Karma, Part 1

Endless Knot

“Kamma should be known. The cause by which kamma comes into play should be known. The diversity in kamma should be known. The result of kamma should be known. The cessation of kamma should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of kamma should be known.”

[From the Nibbedhika Sutta – Penetrative Insight. AN 6.63]

Despite its popularity as a term in contemporary language and conversation, our understating of karma is often misinformed, or lacking profundity.

There is the thought “If you squash a bug, in your next life you will be reborn as a bug and get squashed.”

There is the thought “My life sucks; it is full of obstacles and disappointments. I must have some really bad karma.”

There is the thought “Those evil guys will get what’s coming to them. Karma’s a bitch.”

From a Buddhist perspective karma is more nuanced, complex, and intricate than what is typically being expressed in the above examples. Additionally, karma is not an intelligent being, like some Lawgiver in the sky who is tallying up all of our good and bad behaviors in a cosmic account ledger, and deciding upon our death if we will go to the good place or the bad place. Karma is not about retribution, punishment, or vindication. Karma is not about guilt and the possibility of salvation. These are ideas that have been grafted onto the concept of karma held in some societies, especially stemming from (but not limited to) Western cultural influence, traditions, and worldviews.

The past is over, and the future is uncertain. What we have to work with is the present. It is ALWAYS the present. Ten days ago it was the present for me then. If I am around tomorrow, “tomorrow” will be “today”, and it will be the present. This is the way our consciousness works–moment to moment, each moment being a moment of now. Even if we are reflecting on the past, or contemplating the future, we are doing so now, not some other time. This is obvious, yet we somehow often miss it.

Karma, in a Buddhist sense, refers to action, its causes, conditions, and results. Karma is indubitably linked to our intentions. Buddhist ethics is rooted in this understanding of karma, which in turn is rooted in the understanding of the interdependence of all things (Skt. Pratītyasamutpāda).

In future posts I hope to expand upon these ideas, and unpack them a bit for further exploration.

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