Dharma Lessons & Daily Practice

What is Karma?

Karma is one of those words that has found it's way into everyday vocabulary. Unfortunately there are a number of meanings applied to karma which cloud the Buddhist meaning of karma. So before we can really look at what karma is, we should look at what karma is not.

Karma is NOT some sort of comic justice system dolling out rewards and punishment appropriately. If something bad happens to someone, that does not mean that person did something to deserve it. One should not judge the karma of another person because that person has misfortunes. One should never wonder about what a person or group of people have done to deserve some catastrophy. For instance, "bad karma" was not responsible for the great tsunami of December 2004. The people effected did not do something to deserve it.

So what is the Buddhist concept of karma? Simply put karma is the concept that our actions have effects. Sometimes the effects of our actions come back to us. Sometimes not. But we need to be mindful that all our actions have effects and that these effects often effect other people.

Karma is neither good nor bad, karma just is. Our actions have effects. One action may have numerous effects - some effects may be preceived as positive and other effects as negative. Some effects that at first are seen as negative may eventually be seen as positive and vice versa. (Another reason why we should not judge karma, especially of other people.)

An example: If I am pleasant to other people, many people will be pleasant in return, but not everyone may be pleasant in return. Someone may scowl at my pleasantness. And that is okay. But in general my actions of being pleasant have a more positive effect than negative. Being positive spreads positiveness. Being negative spreads negativeness.

Exercise: This week whenever you meet somone (teachers, store clerks, anyone) sincerely tell them "Have a nice day." and smile. Be aware of the reactions of people. How many people return the greeting? How many do not? Are their negative reactions?

2005


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