What is Karma? [Alicia Keys thinks it’s Fate. Actually, it’s just the opposite]

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jan 12, 2009
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Pop Culture’s got its own ideas of what Karma means…usually it’s got something to do with what goes around, comes around—which ain’t far off. But some think it’s got something to do with Alicia Keys’ number two:

Unh-unh. It’s not fate. It’s not destiny. Rather, Karma is just the opposite: the simple, eternal law that your present thoughts, choices and actions determine (y)our future. But I’ll let the experts weigh in:

“Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don’t even notice it.”
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Karma moves in two directions. If we act virtuously, the seed we plant
will result in happiness. If we act nonvirtuously, suffering results.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

“Such is the moral construction of the world that no national crime passes unpunished in the long run… Were present oppressors to reflect on the same truth, they would spare to their own countries the penalties on their present wrongs which will be inflicted on them in future times. The seeds of hatred and revenge which they [sow] with a large hand will not fail to produce their fruits in time. Like their brother robbers on the highway, they suppose the escape of the moment a final escape and deem infamy and future risk countervailed by present gain.”
– Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and U.S. president (1743-1826), letter to Francois de Marbois, 1817

Karma, ahhh. We sow what we reap… We reap what we sow! We reap what
we sow. The law of cause and effect. And we are all under this law.”
– Nina Hagen

And that last is the literal definition. Karma means action, and is fundamentally no more good nor bad than is gravity. If gravity hits you over the head with an anvil, you say it’s tragic, it’s awful. If gravity brings the cooling rain down upon your crops, you say it is a blessing. It’s neither here nor there, and it’s both.

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, French-based Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist and author (b. 1926)

It’s the law of interdependence—that every action produces a reaction, and that when you combine billions of actions with billions of reactions, and they begin to react to one another’s reactions…well that’s why it’s not as simple as if you do good, good things come back to you. Or if you do bad, that bad things will happen to you. Why? Because your karma could, boomeranging back toward you, come into contact with other streams of karma, either good or bad.

But if you want to keep things simple, live by these words:

“If you want to be happy, think of others. If you want to be unhappy, think only of oneself.” It’s the Buddhist version of Christianity’s Golden Rule: Do Unto Others as you would have Others Do Unto You.

We all know wonderful, cheerful, heartfelt people who delight in life, who consistently (though not allllways) bring out the best in others, whether friends or strangers. And everyone loves ’em right back.

“Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself.”
– Felix Adler, American educator and reformer (1851-1933)

So live your life with the glass half full, and even if you lose out, and fail, and cry, and get depressed, and wonder how to go forward, and feel alone, and feel self-pity, you’ll remember:

“When you lose, do not lose the lesson.”
~ Dalai Lama.

Karma is not just about the troubles, but also about surmounting them.”
– Rick Springfield

And that’s why we here at elephantjournaldotcom focus on three often disconnected arenas: (non-new agey) spirituality, daily environmentalism and political action. Because once you get the idea that taking responsibility for your every action, your every dollar spent is a good thing…well you become an environmentalist (naturally!), and you become vested in making positive, non-aggressive political change (whether locally or nationally, or internationally). And, thirdly, you always come back to where karma begins: in your mind:

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” ~ UN Charter.

For more Karma quotes, click here.

Brutally honest sign: karma


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


15 Responses to “What is Karma? [Alicia Keys thinks it’s Fate. Actually, it’s just the opposite]”

  1. sj* says:

    love it!!
    i have heard maharishi mahesh yogi say, “no one knows the ways of karma.” it is very tricky business.

    karma is truly just action. no goods or bads about it. BUT, every action has a reaction.

    you can choose salt, or sugar. and that is a direct result of consciousness.

    and voila! everything comes back to expansion of consciousness.

  2. Heather says:

    Love it! Next overused yet ambiguous, somewhat spiritual word that needs concrete defining: “Zen”

  3. […] karmic post. a nice article on karma en le Elephant Journal. many modern misinterpretations running around. karma is just action folks. quit complicating it or […]

  4. […] know what I think? Be green. If you are green—that is, you care about the effect your actions have on the earth—you’ll naturally 1) buy only what you need and 2) you’ll buy […]

  5. Joey says:

    Brilliant. I love the exploration of words. Thanks for looking at “karma” today and asking the question “what” – this in itself could be an anchor segment in Elephant?

  6. John Joseph says:

    Great quotes. This merits a further exploration of the subject: reincarnation, past karma….from various perspectives. I think of my life in terms of Dharma – the way of sowing positive seeds.

  7. My view, from many years meditation practice and work as a healer is that Karma is created when we create separation in ourselves from our direct experience in the moment.
    Obviously this is a bare bones explanation, i wrote in more detail what karma is here http://lifedivine.net/main/what-is-karma/

  8. […] in my What is… series on ‘the mindful life’—elephant journal’s editorial mission—comes this […]

  9. randomsubu says:

    Uhhh no, I disagree, to some extent. Rather, in a sense, the Bhagavad Gita disagrees: You have a right to do your duty, but you have no right to expect any consequences, good or bad. So while you always have a choice – not fate, not destiny – you have no right to the fruit of your labors.
    Karmanye vadhikarasthe, maa phaleshu kadachana: http://vinaykrishna.blogspot.com/2005/06/karmanye

  10. mike says:

    This has been on my mind today since reading Waylon's post "I don’t believe in Reincarnation. Am I still a Buddhist?" http://bit.ly/ZIPp8 . I more questions than answers. If we believe that our actions have consequences, then it is difficult for me to deny the idea of rebirth. Basically speaking, positive actions produce positive results and negative actions produce negative results (karma).

    If this is so, how do we explain sick babies or people born with muscular dystrophy (as a friend of mine has) and all sorts of disabilities and disease. How do we explain when really bad things happen to really good people. An 18 year old girl died I knew because of medication her mother took while she was pregnant. Did this girl deserve to die? Did she harm anyone?

    This is why if I am a buddhist and I buy into the notion of karmic energy as a force in our lives, I have to believe in the possibility of rebirth. The process of a continuation of the mindstream and it's karmic imprints, from one birth to the next.
    There are certainly "instant" karmic results seen taking place, BUT, how else could some of the previously mentioned tragedies have occurred, if not for karmic seeds ripening in future lifetimes?

  11. […] believe in Karma. And I believe in Ski Karma. And two days ago my bad Ski Karma caught up with me. As I boarded the […]

  12. Alicia Keys’s music fills our hearts with joy. A new instrument to give voice to her music can only be welcomed by all that love Alicia's amazing talent.

  13. […] am a believer in some forms of fate and feel that I have perhaps been dealt this life because fate knew that I would be able to face […]

  14. […] I thought: No. Karma is not like that. If I need more time in my schedule, I should discern where I am wasting my energy and become better […]

  15. […] Jeannie called it karma. The rest of us called it chutzpah. […]