Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
Welcome home! Please contact lincoln@newbuddhist.com if you have any difficulty logging in or using the site. New registrations must be manually approved which may take up to 48 hours. Can't log in? Try clearing your browser's cookies.

Simple Explanation of Karma?

It is my understanding that Karma is very often misunderstood, especially in the west. Would anyone be able to offer a simple explanation of Karma, intended for a western audience?

Thanks!

«1

Comments

  • yagryagr Veteran

    The simplest explanation that I've found is simply, "Cause and effect" minus the built in belief in the West that the results are meted out as some type of divine retribution or reward.

    CinorjerChazjayne
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @Citta said:
    'Karma' is actually quite a simple idea. It means 'action'.
    The implication is willed, intentional , action.
    This is often confused with karma-vipaka, which means the result or results of action.

    Literally the 'fruit ' of action.

    So, we sow karma by intentional actions. These actions have consequences. Those consequences are karma-vipaka.

    Wholesome actions will result in karma-vipaka which we experience as positive.

    Unwholesome actions will result in karma-vipaka which we experience as negative.

    Neutral actions will result in neutral vipaka.

    Many actions are a mixture of wholesome and unwholesome intentions, so the results of those actions is also mixed.
    Most vipaka is mixed to some degree.
    The Buddha strongly advised against trying to decide what in our present circumstances is due to positive or negative karma-vipaka, because the pattern woven by our actions is too complex.

    I was pleasantly surprised by that explanation @Citta, that was very simply put, and I could not express it better - 'great praise' . Of course someone can pick holes in it, but on the whole: good :)

  • CittaCitta Veteran

    Aw shucks...blush smiley.

    anatamanChaz
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    I don't stroke ego's often btw ;)

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Not sure about others but when I used to hear the word karma I thought it just related to physical actions. However, I believe the buddha was referring to all actions of body, speech and mind.

    sova
  • DaftChrisDaftChris Spiritually conflicted. Not of this world. Veteran

    Here's my two cents.

    For every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction.

    Or, if you prefer, naturalistic cause and effect.

    No divine intervention. No cosmic judge. Just actions and consequences.

    jayne
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @Bunks said:
    Not sure about others but when I used to hear the word karma I thought it just related to physical actions. However, I believe the buddha was referring to all actions of body, speech and mind.

    All INTENTIONAL actions .

    anatamanBunks
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    @thegoldeneternity said:
    It is my understanding that Karma is very often misunderstood, especially in the west. Would anyone be able to offer a simple explanation of Karma, intended for a western audience?

    Thanks!

    Keeping it simple! Bad actions have bad results. Good actions have good results. Therefore, only do good actions and don't do bad ones.

    But of course, in order to properly follow the above, one first has to know what is actually good and bad action. That is where things like the precepts come into play.

    :)

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I don't think you can stop there though. There is also good intention resulting in bad results and bad intention resulting in good results.

    And yes, in my belief and understanding it includes thought. But not in a "if you have a bad thought something bad will happen to you" kind of way. If you know how to recognize your thoughts via training in meditation, you can see them as they come up and you know to let them go through and no more. But prior to training our brains some, we have a thought and then we share it, we write it down. It allows the "bad" karmic seed to take root and paves the way for acting on it. We can save ourselves from a lot of bad karma but not allowing bad thoughts to come to fruition and preventing action from coming from them.

    anataman
  • Step on a rake and you're likely to get hit in the face with the handle.

    Bunksanataman
  • DharmaMcBumDharmaMcBum Spacebus Wheelman York, UK Veteran

    @lamaramadingdong said:
    Step on a rake and you're likely to get hit in the face with the handle.

    Or punched by the gardener whose rake handle you've just snapped...

    sova
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    I don't like discussing Karma - it bites as I've said before..

  • wangchueywangchuey Veteran
    edited March 2014

    Although karma may sound like a feminine name. Don't mess with karma!

    anataman
  • This simile gives a great idea of what kamma is.

    A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.
    "What sort of people live in the next town?" asked the stranger.

    "What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.

    "They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I'm happy to be leaving the scoundrels."

