It’s a critical element of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and other far eastern religions but the notion of karma is persists in the minds of many outside the circle of these age old faiths.
Karma is defined as an action, work or deed and its relationship to causality where intent and actions of an individual influence the future of the individual. Good intent and good deed contribute to good Karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad Karma and future suffering, Wikipedia explains. Karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in some schools of Asian religions. In these schools, Karma in the present affects one’s future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives.* If Karma is a deed, then Vipaka is the reaction of said deed.
A guide to living according to the laws of a higher, loving power; Upon first glance it’s kinda reminiscent of Christianity, the idea that closely following Christ’s teachings results in everlasting bliss in heaven while discarding them reserves one a spot in ‘the other place’. A similar framework guides Islam, but the idea of Karma existed long before either of these religions took root in human society.
Could it be real?
Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw presents an exploration into karma that attempts to answer that question.
-What is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind?
-Why should one person be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities, and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery?
-Why should one person be a mental prodigy, and another an idiot [his words, not mine]?
-Why should one person be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal tendencies?
-Why should some be linguistic, artistic, mathematically inclined, or musical from the very cradle?
-Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed… be blessed, and others cursed from their births?
According to Buddhism, Sayadaw says this inequality is due not only to heredity, environment, “nature and nurture”, but also to Karma. “In other words, it is the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects of our own fate.” Like a ball rolling down, a hill he implies it’s not just the actions in this lifetime that contribute to our present experiences, but that of our previous ones too.
Spiritual recycling, if you will, is not a popular concept – both on the individual and organized religion fronts. In Buddhism however it’s a bona fide cornerstone. Sayadaw cites Buddha’s reply to a young man inquiring about the disparity of the human experience.
“All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states.”
Many resist the idea that they themselves may play a part in some unfortunate circumstance plaguing their lives, but Buddhists believe in the law of cause and effect. Sayadaw explains, “Certainly we are born with hereditary characteristics. At the same time we possess certain innate abilities that science cannot adequately account for… The accumulated karmic tendencies, inherited in the course of previous lives, at times play a far greater role than the hereditary parental cells and genes in the formation of both physical and mental characteristics.”
In other words, when ish really hits the fan, it’s more than likely due to some bad deed done in another life and time unknown to the do-er. Accordingly then, when blessings are bestowed upon us we can assume they stem from the good karma generated in past spiritual journeys. Unlike other faiths, Buddhism places the onus on the individual to achieve Nirvana – or freedom from suffering and the cycle rebirth. Buddhists rely on their own will power, “and work incessantly for the well-being and happiness of all,” Sayadaw states.
“[S/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.”
Speak on it Clutchettes: Does the idea of Karma resonate within you?