Saturday, April 27, 2013

Karma Is Not Destiny


Do you want to change the world? A good way to do that is to understand what karma really means. A popular definition in the West is that Karma represents payback for bad deeds. It is used to mean that evil actions will somehow return to the doer. It is also used to mean fate or destiny.

However, that's not really what it means. Karma means actions, or deeds. It represents the total cycle of cause and effect (samsara). It cannot mean destiny because we have free will. We have a choice about how we act.

The three components of karma are seeds, intention, and action.

First, we have our own seeds, or history of actions and thoughts. These are patterns that we use to guide our actions. They can also be called memories or stories. They are our habitual response to certain situations. For example, when we are in a difficult conversation with some, we are likely to respond the same way as we did the last time we were in a similar situation. If we argued and screamed during the last conversation, we will probably do the same this time.

Second, we have intention. We have a purpose behind our actions. That purpose comes from our seeds. Buddhists use the terms "wholesome actions" and "unwholesome actions" to describe intention. Wholesome actions result in true happiness. Note that happiness does not include the temporary satisfaction of satisfying greed or selfishness. It refers to happiness from letting go of all the unhappy things in our life. Unwholesome actions result in unhappiness. This unhappiness may be masked by satisfying greed or selfishness, but acquiring stuff always results in unhappiness because you always want more. Note that this does not mean that money is bad or owning things is bad. That's another topic. More on that some time.

Third, we have action. This is what we actually do or say as a result of our seeds and intention.

Note that there is no such thing as "bad karma" or "good karma" because there is no such thing as good or bad. That's another big topic. More on that some time, too.

These three components (seeds, intention, and action) combine in our minds. When they are all unwholesome, the seeds for future unwholesome action are strengthened. We are more likely to do unwholesome things in the future.

When we learn how our minds truly work, we can learn to interrupt the cycle and avoid unwholesome actions. This weakens the unwholesome seeds and we are less likely to commit unwholesome actions in the future. The way to do this is through mindfulness meditation.

Let's look at karma from this point of view. We can look back and see all the decisions we made and actions we took in the past that put us where we are today. The decisions we make right now and the things we are doing right now will determine where we end up in the future. This is our karma.

Please choose wholesome things. You will be happier for it. And since we are all interconnected, the world will be better for it.

© 2013 Eric Borreson