Understanding Karma

Buddha SarnathHow do we account for the inequalities in this ill-balanced world?

Why, it may be questioned, should one’s life be a succession of difficulties and suffering while another is provided the circumstances to enjoy his entire life? Why should one child die when he is hardly a days old, another cut down suddenly in youth and yet another go on live to a ripe old age? Why should a child be born into starvation and slavery while another be born into the lap of luxury?  Why should one be born healthy and another sickly, deformed, crippled or blind?

There is nothing in this world that happens by blind chance or accident. To say that anything happens by chance, is no more true than to say the words before you had appeared by itself. Strictly speaking, nothing happens to man that he does not deserve for some reason or another.

In view of this, some believe that our fate is controlled or willed by a god.  However the presence of so much suffering and inequality among men begs the question why god will allow or cause this – unless one concedes that god takes a strange delight in seeing some men suffer. The concept of an all-loving god simply cannot be reconciled to the amount of intense suffering we witness everyday and no rational person can accept the belief that our lives are controlled by a loving and powerful god.

Perplexed by the seemingly inexplicable, apparent disparity that exists amongst humanity, a young man named Subha approached the Buddha and questioned him regarding it.

“What is the reason, what is the cause, O Lord, that we find amongst mankind the short-lived and the long-lived, the diseased and the healthy, the ugly and the beautiful, the powerless and the powerful, the poor and the rich, the low-born and the high-born the ignorant and the wise?

The Buddha’s reply was:

“All living beings have karma as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is karma that differentiates beings into low and high states. ~ Culakarma vibhanga sutta”

The Buddha tells us that much of what we experience today is the result of our own karma, or our own inherited past actions and our present deeds. We ourselves are responsible for our own deeds, happiness and misery. We build our own hells and we create our own heavens. We are the architects of our own fate. It is this doctrine of karma that explains the existence of suffering, the mystery of so-called fate or predestination of other religions, and above all the inequality of mankind.

Karma means the actions we perform intentionally.  Karma constitutes both good and evil. Good actions gets good. Evil receives evil. A popular saying goes “what goes around comes around”.  A man will reap what he has sown. If one plants an apple seed, he will get a apple tree which in time will bear him apples. All the conditions present in his planting of an apple seed simply flows along to its logical result.  Thus, we are the result of what we were, and we will be the result of what we are. It is important to understand that as our present actions allows us to influence our future, karma is not fate. The Buddha pointed out that if everything is determined, then there would be no free will and no moral or spiritual life; we would merely be the slaves of our past.

“Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled.
Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little,  fills himself with good.
~ Dhammapada 122″

RefugeeKarma is only one of many orders that prevail in the universe. It is a law in itself operating naturally in the universe.  One who understands the workings of karma is given consolation, hope, self reliance and moral courage. By understanding karma, we can use it to our tremendous advantage.   It validates our effort, kindles our enthusiasm, makes us ever kind, tolerant and considerate. This understanding naturally prompts us to refrain from evil and to do good.  In contrast to the times when people believed in superstitious religions and subscribed to a morality because of a fear of punishment or promises of reward, those that understand karma develop a natural morality because of their understanding of the natural forces of nature.

“If beings knew as I know the results of sharing gifts, they would not enjoy their use without sharing them with others, nor would the taint of stinginess obsess the heart and stay there. Even if it were their last and final bit of food, they would not enjoy its use without sharing it, if there were anyone to receive it. ~ Itivuttaka 18”