I think, we can try to understand karma as, the interaction of actions and thoughts, between different sentient beings, in various situations. These interactions leads to new situations. Some situations happen in this life while others may stretch over a few lifetimes.
When we examine the world with our limited wisdom, we will not get the full picture. When we do not fully comprehend something, it doesn’t mean that it is false.
In a simplistic approach, if we are good to people, then people should be nice to us. This demonstrate that good begets good. However, the world is more complicated than that and people can be nasty too, even when we are behaving our best.
So why should we do good when the result is not guaranteed?
Ultimately, doing good will result in good. The result of a karma may not take place according to our expectation. An action in this life may not necessarily produce an immediate result in this lifetime.
For some people, they have much bad karma from their previous life. Consequently, it seems like no matter how much good they do in this life, nothing good comes to them. This is because the factors that are currently gathered and present in their life, are all resulting from bad karma from their past life. However, this doesn’t mean that the good they had done is wasted. It will materialise when the time is ripe. (In future, either in their current life or the next life)
The reverse is also possible. Someone may have very good karma in their previous life and is born into a comfortable life now. They continue to enjoy life even though they do a lot of bad deeds now. This is because the factors that are gathered in their present life, are results of their past good karma. The result of their present bad deeds may only gather and materialise in their future lives.
Some people have the karma to witness karma at work. Others do not have the karma to witness karma working…..
In short, we cannot determine when the result of our action will materialise.
The concept of karma, prevents one from giving up hope in doing good. Instead, it encourages one to be patient and resilient. Not to give up doing good even when the situation is bad.
For people with heavy bad karma from their past lives, it is important to engage in Buddhist mind training. Profound practice like chanting can help calm the mind to attract positive energy and wisdom. Once the mind is calmer and stronger, one can start other techniques like meditation etc. The purpose of this, is to achieve enlightenment amidst sufferings.
Therefore, more important than expecting immediate good result from a good action; Doing good will condition our mind to become conducive to enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness. In Buddhism, the main objective is enlightenment.
In a story about rebirth, a girl that was born in a rich family likes to play with a broom and find it entertaining to sweep the road. Naturally, this is an embarrassment to her affluent parents. It turns out that the little girl was reliving the memory of her previous lifetime as a road sweeper.
Buddhist believes that there are countless life times. Millions of previous lives and millions to come.
A child that is born with illness.
This may be due to his bad karma from his previous life. For example, if one constantly harms other beings, then one may take rebirth in a sickly body in their next life. Again, this is just one simplistic “equation” of how karma should work.
If we examine our life and realise how different factors in our life affected us, we should understand that life is more complicated than 1 plus 1 equals 2. Likewise, the way karma works is complicated. To have a deeper understanding, we will have to realise how we come about.
To share an alternate perspective, there is a Taiwanese Buddhist story of a sick child that I would like to share. Again, this is just for illustrating an alternate perspective to demonstrate how karma can work in various ways. It does not mean all sick child has similar Karma or cause.
In this story, a child was born with a serious medical condition to a nice couple. The couple were nice people who did not harm anybody. Due to the burden of care, both husband and wife had become financially strapped. Their career was also badly affected. Their life was going from bad to worse. The pain of witnessing their child’s struggle with sickness and the burden of caring for their sick child had also taken a toll on the mother’s health.
This bad situation ended when that sick child became enlightened. After his enlightenment, he revealed that in their previous live, they were enemy. His parents were his enemy who had harmed him greatly. Out of vengeance, he had sworn revenge upon his enemies. Consequently, he was reborn as their only child during this lifetime. His deep hatred and lust for revenge had worked in a twisted way. As the only child, he managed to exact much suffering upon his parent (His enemies from his previous life) He only recalled their bitter past relationship after his enlightenment.
When I read this story, I found it interesting because it provides a new perspective of karma and karmic relationship between various beings.
I think the parent’s love helped to create a situation that is conducive for the child to gain enlightenment. Had the parent been unkind or bad, the ending might have been different. By being good people, the bad karmic relationship had a good ending.
For me, I want to believe that karma exist. Because it motivates me towards good. I know that good mental habits creates a happy mind. A happy mind determines how we experience our life…..
May all be well and happy.
Jamyang, thank you for sharing these thoughts and story about Karma. Myself I absolutely believe in Karma. Yet the more I am studying and practicing Buddhism in my life, I turn to believe that there is no bad or good karma. There is just KARMA, it might be fortunate or not fortunate. Bad and good, is to me just a label, that evokes judgement, and I myself am working hard on not to label good or bad. I don’t know if that makes sense. Have a blissful weekend.
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Well said, well said. Our definition of good or bad is call relative truth. It changes according to time, custom, culture, thoughts etc.
So this is the warming of wisdom. The understanding of nature.
The next thing to ask (I think) is, if there is no good or bad, then why do we do good and avoid the bad? ( as taught by Buddha)
have fun 😉🙏
Thank you Jamyang for your response and the question. Well why do we avoid he bad? I can only say that we like to avoid the challenge of doing “bad”, in my opinion we, or only me , I am trying to not give into that challenge. Does that make sense to you or at all. Have a great week ahead of you with good challenges.
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Very true. The Buddha had continuously encouraged his disciples to take ownership of their actions. Do good and avoid bad.🙏
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Indeed, that’s it to take ownership and reflect on it.
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