Kamma / Karma – Our thoughts and deeds, how we live matters.

Kamma [Pali.] / Karma [Skt.] (cause and effect) relates to our state of mind, thoughts, and thinking and the resultant activities born of these thoughts, thinking and mind states. Traditionally, Kamma is discussed in terms of intentional thoughts; however, it is crucial to incorporate and consider our underlying background thoughts and patterns of thinking along with careless and unconsidered or unexamined actions. Our actions, what we do, and the consequences of our activities are born of our thoughts and how we relate to thinking. Our mental, physical, and spiritual actions and their imprints condition our minds and conscious experiences.

If we dwell unknowingly in states of unwholesomeness, excessive negativity, worry, denial, disheartedness or other similar states, the result will be the suffering of their imprint. However, suppose we develop an intention and motivation for wholesomeness, well-being, peace, health, Refuge, and compassionate, mindful living. What emerges is more inclined to be beneficial for ourselves, others and the world, and a well and healthy imprint has a greater potential to result. The mind locked into the patterns of thought and activity that create suffering can change and transform. We can rewire our minds and lives, altering our views and perspectives, attitudes, outlooks and actions towards a more wholesome position characterised by interest, curiosity, care and enthusiasm for life, building an okayness with our capacity and abilities to work with the truths of suffering.

Essentially, kamma is the teaching that invites us to take an interest and close look at how we live and its effects on life and the world system. It encourages us to contemplate and consider how we think, respond and behave, emphasising the significance of our choices and conduct, the importance of how and what we think and believe, and the way we act and live matters. Kamma can be explored and understood through the teachings on meritorious (wholesome, healthy, ethical, exemplary) and unmeritorious (unwholesome, harmful, unethical) aspects of body, speech and mind, and are intricately linked with the practice of taking Refuge in the Three Jewels and the Dhamma Precepts. 

In Buddhist perspectives, unmeritorious characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  • Body – Taking life, stealing, engaging in sexual misconduct and abuse. 
  • Speech – Lying; engaging in intrigue, deception, or distortion; using harsh, cutting, destructive, demeaning language; participating in falsity, gossip, thoughtless and idle chatter.
  • Mind – Envy, yearning want, greed, hatred, jealousy, deliberately wishing harm, propagating or advancing ill-will, displaying disregard, or disrespecting the sacred nature of life.

In Buddhist perspectives, meritorious characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  • Body – Respect for all life, cultivating life-affirming and respectful relationships, expressions of tenderness, generosity, and friendship.
  • Speech – Truthfulness, suchness, silence, practising deep listening, exercising restraint, offering belief and support, being constructive, solutions-based, maintaining openness, clarity, conciseness, transparency, directness, and simplicity.
  • Mind – Cultivate and sustain openness, watchfulness, comprehension, understanding, love and kindness, friendliness, patience, humility, extending well-wishes, sympathy, compassion, nurturing and promoting equanimity, ordinariness, and maintaining a sacred outlook and overview.  

I encourage an in-depth exploration, thorough examination and expansion of these. Later, in another article, you will find these ideas again as they are expressed through the Precepts. Essential to peace and Refuge is exercising our capacity for remaining open to adopting, adapting and applying language through these concepts that are appropriate to our time and place, taking into account the current cultural, societal, environmental and global conditions, encouraging a trajectory and evolution of ethics, values and principles increasing building Refuge, peace and health. The karmic consequences of remaining entangled in our sufferings and uncertainties, bound and bewildered by obstacles and hindrances, as well as our misinterpretations and lack of awareness of dhammas and our lack of mindfulness, are undeniably real. The consequences are evident in our personal lives, the human-centric world, our global conflicts, and the ecological degradation happening to the Earth’s biosphere and foundations of life on Earth.

Be ever mindful of how you interpret the teachings on Kamma / Karma.

Unfortunately, there are some unhelpful interpretations surrounding the concept. Kamma is not to be perceived as a case of we have done something inherently bad or wrong, either in this life or a previous one, and therefore, you will have something terrible happen to you, or you will end up in the hell realms in your next life. Similarly, it should not be perceived as the reason for experiencing illness, trauma or difficulty or as confirmation that you deserve hardship or troubled circumstances; all this revolves around self-centric perspectives. Always recall the central reasons for the perpetuation of suffering, and dukkha primarily stems from excessive ‘I’ centric-ness—the grasping at a separate self and chasing after and wanting for or aversion to or rejecting reality. Furthermore, kamma gets misinterpreted and portrayed as you made a mistake or did something ineptly, and life is trying to teach you something, as though some harsh lesson must be learned. Again, this interpretation is bound up in self-centeredness.

By observing how we live and the results of our actions, we can gradually and increasingly come to understand how life is and the true nature of dhammas. Prajna (understanding of life intelligence) can grow, enabling us to discern more clearly how to foster health, peace and Refuge within the bounds of our capacities, limits of our abilities, and resources, making life more manageable and workable given the conditions and circumstances of our lives. We can plant the seeds from which Refuge can grow, and we can water and nourish these within and all around us. It is important to remember that situations change, and opportunities for wholesome thought, activity, and being are ever-present. It takes effort and energy; know that nothing is final, permanently fixed or immutable.

In our practice, we are asked to check our minds daily for our intentions, motivations, and planned activities. Explore the nuances and details of mind activity gladly, with an ethical and moral willingness that remains open and receptive to change. Take each opportunity to persevere with good intentions. Also, consider what to do when suffering comes and how we wish to think and act in both challenging and favourable situations throughout the day or night. Make familiar the good qualities that support the building of Refuge and a healthy, peaceful world and life while remaining determined to restrain and abandon unhelpful, unwholesome traits, even during times filled with struggle and difficulty.

Individually and collectively, what we do matters significantly; contemplate the effects involved, as everything we do, say and think has an imprint within and all around us, shaping the future and life through us. We share all things, and our imprints are shared collectively, reverberating throughout the world. From our actions, our footprints and impacts on our own and other people’s experiences of living to the foundational elemental organic and inorganic chemistry of life, kamma has a bearing. Reflecting on kamma enables us to take willing responsibility for how we live and ways to govern life well.

Kamma is the creator and catalyst of extraordinary diversity and the full potential of the human species, having a profound imprint on evolution and life itself. When understood and integrated into our lives, Kamma serves as a great protector of health, peace, and Refuge for all beings and all life.

By Genyen Ian Hackett – Tig-Le House, Margaret River, Western Australia

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00