People often speak of karma in a flippant manner, but there tends to be little understanding behind the conversation. To truly understand what is meant by karma, this article wishes to clarify the law of life, also called the law of karma.
The law of karma is a law of action and consequence. In other words, this is cause and effect. It applies to everyone and everything, even if we do not believe that karma exists. By understanding this law, we are better able to live in awareness and to choose the path that is closest to our highest interest. Put another way, as humans, we are compelled to act. This is our nature. To simply stay alive, we must eat, breathe, drink, and locate sources for both food and drink. In taking each of these actions and many of the others we do every moment, we face consequences for both ourselves and others.
This changes the question that we ask. We may ask whether or not to act, but should ask how to act for the best. As quoted from the Bhagavad Gita,” To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.” (Chapter 2, Verse 47) This verse shows two imperative concepts, that of intention and non-attachment. Intention is the motive for the action. However, to understand the whole concept, we also need to understand detachment. This is a central teaching to Gita. This is not a call for inaction, but a lack of attachment to the expected or wanted results. Put simply, we must do what is right for the right reason, not because it is necessarily what we want. For example, giving to the poor is a good action, but doing so in order to show others how generous you are is the right action for the wrong reason. The action may be good, but the motivation is selfish and ties to attachment for a desired positive public image. Action and intention are tied together to determine consequences of the action.
There is no judge that determines whether our deeds are good or bad or the reasons are good or bad, but acts of self-aggrandizement will not bring the joy and peace we so desire. Our intention affects the law of karma. Even two actions that bring about identical results do not necessarily have the same consequences. This is because the intention is different. Two men wielding knives may both result in someone dying, but one is a surgeon who lost a patient while trying to offer healing surgery while the other is a murderer who intends to take a life over a squabble. The consequences of both actions will be different, just like the intentions. As humans, we may not always be able to see consequences because of our limited life view so we must take what we know to be right in each circumstance. This means freeing ourselves from the attachment to selfish desires and acting in the highest interests for all, not just self. Understanding the unity of life makes this easier to accept. We are all part of the same whole.