The “K” Word

Wheel of Life

Treadmill existence

We’ve been to health practitioners of various kinds. Talked to therapists. Chatted with friends. Confided in loved ones. Recorded our dreams in our journals. Tried fasting. Tried gorging. Changed lifestyles. Tried “getting ahead” in our careers. Bought a house etc. etc. etc. In short, we created a “me-plan” and followed it religiously!

At some point we come to the conclusion that there always seems to be “something missing.” We have a lot of questions.  “How did I get to this place?” “I’m in a rut, like wheels of a car stuck in wet mud.” “Where do I go from here?” “Why aren’t I happy?”

It’s the K word. Karma.

The word is now in wide usage. But it seems to be poorly understood. We tend to have  a simplistic notion of what it means.

What it’s not

The good news is that karma is not a moralistic concept. It is not a religious concept. It does not involve some karmic super agent or swat team watching our every move although it feels like it sometimes! Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche:

“…we are not talking about an individual or entity, some “karmic” force that is separate from the existing world energy.”

Neither is it “punishment.” Or “reward,” for that matter.

What It is

In its most general sense, karma refers to the universal law of cause (our volitional actions) and effect.

If a man plants melons he will reap melons; if he sows beans, he will reap beans.- Chinese proverb

Beyond this, we can think of karma as a corrective agent. Corrective to what? To the imbalance we create by our intentions and the actions that flow from them.  So this agent is neutral. It is not positive or negative.

1. Narrow view

  • (a) When we use the word karma, we are usually referring to “bad” or “good” karma. This is from ego’s point of view. Punishment or reward. It is the narrow view.
  • (b) The way we use the word “karma” refers only to the consequence of an action. The correct word for the result or consequence of the action is karma vipoca, not karma. ( In Sanskrit, karma = action.) And that’s only half the picture.
  • (c) karma = volitional action

2. Wider view

  • (a) Neutral –  Gravity doesn’t care if what goes up must come down. Or, the karma of fire is heat. It just is what it is. Neutral. “It is as incorrect to speak of good or bad karma as it is to say “good gravity” or “bad gravity.” (
  • (b) Not only is there the karma of result (or effect), but there is also the karma of cause.
  • (c) We experience negative karma as “obstacles.”

3. Even wider view

  • There is more than one cause to produce an effect. That is why you’ll hear people using the phrase “causes [karma] and conditions.”

Some Details

While the word “karma” has become part of the English language,we lack a deep understanding  of the meaning of cause and effect. Despite reading many books etc., we may come to feel that we don’t have any really helpful way to understand why we are suffering. Or put another way,  we can’t  stop this spinning wheel that is causing us headaches, figuratively and literally, until we understand why we experience the world the way we do.

Karma is actually a practical law — the law of cause and effect. One of my teachers used to say that our karmic record is even more accurate than our bank statement. And  our bank statements are usually very accurate, sometimes much to our dismay!

Every decision has repercussions for the future. We need to contemplate whatever we do….We ask ourselves: “What is it that I want to do? If I make certain decisions, I will get certain outcomes. That is the law of karma — the basic flow of nature. (Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche: The Four Sessions of Basic Goodness)

According to the laws of karma, nobody actually gets what they want by thinking about themselves. That is just against the basic laws of karma. (Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Shambhala Day Address, 2004, Scotland)

The power of truth is great; and karma, infallible. (movie Kundun)

To find out more:

There are many publications around the topic of karma. One of the clearest descriptions of how our karma is created and maintained is at 12links.

Some others are:

Other sources on the topic of cause and effect:

General Antidotes to the creation of karma

Awareness puts us in the saddles of our lives so that we can ride our karma rather than be ridden by it.

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” – Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth

The mind that created and maintained our karma is the same mind that we can use to get us out of the cycle of unhappiness, confusion and suffering  produced by that karma.

We need to gain knowledge about karma, cause and effect, interdependence, not just conceptually, but in a personal, even heartfelt, way.

It seems to me that there are at least two general levels of understanding any topic or issue. One is the conceptual level. The other is our own experience. Both are necessary. I hope this site will combine both.

At the conceptual level, I’ve listed some topics for possible future posts on the page called Karmic Footprint.

And finally, two quotes:

Karma “is totally… and completely based upon our own actions. ……
We have to wake up to the responsibility of what we do.
When we wake that quality up, we begin to make progress. ”
<source: Sakyong Mipham, Rinpoche, 2008 Birthday Address>


We cannot avoid karma as long as we have continual thoughts and continual subconscious gossip. As long as we have a liking and disliking state of mind happening all the time, we cannot avoid karma at all. I think it is quite straightforward. The idea is that virtuous karma, good karma, produces good situations. It’s sort of predetermined. And bad karma produces bad results, which are also predetermined. But at the same time we can prevent sowing futher seeds of karma altogether by realizing that there is a level where karmic seeds are not sown, the nonthought level. That is why we meditate. It has been said that sleeping, dreaming, meditating, and developing awareness are the only states in which we do not sow further seeds of karma.

The cause and effect mechanism of karma is very accurate and extremely precise. In fact, it’s much more precise than our bank account. Sometimes tellers make mistakes, or even the bank manager; but karma always provides tit for tat, constantly, naturally. <source: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche>