The Karma , also known as the law of cause and effect, is a fundamental concept in many Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. In this article we discover in detail what is its deepest meaning, its origins, its laws and how Karma affects our lives.
- WHAT IS KARMA
- THE HISTORY OF KARMA
- KARMA ACCORDING TO THE VEDIC UPANIṢADS
- KARMA ACCORDING TO BUDDHISM
- KARMA ACCORDING TO HINDUISM
- THE 12 LAWS OF KARMA FOR A BETTER LIFE
- THE GREAT LAW OR THE LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT
- THE LAW OF CREATION
- THE LAW OF HUMILITY
- THE LAW OF GROWTH
- THE LAW OF RESPONSIBILITY
- THE LAW OF CONNECTION
- THE LAW OF FOCUS
- THE LAW OF HOSPITALITY
- THE LAW OF THE HERE AND NOW
- THE LAW OF CHANGE
- THE LAW OF PATIENCE AND REWARD
- THE LAW OF MEANING AND INSPIRATION
- RECOMMENDED READINGS
What is Karma
The term “Karma” today is often used lightly and with little understanding of its depth. Many people claim “it is my karma” , referring to lucky or unfortunate events in their lives. However, this meaning could not be further from reality: the use of the phrase “is my karma” suggests victimization and passivity , while Karma is exactly the opposite.
The good deeds are what modern society teaches us to do, from time to time or periodically, when we want to feel at peace with the world or the next. At Christmas you volunteer, you give what you don’t use anymore, you leave a few coins to a homeless man crossed on the street, you give directions to a foreigner even if you find it hard to communicate. All these gestures, large and small, are what is commonly called a “good deed”.
But is a good deed really the simple act of helping those in need at that time and then going home?
In India most religions and philosophies give this concept of “good deed” the name of Karma. The term is a westernization of the Sanskrit word “Karman” (कर्मन्), which can be roughly translated into “action”.
What for us represents a simple gesture (whether positive or negative), for the followers of these philosophies or religions is a much deeper concept: Karma is the principle of action and reaction , of the right universal law, since each of our actions it involves other living beings and this leads to consequences that will sooner or later affect us.
For this reason Buddhists and Hindus always try to act according to this law, since it not only influences their current life, but also has repercussions in the cycle of reincarnation in which they firmly believe and which is inseparable from Karma itself, as it is the universal law that the rule.
Faced with these beliefs our concept of “good deed” loses its momentary power of fulfillment in favor of a much more spiritual philosophy of life. But where exactly does the concept of Karma come from?
The history of Karma
The term Karma and its conception date back to around the eighth century BC and are mentioned in the Upaniṣad , a set of Indian religious and philosophical texts and reflections transmitted only orally. Today it is a very central concept in Buddhism and Hinduism since it is at the center of the cardinal belief of these religions: reincarnation . Its etymological meaning means “to do, to cause” , hence the reason why it is considered as a law.
Although in all the major Eastern religions Karma has the same definition, every current has developed over time its concept of “Karman”. The main religions and philosophies that address this theme are three:
- The Vedic Upaniṣads
Let us briefly analyze how each religion deals with this concept.
Karma according to the Vedic Upaniṣads
The Upaniṣad are a collection of religious and philosophical reflections dating back to the IX-VIII century BC They were handed down orally and included the rites and traditions of the three main religious collections of the time: Veda , Brāhmaṇa and Āraṇyaka .
In this collection the Karma is closely linked to the sense of renunciation aimed at improving reincarnation: if one’s conduct is good, one will reincarnate in the earthly world and lead a comfortable life; if we can even renounce the main desires of men (comfort, wealth and power), we can aspire to reincarnate at a higher level.
The more these reflections are deepened, the more we will come to the concept of today’s most well-known Karma: “good conduct” , that is, through good actions we generate “good” and through bad actions “evil” is generated . And yet we speak of good deeds always outside of all that is worldly, since we always aspire to a higher level of life and spirituality than the present one.
