THE FOUR LAWS OF KARMA
1. Results are similar to the cause. Simply said, when I cause other people harm, I will harvest suffering myself. It is important to note here, that "positive" actions are defined as actions that have happiness as a result; "negative" actions are defined as actions that lead to suffering as a result.
2. No results without a cause. As is obvious within science, things do not just appear out of nothing.
3. Once an action is done, the result is never lost. Similarly as above, things do not just disappear into nothing.
4. Karma expands. Once we have an imprint of an action in our mind, it tends to be habit-forming. As is often said in wars for example, killing the first enemy is tough, but after a handful, one quickly loses count and it becomes "normal". Also psychology often stresses a similar point when e.g. explaining actions of adults from their childhood experiences.
WHAT IS NEEDED FOR KARMA TO RIPEN?
1. A previous action, or karmic potential.
2. Conditions: the circumstances must be available before I can undergo a specific result.
3. A deluded mind. Without delusions in our mind, we will never experience the results of previous actions. This happens to Arhats and Buddhas; their minds have been purified from delusions, and they are beyond the realm of karma.
It should be realised that without any karma to ripen at all, we could never experience anything unpleasant - most likely, when this occurs, we are in a blissful state of nirvana or full enlightenment.
WHAT DECIDES THE SEVERITY OF THE RESULTS?
The severity of the results of our actions depends on various factors:
1. Our intention or motivation - the intention is the most important aspect by far, as karma is mainly connected to the intention of the action, be it positive or negative.
2. The nature of the action: obviously, gossiping is less severe than killing.
3. The actual deed: whether we kill in self-defence or sadistically torture someone to death does make a difference, usually this directly related to intention.
4. The basis or object: it does make a difference whether we kill our mother or an ant.
5. Repetition; how often do we repeat the action, which reinforces the habit, and makes even killing feel less negative.
6. Doing the reverse: if we always behave negatively to others and never try to do any good, consequences will be severe.
How we experience the result of an actions does depend on our other actions in life. For example, if we experience the result of being hungry for a day, there is a huge difference whether we experience this as a malnourished person in a hopeless situation, or as a healthy fast for an obese person.
WHAT IS "GOOD" AND "BAD" KARMA?
Interestingly enough, the Buddhist answer to this question forces you to think and decide for yourself.
Positive actions are defined as their result being a pleasant experience, negative actions are defined by their unpleasant results.
Obviously, the results mentioned here are unlikely to come immediately (so-called 'instant karma' is considered rare), instead the karmic result may take lifetimes to ripen. For example, if I steal an ice-cream and enjoy eating it afterwards, the enjoyment is not a karmic result of stealing the ice-cream; it may be the result of helping someone else. The karmic result of stealing an ice-cream is an unpleasant experience, like when something will be stolen from me.
In A Living Buddhism for the West, Lama Anagorika Govinda expresses another approach:
"All the suffering of this world arises from a wrong attitude.
The world is neither good or bad.
It is only the relation to our ego that makes it seem the one or the other."
This approach relates to the way our mind perceives the world; see the page on delusions.
WHAT CAN I DO TO REMOVE PREVIOUS NEGATIVE KARMA?
Nobody likes to suffer, so we all like to rid ourselves of negative karmic potential.
There are several possibilities, and in fact we may need to try and apply all of these methods as much as we can:
- To avoid having negative thoughts that lead to negative actions in the future, we need to observe and control our own thoughts and behaviour, and destroy our negative attitudes.
- Similarly, we can observe/study (meditate) our own mind and encourage positive thoughts that lead to positive actions.
- We can avoid negative karmic seeds to ripen by purifying it, using the four powers of purification (see below). Although this does not eliminate the negative karmic actions, it can avoid the results to occur.
- Ultimately, when we realise emptiness directly (see the page on Wisdom), and remove all our delusions, we are not under the control of past karma anymore.
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