In his Third Law of Motion, Newton said, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. While it may not be entirely accurate to relate this to the concepts of Karma, it must be noted that unlike popular belief, Karma is not fate. Rather, it is the action that sets your fate or future in motion. Even though the meaning may slightly differ from one belief system to another, Karma Buddhism explains, is ‘volitional or wilful’ action.
The belief of Karma existed in India before the existence of Buddha, however, it was the Buddha who gave it real meaning and formed the doctrines of Karma, which the entire world refers to.
So, what exactly is Karma and why do you need to know about it?
What is Karma?
‘Karma’ is a term that almost everyone is familiar with. But rarely anyone ever understands the actual concept. When someone achieves something good or faces something unfortunate, we often accredit the situation to the person’s karma. Due to this generic idea, a lot of people believe that Karma is the same as destiny. That is wrong.
As Buddhism explains, the word ‘karma’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘action’. In Pali, the sacred language of Theravāda Buddhism, Karma is any kind of intentional or volitional action – mental, physical, or verbal. Often termed as ‘thought, deed, and the word’, every action, good and bad, forms Karma.
That being said, you must note that while all moral and immoral actions can be a part of Karma, any action that is involuntary, unconscious, or unintentional, is excluded. This is because volition, or the power of will, is the main factor in determining Karma.
The actions not only affect those performing them but also those around them in unimaginable ways. These actions sow the seed of our future lives. This means that through mindfulness, we can change the course of our actions, and hence, alter the consequences.
Usually, westerners refer to the term ‘Karma’ to imply the result of a past karmic action. For instance, if someone lost a job, they may say ‘that’s his karma’. However, Buddhism likes to highlight that Karma is the act and not the result.
Interestingly, the laws of karma first originated in Hinduism. In his quest for enlightenment, the Buddha sought out Hindu teachers. He learned the concept from them; however, he was able to mold them in a very different manner before presenting it to his followers.
Does Karma Exist in Other Religions?
The concept of Karma also exists in other religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Islam also states that if you perform a good deed, you will be rewarded ten-fold, and if you do something bad, you will be repaid accordingly.
Furthermore, there are also suggestions that Jesus may also have been aware of Karma Buddhism. This is why he chose to suffer for the sins of all his followers, as long as they acknowledge him as their rescuer, accept their mistakes, and be willing to redeem themselves.
In Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna assures salvation for those who accept him as the ultimate doer and offer all their actions to him unconditionally.
While there are quite a few dissimilarities between the concept of karma in Buddhism and other faith systems, the main difference between eastern and western systems is that Islam and Christianity say that your unfavorable actions are a sin against God whereas Hinduism states that those actions are a sin against yourself.
In ancient times, Karma referred to ritual or sacrificial acts. Karmakanda, meaning sacrificial ceremonies, were expected to be performed as an integral part of social and moral duties. However, with the evolution of the concept, believers started associating it with actions and intentions that were not only binding in nature but also had consequences.
What is Good and Bad Karma?
You often hear people talking about good and bad karma. While most people expect the concepts to be the same through every religion, the Buddhist concept of good and bad action is more than “good” and “evil”. According to the Buddhist perspective, there is no “good” or “evil”. However, there is “nourishing” and “harmful”.
Nourishing actions are born out of selflessness, kindness, compassion, and wisdom. On the other hand, harmful actions are a result of greed, hatred, jealousy, and ignorance.
Additionally, it must be noted that actions are neither good nor bad; they just are. Good and bad are the outcomes of the actions you perform. For instance, consuming a lot of alcoholic beverages can neither be termed good or bad. However, consequences such as hangover, dehydration, high blood pressure, or liver problems are bad results.
3 Types of Karma in Buddhism
Buddhism categorizes karma in three different sections. They are:
1. Sanchita Karma
Sanchita karma is the store where your karma is stocked. This means that all your actions and deeds and thoughts are stored here. For instance, imagine Sanchita Karma as a granary. This is where all your grains are stocked. You may use some of it daily, but you won’t use them all at once. Similarly, Sanchita karma stores all your good and bad deeds, but all of them don’t affect your life at once.
The most exclusive thing about Sanchita Karma is that it can be altered! If you can find the source of your karma, you can change what happens to them and how it affects your life.
