Karmacology: Mindful Living, Sacred Practice

What Is Karma?

KARMA is often thought of as the law of cause and effect. The principle is similar to that expressed by the Christian verse, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." The word karma means action, and it's used as short-hand for the idea that every action you take causes a reaction in the future. Positive, caring actions will bring positive results back to you, whereas negative, hurtful actions will result in your suffering.

Many people believe that both good and bad karma can return to you at any time, even after this lifetime. Hindus believe that the soul is immortal and is reborn in a new body after a person dies. Thus, you have an endless series of lives to work on your karma. In each life, you should strive to do good works and evolve spiritually so your next life will be better than this one. Hindus seek to eventually break free of the cycle of reincarnation and attain eternal bliss of the soul, called moksha.

A god does not administer the law of karma. There is no cosmic judge who doles out punishments and rewards, although some suggest that there is a "cosmic accountant" who tracks each person's karma. Ultimately, each individual is responsible for his or her own actions and karma.

Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha and upon whose teachings all of Buddhism is based, was born into Hindu society and believed in the doctrine of karma. The Buddhist perspective on karma isn't very different than that of Hindus. Every action you take will have a repercussion in the future, and you have to live with the consequences of your actions. Most Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and their goal is to transcend constant birth and rebirth to achieve nirvana, similar to the Hindu moksha.

Buddhism also places importance on the intent of one's actions. For example, if you accidentally step on a bug and kill it, you won't create bad karma. But if you purposefully kill it, you create bad karma. Likewise, if your actions unintentionally benefit others, you do not create good karma. Only when you mindfully do good, do you create good karma.

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