Buddha taught us to say goodbye to karma

Karma, as a word, is well established in the English language. But what most people know is that in a way it has taken on a life of its own. Or else it has come to take on a meaning needed for English speakers.¬†What adds to this confusion is that karma from Sanskrit for “action” is used by Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. While they all have similar meanings there are differences, particularly to Buddhism. In Hinduism and Jainism karma is used to work out what you shall be reborn (samsara) as. Good karma leads to rebirth into higher states, and bad karma, obviously, leads to rebirth into lower states. While Buddhism also sees this occurring its ultimate goal is to end rebirth by ending both good and bad karma. In other words, Buddhism sees rebirth as negative, while Hinduism and Jainism does not see rebirth, in anyway, as a negative notion.

What is karma?

Karma is volitional action caused by intention (cetana). The result of karma is its fruit (karmaphala). Karma are of two types – wholesome (kusala) and unwholesome (akusala). Both of these lead to rebirth (samsara). Wholesome karma leads to a superior rebirth while unwholesome karma leads to an inferior rebirth. 

Rebirth does not necessarily pertain to the rebirth of a lifespan. Every moment is a rebirth so long as it is conditioned by an action from an intention. Rebirth is akin to sustainment or continuity. Actions not stemming from an intention are without karma and therefore without fruit. Karma without fruit is therefore desirable in Buddhism.  

Why people misunderstand the Buddhist concept of karma?

You often hear people say in English things like, “He will get what he deserves”, or “What goes around comes around”. And often you hear these same people say, “He has bad karma”. But that is not what is meant by karma, at least not in the Buddhist sense.

Firstly, karma (or kamma in Pali) which means ‘work’ or ‘deed’ in sanskrit should not to be confused with kama (as in The Kama Sutra) which means ‘desire’. They are not variant spellings of the same word but two separate words with separate meanings. Furthermore, the concept of kama is related to Hinduism and not Buddhism.

Secondly, it should also be understood that karma is a term used in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, with all three religions having different meanings for the term. In Hinduism accumulation of karma is important in order to reach liberation. In Jainism the soul is surrounded by karmic “dirt” which “clings on to souls” which attract it. In Buddhism all production of karma – whether good or bad – through one’s actions is to be avoided. Thus the interpretation varies according to religious tradition which is reflected in the ways to attain their goals. In Buddhism it is awakening or bodhi. In Hinduism and Jainism it is liberation or moksha, though again the meaning of these terms are different for each religion. One should be aware that the word is only a “container” and not its “content” or meaning.

So in Buddhism if by avoiding karma we are to be awakened then how can one talk about anything that has to do with deservingness or merit. In Buddhism we do not talk in this way for this very reason. Merit of deed is wholly an English language convention and concept attached to the word karma by mistake.


We share a reality (thoughts on the bombing of the Boston Marathon)

It saddens me that people feel they need to hurt others in order for their pain and dissatisfaction to be heard. Whatever the problem may be there should never be any reason why one should take life even if the human condition is seemingly unbearable. Solutions can only be solved as a collective for we share a reality. We are dependent beings in a common environment at a certain time. So your problem is essentially my problem and we should live with this understanding and find solutions together. You, terrorists, are wrong if you believe you are alone in this world. You, America, too are wrong if you think they alone are the problem. So when we “talk with guns” and not words we are not really talking but shouting in pain, shouting in anger. And no one is listening in such an atmosphere.

Prayers go out to those who lost someone.