Whenever I don’t like someone else and something bad happens to them it’s not uncommon for me to chuckle and say karma’s a bitch!
But is it really? Is karma’s purpose to provide a system of reward and punishment for the things we do? Or is it basically following the natural path of cause and effect?
I’m sure we’ve all contemplated such questions but the law of karma is quite simple—every action has its consequences. The action itself is karma and the consequence of the action is called vipaka (translated from the Sanskrit as fruition).
Everything that happens to you is the result of something that has preceded it. If you jump off of a 1000 foot precipice (karma) you are going to be splattered on the rocks below (vipaka). This isn’t because you’re being punished for doing something stupid—instead; hitting the rocks is a direct consequence of the fall, the result of your jumping off the cliff. Your decision to jump in the first place is a result of previous karma (and vipaka) on your part.
It is all too common for people to use the word karma as an umbrella term meant to cover all causes and all effects without distinguishing the powers of discrimination and intention from the random and accidental. But karma is only one of the five vinayas (Sanskrit for discipline or rules) there is also dharma (natural laws or laws of nature), irthu (seasonal changes/climate), biija (laws of heredity) and chitta (the mind or stuff of the mind).
Every one of our thoughts and every one of our actions will generate some sort of consequence. Now here’s the point that most people seem to miss—the connection between thoughts/actions and the consequences they produce is neutral. But due to our imperfect human nature we tend to label the consequences according to our own personal experiences, perceptions, filters, dramas, stories etc. Thus we find it nearly impossible to just observe impartially without labeling or interfering.
Our limitless human imagination enables us to paint karma’s consequences any color we want but vipaka is unconcerned with our abstractions and remains relentless in spite of them. So whenever people misuse the term karma (jokingly or otherwise) to suggest what goes around comes around it’s usually not karma but vipaka that they’re trying to refer to.
The good news—there are acually many things that are governed by our choices alone. Both our karma and our chitta (mind) are uniquely our own even though in the end sometimes our consequences are karmic and other times it’s just that shit happens.
A final note.
Through simple meditation the root cause and nature of our karmic patterns can be fully understood and then managed. By meditating we can develop an awareness that helps us to go beyond the mind’s interpretations and clearly see our karmic patterns in action and properly acknowledge them. Meditation also gives us a calm, less emotionally reactive mind and prompts a relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system so that we can learn to approach life’s situations with more peace and wisdom and with less fear, anger or attachment—thereby reducing the accumulation of additional karma and its subsequent vipaka.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Courtesy of the author