Why did you become the person you are? How will you become the person you would like to be? What is it that creates the circumstances you encounter in life? How can meditation influence these circumstances? Understanding how meditation and karma create you and shape your future puts everything within your grasp. This article will show you how to make the most of karma.
The subject of karma always provokes a lot of discussion in our meditation classes. It is a fascinating subject to explore and explains much of what is obscure in the way life unfolds.
What is karma?
Karma is action. We act through body, speech and mind. Every action has a result. There is thus cause and effect, and karma is both. How you think, the things you say and do, all have consequences. These are the effects of karma and they do not only affect others, but also you. In fact, all that you do to others you will one day experience happening to you. (Cause and effect may not happen in one lifetime as I explained in this article on reincarnation.)
Because every person acts, everyone is under the influence of karma. When people act as a group, they come under the influence of group karma and also their individual karma. As every action is an interaction, there is a complex web of inter-related karmic cause and result.
I have explained the process of karma in more depth in this essay on ‘How Karma works.’ But for now, let us look at how karma shapes you as a person.
How we accumulate karma
The person you are now is the sum of all you have done. You are a product of your karma. So everything we have ever thought, said or done is the karma that we have accrued. Karma not only determines who we are now, but what we are experiencing now and what our future experiences will be.
Right now each of us is the product of some good and some bad karma. We are all imperfect human beings. Because of that, we can expect to experience some good and some bad circumstances. We will have our fair measure of happiness and suffering according to our previous deeds.
But, whenever bad things happen to us, we can respond with good karma. We can break the bad cycles and foster the good ones. We can stay in the good karma zone all the time.
How do we make good karma all the time?
It doesn’t matter what circumstances we encounter, we can always create good karma. Sure we will encounter difficulties, pain, suffering and danger. But, we can respond to this with patience, wisdom, focus and compassion. By acting like this, we generate good karma. That way, we do not remain trapped in the cycle of anger, harm and pain. We become free of that cycle of negative reaction. Instead we make something worthwhile out of hardship and difficulty.
When we encounter good things, pleasant people, praise and success, we can respond with gratitude and humility. Again, with these attitudes we make good karma. We can acknowledge the dependent nature of these things. Doing so, we avoid hubris, attachment and selfishness and the cycle of bad karma and suffering.
So the important thing in understanding karma is to see the need for more good karma and to diminish the prevalence of bad karma. We can do this any time.
The impulse for physical action and verbal action is a mental action. Mental action, our state of mind, is key in determining how much good, and how much bad karma we create. So, right in this very moment we can approach things with mindfulness, compassion and wisdom. Then we will even create good karma as we finish reading. (If we finish, that is!)
The states of the mind to cultivate and those we abandon for the sake of karma
Our good states of mind, virtues, give rise to good karma so it is vital that we encourage, foster and improve our level of virtue in this very moment. We need to grow strong in love, deep in wisdom, expansive in compassion. We must strengthen our generosity our ethics and care for others. These virtues serve both oneself and others. They bring happiness, peace and joy into our relationships and personal experience. Acting that way now is the karma for a better future.
When wise to karma we let go of the habit of non-virtue. We can do this immediately. Because we see the destructive nature of angry reactions, we seek to be free from this karma. Likewise with our greedy self-interest and slavery to envy. Seeing the problem, we want to be free.
So the great purpose of the practice of meditation and mindfulness is to move our mindset away from non-virtue and to stabilize it in virtue. Thus we cut off the source of bad karma, the actions that create suffering for oneself and others. We grow and develop virtue, the source of good karma, the actions which generate happiness.
Meditation and the need for virtue
Meditation is best defined as cultivating virtue. With meditation we train the mind in developing virtue. Thus, meditation itself is a most virtuous karma. In meditation we develop mindfulness, awareness, focus, concentration and insight. These are virtuous states of mind and the karmic causes of ever greater happiness. Further, in meditation we cultivate the virtues of love, compassion, wisdom, generosity, ethics and so forth. These are the karmic causes of many good conditions and expanded happiness. They can also be the causes for your eventual Enlightenment.
Everybody enjoys more good karma. We can thus be mindful in creating good actions. But we can also start and maintain a regular daily meditation practice. When directed well, these meditations will end the effects of negative karma. They will propel our life through positive karma. In the long run they will bring us to Enlightenment.
Karma as cause and effect, creator and created
So our character, the person we are now, is the effect of our previous karma. What we do now is the karma that will produce the person we become. Our karma is our creator.
Two people of differing character encounter a poor person, homeless and sleeping on the street. Each will respond according to their karma.
One person has a history of thought, speech and deed conditioned by anger and self importance. It will irritate him, the unsightly mess blocking his way, and he will fume at a public nuisance.
The other, perhaps with a history of Tuesday meditation classes, may see an object of compassion, a person who has lost their way. They see an opportunity for generosity and caring.
One person creates negative karma, the other creates positive karma. One makes a positive future for themselves by a virtuous response. The other does the opposite. They act according to the person they have become because of their karma. So where did that begin?
With karma, how did it all begin and how will it all end?
There is little point in trying to trace each karmic result to its cause. In this article I gave a few examples, though, to just emphasise the principle.
Karma abides within consciousness and, as I explained in this article, consciousness is a continuum with no start or end point. As cause and effect is without beginning or end, there is not much point trying to get your mind around such an infinity. Nor is there any point trying to find an absolute beginning.
But, what can end is bad karma. We can stop all bad karma and remove that of the past. With that we can bring all bad conditions and suffering to a permanent end.
That is the role of meditation, to rid ourselves of bad karma and suffering as soon as possible. How soon that happens depends on how you practice and the guidance you gain.