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The True Meaning Of Karma: Understanding Karma, Karmaphala and The 12 Laws

The True Meaning Of Karma

Karma is a bitch. Or is it? Although the Buddhist concept of Karma is widely popular, most of us use the word ‘Karma’ very casually. Let’s take a look at the true meaning of karma and how it can help our spiritual development.

What is karma?

Karma is an ancient concept that was prevalent in various cultures, religions, and philosophies. According to Hinduism and Buddhism, the real meaning of karma is action. It refers to the actions of our mind, body, and spirit in every aspect and every moment of our life. Karma includes everything we do like our work, passions, charity, etc.

The True Meaning Of Karma: Understanding Karma, Karmaphala and The 12 Laws
True Meaning Of Karma

However, each of our actions leads to certain results, which may be positive or negative depending on our actions. According to ancient beliefs, we can experience the results of our actions either in the present life or after rebirth. Author Joseph Goldstein of the Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine, believes “The seeds of karma shape our lives and our worlds.” we can become aware of the delicate relationship between karma and our reality through mindfulness. In fact, spiritual awareness can enable us to alter our karma.{1}

Our actions determine our karma, especially the intentions and motives that drive such actions. When our actions are motivated by empathy, kindness, compassion, and altruism, aided by knowledge and mindfulness, it results in good karmic outcomes. It is a natural law and not an outside force, which many people falsely believe.

Related: 7 Things You Don’t Know About Karma

The true meaning of karma

To understand the real meaning of karma, we need to realize that it is not destiny or fate. Karma depends on your intentional actions and is not something related to ‘kismet’ or predestination. It is not about your fate or destiny. Contrary to popular belief, if you do a “bad” thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will experience a negative consequence to maintain balance and harmony in the Universe. Your karma is determined by your thoughts and actions in each and every moment of life.

According to Zen Buddhism expert Barbara O’Brien “The word karma means action, not fate.” {2} Buddhists believe that karma is an energy that we create through deliberate thoughts, words, behaviors, and deeds. O’Brien explains that we create this spiritual force every moment which in turn affects every moment of our lives. It is not a result of a consequence, but simply an action. By changing our negative patterns, self-destructive habits, and intentional actions, we can steer our lives in a different direction.

Although karma is a law of the spiritual realm, it holds us responsible for our intentions and actions in our own reality. Karma is generated by the intention of our actions. “Actions and consequences are not the major concern though. It is the moral reason for the action. The law of karma is about moral intentions,” explains a 2008 study. {17} It is not about reward or punishment or retribution, but simply about reaping what we sow. Our thoughts and actions harvest our karma.

The True Meaning Of Karma: Understanding Karma, Karmaphala and The 12 Laws
True Meaning Of Karma

Related: 6 Ways You Can Create Good Karma Everyday

Karma and karmaphala 

What most people believe to be the meaning of karma is actually the Buddhist concept of Karmaphala or the law of karma. In Buddhism, the metaphor of agriculture is widely used to explain the concept of Karma. It states that when you sow good or bad seeds (or actions), it will lead to good or bad fruit or phala. 

To put it simply, karmaphala means the results of our actions. It is a Sanskrit term, where ‘karma’ means action or work, and ‘phala’ means consequence, fruit, or reward. Good or bad karma {3} results in good or bad karma phala.

Both karma and karmaphala are closely associated with the concept of reincarnation. These Buddhist philosophies show us how we are bound to the “wheel of life” by our actions. Your actions determine the quality of your resurrection in the “cycle of rebirth”, known as Samsara. Your karmaphala can be accumulated throughout your lifetime and even your past lives and may influence your current or future life.

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Theo Harrison

Hey there! I am just someone trying to find my way through life. I am a reader, writer, traveler, fighter, philosopher, artist and all around nice guy. I am outdoor person but heavily into technology, science, psychology, spiritualism, Buddhism, martial arts and horror films. I believe in positive action more than positive thinking.View Author posts