July 23, 2017

The Buddhist View on Karma (& How we can Cleanse Ours).


The last discussion I had about karma occurred in my Introduction to Buddhism course.

One student asked our teacher whether we should believe in karma or not. The teacher’s answer was rather interesting.

He said, “Karma is not something you choose to believe in. And, the fact is, it doesn’t matter whether you do or not. Karma happens naturally to everyone.”

Karma is a natural law, similar to the law of gravity. It knows no gender, no name, no exceptions. We hear about individual karma and collective karma—the karma of a community or a country.

But what exactly is karma? It’s a Sanskrit word that means action, work, or deed.

Although some people mistake it for fate, karma is different. It has nothing to do with destiny or luck. Karma simply means that for every action, there is a consequence.

According to Buddhism, there are four characteristics of karma:

  1. Karma is definite: Karma always brings a result, in the same way that apple seeds produce apples.
  2. Karma magnifies: A small action can bring a big result if we do it with happiness and good intention.
  3. Karma is infallible: We don’t experience the results if we don’t create the causes.
  4. Karma doesn’t vanish: We carry our karma from lifetime to lifetime. However, we can purify it through good actions.

The Buddha explained that positive actions are those that bring happiness for ourselves and for others, while negative actions are those that bring misery for ourselves and others.

He also shares what’s referred to as the 10 Non-Virtues, or actions that negatively impact our karma:

1. Killing
2. Stealing
3. Sexual misconduct
4. Lying
5. Divisive speech
6. Harsh speech
7. Gossip
8. Greediness
9. Ill will
10. Harmful views

Although the concept of karma is an imperative law in Buddhism, it’s also a universal truth that we can spot in our own lives. Regardless of our religion or principles, if we scrutinize our own past and present, we’ll recognize that karma exists—whatever we do, there are always consequences.

Taking karma to heart can create a radical change in our lives. Our good actions benefit not only us, but also others. And our individual karma affects the collective karma of our environment. So by cleansing our karma, we cleanse the collective karma as well.

By shedding awareness on our present actions, we can create a more beneficial future. According to the Buddha, even if our karma is bad, we can still cleanse it and create better results.

Here are a few steps we can take to cleanse our karma:

  1. Be remorseful: Honestly regretting our negative choices can play a major role in cleansing our bad karma. We can’t lie or fake our remorse. Karma is an immense intelligence that recognizes honesty.
  2. Be intentional: A frequent question about karma is whether it’s the action or intention that counts most. According to Buddhism, intention matters more as it precedes the action. Both surgeons and murderers have the power to kill, but the surgeon’s intention is to heal while the murderer’s intention is to kill. Check the motivation behind your actions and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
  3. Be aware: Before you act, give yourself some space. With time, this process will become more automatic. Remind yourself that we shouldn’t take any action that is harmful to another living being.
  4. Be grateful: Gratitude helps cleanse our karma. When we aren’t grateful, we can unconsciously create negativity that leads to unwholesome actions. Make a list of what you’re grateful for and recite it when you wake up and before you go to sleep.
  5. Be kind: Think of others. Being good to others brings abundance and happiness, and teaches us the real meaning of compassion. Train yourself to be kind.


Source: Introduction to Buddhism, Tushita Meditation Centre.



Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Ben White/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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