Karma is one of the most misunderstood Buddhist teachings. Karma misconceptions exist and where we think we understand karma, we sadly don’t.
We often think that ‘karma’ is some kind of external force that punishes us for our bad deeds and rewards us for our good. But Karma is not external, nor is it about punishments or rewards. karma means ‘action.’ It refers to the intentions behind our actions, broadly explained as anything ‘we might say or do.’
Intentions may be seen as skilful or unskillful. ‘Skilful is where our intentions encompass qualities of clarity, mindfulness, contentment and care for the wellbeing of others and ourselves. Unskillful is where our intentions are motivated by selfishness, impulsive, greed, confusion and ill will.
Where we act without selfish intent and with clarity and mindfulness, our actions will lead to an increase in peace, happiness and ease. However, we choose to act, we alone choose the consequences of those actions. It has nothing to do with an external force. In short, we create our happiness and suffering through our own actions.
As the Buddha said, “What a man wills, what he plans, what he dwells on forms the basis for the continuation of consciousness.” Basically, we are masters of our own destiny.
We create our consciousness through our thoughts and actions and in doing so, not only do we create our actions, but our actions also create us. Mindfulness can free us from this loop, by breaking the cycle and changing it into a path that leads to awakening.
This mindfulness is necessary because without it, we are engrossed deep in our thoughts and feelings, which means we are unable to stand back; we will fail to be reflective and this in turn will strengthen our unenlightened habits.
We must realise that if we act in one way, for example angrily, then there will be consequences. On the other hand, if we act in another way, with patience and kindness, then the consequences will be more beneficial. It is not enough just to know what we should do; we also have to act.
Karma is essentially our own self-balancing mechanism or feedback that shows us the extent to which we’re in tune with reality.