dharma, every one of us.
Why are we stuck here? That is the main question where karma comes in. We are stuck here because of our patterns of functioning in life, because of how we handle things.