    "Is that so?" replied the old farmer. "Well, I'm afraid that you'll find the same sort in the next town.

    Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

    Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. "What sort of people live in the next town?" he asked.

    "What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer once again.

    "They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I'm sorry to be leaving them."

    "Fear not," said the farmer. "You'll find the same sort in the next town."

    1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
    2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
      Dhp1
    anatamansova
  • Thanks guys xxx

    Thought precedes action as @pegembara points out. However sila and the precepts are part of the action.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panca_sila

    So do we have a distinction between our potential karma and the environmental circumstances? For example do last lifetime Buddhas enter a perfect lifetime by killing their mothers during childbirth, abandoning their families etc or do we also always have the 'karma of existence' to contend with in some way?

    Maybe karma is not so simple?

    @thegoldeneternity said:
    It is my understanding that Karma is very often misunderstood, especially in the west. Would anyone be able to offer a simple explanation of Karma, intended for a western audience?

    Thanks!

  • No past buddhas don't kill their mothers!! Am I missing something here?

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @Jeffrey - I suspect @lobster is referring to the fact that Gotama's mother died shortly after child birth and he (supposedly) abandoned his wife and child to find enlightenment.

    Jeffrey
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @lobster said:
    Thanks guys xxx

    Thought precedes action as pegembara points out. However sila and the precepts are part of the action.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panca_sila

    So do we have a distinction between our potential karma and the environmental circumstances? For example do last lifetime Buddhas enter a perfect lifetime by killing their mothers during childbirth, abandoning their families etc or do we also always have the 'karma of existence' to contend with in some way?

    Maybe karma is not so simple?

    Actually, it's simple but we make it complicated. We try to attach value judgments and divide actions into good and bad, present and future and past karma, etc. and then enter into endless debates as to how it might work and defend our version against the harsh reality of life.

    @yagr has stated the "Unified Theory" as you will of karma. This is karma stripped of all the baggage we pile onto it. Actions have consequences. Do good actions only have good consequences, and bad actions only have bad consequences? Now you're piling baggage onto karma. Good consequences for whom? A man who runs into a burning building to save a child is performing a good action by any definition. But if the man burns to death for doing so without saving the child, then you either realize your understanding is wrong or try desperately to cling to a universe that doesn't exist by inventing past and future life karma, and so on.

    So is it a strict cause and effect? If I kill someone, will I be killed in return? Will everyone who kills receive the same karma? Of course not. People do get away with murder. Some people kill and end up on death row and some people are treated as heroes. But living a violent life increases the chance you're going to end up on the receiving end of violence. Breaking the law increases the chance the authorities are going to notice and lock you up, etc. Our actions do set a direction to our lives.

    Actions have consequences, not only for yourself, but for others. It's simple, but ignored by many.

  • Buddha explains how kamma is the cause of differences in the fortunes of people.

    (a) Some people die prematurely because in the past they have destoyed life. The karmic result of killing is to be shortlived. Others live long because they were kind and compassionate, they had respect and reverence for life.
    (b) Some are sickly because they have injured and hurt other beings.
    (c) Those who were often angry and harsh become ugly, those who were patient and cheerful become beautiful.
    (d) Some are rich because they have been generous in the past, some are poor because they have been selfish.
    (e) Some are influential because they have rejoiced in the good fortunes of others.
    (f) Some are weak and powerless because they have been envious of the good fortunes of others.
    (g) Some are intelligent because they have been reflective and studious in the past, because they always enquired and investigated matters. Some are dull and stupid because they have been lazy and negligent, because they never studied and did not think. 
    
  • @hermitwin said:
    Buddha explains how kamma is the cause of differences in the fortunes of people.

    (a) Some people die prematurely because in the past they have destoyed life. The karmic result of killing is to be shortlived. Others live long because they were kind and compassionate, they had respect and reverence for life.
    (b) Some are sickly because they have injured and hurt other beings.
    (c) Those who were often angry and harsh become ugly, those who were patient and cheerful become beautiful.
    (d) Some are rich because they have been generous in the past, some are poor because they have been selfish.
    (e) Some are influential because they have rejoiced in the good fortunes of others.
    (f) Some are weak and powerless because they have been envious of the good fortunes of others.
    (g) Some are intelligent because they have been reflective and studious in the past, because they always enquired and investigated matters. Some are dull and stupid because they have been lazy and negligent, because they never studied and did not think. 
    

