6.5 mins read + a video.
Where did COVID-19 spring from? This surprising catastrophe hasn’t actually appeared out of nowhere, of course – it has been a long time in the making. It has arisen in dependence upon numerous physical causes — whatever those may be, and opinion differs — and also in dependence upon numerous mental causes – to wit, our individual and collective intentions and actions.
A little while back I wrote an article called Quantum Buddhism, which was inspired by this video:
This video gives a glimpse into how essential our minds are in creating our reality — in fact, our intentions do create our reality. Buddha talked about this many, many centuries ago, he called it “karma”.
What exactly is karma?
The Sanskrit word “karma” means “action.” It refers specifically to our mental actions, or intentions; and more generally to the law of cause and effect, or actions and their effects, as applied to the world of our mind.
The law of karma is a special instance of the law of cause and effect, according to which all our actions of body, speech, and mind are causes and all our experiences are their effects. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Everything we are experiencing right now, good or bad, is a result of the decisions and intentions we created in the past – not just the immediate past but over many lifetimes. And everything we decide or intend to do now is setting us up for future experiences. We are creating innumerable causes for stuff to happen every single day, designing the landscapes of our mind.
Where do all our good and bad experiences come from? According to Buddhism they are the result of the positive and negative karma we created in the past. As a result of positive karma, attractive and agreeable people appear in our life, pleasant material conditions arise, and we live in a beautiful environment; but as a result of negative karma, unpleasant people and things appear. This world is the effect of the collective karma created by the beings who inhabit it. Because karma originates in the mind—specifically in our mental intentions—we can see that all worlds arise from the mind. ~ Modern Buddhism
Taking karma into account
Life doesn’t arise from blind chance nor merely physical causes. To get a handle on our life and the direction it takes, it’s hugely helpful to think about karma.
We know from Science 101, or from plain old observation, that nothing comes from nothing. Everything in the physical world has causes; and depending on the causes you get a different effect. If something exists, we have to say there is a definite cause of that thing. If something is a product, we have to say it is the effect of a cause.
Every phenomenon arises from something that’s in the same substantial continuum. For example, our human body comes from the union of our mother’s egg and father’s sperm. A wooden table comes from wood. Wool carpets come from sheep, not from Daddy Long Legs.
Scientists and others have spent generations analyzing causes and effects. As a result, humankind has gained enormous control over and advances in the physical world.
Buddha is a scientist of the mind. The law of karma is just this immutable law of cause and effect as applied to the internal world of our mind, where our mental actions (or intentions) are the substantial causes and our experiences their effects. Understanding this will lead to enormous control over and advances in our mind.
Whenever we do anything intentional, it’s like throwing a boomerang in our mind. Or, as the old saying goes, what goes around comes around. Our lives are divided into good experiences, bad experiences, and neutral experiences and, if we could trace them back, we would see that our good experiences come from our good actions, our bad experiences from our bad actions, and our neutral experiences from our neutral actions. That, in a nutshell, is karma.
The world we “inhabit” or experience therefore depends not just on our current thoughts, moods, perceptions, and so on, but also on our previous thoughts or, specifically, our previous intentions, which are the substantial causes of our experiences. Venerable Geshe Kelsang explained in his 2000 Mahamudra teachings how all subject minds and object things arise simultaneously from karmic potentialities in the root mind, like waves arising from an ocean, as explained more here.
Take today for example. What happened today and where did it come from?
Your experience of today has been ripening from potentials in your mind left by previous intentions or karma. Moreover, we cannot point to a “today” that is other than our experience of today — try pointing at today and see! …….
This shows that there is no objective “today.” There is no “today” out there, outside the mind. Today has just been the moment by moment unfurling of karmic appearances, like a dream unfurling within our mind. It’ll be the same tomorrow. It’s been like this every day.
Can’t judge others
We can’t necessarily tell from people’s outward actions what their intensions are, which means we can’t necessarily tell what karma others are creating with their mental, bodily, and verbal actions.
For example, if I’m standing by road next to Jocelyn and I lash out and knock her over, is that good karma, bad karma, or no karma?!
It might seem pretty bad on the surface of things, and would be if I had pushed her over out of hatred. But what if I wanted to push her out of the way of a passing truck? Or what if I just had a nervous tic and knocked her over unintentionally?
We can only tell about our own actions. Buddha used to say we shouldn’t use his teachings as a magnifying glass to judge other people: “Ooh, look at him, he’s so bad!” Buddhism or Dharma is meant as a mirror to hold up to our OWN thoughts and actions. If we can do this, enormous positive benefits can come to us and we are increasingly able to create a world that is happy, including all the causes for the things that we want. But the only stance to take with respect to others, according to Buddha, is “How can I help you?”
We need to know
Geshe Kelsang says that there are immense contradictions between our wishes and the actions we are performing to fulfill those wishes. Maybe in the short term our actions sometimes seem to work out to fulfil our wishes – if we shoot someone an angry email they may shut up for a while, for example — but in the long run our actions can set us up for disaster. This is because we are not taking karma into account.
