The term “karma” has now become part of our vocabulary here in the West. But we often confuse this ancient concept with Fate or think of it as something bad, a force beyond our control that we must simply endure. However, this is not the real meaning of the word.
Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning “action” or “to do.” In simple terms, it says that for every action, there is a corresponding reaction. When you toss a pebble into a pond, for instance, the impact causes ripples on the water’s surface. When you do something in the physical world, your actions cause karmic ripples that you may experience later in this life…or in a future existence.
You create your karma with every thought, word, deed, and emotion—and what you’ve created will come back to you in some form at a later date. Have you heard the expression, “What goes around, comes around”? Well, that’s essentially what karma means.
You could also think of karma as reaping what you sow. If you behave in a loving, compassionate, wise, accepting, and considerate manner, you’ll receive good things in return. On the other hand, if you act in a hurtful, judgmental, destructive, or hateful way, you’ll get back these same kinds of negative energies and experiences. Undoubtedly, you’ve already witnessed this sort of “boomerang effect” in your everyday life. But in karmic terms, the results of your actions don’t always materialize in this lifetime—sometimes they may not show up until a future incarnation.
However, karma is not just a system of punishment and reward, although it may seem that way at first. More accurately, karma is the law of consequence. As such, it provides you with chances to learn from your experiences and to change conditions and actions in your present life that may affect your future, and your future lives, as well.
This is a very important point to remember, because it underlines how your own free will is always the deciding factor. Who you are this time around, and who you will be in future incarnations, is not fixed or predetermined—you are actually creating it right now, with your every thought, word, desire, intention, and action! When you look at it this way, you can see how even your present-day problems can be wonderful opportunities to change your situation for the better.
Karma is the driving force behind reincarnation. Our karma, our actions and desires, keep bringing us back to Earth again and again—as often as is necessary—until we have dealt with all of the consequences we’ve generated during our many lifetimes and learned all the lessons we need to learn. In the Buddhist tradition, the goal is to stop creating new karma so you no longer need to be reborn in the physical world! They consider this a blissful state and refer to it as Nirvana.