    Yes, and supposedly the Buddha said people are born with dark skin because they slandered the Dharma in a past life, etc. You believe that? Says so, right in the sutras. People's biases have infected even the Dharma at times.

    It's important to realize that back then, they had no knowledge of genetics or developmental psychology or how environment affects development. Past life karma seemed to explain a lot, combined with this ever-present desire for justice in the world. That birthmark? That is where you were stabbed in a past life. Were you born to a good family and grew up healthy because your parents could afford to feed you enough? You deserved it because of a good past life. You were born poor, were malnurished and grew up sickly? You're being punished for a bad past life. Not our fault or problem.

    People were only people, then and now, searching for a little justice in a world of suffering.

    Cittakarasti
  • The above quote is from the sutta, ie the pali canon which is the basis
    of Buddhist teachings.
    May I ask where your comment about dark-skin people came from?

  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited March 2014

    http://lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=article&id=374

    The Sutra of Causes and Effects

    The thing is, @hermitwin, I believe we have a philosophical difference in how we view the sacred writings, and I don't think we'll get very far debating what Buddha said. If you believe that everything the Suttas claim Buddha said is true, but only for the Pali Canon, and also that Buddha could never be wrong or misunderstood, then that's what you believe. I'm not going to tell you that you're wrong, you or millions of other Buddhists. I'm only stating a different position, one that views the sutras as documents written by human, fallable monks, and the wisdom they contain must be tempered with an understanding of who wrote it and why and the limitations of knowledge in that age.

    vinlynlobsterBunksjayne
  • robotrobot Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @hermitwin said:
    Buddha explains how kamma is the cause of differences in the fortunes of people.

    (a) Some people die prematurely because in the past they have destoyed life. The karmic result of killing is to be shortlived. Others live long because they were kind and compassionate, they had respect and reverence for life.
    (b) Some are sickly because they have injured and hurt other beings.
    (c) Those who were often angry and harsh become ugly, those who were patient and cheerful become beautiful.
    (d) Some are rich because they have been generous in the past, some are poor because they have been selfish.
    (e) Some are influential because they have rejoiced in the good fortunes of others.
    (f) Some are weak and powerless because they have been envious of the good fortunes of others.
    (g) Some are intelligent because they have been reflective and studious in the past, because they always enquired and investigated matters. Some are dull and stupid because they have been lazy and negligent, because they never studied and did not think. 
    

    The problem with this is not whether or not the Buddha said it. It's that it doesn't make sense.

    There are more poor people in the world now than the total population at the Buddha's time by far.

    People are living longer than ever in the first world. Is that because we haven't been destroying life?
    Is a long life always a good life? There are people living to ripe old age in prison. We all know people who lived long past the time when their quality of life had deteriorated.

    Is being influential a sign of spiritual attainment? There are countless examples of influential people who were deviates of the worst kind.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    While Karma teaches that all intent has consequences, not all consequences arise from intent.

    pegembara
  • The Pali canon is accepted by all the 3 schools of Buddhism ie Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
    Ever wondered why ?

    The problem is misleading people who is only beginning to inquire
    about Buddhism with your own point of view.

    Question your own opinions before questioning the Pali canon.

  • Why spend any time in thinking about karma?

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @hermitwin said:
    The Pali canon is accepted by all the 3 schools of Buddhism ie Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
    Ever wondered why ?

    The problem is misleading people who is only beginning to inquire
    about Buddhism with your own point of view.

    Question your own opinions before questioning the Pali canon.

    Are you saying you never express an opinion here on this forum?

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @radagast said:
    Why spend any time in thinking about karma?

    I don't see anything wrong with a learned person wanting to debate Buddhist issues.

    But I would much rather they practice basic Buddhist principles skillfully, and then when they've got that down pat, move onto long, long arguments about what's in a language they can't even read.

  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @hermitwin said:
    The Pali canon is accepted by all the 3 schools of Buddhism ie Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
    Ever wondered why ?

