Karma is a Sanskrit word from the root "Kri" to do or to make and simply means "action."
It operates in the universe as the continuous chain reaction of cause and effect. It is not only confined to causation in
the physical sense but also it has moral implications. "A good cause, a good effect; a bad cause a bad effect" is
a common saying. In this sense karma is a moral law.
Now human beings are constantly giving off physical and
spiritual forces in all directions. In physics we learn that no energy is ever lost; only that it changes form. This is the
common law of conservation of energy. Similarly, spiritual and mental action is never lost. It is transformed. Thus Karma
is the law of the conservation of moral energy.
By actions, thoughts, and words, man is releasing spiritual
energy to the universe and he is in turn affected by influences coming in his direction. Man is therefore the sender and receiver
of all these influences. The entire circumstances surrounding him is his karma.
With each action-influence he
sends out and at the same time, receives, he is changing. This changing personality and the world he lives in, constitute
the totality of his karma.
Karma should not be confused with fate. Fate is the notion that man's life is preplanned
for him by some external power, and he has no control over his destiny. Karma on the other hand, can be changed. Because man
is a conscious being he can be aware of his karma and thus strive to change the course of events. In the Dhammapada we find
the following words, "All that we are is a result of what we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts and made up
of our thoughts."
What we are, then, is entirely dependent on what we think. Therefore, the nobility of
man's character is dependent on his "good" thoughts, actions, and words. At the same time, if he embraces degrading
thoughts, those thoughts invariably influence him into negative words and actions.
B) What is the cause of Karma?
Ignorance (avijja), or not knowing things as they truly are, is the chief cause
of Karma. Dependent on ignorance arise activities (avijja paccaya samkhara) states the Buddha in the Paticca Samuppada (Dependent
Associated with ignorance is the ally craving (tanha), the other root of Karma. Evil actions
are conditioned by these two causes. All good deeds of a worldling (putthujana), though associated with the three wholesome
roots of generosity (alobha), goodwill (adosa) and knowledge (amoha), are nevertheless regarded as Karma because the two roots
of ignorance and craving are dormant in him. The moral types of Supramundane Path Consciousness (magga citta) are not regarded
as Karma because they tend to eradicate the two root causes.
Who is the doer of Karma?
Who reaps the
fruit of Karma?
Does Karma mould a soul?
In answering these subtle questions, the Venerable Buddhaghosa
writes in the Visuddhi Magga:
"No doer is there who does the deed;
Nor is there one who feels
Constituent parts alone roll on;
This indeed! Is right discernment."
the table we see is apparent reality. In an ultimate sense the so-called table consists of forces and qualities.
For ordinary purposes a scientist would use the term water, but in the laboratory he would say H 2 0.
this same way, for conventional purposes, such terms as man, woman, being, self, and so forth are used. The so-called fleeting
forms consist of psychophysical phenomena, which are constantly changing not remaining the same for two consecutive moments.
Buddhists, therefore, do not believe in an unchanging entity, in an actor apart from action, in a perceiver
apart from perception, in a conscious subject behind consciousness.
Who then, is the doer of Karma? Who experiences
Volition, or Will (tetana), is itself the doer, Feeling (vedana) is itself the reaper of the fruits
of actions. Apart from these pure mental states (suddhadhamma) there is no-one to sow and no-one to reap.
C) Nature of Karma
In the working of Karma there are maleficent and beneficent forces and conditions to counteract
and support this self-operating law. Birth (gati) time or condition (kala) substratum of rebirth or showing attachment to
rebirth (upadhi) and effort (payoga) act as such powerful aids and hindrances to the fruition of Karma.
we are neither the absolutely the servants nor the masters of our Karma, it is evident from these counteractive and supportive
factors that the fruition of Karma is influenced to some extent by external circumstances, surroundings, personality, individual
striving, and so forth.
It is this doctrine of Karma that gives consolation, hope, reliance and moral courage
to a Buddhist. When the unexpected happens, and he meets with difficulties, failures, and misfortune, the Buddhist realises
that he is reaping what he has sown, and he is wiping off a past debt. Instead of resigning himself, leaving everything to
Karma, he makes a strenuous effort to pull the weeds and sow useful seeds in their place, for the future is in his own hands.
He who believes in Karma does not condemn even the most corrupt, for they, too, have their chance to reform
themselves at any moment. Though bound to suffer in woeful states, they have hope of attaining eternal Peace. By their own
doings they have created their own Hells, and by their own doings they can create their own Heavens, too.
Buddhist who is fully convinced of the law of Karma does not pray to another to be saved but confidently relies on him for
his own emancipation. Instead of making any self-surrender, or calling on any supernatural agency, he relies on his own will
power, and works incessantly for the well-being and happiness of all. This belief in Karma validates his effort and kindles
his enthusiasm, because it teaches individual responsibility.
To the ordinary Buddhist, Karma serves as a deterrent,
while to an intellectual, it serves as in incentive to do good. He or she becomes kind, tolerant, and considerate. This law
of Karma explains the problem of suffering, the mastery of so-called fate and predestination of other religions and about
all the inequality of mankind.