What is Karma?

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Karma is the principle of cause and effect. It’s summarized simply by the proverb “As we sow, so shall we reap.” If we plant seeds of health, harmony and abundance, we’ll ultimately receive these beneficial fruits. On the other hand, if we sow seeds of anger, greed or fear, such will be our harvest.

Tibetan Wheel of Karma
A Tibetan interpretation of the Wheel of Karma

Karma isn’t about being punished or destined to suffer endlessly, as many people mistakenly believe. Instead, the law of karma offers us complete freedom, for we’re the ones creating the results we experience. Some mysterious force or capricious god isn’t in charge, arbitrarily meting out rewards and hardship. If we don’t like the results we’re having, we’re free to make different decisions.

Many people have a hard time accepting that they’ve created problems or unhappiness in their lives and argue that they were victims of circumstance or had no other choice. However, according to the karmic principle, everything that’s happening is a result of previous decisions, even if we made them unconsciously. As Lama Surya Das writes, “The law of karma spells out very meticulously that everything has its implications; every thought, word, and deed has an effect. Everything, absolutely everything we think, say, or do makes a difference. Wrap your mind around that thought. This is a joyous, liberating message because every moment we are presented with the possibility of changing the future.”

The key to using the law of cause and effect is becoming aware of the choices we make in each moment. When we’re more conscious and present, we can choose actions and thoughts that will nurture rather than hurt us. When we have a decision to make, it’s useful to ask ourselves, “Which action is most likely to bring happiness and fulfillment to me and everyone affected by my choice?”