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Karma and its Place in Buddhism

Karma could be explained in modern terms as cause and effect. Simply stated your actions cause results, both short term and long term that can not be avoided. There is nothing preordained about Karma. You are in complete control of your actions.

The law of Karma teaches  that similar actions create similar results. History repeats itself if one keeps behaving in the same manner.

There are two basic kinds of Karma, wholesome and unwholesome. It is only the results of the actions that can identify which type of Karma you have given yourself.

In Buddhism there are specific unwholesome acts that are to be avoided. These are separated into Three Doors. These doors are speech, body and mind.

The three unwholesome acts of mind are:


The three unwholesome actions of the body are:

-Sexual misconduct

The four unwholesome actions of speech are:

-Harsh speech
-Malicious gossip

Actions of wholesome or unwholesome action may be determined to be more or less strong depending on the condition. The conditions determine the strength or weakness of Karma. These conditions apply to the doer of the action. The conditions are both subjective and objective to form a complete balance. The five conditions are persistence, action done with great intention, action done to those who posses extraordinary qualities and actions done towards those who have benefited one in the past.

For example, let’s say you become involved with some malicious gossip. You get carried away with something you heard about a person you barely know and find that sharing the story is giving you some attention. This is unwholesome Karma.

However, if you get angry with your sister, and spread malicious gossip to hurt her, even though she has been kind and loving to you in the past, your unwholesome Karma is stronger.

So who decides how strong? Who delivers the punishment? Some may say some kind of God. Buddhism never mentions. It just happens in the world because that is the reality of the world.

Does Karma have a place in everyone’s life regardless of beliefs? My answer would be yes and it is a valuable tool. Wouldn’t the world be a better place of parent’s allowed their children to feel some short term Karma instead of trying to protect them from it? Let me give you a little example I heard about.

Stanley, a second grade student at the time, found that if you tuck a piece of toilet paper still hooked to the roll and flushed the toilet amazing things happened. The toilet just kept in flushing and took the whole roll and plugged the toilet. Of course, the school made a call to his parents, who promptly went down. They tried very hard not to laugh. They went in the bathroom and saw the damage with Stanley.

Being parents who understood Karma they said. “It looks like you have a problem. I sure hope you can find a way to work it out.” Then they went and hid in the library. It took Stanley quite awhile, but eventually he found the school janitor and asked for some things to clean up the mess. He asked for a phone book and asked the principal what you called someone who fixed toilets. The principal even let him make the call. The problem wasn’t so serious to warrant a plumber, but Stanley learned about Karma and his parents enjoyed the show.

It seems Karma is a principle that can fit into any life style and religion. Embrace it.