Karma – how it arises and what to do about it

Most of us know karma as ‘I reap what I sow’. The experience of things coming back to bite you is only too real. At times it’s as swift as the boomerang. At other times, it is said it might ripen in a future life. Well, whatever it is, this is my take on karma as I have learned it the hard way. If we don’t wish to jeopardise our goal of self-realisation, then we’d have to live life with more awareness and less foolishness.


What I have discovered is that the happiness we want in our daily lives is very much dependent on what we intent or set in motion by our action, thought and speech. At the end of each day, if we would sit and reflect on whether we have acted wisely, from the spiritual heart or otherwise, then yes, that would be a good beginning to creating the paradise we want here on earth, right here, right now. It’s as simple as that. And it took me a long time to get that!

Karma and how to mitigate by offering forgiveness

Everything that the literature tells us is absolutely true. We create our own s*** and we are solely responsible. No one to blame. For example, if someone is perceived as nasty to us, we cannot react in kind. The karmic law says we cannot because if we do then the effect is credited to us. Not to the other. Well, okay, the other person gets it accordingly, too, if that is what he or she deserves but we are talking about our own intentions. That has to be set right first.

What I have discovered through some very painful lessons is that if you can forgive and bless the other, then kerching! the karmic register rings in my favour. No kidding! So, if you want more karmic dollars in your account then you will have to learn to turn the other way, or better still, the other cheek. Do it until it becomes second nature and you don’t retaliate or plot revenge.

Karma is energy and it’s sticky

Now, you may not see, hear or taste karma but it is said that karma is an energetic force that you feed or dissolve depending on what you do, or know what to do. Yes, the fact that you can create so can you dissolve. Both require awareness as well as the knowledge of how-to. Now that you know that karma is like an account where you debit and credit, here’s more. What karma that has not ripened by this lifetime can and may ripen in future ones. Ripening is dependent on the conditions. Once the conditions are right, BOOM! Ever noticed how wild orchid flowers never bloom unless the weather gets really mucky and hot? And that’s the way it is. It’s not like as if there is a big fella up there waiting to hit you with the stick. No. Karma is not about punishing or rewarding. It is there to teach us to live life consciously. At least that’s my take.

Dependent Origination

I think the Buddha explained it best. In his concept of dependent origination, karma is the cause and effect that arise from our moment-to-moment experience of either pain or pleasure. Pain causes us to be averse hence a desire for less while pleasure would create enticement and a desire for more.

Either way, these experiences create grooves in our psyche known as “samskaras”. These are our thought patterns of likes and dislikes and the effects they create such as fear, anxiety, worry, anger, hatred, murderous thoughts, revengefulness, cravings, gluttony, lust, cunning, and more. As I said earlier, karma by itself is neither a good or bad thing. In Sanskrit, the word karma means ‘action’ and so karma is essentially an action that started or ‘originated’ with our good or ill intent.

That is why the Buddha says, ‘You are your own master’.

We determine how well we fare in this endless wheel of samsara by virtue of how we control the cause and effect of each and every one of our actions, and prior to that, our emotions, and yet further back, our perceptions, and our thoughts, etc, etc. And if you go even further back, this will also include our beliefs, and values system that consciously and unconsciously shape how we live and who we are and therefore how we react or respond to each situation.

Wheel of samsara

The more important point is that we inevitably chain ourselves to the ever-spinning samsaric wheel simply through karma. If you can dissolve all your karma, and I mean ALL, then you will no longer need to return. So why not begin now?

You are not the body; You are not your mind.

Both the yogi and the Buddha have this fundamental belief and that is, we are not our bodies, we are not even our minds. The basis of our suffering is our over-identification with either our bodies or our minds, and our so-called thinking. We think far too much. We let our mind scripts run our lives. Also, we live in a world that entices us to live by our senses. Think of all the shopping malls and yet more shopping malls that spring up like mushrooms everywhere in Singapore. The eating, shopping and looking good. It boils down to a life lived very much by the externals. A life that can become very superficial indeed if you don’t wake up and take a good look at what’s inside.

Awareness through cultivation and sadhana

If we but learn to sit still and work at growing our sense of awareness and pay attention to what we create and set in motion by our thoughts, actions and speech, that would be a good start. At least we are learning to mitigate the karma we create in this lifetime. Which is why meditation is so important. I know of no other way more effective in helping one to create the sort of insight and awareness we so need.

What about the karma we brought over from our past lives? I am not sure how to answer this question because I have not learned how to sift the present from the past. All I know is that there have been valley-and-hill moments in my life that I have chalked down to as some serious karma from way back that has finally caught up with me. And all I can do is ride it with grace. Yes, ride it with grace. Maintain your poise and take it on graciously. Thank it for the lessons it is trying to teach and learn as best you can. Then you’ll come out okay.

Hence the importance of cultivation and sadhana. As both yogi and Buddhist, I guess I can say I have the best of both worlds to keep me grounded on the straight and narrow: The Eightfold Path and The Astanga or 8-Limbs of Yoga. Both paths start with the fundamentals of good virtues and end with samadhi. To sum up, we need to understand that there is really only one basic universal spiritual law that governs everything:

As we sow, so shall we reap.

As long as we adhere by this law, we will create both a loving and kind inner and outer world. We owe that much to ourselves and the rest of humanity. So let’s all work hard at ourselves. To create a loving heart from which all begins and ends.