Decoding Karma: A 3-Minute Mini-Guide

Feb 7, 2024

Karma

You reap what you sow. . . What goes around comes around. . . right?

Well, kind of. . .

Cultures across the globe seem to share an implicit acceptance of the simple idea that if you do something bad, it will come back and bite you on the backside (metaphorically, of course) at some point.

It’s an easily accepted idea because it makes sense on some very instinctual human level.

But in reality, karma is MUCH more complicated.

In this 3-minute read, I’ll decode the most essential elements of karma, so you have an understanding of what it is, how it works and how it impacts your life.

Let’s start the stopwatch. . .

The Law of Karma: The Who and What

Karma isn’t confined to any particular religious belief. Whether you’re into Buddhism, Hinduism, or adhere to a different faith — or even if you’re not religious at all — karma affects us all.

It’s a natural law.

In Sanskrit, the definition of karma is something like “action” or “doing,” and as beings constantly engaged in actions — be it humans, animals, or spirits — we are all actively “making karma.”

There is no such thing as “good or “bad” deeds either.

It’s simply cause and effect

The Law of Cause and Effect

Karma is more than a mere set of physical actions (like hitting someone, stealing something etc.).

It’s about intentional actions that lead to future consequences.

Every thought, speech, and action contributes to the intricate web of karma we weave throughout our lives.

Think negatively, and it’s more likely you’ll speak negatively.

Speak negatively and it’s more likely you’ll act negatively.

It’s a continuous cycle, so being especially mindful of our thoughts becomes crucial in shaping our karmic outcomes.

The Two Main Karmas

Karma can be categorized into two main types:

I. Akusala Karma (Unwholesome action)

II. Kusala Karma (Wholesome action)

Both of them fall under the law of cause and effect.

Create good karma, and positive effects will follow. . . Create bad karma, and negative consequences will unfold. . .

However, in real life, it’s not quite as simple as that.

For example, if we hit someone on the head, it doesn’t mean they’ll hit you back (although it’s pretty likely!).

As I said before, the Law of Karma is not as simple as most people think.

You can’t expect a direct consequence for your actions to happen immediately. It might not happen for several years. or even several lifetimes. Also, the karmic act you create might not be directly mirrored in the resulting consequence either..

For example, that few dollars you took a few years ago won’t necessarily translate into you losing the same amount of dollars in the future. 

It’s Complicated. . .

Buddha emphasized that karma is one of the acinteyya – ideas too complex to fully comprehend through thinking alone.

A popular idea in the West, nurtured by the idea of Western Science, is that we can figure anything out by thinking hard enough, by using our brain.

But that doesn’t apply to The Law of Karma. Or many other things in Buddhism. 

However, just because we can’t fully understand karma through thinking, we CAN all grasp the basic principles of karma, and even see them in action.

Basic Karma Principles

One of the most important things to understand is how the different impacts of karma are created.

The impact depends on several different factors:

  • Strength of Karma: What is the intensity of your intention? Who are the people affected? What duration is the impact?
  • Frequency of Karma: Is the action a one-time occurrence, sporadic, frequent, or a habitual pattern?
  • Appropriate Time: The karmic result of your action might manifest in this lifetime or the next lifetime or beyond. It depends on when the conditions are correct for that karmic result to arise. Remember, when we talk about karma in the Buddhist sense, we are talking about an unimaginably long sequence of lifetimes, not just one.

The Wrap Up

The good news is, you don’t need a complete understanding of karma to lead a more harmonious life.

By simply understanding that every thought, speech or action has a result related to the quality of that speech thought or action, you’re more likely to take responsibility for your thoughts, speech, and actions.

And that’s enough to make a profound transformation in the way you live your lives.

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