But only by reaching the culmination of these concepts does one arrive at the true fulcrum: this collection of reflections observes Karma from another point of view, more central to the existence of the single person. According to the Upaniṣad each person’s character and living conditions are determined by their own desires , which consequently lead us to act in a certain way, pushing us towards a certain type of Karma. Finally, every action represents the innermost part of individuals and such actions have consequences for the rest of the universe, be they large or small.
Karma according to Buddhism
Karma is the universal law on which Buddhism is based : according to this law, every action or intention generates karma of a certain type.
In Buddhist Karma, even if we talk about action and intention , it is the latter that is the most important of the two since a virtuous (therefore good) action done without intention will not produce positive Karma, as it was done without conscience .
Also being the reincarnation closely linked to Buddhism, the Karma regulates this process: brilliant actions will lead to a blessed rebirth; dark deeds will lead to a rebirth of suffering.
There is also another type of Karma to pay attention to: that inherited from previous lives . On our shoulders we have the Karma inherited from the lives we have already lived, even though we are not aware of it.
The substance of the Buddhist Karma is the one closest to what we Westerners have learned: every action generates good, evil or neutrality and these energies never disappear into nothingness, nothing remains unpunished or undeserved (as far as it may seem to us).
Karma according to Hinduism
This religion is widespread throughout almost the entire Asian continent (especially in India) and treats the subject of Karma in a different and more ramified way than what we have seen so far.
Although at the center of the karmic cycle there is always reincarnation, the Hindus have broadened the concept of Karma to a real personal and social duty , including the various castes and the correct performance of their roles.
Unlike Buddhism (which does not believe in “destiny”), Hindus see human Karma as a tiny fraction of universal Karma, so vast that not even the gods can escape it; however, in a particular current Theist of Hinduism, God can influence Karma, as long as it continues to exist and follow its course.
According to the Yoga Sūtra , a fundamental text on which Yoga is based and strongly linked to Hindu practices, there are “painful states” that influence Karma, pushing us towards suffering. According to the philosopher Patañjali, the one who wrote the Yoga Sūtra, Raja Yoga is the only practice that allows one to escape the pain caused by this type of Karma, thanks to which one can arrive at the rest of the spirit (even if one cannot never free it completely, because every action leaves traces that lead to upset and pain).
This current was updated by the philosopher Ādi Śaṅkara, who lived towards the end of the first century AD, according to which there are “karmic residues” that differ in:
- residues of life just ended
- residues of other lives that did not manifest themselves in the life just ended
- residues we have generated in the life that has just ended
The revolution of this philosopher lies in the explanation of why we are not all created equal or (in the Hindu context) in one caste instead of another: thanks to the karmic residues, to the accumulation of karman, we are born in a certain place and, thanks to this knowledge, we can aspire to liberation, reincarnation after reincarnation.
The 12 laws of Karma for a better life
The word “law” is often used for lack of a more appropriate translation. The 12 laws of Karma are not laws, but life lessons related to the concept of Karma.
The 12 karmic laws listed below are meant to educate you to make the necessary changes within you to generate positive Karma and to get rid of the negative one. If the world around you is chaos, it is because there is chaos within you. Once at peace with yourself, you can be at peace with the rest of the world.
- The great law or the law of cause and effect
What you sow you will collect.
The message is similar to that of the Law of Attraction . In other words, everything you give is also what you will receive , be it positive or negative. So if you want love in your life, be loving. If you want to enjoy financial abundance, be generous. And if you want to have honest and open relationships, you must also offer authenticity and honesty to the people you care about.
- The law of creation
According to the karmic law of creation, we must be active participants in our lives if we are to achieve what we desire. We can’t just wait for things to happen to us. We should aim to surround ourselves with what we want in our lives and look for clues in our environments as to what we need.
An important part of understanding the Law of Creation is to see that things outside of us tell us what is happening inside. So if you don’t like the look of your life right now, look inside yourself and ask yourself what needs to change.
- The law of humility
Of the 12 laws of Karma, Buddhism often emphasizes the importance of the law of humility. The key point of this karmic rule is that you have to accept the true reality of something before you can ever change it .
