Have you ever been told that “karma is a bitch” and it will eventually bite you in the ass?
Or that if you do something good for someone else…another person will do something just as good for you?
It’s the western interpretation of Buddhism’s karma that’s become quite popular in recent decades.
But are we getting right? Not exactly.
In fact, according to a Buddhism master, our interpretation may be doing more harm than good.
But first let’s talk about what Karma really means.
A Buddhist Master’s Simple Explanation of Karma
To begin with, let’s get one thing straight:
Karma has nothing to do with “fate”. If you do something negative, it doesn’t mean that something negative must happen to you to “even things out”.
Karma is actually based on your actions and thoughts in every single moment.
I love this simple and clear explanation of karma by Buddhist Barbara O’Brien of the buddhism.about.com blog:
“The word “karma” means “action,” not “fate.” In Buddhism, karma is an energy created by willful action, through thoughts, words and deeds. We are all creating karma every minute, and the karma we create affects us every minute.It’s common to think of “my karma” as something you did in your last life that seals your fate in this life, but this is not Buddhist understanding. Karma is an action, not a result. The future is not set in stone. You can change the course of your life right now by changing your volitional (intentional) acts and self-destructive patterns.”
Buddhist master Pene Chodron also dispels the myth of karm as a direct reaction to your actions. Instead Chodron says that it gives you the teachings you need to open your heart:
“People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished. That’s not the idea at all. The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn’t understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you’re given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further.”
Why does mainstream society get karma so wrong?
Karma in pop culture often means that people get what they deserve.
How did we develop this view?
Because we have this misguided perspective that we need something outside ourselves in order to be happy.
It’s because of this false view that we desire to transform karma into a sort of cash machine based on our ethical and spiritual behavior.
However, if we can let go of this understanding of happiness, we can see that all we really need is to live deeply in the present moment with mindfulness and compassion to discover our true nature.
Karma is simply an energy. It’s our intentional thoughts and actions. The energy we generate now and in the future will affect us. It has nothing to do with reward or punishment. Karma is unbiased and it’s ours to control.
Watering the garden of your mind: How to use karma as a guiding force
The best way to think of karma is an energy that you’re creating every moment. Every intentional action or thought generates this energy.
We feel this every day, and it’s not stored for future punishment or reward.
However, if you’re reacting with anger all the time, you’re conditioning the mind for anger. Similarly, by reacting to things with peace and calm, you’re conditioning the mind for peace and calm.
All these qualities, such as anger, discontent, joy, harmony etc can be seen as flowers and the seeds they sprout from.
When we’re born, all these mental qualities and emotions are seeds. Now imagine these seeds resting in the garden of your mind and constantly being either watered or neglected with your intentional thoughts.
Depending on what you do, you’re either watering the bad seeds or watering the good ones. These seeds can eventually grow into flowers or they can wither and die.
The important thing to realize is that the energy we give to these flowers is our karmic energy.
By living with mindfulness we can observe this karmic mind which is becoming conditioned in our minds and begin to change how we react in our daily lives.
Mindfulness gives us the ability to choose which flowers we water and which we don’t. Without mindfulness, we’re simply reactive to conditioned thoughts patterns.
So in order to use karma as a force for our own personal and spiritual development, a force for great good, you need only shine the light of mindfulness on your life in order to identify your karmic energy and work to heal any karmic energy holding you back.
By living with this knowledge of karma, we can let go of mental baggage and worries that we think are assigned to us and instead take control of our life.
Sure there are going to be outside factors that affect your life. But if you deepen your understanding that true happiness comes from inside you, you’ll have the ability to experience life fully no matter what’s going on around you.
Karma shows that we have the freedom to decide what happens to us. It’s our intentional actions and thoughts that govern our lives.