If everything depends upon intention, as all Buddhas and some quantum physicists are saying, then, per the video above:
The truth is that no amount of fighting and protesting and campaigning will create real, lasting change as long as there’s anger and hatred and resistance in our hearts. We’ve been down this futile path for endless centuries. One problem solved, and a new one springs in its place, necessitated by the negative energy that solved the first one.
Everything begins and ends in our minds. There is no world outside of our mind, everything is dream-like karmic appearance of mind, created by our intentions. Whatever we intend comes back to us sooner or later. If we keep putting negativity into the world, that’s all we’re going to keep getting back out of it.
What kind of field?
Over 2600 years ago, when Buddha explained karma — the power of our intentions to create our reality — he used the analogy of sowing seeds in a field of soil:
Every action we perform leaves an imprint, or potentiality, on our very subtle mind, and each imprint eventually gives rise to its own effect. Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing seeds in that field. Virtuous actions sow seeds of future happiness and non-virtuous actions sow seeds of future suffering. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Back in the day, Buddha probably used the analogy of a field because there were a lot of farmers around (and modern science was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye). But I reckon we could also talk about planting intentions in the quantum field that later show up as our experiences. Every time we intend something — that is, think, say, or do something deliberately — then its result shows up in our life, sooner or later.
Karma has so many implications for our life! The more we know about it, the better. So over to you. What do you make of karma? I would love to see your comments below.
Thank you! I am studying Karma right now. This is very helpful.
Oh great, good karmic timing 🙂
Brilliant, karma is such a vast topic and so integral to the Buddhist path, I am looking forward to the other articles. One question, it disturbs me when people react adversely to an action done with good intention. This must be a common thing, do you think the disturbance is due to attachment to pleasing people or simply strong self-grasping? I understand that karma is embedded there somewhere, with individual karmas at play all the time no wonder there’s so much confusion between people.
Could you give me an example?
Understand that context is important though less specifically I’m thinking of those fairly mundane instances when helping with good intention is not received favourably. Is the way I react to this a result of my karma, as I notice patterns at play. Sorry to be vague, hope this makes sense.
I guess we all want to be understood, and especially appreciated for our good intentions 🙂 But if that’s not happening, rather than being disturbed, we could create the causes for this by focusing instead on understanding and appreciating others.
I have seen this truth in my life in several ways. Years ago, I worked at a large hospital in the “Cancer Registry”. I reviewed random medical records of former cancer patients, and documented treatment and any recurrences. I reviewed the entire chart of each patient and reported the findings that would go to the American Cancer Society. The most interesting charts were of mental patients. Of course, all were interesting and well documented, but the mental patients had a record of physical issues as well as accounts of their mental issues. They included doctors notes on both. Time and again, I found that these patients were afraid of getting cancer and in many cases, a particular kind of cancer. It seemed unusual that all did get cancer and most the type they were “afraid of”. Of course working in the Registry, I only reviewed charts of cancer patients. However, it made me wonder the following: 1. Did their obsession with cancer actually cause them to get it? or 2: Did they somehow know in advance that they were going to get it? I have never known of any studies done on the questions above. I have always believed that the brain is computer like and that we program it with our thoughts and actions.
What an fascinating example. Thank you for sharing this.
I loved this ‘ Today has just been the moment by moment unfurling of karmic appearances, like a dream unfurling within our mind. It’ll be the same tomorrow. It’s been like this every day.’ it make it seem very subtle and also already out of our hands by the time it is unfurling. So you’re absolutely right of course, we need to focus on our actions now if we want positive things to unfurl in the future.
People can become quite offended when karma is taught, they feel they are being blamed for things that seem to be out of their control. It is not about blame though, it is just a law of nature. We don’t get annoyed when a ball drops to the floor due to gravity, or ice melts when it is heated. We understand and accept this is a natural law, so it is with karma. If we act this way or that it will create different effects.
Thank you for making this so clear.
And thank YOU for getting what I was trying to convey and adding to it 😄 I am really into karma these days, i’ve got a lot more articles up my sleeve.
It is our collective negative karma that causes us to experience the results of collapsing economies, shutdowns, poison injection programs and increased bacterial infections from wearing unclean masks. And it is our collective negative karma to be subject to discriminatory corporate policies and Govm agencies enforcing harmful covid rules. But if we get the covid19 disease it’s probably because we didn’t injest enough essential vitamins and minerals for our Immunity. That is my opinion. You have yours. You do you I will do me.
I honestly believe in karma…whatever we do or day…positively or negatively comes back to us in one way or another…and our actions definitely influence the happenings in the entire world..
Hatred.. violence..killings are being seen in the sufferings of humankind all over planet earth.
Buddha help us…please
Buddha help us … but the main point about karma is that we can also help ourselves.
Thank you Luna. Inspiring.
I’m glad you find it so. I find karma a liberating teaching.
Dear Luna Kadampa,
Your words and views are very blessed, thank you for your beautiful work. I receive a lot of inspiration from what you write, for my practice and to help others.
This is a very kind encouraging comment and I thank you for sending it! 😍