    The problem is misleading people who is only beginning to inquire
    about Buddhism with your own point of view.

    Question your own opinions before questioning the Pali canon.

    That's certainly a good point. I respectfully reply that anyone who pops onto the board certainly knows how to google, and there are loads of traditional "this is what the sutras say" websites not to mention Wikipedia with that sort of basic info.

    What does this forum have to give people that they can't find by a quick visit to Wiki, after googling "karma"? A diversity of opinion from real Buddhists of all stripes. About all we have to offer is our own opinion on whatever question is raised.

    So thanks, but while I will always respect what the sutras say, I'll give my own understanding and assume people know that unless I quote the sutra, this is only my own particular understanding, take it or leave it.

    vinlynlobster
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    How do we know, 100% without a doubt, that the sutras/suttas we are reading in English are direct, exactly translations of Sanskrit/Pali? It's rather impossible that they are, since many words in other languages do not exist in English. Even only looking at things from that angle, we pretty much have to admit that what we read now is not precisely what the Buddha taught. And just like the Bible (though seemingly to a lesser degree) even the monks who started to write things down and pass them along likely go some of their perceptions and ideas into things, because I doubt 100% of all monks were infallible in that regard. So I think like any religious text, it takes some reading between the lines and investigating yourself what seems to be the truth along with the help of a trained teacher is the best we can do. And we are STILL going to get different interpretations.

    anatamanBunksNele
  • There is nothing wrong with debating Buddhist issues.
    And I was not trying to throw cold water on the thread.

    This is a question which I have been curious about
    ever since I first heard about karma.

    We are told that wholesome actions generate good
    karma, and unwholesome actions generate bad karma,
    or words to that effect. And then we are told that
    one of the results of the karma we accumulate is
    whether we suffer now, or in some future life,
    or not.

    Wouldn't you just want to do "wholesome actions"
    anyway? Even if you had never heard of karma?

    Does it make it harder to keep attention on the
    present moment, if we worry about future lives?
    Or past lives?

    I think... just do your best, in the present moment.

    lobster
  • The consequences don't always come in this life. So a generous person might not become rich until another life and the opposite as well.

  • rather like what @radagast says. Maybe it is my karma . . .

    Wouldn't you just want to do "wholesome actions"
    anyway? Even if you had never heard of karma?

    You bet your lifetimes I would.
    The controversial dervish Bodhi Ibn Arabi postulated that the future calls into being the past.

    In other words, you lucky people, your future Buddha self is the karmic basis of your present potential.
    http://yinyana.tumblr.com/post/20346251291/attune-and-resonate

    Now that's what I calls Karma . . .

    ʘ‿ʘ

  • Causes, effects, and actions all happening simultaneously. The only way out is to abandon the cause.

    Cinorjer
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran
    edited March 2014

    Why is it when I look at karma I become like a blind man walking through a field of rakes.

    Because I think - thwack!

    Hitchhikers, beware!

    Cinorjer
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    I think the problem here is putting "simple" and "karma" in the same sentence!

    anatamanlobsterCinorjerkarasti
  • Kamma may sound simple but it definitely isn't.

    "There are these four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them. Which four?

    "The Buddha-range of the Buddhas[1] is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

    "The jhana-range of a person in jhana...[2]

    "The [precise working out of the] results of kamma...

    "Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

    "These are the four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them."

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.077.than.html

    Best to practise the N8FP which is the kamma that leads to the end of kamma and of suffering itself.

    http://www.suanmokkh.org/archive/arts/message/kamma1.htm

    upekkaanatamanthegoldeneternityJeffrey
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @pegembara said:
    Kamma may sound simple but it definitely isn't.

    Kamma/karma IS simple. The working out of karma -vipaka isn't.

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    I don't see what is so difficult.

    'I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir'...

    Therefore, do good and not evil.

    @radagast said:

    Wouldn't you just want to do "wholesome actions"
    anyway? Even if you had never heard of karma?

    Does it make it harder to keep attention on the
    present moment, if we worry about future lives?
    Or past lives?

    I think... just do your best, in the present moment.

