“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” – Vedic text Upanishads
Too often in the westerner world, the word Karma refers to something inevitable, already determined, like luck and fate, which is very practical to avoid taking responsibility for some of our problems, or accept a “bad” situation we can’t really comprehend. Unfortunately for us, Karma is not fate or predestination.
Before going further with this concept, in a Buddhist & Tantric point of view, we have to understand that nothing is good or bad by itself, and that Dharma (the general Laws of the Universe) does not “punish” or “reward” anyone, as the concepts of good and bad don’t exist. A very simple example: gravity is one of the laws of the universe, and if you jumped off a building and killed yourself, we wouldn’t say that gravity was punishing you. Your action, your intention, your choice did.
Karma, and its role in our lives:
With origins in ancient India, the concept of Karma is the executed « deed », « work », « action », or « act », and it is also the « object », and the « intent », which represents the principle of Karma-Vipaka/Phala: “actions” and their results/fruits. These actions are committed in three ways – Manasaa – with the mind, Vaachaa – with words, Kaayena – with the body.
In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to any action driven by intention (cetanā), a deed done deliberately through body, speech or mind, which leads to future consequences. In other words, your deeds – mental, vocal and physical – are your Karma, related to the Dharma (laws of the universe).
Thus, Karma refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intents and deeds of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Basically, good intent and deed contribute to future happiness, while bad intent and deed lead to future suffering. Closely associated with the idea of rebirth in many traditions, Karma in the present affects one’s future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives, named Samsāra.
In its most basic sense, the Law of Karma teaches that similar actions will lead to similar results. Let us take an example. If we plant a mango seed, the plant that springs up will be a mango tree, and eventually it will bear mango fruits.
However, once we accept that Karma means action, « to do », we can see right away that its real meaning is not fate because karma is, indeed, action. It is dynamic, and an intentional, conscious, deliberate action. How this intentional, wilful action conditions or determines our situation? The same way every action in the physical universe has an equal and opposite reaction (Newton). The same principle applies in the moral/spiritual sphere of conscious actions. This is why the traditions speak either of Karma-Vipaka, intentional action and its ripened effect, or of Karma-Phala, intentional action and its fruit. All together, they are the Law of Karma.
We can understand now that karma can be of two kinds, a wholesome (good) Karma or an unwholesome (bad) Karma. Well, what is a “good” Karma then? A wholesome one will be lead by actions which are beneficial to oneself and others, those actions that spring not out of desire, ill-will and ignorance, but out of renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion, and wisdom.
Why is that important in our daily life? The benefits of understanding the Law of Karma discourages one from performing unwholesome deeds which have suffering as their fruit. Once we understand that in our own life every action will have a similar and equal reaction, once we understand that we will experience the effect of that action, wholesome or unwholesome, we will refrain from unwholesome behaviour, not wanting to experience the effects of these unwholesome actions. And similarly, understanding that wholesome actions have happiness as their fruit, we will cultivate these wholesome actions.
As we understand these Karmic Laws, we can also understand that our path is not cast in stone. Making the choices that will help us to grow, getting rid of what doesn’t serve us any more, acknowledging that sometimes, we don’t know everything, and accepting that we can learn, then, we will be able to evolve, and make the changes in our lives that are necessary to do so. Being able to reassess our ways, realizing that even what we believed for so long to be the “truth” is not, this is not an easy step to make.