What Is Karma?

Jan 21, 2022

“Karma” is a word that gets used a lot, but not understood very well. Even those who have grown up with the concept of Karma often learn an over-simplistic way of thinking about it - that sins of a past life cause bad things to happen to you in the current one. Just like a belief in a heaven in the sky for the “good” and a hell in the ground for the “bad” - this is a childish summary of a quite profound concept.

Karma is scientific, it is about the natural laws of cause and effect. Everything comes to be because something else brought it about. It’s not unrelated to the concept of Interbeing that Thich Nhat Hanh expounds - “this is because that is.” This can be due to our past actions, speech, and thoughts, or to a myriad other causes.

We don’t choose, nor have control, over many things that happen in our lives. We are subject to our environment, our genetics, the joys and traumas passed down to us by our ancestors, social factors, and even our very bodies. We don’t even choose our mental complexes - they arise due to a combination of life events, family dynamics, brain chemistry, culture, beliefs, and so forth.

While “what happens to us” may be due to causes from the past that we currently have no control over, it is possible to transform our karma and not be captives to it. We do this through practice. First, we meet ourselves where we are - our bodies, minds, emotions, genetics, what has been passed down to us by our ancestors, larger society and historical events. We accept that this is what has happened in the past, and we don’t take it personally, which helps us to start seeing more clearly.

We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond now, and that is where we have agency in the wheel of karma.

What is this “practice” that I speak of? It’s an approach to life that has the potential to liberate us from suffering and the causes of suffering. It’s strength, resilience, and happiness training for trying times - like the ones we are currently in! To learn more and sign up for my next Inner Peace Outer Peace class, click here:

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