What is Karma?

Karma is a term that many people are familiar with but relatively few people understand. They might tell you that karma is when people get what they deserve. Good things happen to good people, while bad things happen to bad people. That's a very simplified version of the concept of karma, but it isn't terribly far from the truth.

Karma, which is not to be confused with its common misspelling "kharma," is a concept related to Buddhism that has been described by the saint Paramhansha Yogananda as a "law of justice" that determines who we are. Yogananda stated that we cannot escape our own basic patterns, but we do have the choice to follow our basic nature or work against it. Therefore, it is not the outward appearance of our actions that determine what effects they will have in the future, but the intentions behind them. Buddhists believe that we must accept the consequences of our actions and learn from them on our path to enlightenment.

Karmic Results

According to Buddhist beliefs and teachings, it is karma that determines our cycle of rebirth. Negative actions such as killing other people will lead to misfortunes either in this life or in the next life, while virtuous actions will yield positive results. The connection between an action and the karmic result of that action are usually not obvious or even observable, but they are said to be unavoidable. Furthermore, there are five heinous actions that will result in an immediate rebirth in hell. These actions are matricide, patricide, shedding the blood of a Buddha, killing an arhat or creating a schism in the sangha, a monastic community of Buddhist monks and nuns.

Karma and Nirvana

In Buddhism, most karma refers to that which leads to worldly happiness, but there is also another kind of supremely good karma that can end suffering forever. Those who are liberated by this karma achieve Nirvana and do not generate anymore karma. Nevertheless, Buddhists are taught to practice only wholesome actions, as they are said to eventually purify the mind and lead to liberation.