If the Buddha knew how badly the West has butchered the meaning of karma, he’d be horrified.
You see karma everywhere – on bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs:
“Karma is a Bitch”
“Dear Karma, I Have a List of People You’ve Missed”
“I Hope Karma Slaps You in the Face Before I Do”
Karma is not a punishment system!
It is a teaching.
Karma in sanskrit means action. And for every action there is a result, a consequence – nothing mysterious, nothing woo woo – just straightforward cause and effect.
Without realizing it you already apply this teaching in your life.
If you pass on a latte at 3pm because you know it will keep you up when you want to sleep, it’s because you understand karma.
When you opt for oatmeal over pancakes, it’s because you understand karma.
When you meditate, it’s because you understand karma.
In lots of ways, we understand that every choice we make has a consequence. But then in other ways we completely forget or we rationalize it.
Like when we get stuck on a thought about how someone annoys us, or betrayed us from 10 years ago, or why life just isn’t fair.
This is where we forget that whatever we think about has consequences too.
Imagine your mind is a garden and in this garden you have a variety of seeds – all of them just waiting to sprout.
You have two main types of seeds – one’s that produces negative mind states (anger, revenge, jealousy, regret, bitterness…) and others that produce positive mind states (kindness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, understanding, wisdom, patience…).
Whatever seeds you water (action) are what you are going to get (result).
When your mind is filled with thoughts of anger: about how someone harmed you, took advantage of your kindness or how irritated you are because someone didn’t respond to your text right away – you are watering your negative seeds.
Negative mind states breed more negative mind states. Next, you’ll be thinking about an argument from 5 years ago, or why you should never trust your brother-in-law for investment advice.
How did you get here? It started with one action, one negative thought and that resulted in another negative thought, which resulted in another negative thought. Every action has a result.
If you are wondering why you’re angry, irritated or frustrated – look at which seeds you are watering?
Being Clear About What You Want
When I teach meditation – no matter what type of practice I’m teaching – in the beginning I always ask two self-inquiry questions:
First, “What is it you want more than anything else in this world for yourself?”
Second, “What is something you could do to make that happen?”
This isn’t just a feel-good exercise about putting something out there to the universe. It’s to remind us what it is that we really want (result). And then to take the right action to make it happen.
Are you sure your actions are inline with what you want?
We had this discussion on the last monthly online dharma talk and I shared that recently I had given up my most frequented news sources, because I realized they were making me feel very unsettled and agitated – not what I want.
It was mostly related to political news. I would rationalize it by telling myself I needed to stay informed but the result was that I often felt tension. I had to be honest with myself – this isn’t what I want.
By looking at this more closely, what I realized was that I could still stay informed but change my news sources.
And it’s not that I think any of my news sources are delivering fake news. But that they have a way of getting the viewer upset by obsessively focusing on one aspect at the exclusion of learning about anything else that’s going on in the world.
By limiting my news sources to BBC and PBS I’m able to maintain my equanimity while also being informed. So the results are inline with what’s important to me.
On the call, two other people mentioned the same thing about news (and social media) and their efforts to reduce the amount of time spent on certain sites. We made a promise – no more partisan news sites!
Then came four emails from other people on the call that all said the same thing about the news and that they were going to be careful about what they watched going forward as well.
It was a very productive call!
Everything we do has a consequence. What you’re reading, watching, listening to, thinking about, the activities you do, the people you hang out with, your evening routine, your morning routine…
When we look at how we are living our lives through the lens of karma as a teaching, we can find all sorts of discrepancies between our actions and the results we are hoping to get.
A lot of what we do is simply out of habit – we’re just not aware of what we’re doing most of the time. This is why we don’t get the results we want.
So be clear about what it is you want. Ask yourself this question often. Then make sure your actions are in alignment with that desired result.
No one can make this happen for you. You have to make it happen. It’s your karma.