#5: Karma, part 1 (Karma and chameleon)

4 February 2010 - 2:28am Comments Off

A chameleon protects itself by changing its body’s colours through a bio-chemical process to ‘hide’ itself in different environments. However it does not work all the time and they do fall prey to predators. There are no principles in this world which are absolutely dependable. Even gravity fluctuates and all scientific laws operate only within certain parameters.

Buddha said to rely on karma for total protection. Well, Mr. Karma can’t protect you directly but if we understand its principles, we can work with it to attain everlasting happiness and freedom from all suffering.

A chameleon may be fascinating for some, but if being one is not your cup of tea, then we have to know what or who Mr. Karma is to make sure we don’t become a reptile in our future rebirth. We can never be sure what stupid things we might have done in our previous lives.

The term ‘karma’ is popularly used as a noun, as in “bad karma” or “good karma”. You slipped on a banana skin, and it’s bad karma. Someone returned a lost item to you and that’s good karma. It’s a cool way to describe an event but there’s more to it than that.

The law of karma is a special instance of the natural causal laws operating in this universe whereby all our actions of body, speech and mind are the causes and our experiences are their effects.

All of us can understand cause and effect in its generality. For example, when there is thunder and lightning, we can expect rain; when sand and stone are mixed with cement, you get concrete. Things are produced when certain causes and conditions come together.

The karmic cause and effect we are referring to here applies to living beings and animate objects. A table or a boat don’t have good or bad karma.

More definitively, karma means action. It operates through volitional or willed activities. To understand karma better we need to know its three main components – actions, their effects and the imprints of actions.

When one engages in any action, upon its completion, it deposits an imprint or potentiality in one’s mindstream. When the right conditions are met, it will ripen and their results are experienced. These potentialities can lie dormant long after an action has been committed.

Whenever an action is performed, we get an immediate and a subsequent effect. For example, when we get angry and shout at  someone, our face gets hot and we immediately feel the pain or discomfort of anger. When this is over, an imprint has been deposited in our mindstream which can ripen as further negative repercussions  in the future.

As Buddhists, this is a very important point to understand. When an action has ripened, there is not much we can do about it. Even Buddhas can’t help us. For example, we are reborn as humans now and we have to live out our life in this form. It will be futile in this life, to pray to become an angel next morning or in 20 years time.

However, as long as the potentialities stay dormant, we have the opportunity to purify or to remove them so that they don’t create problems for us later. We have real hope to have a better future than our present one.


Next Week: Karma, Part 2 (Be a Karmic Doctor, not a Karmic Slave)

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