You can also check out our Karma Quotes.
The idea of karma in Buddhism seems to be quite often misunderstood. The understanding that there is some sort of great tally being kept on each action you take is simply not how it works. The idea of “good karma” and “bad karma” is also erroneous. Karma is an essential piece of the Buddhist path, and as such we should seek to understand it and know it more clearly.
Karma is really a shortened version of the Pali term kamma-vipaka. Kamma means action (or intentional action) and vipaka means result. Thus I often use the simple translation “cause and effect.” The concept of karma is that every action has a result. This includes thoughts and speech as well. When we perform an action, a result follows. For example, I tell you a lie. Karma doesn’t mean that because I lied, somebody will lie to me in the future. It isn’t such a cut and dry trade. The result is that I’ve harmed you, our relationship, and myself. I may feel guilt as an effect, or maybe lying becomes more habitual for me.
When we look, we can see this process constantly taking place. Our habits of mind, our speech, and our actions continually cause things to happen in and around us. We use our actions specifically to achieve results. Many people (and probably everyone reading this) have some sort of desire to grow spiritually or psychologically. Karma teaches that in order to have such growth, we must create the causes and conditions. On the other hand, our suffering comes from the karma of craving and aversion.
At any given moment, we have choices. What choices we have are dependent upon our previous choices. If we are choosing whether to practice compassion or harsh self-judgement and we choose the former, we get a different perspective than if we judge ourselves. Our choice builds a habit of mind, and in the future it will be easier for us to choose compassion if we chose it this time. The choice to be self-judging then leads us into less awareness, compassion, and liberation.
It’s important to not just understand karma intellectually, but to really know it through practice. When we look at our experience without interfering, we can see how one thought leads to another. Karma isn’t some far-off idea that we should ponder every once in a while. It is something we should known clearly as it is central to practice.