    I think so. But at the same time, you have to be aware of what really is wholesome and unwholesome to begin with. A lot of time when we do unwholesome action, we aren't even aware of the fact that we are doing a unwholesome action. Sometimes we even mistake an unwholesome action for a neutral one, or even a wholesome one. If one thinks an unwholesome action is not unwholesome, then of course there's no reason to stop doing it.

  • CittaCitta Veteran

    And there's the rub.
    When hot for clear cut examples of the wholesome or unwholesome we frequently receive a dusty answer hedged about with qualifiers.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    Exactly @seeker242. That is where it becomes complex though. If you ask a fundamentalist Christian what they REALLY believe is wholesome you are likely to get a very different response on many topics than if you ask a Buddhist, or anyone else. It's easy to say "well, one has to be truly honest about what they believe is right." which is true, however, it seems a lot of members of the general public aren't operating at a place of true honesty, out of reality and the truth. So to them, what they say is what they truly think/believe even if it is based on unreality. If they don't realize that, how can they think that what they believe might not have a basis in wholesomeness?

  • CittaCitta Veteran

    It doesn't even take dishonesty to be unaware that one is acting in an 'unwholesome' way.
    It just takes lack of awareness.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    Yes, thank you. That is a much better word, much closer to what I intended. Dishonesty lends itself to deceit and that wasn't really what I had in mind.

  • Buddhism is aligned with good karma/no karma. The world is not aligned with Buddhism, that's why karma is difficult to understand.

  • yagryagr Veteran

    For some reason I was unable to quote this by hitting the 'quote' icon under robot's post.

    The problem with this is not whether or not the Buddha said it. It's that it doesn't make sense.

    None of what follows fails to make sense to me. Admittedly, that may be because I fail to understand it properly. Perhaps much more important than the question, "Does yagr have it right?" is, "If yagr, with his puny human brain, can come up with an explanation, how many more explanations are possible?"

    There are more poor people in the world now than the total population at the Buddha's time by far.

    Some world's populations are waxing; some are waning.

    People are living longer than ever in the first world. Is that because we haven't been destroying life?

    Long is relative. Long compared to life before refrigerators, vaccines, etc.? Sure. Long compared to a life on a world without cancer, war, etc.? Not so much. I don't consider time linear...perhaps my placement at this point in time and space was not at random.

    Is a long life always a good life?

    Life is always good.

    There are people living to ripe old age in prison. We all know people who lived long past the time when their quality of life had deteriorated.

    Not really important but it is much fewer than you might think. My wife spent twenty-four years in prison with a varying life without parole number at ten to twelve percent of the inmate population of 800-1400 inmates. During that twenty-four years, no inmate ever reached seventy years old.

    As for quality of life - that is a choice; one that we only have if we're alive.

    Is being influential a sign of spiritual attainment? There are countless examples of influential people who were deviates of the worst kind.

    The Peter Principle at work in spiritual matters...

  • robotrobot Veteran
    edited March 2014

    @yagr
    I would like to discuss your post but the method for dissecting it line by line is still beyond me.
    The Peter Principal sounds awesome tho because that's my name.

  • yagryagr Veteran

    @robot

    To go line by line one simply puts a '[' followed by 'quote' and then ']'. To close the quote you do the same thing except insert a '/' before the word 'quote'.

    As for the Peter Principle, it simply states that a person will be promoted to their level of incompetence. So, in keeping with your thought, a person may have reached some level of spiritual attainment, and in doing so bought themselves a one way rebirthing to a life as an influential person. Then their spiritual attainment runs into the axiom, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." It certainly doesn't apply to all influential people, but it does occur often.

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @yagr said:
    ...

    Is a long life always a good life?

    Life is always good.

    There are people living to ripe old age in prison. We all know people who lived long past the time when their quality of life had deteriorated.

    Not really important but it is much fewer than you might think. My wife spent twenty-four years in prison with a varying life without parole number at ten to twelve percent of the inmate population of 800-1400 inmates. During that twenty-four years, no inmate ever reached seventy years old.

    As for quality of life - that is a choice; one that we only have if we're alive.

    >

    Not sure I agree with those ideas.

Sign In or Register to comment.