For example, if you consistently blame others for things you have created or see someone who disagrees with you as an enemy, you are out of step with reality. Therefore, you will find it very difficult to make the changes you need. Introspection can help you make the most of the law of humility.
- The law of growth
If you’ve ever heard the famous saying “Wherever you go, here you are” , you’ve already thought of the law of growth in a sense.
The message is that you have to work on a change in yourself before expecting the world around you to change. All we have is control over ourselves and not the people or things that surround us.
So concentrate on your development before trying to control or change others; let them come to their own conclusions about what needs to change.
- The law of responsibility
This law summarizes the most common meaning of Karma. You are the source of what happens during your journey . What is happening around you is a mirror of what is happening inside you; this is the sense in which you are responsible for all your life experiences, pleasant or unpleasant.
Like the law of growth, this karmic law aims to teach you that you should try to take responsibility for the good and bad things you create, rather than constantly seeking outside yourself to find excuses.
- The law of connection
This law emphasizes the interconnected nature of past, present and future and reminds us that our control over the present and the future can help us erase the bad energy of the past (whether it comes from our current or previous life).
Another point raised by the law of connection is that it takes time to remedy the karmic wrongs of the past. However, every little step can have unexpectedly powerful effects.
- The law of focus
Your life will be more satisfying if you can direct your attention to a single activity or thought to the exclusion of others. Our minds are not equipped to perform more tasks with equal competence.
So, if you have several important goals, try to follow them in a linear and classified order instead of giving each lens only a fraction of your energy.
Another vital lesson is that if you focus on your higher values you will not be able to focus on “lower” emotions or thoughts like those that come from resentment, anger or possessiveness.
- The law of hospitality
This law teaches that if you believe in a certain thing, at some point you will naturally be called to demonstrate your commitment to that truth . The focus here is on the link between conviction and practice. Suggests and encourages the importance of ensuring that your actions reflect your deepest beliefs.
This law also covers how the universe will “test you”. Life gives us the opportunity to put into practice the lessons learned and show you when you have to work further on yourself.
- The law of the here and now
As we have seen, in Buddhism Karma is connected to ideas about accepting the truth of your reality. Similarly, Buddhists generally connect Karma to the theme of truly living in the present moment . If you cling too much to past feelings, experiences and beliefs, you will always have a foot in the past. Similarly, if you focus on anxiety or greed, you will always have one foot in the future.
Following the law of the here and now means reminding yourself that the present is all that you really have and that it is there to be fully exploited.
- The law of change
The law of change conveys the message that the universe gives us what we need . Thus, you will discover that history repeats itself over and over until you demonstrate that you have learned what you need to do to create a different future.
If you notice that you seem to be stuck in a cycle, this is because there is something fundamental that has not yet been addressed.
On the contrary, if things around you start to change suddenly and dramatically, take this as a sign that you have recently made significant steps in your growth.
- The law of patience and reward
The law of patience and reward states that all your greatest successes require constant hard work . This means that you must be patient, regardless of your goals in life.
If you expect immediate results, you will be disappointed in the end; your successes will be less than what you are able to achieve.
Instead, try to understand your true purpose. Act according to that purpose and enjoy the reward of knowing that you are doing what you should be doing with your current life. Over time the associated successes (emotional and material) will follow.
- The law of meaning and inspiration
Last but not least, the law of meaning and inspiration is a good law to think about when you need a motivational drive.
This particular aspect of Karma emphasizes that your every contribution will influence the whole , however small or large that contribution may be. Whenever from creative and loving contributions to the world around you, your act inspires equally positive behaviors from others and attracts more positivity in your life.
You may not always feel significant, but you are. Without your presence, the energy of the universe would be substantially altered.
We have seen how the concept of Karma is much broader than what is commonly understood by us and how it is different in its area of origin despite the fact that everything derives from the same beliefs. But precisely because these beliefs are only such, we are free to exercise them based on our personal experiences. In the end the concept remains the same: to accumulate positive Karma to live well in this life and in the next one.