2. Prarabdha Karma
If Sanchita Karma is the apple tree you sow, Prarabdha Karma is the ripe apples it produces. This means that once you execute a karmic act, sooner or later, you will bear the consequences. It can either be today or in ten years; it can be good or bad. What you undergo in your present as a result of your past karmic acts, it is your Prarabdha karma.
While Prarabdha karma is about what you reap in the present, it doesn’t take away the opportunity to change your future. What is happening to you at present are the rewards and punishments of your past acts, but what you choose to intentionally do today is the basis of your future.
3. Agami Karma
In simple terms, the outcome of your present actions is Agami Karma. This is mandatory karma, meaning you have very little choice in the matter, if any. Every wilful thought, deed, and words that you perform today will shape your Agami karma. The only way to change it is either by changing the Sanchita Karma store or by altering what you do in the present.
Certain practices also like to believe in a fourth type of Karma – Vartamana. Also termed as kriyamāṇa, it refers to the karma you are creating in the present. Now, it may be confusing to differentiate between the karma you are creating today and the effect of action undertaken by you in the past.
The simplest way to know is to remember that Vartamana Karma is what you are consciously choosing to do. If you are forced into doing something or if something seems out of control, it is the effect of your past actions.
Who is the Karma Judge in Buddhism?
As opposed to most of the religious communities in the world, Buddhism does not believe in the existence or concept of God. Buddhists do not worship the Buddha as God. Instead, they choose to follow his teachings through learning, meditation, and prayer.
As per the Saṃsāra doctrine in Buddhism, there is an endless cycle of birth, mundane existence, and death. Saṃsāra is related to dukkha, also known as pain, which is prolonged by desire and ignorance. Additionally, it states that rebirth happened in six realms of existence. Three of them are good realms, namely gods, demi-gods, and humans. And, the other three are bad realms, namely animals, ghosts, and hellish.
The only way to end the vicious circle of karma and rebirth is by attaining Nirvana i.e. the ability to let go of desires and accepting impermanence and the reality of non-self.
That being said, early Buddhist teachings show that there is no judge of karma in Buddhism. Karma is a natural law that states that your actions are the judge of what happens to you. Your thoughts, deeds, and words are what determines your present and future and of those around you.
What Are The Four Noble Truths?
Buddhism talks about the Four Noble Truths as the core of all Buddhist teachings. These are known as noble truths because they help in redeeming us from suffering.
The First Truth – Suffering
The first truth explains that to live is to suffer. No matter how good life seems, suffering exists in certain obvious as well as subtle forms.
The Second Truth – The Cause of Suffering
The second truth talks about the causes of suffering i.e. desire and ignorance. We suffer because we believe that we are independent of all beings.
The Third Truth – The End of Suffering
The third truth brings us to a positive thought that every suffering can end. In other words, we have the power to end our suffering by controlling our actions and understanding and implementing the concept of impermanence in our lives.
The Fourth Truth – The Path
The fourth truth says that if we meditate regularly, live ethically, and develop wisdom, we could walk the same path of enlightenment and liberation as the Buddha.
What Are The 12 Rules of Karma?
By now, we have learned that Karma is not what we are destined with. It is our wilful action that sets our destiny in motion. The phrase ‘what goes around comes around’ clearly states that our future is the result of the actions we take today. However, to completely understand how the law of Karma works, we must understand the 12 distinct rules of karma.
1. The Law of Cause and Effect
Also known as the ‘Great law’, this law is the core of how we shape our fate. The law of cause and effect implies that you reap what you sow. In other words, what you give out is what comes back to you. This law tells us that to achieve certain things, you must embody those things.
For instance, to achieve love in your life, you must be loving to others around you. Or, to gain financial abundance, you must be generous with what you have and not be greedy. And, of course, to gain peace and honesty, you must implement peace and honesty in your life.
2. The Law of Creation
Simply put, the Law of Creation tells us that if we want to achieve something in our lives, we must make efforts towards achieving it. We must not wait for the universe to change things in our favor. Instead, we must take the initiative to actively participate in crafting our future.
A significant part of understanding the law of creation is to look for a clue inside of yourself to comprehend what is happening outside. If we don’t like what is around us, we must delve within and change what we do not like.
