Basics, Buddhism

What is Karma in Buddhism?

In Buddhism, the sanskrit word Karma means “action”, and is defined as the intention manifested in the action of thought, body, and speech – it is the intention that produces Karma, and not the act itself. 

Everyone in this world is subject to the great chain of causes and consequences, successions of rebirth and death, called karmic law or karma. The cause is generally compared to the seed and the consequences to the fruit. The fruits of karma are harvested in the form of happiness or misery depending on the nature of the acts committed.

Every thought, every action, every word leaves “vibratory” imprints, karmic seeds and these imprints ripen, drawing to us corresponding consequences or consequences of the same nature, and therefore form what happens to us, to our personal reality.

So we reap what we sow. If I plant eggplant seeds, I will get eggplant, not cabbage. Moreover, don’t we say that “kindness attracts kindness” and that “violence attracts violence?” Karma!

We wrongly believe that Karma refers exclusively to the past, but from moment to moment we constantly create karma: all gestures, all words and all thoughts produce it. There are many kinds of karma, but there are essentially two main categories: karma that creates suffering, and karma that frees us from suffering.

For example, if I slander you or give you a punch, these actions create karma. When one speaks, one produces karma, the same goes with what one thinks. Silence is a good karma. Not getting carried away during a boiling conversation is a good karma. Similarly, zen meditation (zazen) has an influence, here and now and for the future.

Karma is neither a punishment nor a reward, it is simply a gigantic cosmic mirror that reflects back what you “emit”.

Karma is a very misunderstood concept in the West, it is falsely interpreted as a kind of unchangeable destiny, a kind of punishment or divine reward for past actions.

Karma is neither a punishment nor a reward, it is simply a gigantic cosmic mirror that reflects back what you “emit”.

It is a serious mistake to believe that karma is a fatality, because each one of us can work to improve our individual karma. Please understand that from moment to moment, our thoughts, actions and words change and transform our Karma. In other words, karma is simply the memory of your life and it represents your will, your intentions, the kind of spirit you have.

The karma we produce “now” will manifest itself in this life and in future lives. If our karma is “tainted” by something very serious like rape, or murder, the consequences can appear in many lives if we do not purify our karma. Similarly, what happens to us in this life may be the result of causes from our past lives.

One must constantly seek to improve one’s karma by making good deeds and respecting the Dharma. The goal is to finally get free from the cycle of death and birth (saṃsara) and reach the final liberation.

Through the practice of Zazen and hishiryo consciousness, it is possible to purify our muddy Karma are the ideal conditions for non-production of karma.

PS: Read my in-depth article on Karma entitled Understanding Karma: Definition and Meaning.