There are so many blogs about Karma and lots of lively discussions on social media so I thought I would add my interpretations and understanding of Buddhist Karma. I was briefly ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 2002, lived for five years in a meditation retreat hut and also studied full time for five years with an authentic Tibetan Buddhist scholar. I mention that so you know where I’m coming from which is mostly from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective of Karma.
Karma is a precise science of Eastern psychology and more generally speaking refers to people’s actions which have a cause and an effect. It’s an ancient type of behaviourism that came way before B.F Skinner and thousands of years before Pavlov’s dog salivated.
One big issue that gets missed in the karma discussion is that it all relies on intention. The studies I underwent emphasised that your intention in every moment determines what karmic seeds or mental imprints are planted in your mind and also what seeds ripen.
One of the best metaphors to understand Karma is a mind garden where you plant and reap the fruits of your efforts. Intentions determine what seed is planted and what imprint it will leave on your mind. Intentions are propelled by your view of the world; how you see youself and how you see others. This view of reality is on a spectrum from ingnorance to wisdom. The quality of your intentions and therefore your actions stem from how wise you are.
The ignorance is deeply rooted in our mind, implanted there by society, family, friends and even evolution and can be difficult to remove. Negative karma creates negative results which cause more negative actions which become a vicious cycle or what Buddhists call Samsara. It is such an important Buddhist topic that Buddha once said that all his teachings can be summarised with these three points:
“Practise virtue, reduce non-virtue and purify your mind.”
Good And Bad Karma
Virtuous actions are based on good intentions and non virtuous actions are based on negative intentions.
This brings up the big question of what exactly is good karma and what is negative karma? According to Buddha you need to understand how to practise virtue and eliminate or reduce non virtue so this is what I’ll speak about.
To truly understand Karma you have to understand what a wise mind is which is the bases of the good intentions behind your actions.
The reason I wrote this blog is because karma is actually very logical and clear. Put simply a wise mind is a mind that understands emptiness. Emptiness relates to the scientific fact that everything is moving. Buddhism agrees with modern science in this regard, everything is in flux everything relies on causes and conditons to come into existence and goes through stages of birth, maintainance and death.
Every thing that physically or mentally exists changes.
All the happiness, health and well being of ourselves and our society relies on good intentions driven by wisdom. Happiness and health are not a given in life we need to cultivate them. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says:
“I wondered why the Buddha kept practising mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a Buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it. If you cut a flower but you don’t put it in some water, the flower will wilt in a few hours.”
Thich Nhat Hanh has taken his realisation of impermanence and Karma and created 14 principles for an Engaged Buddhism. These are prinicples which harness the understanding of Karma and applied it to effectively produce a healthy and supportive society.
At the centre of the wisdom that understands change and impermanence is a huge heart which deeply feels this interconnection with every other person, animal and environment on the planet. When you understand that everything is inter-connected and you cannot produce happiness just for yourself alone you begin to understand the words of a Zen master when he said
“Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.”
The pure intentions that stem from wisdom boil down to thinking of others as equally important as yourself. As the Dalai Lama often says:
“My religion is kindness.”
That’s not some cliché, it’s his deeply held conviction that the core message of everything he represents is:
“Kindness to others based on the wisdom of inter-connection.”
The Dalai Lama even says that love and compassion are the meaning of life. The two main wings of the bird that flies to enlightenment is wisdom and compassion. Seeing yourself in the other and acting accordingly. That’s why the Dalai Lama always says that love and compassion are based on logic and reasoning. This type of logic is the mind’s interpreatation of what the heart already knows.
Because we are related and intimately connected with everything else, there is already some inteligence within us that feels for others and knows the right thing to do to help others or at least not to harm them. This could be called a conscience and as the saying goes.
“You need a clear conscience to get a good night sleep.”
Fundamental Buddhism teaches three things; ethics, concentration and meditation. How is ethics related to meditation? True peace can only be achieved with a clear conscience. In other words peace and a stable mind is founded on ethics. To be able to relax enough to start to go deep into meditation you need a clear conscience.