All entries for Sunday 23 January 2005

January 23, 2005

Untangling karma (or kamma)

When this is, that is. From the arising of this comes the arising of that. When this isn't, that isn't. From the stopping of this comes the stopping of that.

There are many misconceptions about kamma (often refered to in sanskrit as karma). Westerners often associate kamma with fate or moral justice, making comments on negative personal situations like, "It must be my bad karma!" However, kamma is not the same as fate — in fact, kamma is about having free-will over your actions. Other people consider kamma to be like money: You can earn kamma by doing good things, you lose it by doing bad things and as long as you don't go over-drawn on your karma bank account you will be fine. This is also a misconception.

The word 'kamma' translates as 'action'. All actions are bound by the law of cause and effect. Each of our actions, no matter how small, have an effect. This law is one which scientists should be quite comfortable with, it is like saying that everything happens for a reason. A well-known physicist is famous for proving: 'For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction'. Over 2000 years prior to this, the Buddha had already pointed out that every action has an effect that is relative to the intention of the act. The effect may be immediate (e.g. you give someone a present and they are happy) or it may not occur immediately but, instead, the fruits of the action may come later (e.g. you teach someone and it becomes useful later). In actual fact, human behaviour is so complex that an action may have effects now and in the future. Who is to know what effect this blog entry might have in the future? — Probably very little! Kamma, then, is not a simple linear sequence of cause and effect but something that could span weeks, months, years, and lifetimes.

At this point we realise that we may never understand even a small proportion of the effects of our actions. If we really were able to see the consequences of our actions then it is likely that we would be much more careful people — people in power, leaders, politicians take note!


Quote of the day Go to 'Today's Quote'

Tennessee Williams
"To be free is to have achieved your life."

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