3. The Law of Humility
Considered of high substance in Buddhism, the Law of Humility teaches us to accept the reality of what is happening to us before we change it. In other words, no matter how negative or discomforting things seem, we must accept the events to be able to change them.
By constantly blaming others or fate for the things happening, you lose the ability to change them. Constant self-reflection is the key to the Law of Humility.
4. The Law of Growth
Gandhi said, ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world’. And, if you know of this principle, then you already know the Law of Growth. Buddha taught that as human, we only have control over ourselves. Therefore, you must change yourself before you expect a change in the world.
This power of change defines how the universe reacts to you. Focus on your developments and actions. Let the world decide what it needs to change.
5. The Law of Responsibility
Much like the Law of Growth, the Law of Responsibility asks you to take ownership of your actions. It defines that the things happening around you is a reflection of the things you do.
However fantastic or unfortunate your life experiences may be, you must be accountable for everything you create. And, you must not find excuses or blame others for your deeds.
6. The Law of Connection
A common thing you often hear whenever something good or bad happens around you is that ‘it must be the result of your past life deeds’. The Law of Connection states that the workings of karma are connected beyond your current life. Your past, present, and future are interconnected.
This means the good deeds you perform today may help you in not only shaping a better future life but may also help in eradicating any negative energy from your past lives.
7. The Law of Focus
As we grow up, we are asked to set certain goals. These goals are what shape our future. However, we must set clear goals, in order of their priority. Try to work on too many things at once may often lead to failure in all aspects.
This is precisely what the Law of Focus entails. It says that you must focus on a single chain of thought. It also says that in case of multiple goals, you should arrange them according to their urgency.
8. The Law of Giving and Hospitality
This law states that if you believe in something, there comes a point in your life that you are called upon to act on your belief. This link between your faith and practice is to show your commitments towards your beliefs. Also, the law encourages you to evaluate your actions based on your deeper faith.
9. The Law of Here and Now
As stated above, karma teaches you to accept your reality and take ownership. At the same time, Buddhism explains that karma is about living in the present. It says that if you hold onto your past experiences, feelings, or beliefs, you will always be divided between your past and present.
You must understand that your present is all you have. Thus, it is important to be completely engaged in what is happening here and now.
10. The Law of Change
The Law of Change states that unless and until you decide to change your actions, you will be fundamentally stuck in a loop. To break the chain and change the course of your life, you must evolve. If you see things around you change suddenly, it means that you have taken significant steps to change how your life goes on.
11. The Law of Patience and Reward
In simple words. Success requires consistent effort and patience. Irrespective of your goals, you need to remain calm and be patient. You cannot expect immediate results.
And, if you do, the outcome will be short-lived and not up to your full potential. Instead of rushing towards the results, savor the journey and be glad that you are doing what you must do to rightfully accomplish your goals.
12. The Law of Significance and Inspiration
A wonderful concept for when you require motivation and positivity in your life, the Law of Significance and Inspiration explains that every contribution you make, however big or small, is significant.
Whenever you perform a loving and thoughtful act, it inspires similar behavior among others. Your existence is important in how the world functions.
While learning of these 12 laws of Buddhist teaching, think of how you may have seen these rules to affect your lives. At the same time, consider how the knowledge could help you create good karma and realize your goals and dreams of a better future.
As humans, we have been gifted with the ability to weigh our actions before we perform them. We can control our thoughts, evaluate our deeds, and think twice before using our words. By exercising such control, we enable ourselves to live a kind and compassionate life that not only frames our future positively but also those of others around us.
Likewise, our greed, hatred, and envy have the power to consume us in the present and adversely affect our future. This is why we must strive to perform good karmic acts daily to not only share a better future but to alter the effects of your past actions.
Namrata is a Doctor i.e. dentist turned writer and a clinical researcher. Eager to learn about anything and everything, she is what you would call a jack of all trades and master of none. With a zeal for reading novels, books, and anything she could get her hands on ever since she was little, she embarked into a writing career purely out of luck. After indulging in a freelancing career for nearly two years, she can now write on anything - from dentistry to decor, travel to technology, medicine to management - but the psychology remains her first love. Having dealt with mental health issues in the past, she hopes to raise awareness for the same and help people with her work in association with The MindFool team