BUDDHISM > karma

Karma is an action or a combination of actions performed by us and which invariably produces results. These actions may be good, bad, or pure. Good karma leads to favorable results and rebirth in the higher realms of samsara. Bad karma leads to bad results and rebirth in the lower realms of samsara. Pure karma leads to enlightenment and enables one to transcend samsara.

Karmic actions can be created by an individual or jointly by a group. The consequent results can be good or bad and help to determine the future of the individual or individuals who created them. While the cause will always produce a result, when that result occurs cannot be predicted. If the right conditions do not manifest for a while, the result will lie dormant for as long as it takes those conditions to mature.

Regardless of the time frame involved, the causal link is clear. Thoughts of greed, animosity, closed-mindedness, and of pleasing ourselves at the expense of others will result in adverse consequences. Thoughts of selflessness, consideration for others, and understanding will lead to good results. Our goal is to eliminate the selfish and negative actions, and to increase the positive ones. At every instant in our lives, we can decide what we will think, say, or do in the next moment. But unfortunately, most of the time we do not consciously make such decisions, either because we are unaware that we can or are not used to doing so, or, all too often, we are simply too lazy.

Our every action is preceded by a thought, but we are so preoccupied with ourselves and so distracted by the constant bombardment of our thoughts that it would seem that we act without thinking. Too late, we realize that, once again, we have acted automatically out of negative habits and, consequently, planted another harmful seed.

Everything we do plants a seed in our most subtle consciousness. All the seeds lie dormant, waiting for the proper conditions to mature. If we, as gardeners, plant a seed in fertile soil where it will receive lots of sunlight, water it properly, and take care of it, that seed will grow. If we place the seed in a bag and store it in a cellar, nothing will happen. Likewise, all of the seeds in our consciousness are waiting for the right conditions—karmic versions of the soil, sunlight, and water—to mature. When the seed matures, the cause brings forth a result. But it does not end there.

Cause and effect is a continuous cycle. A cause triggers a result. That result then becomes a new cause, which will trigger another result, and on and on it goes. This chain not only affects us but others as well. We do some­thing, and it affects those around us. In their response to our action, they affect someone else. This creates a wave-like reaction of cause and effect that moves outwards in an ever-widening circle, just like what results when a single drop of water splashes in the ocean: The ripple effect results in all the other drops of water in the ocean moving.

Each of us has planted a combination of good seeds and bad seeds. Thus, within each of us lies the seeds for both loving-kindness and treachery, for both goodness and unwholesomeness, and for both tolerance and animosity. Which ones mature today will depend on our individual conditions. It would be helpful to remember when we are tempted to criticize another for her disloyalty that it could have just as easily been us in her place. We have all planted the seeds for deception and aggression. If we had encountered similar conditions, we probably would have acted like those we were about to criticize. So while we do not condone or dismiss their behavior, we must realize the need to have wisdom, to practice compassion, and to keep everything in a proper perspective.

This can also help us to value our good karma, that which makes us intelligent, skillful, and wholesome, and to not deplete it. If we keep enjoying the wholesomeness we created without accumulating any more, we will eventually use it all up. Since goodness brings goodness, it becomes even more logical to practice what we learned of discipline, concentration, and wisdom. This is where we can use the standard of what is correct, honest, and beneficial.

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