How Karma Works and its Foundations

25th June 2019 // By Dhyan Praveshika Team // HomeArticles

As we discovered in ‘The Origin of the Soul’ the soul is the great guide within, the inner voice, the conscience. Anyone before performing actions introspects and tries to gauge in perspective of their individual or social concept of right, wrong or indifferent. The concept of karma originated in ancient India and is now widely accepted and preached in different religions and cultures (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Taoism). When the deeds or actions of an individual are studied in ethics it’s addressed as Morals.

In Theravada (Buddhism) there are different systems of natural order such as the Physical Order i.e. the principles of physics that govern the changing of seasons, temperatures, and the weather. There is the Botanical Order i.e principles of botany that govern the growth of plants, so this covers the issue of leaves falling from a tree, and how they grow and so on. Then there’s the Dharmic Order i.e. laws of the universe. All these orders deal with the movements and flow of energy. Similarly, it can be said that Karma is a movement of energy. Karmic order is the principles of karma that govern the physical, verbal and mental behavior of human beings.

Karma can be explained by contrasting it with a Sanskrit word ‘kriya’ (meaning to do). The word kriya is the activity along with the steps and effort in action while Karma is the executed action as a consequence of that activity, and the intention of the individual behind the action. It can also be referred to as a principle where the actions and intent of an individual influence their future. These beliefs exist in different religions and cultures all over the world; which basically suggest that good deeds lead to good karma and happiness whereas one's bad actions and bad deeds lead to future sufferings and bad karma.

The science of karma is further complicated by different levels of karma. We have personal karma, family and ancestral karma, societal karma and so on. All of these levels of karma interact with each other. In Vedanta and Yoga teachings, there are three types of karma: Prarabdha karma – karma experienced during the present lifetime, Sancita karma – the store of karma that has not yet reached fruition, and Agami karma – karma sown in the present life that will come to fruition in future life. (Azriel ReShel)

Principles of Karma according to Theravada
When one decides to follow the Buddha’s path what’s the first advice? They take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And the first advice the Buddha gives is to stop harming others. In order to stop harming others, we have to understand what actions cause harm and what actions cause benefit to both ourselves and others. This summarises the whole concept of karma. These are the basic foundations to understand Karma and how it works:
“After death, we do not cease to exist, but we have to take rebirth. Our place of rebirth will either be happy or miserable, according to our actions, rather than our free will. Therefore, it is reasonable to try to cultivate good actions properly and avoid bad ones. This contemplation has four parts:
(1) The certainty of actions and their results - The idea here is that things are not called positive or negative karma because they’re inherently good or bad, but because of the results that they bring. So when we experience happiness, it’s always a result of constructive actions and when we experience misery, it’s always the result of destructive actions.
(2) The multiplying nature of actions or karma - If we do an action, it leaves seeds in our mindstream, these seeds intensify in strength: negative actions, ferment in our mind and increase in strength. And positive, even small meritorious, virtuous actions likewise ferment in our mind and they can produce big positive results.
(3) We only face consequences of actions we have done We only face consequences of actions we have done’ focuses on the importance to be meticulous about the karma we create. If we don’t create the causes for happiness, we won’t experience happiness.
(4) Once committed, actions do not fade away

We can not transfer our karma to somebody else or undo the actions we have set in place.”
There are 10 non-virtues (negative actions) that have been listed in Buddhism, which have been split into- body, speech, and mind; you must avoid to create a good karma. Physical non-virtues include killing, stealing, unwise and unkind sexual behavior. Verbal non-virtues include lying, disharmonious speech, harsh speech, idle talk, and mental non-virtues include coveting, malice, and wrong/distorted views. The three mental virtues are actually afflictions. If they’re in the mindstream with an intention, then that intention becomes the karma. When they arise in the mind we might have a mind that’s full of greed, that mind has a mental factor of intention which is the karma. The mental factor of greed is something that makes it non-virtuous. If you have a mental factor of love; the mental factor of love makes that whole consciousness and that intention virtuous.

The 10 virtues mentioned in the Pali tradition are:
1. Generosity
2. Ethical Conduct
3. Meditation
4. Cultivating humility and reverence
5. Offering services
6. Rejoicing at virtue
7. Dedicating merit
8. Listening to Dharma teachings
9. Teaching Dharma (collaboration, leading discussions, meditations)
10. Straightening our views

All these virtues are the principles of Karma, so from doing virtuous actions we’re going to get the opposite effects than we do from the non-virtuous actions. For the karmic effect to take place and bring a future effect, it has to have four factors: the object, the intention, the action, and the completion of the action.

Another thing to be mindful of is the weigh each karmic action carries. This can vary according to the strength of intention, method of action, lack of antidote, distorted views, and the object. The strength of our intention is one of the things that influence whether an action is heavy or light. If we have a very strong intention it makes it heavier. For eg:- if you kill a living being, whatever it is, if there’s a strong intention, anger, or attachment, then that makes it heavier.

We are held responsible for our actions and, more precisely, for the intention of our actions. Gravity is a law of the physical world, so is Karma a law of the spiritual world. Karma is not physical, it is spiritual, and we carry karma forward through time within a given lifetime or, as some believe, in the form of reincarnation. This deeper understanding of karma depends upon our essential identity as souls. Understanding karma can be a key to living well. The law of karma is about choice. Sometimes we can’t control what is happening in our world, but we can absolutely control how we respond to what is happening. Whether you believe in karma or not, the principles can help you live a better life.

Dhyan Praveshika Team