Karma is an action or a combination of actions performed by us and which invariably
produces results. These actions may be good, bad, or pure. Good karma leads to favorable
results and rebirth in the higher realms of samsara. Bad karma leads to bad results
and rebirth in the lower realms of samsara. Pure karma leads to enlightenment and
enables one to transcend samsara.
Karmic actions can be created by an individual or jointly by a group. The consequent
results can be good or bad and help to determine the future of the individual or
individuals who created them. While the cause will always produce a result, when
that result will occur cannot be predicted. If the right conditions do not manifest
for a while, the result will lie dormant for as long as it takes those conditions
Regardless of the time frame involved, the causal link is clear. Thoughts of greed,
animosity, closed-mindedness, and of pleasing ourselves at the expense of others
will result in adverse consequences. Thoughts of selflessness, consideration for
others, and understanding will lead to good results. Our goal is to eliminate the
selfish and negative actions, and to increase the positive ones. At every instant
in our lives, we can decide what we will think, say, or do in the next moment. But
unfortunately, most of the time we do not consciously make such decisions, either
because we remain unaware that we can or are not used to doing so, or, all too often,
we are simply too lazy.
Our every action is preceded by a thought, but we are so preoccupied with ourselves
and so distracted by the ceaseless bombardment of our thoughts that it would seem
that we act without thinking. Too late we realize that, once again, we have acted
automatically out of negative habits and, consequently, planted another harmful seed.
Everything we do plants a seed in our most subtle consciousness. All the seeds lie
dormant, waiting for the proper conditions to mature. If we, as gardeners, plant
a seed in rich soil where it will receive lots of sunlight, water it properly, and
take care of it, that seed will grow. If we place the seed in a bag and store it
in a cellar, nothing will happen. Likewise, all of the seeds in our consciousness
are waiting for the right conditions—karmic versions of the soil, sunlight, and water—to
mature. When the seed matures, the cause brings forth a result. But it does not end
Cause and effect is a continuous cycle. A cause triggers a result. That result then
becomes a new cause, which will trigger another result, and on and on it goes. This
chain not only affects us but others as well. We do something and it affects someone
around us. In their response to our action, they affect someone else. This creates
a wave-like response of cause and effect that moves outwards in an ever-widening
circle, just like what results when a single drop of water splashes in the ocean:
The ripple effect results in all the other drops of water in the ocean moving.
Each of us has planted a combination of good seeds and bad seeds. Thus, within each
of us lies the seeds for both loving-kindness and treachery, for both goodness and
unwholesomeness, and for both tolerance and animosity. Which ones mature today will
depend on our individual conditions. It would be helpful to remember when we are
tempted to criticize another for her disloyalty that it could have just as easily
been us in her place. We have all planted the seeds for deception and aggression.
If we had encountered similar conditions, we probably would have acted like those
we were about to criticize. So while we do not condone or dismiss their behavior,
we must realize the need to have wisdom, to practice compassion, and to keep everything
in a proper perspective.
This can also help us to value our "good karma," that which makes us intelligent,
skillful, and wholesome, and to not deplete it. If we keep enjoying the wholesomeness
we created without accumulating any more, we will eventually use it all up. Since
goodness brings goodness, it becomes even more logical to practice what we learned
of discipline, concentration, and wisdom. This is where we can use the standard of
what is correct, honest, and beneficial.