Karma is one of those ideas that we hear a lot about but are not entirely sure how it applies to us in our lives. I felt this way for years. I heard people casually mention that it was their karma when something bad happened, or that somebody must have good karma when something good happened. The truth is that karma, at least in Buddhism, isn’t exactly what we may think it is. I highly recommend checking out One Mind Dharma’s page on karma at https://OneMindDharma.com/what-is-karma.
What is Karma?
Sometimes people mistake karma as some sort of tally in the sky. You either do something that gets marked as good karma or bad karma, and something or someone is keeping score. However, the truth is that karma as its taught in Buddhism is less of a tally and more of a principle similar to cause and effect. The teaching of karma is that when we take an action intentionally, it has consequences. These may be actions, things we say, or even intentional thoughts.
The idea of karma isn’t that if I steal, I’m eventually going to have it come back and have someone steal something from me. The idea of karma is that if I steal, there are consequences to the action. These consequences may include getting caught and getting in trouble, having to lie, feeling poorly about myself, and encouraging the behavior of stealing. When we see karma like this, it becomes less esoteric and much more practical for our daily lives.
Karma with Others
Most of us spend a significant portion of our time during our days interacting with others. Whether they’re personal relationships, work relationships, or interactions with strangers, we’re constantly engaging in the world. I am largely an introvert, and don’t love interacting with people always. When I took on the practice of investigating karma in relation to interactions, I started with the practice of trying to engage with strangers a bit more. At the grocery store, I don’t sit on my cell phone or ignore the checkout clerk. Instead, I ask them how they are and try to really be present. The effect of this action is that I have grown to feel less alone when I’m out and about. I feel more connected when I see people as human.
In my personal relationships and with coworkers, I make an effort to see how my behavior can influence our interactions. I slowly began to see how the energy, awareness, and care that I brought to a relationship was pretty closely associated with how communicative, open, and honest the relationship was. On the other hand, when I keep secrets and hold things in I can see the relationships begin to fall apart a little bit as the openness fades. The core piece of understanding in both of these experiences is that my behavior truly affects my relationships with others.
With ourselves, we can investigate karma in our everyday behavior. We can make a dedicated effort to cultivate wholesome qualities, whether it’s by learning to pause and rest or by cultivating mindfulness through meditation practice. We can see that when we make effort toward something, we can impact our experience. Doing a gratitude list may help us appreciate things more in our daily lives, doing compassion meditation may help us respond with more care when someone needs us, and spending time relaxing will help our bodies decompress. We can see the fruit of our practices and how they impact our experience, even if they take time to do so.
Karma in Eating
We recently posted a piece on our blog about this, and it’s really a beautiful practice. One of the most powerful places we can investigate our experience is in karma and food. We can pay attention to what we eat and how we feel, and notice when we feel lethargic or are crashing. Tune into your experience and notice the causes and effects of what you consume. This may mean looking at our relationship with things like caffeine, drugs and alcohol, meat, and many more things.
About two years ago, I started really paying attention to the effects of my eating habits. Since then, I have lost about 60 lbs., gained quite a bit of energy, and learned to take care of myself through what I consume. I do exercise a bit, but the major piece of self-care that helped me make this change was tuning into the karma of my eating habits.
Purifying Harms Caused
Sometimes the effects of our actions is that we hurt people. There are ways we can work onpurifying karma when we’ve harmed others. One of the simplest and best ways to do this is to undertake the practice of making amends. When you hurt someone, take accountability, vow to change the behavior, and let the person know if appropriate. We can apologize, and even ask if there’s anything we can do to make it better. Twelve-step recovery taught me this, and I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful practice. Relationships that I used to destroy are now manageable when I take accountability and work to fix the harms caused.