"Chance. Is there chance? No. There's karma. Karma causes all things to happen. It makes the sun come up every day; the moon go through its 28 phases; it causes your birth, your death. It's what makes your days and nights, days and nights. Karma. Why do you meet someone? Karma. Why don't you meet someone else? Karma. Why do you love one person more than another? Karma. Why are you in the career you're now in? Karma." ~ Rama from Zen Talks - Karma
Karma is such a baked in word in society these days, and simplified to the point of hardly touching on the actual essence of the meaning. Understanding karma can help you through life in the most amazing ways. The exoteric understanding of karma is, if you do something nice for someone, someone will do something nice for you, and conversely, if you do something bad or unkind, something bad or unkind will come back to you. This is a highly simplistic view of karma. Karma is really related to states of mind. If you're in a clear state of mind, or a joyful or loving or open state of mind, you can see the options of life before you with understanding, you can see your choices, and they reflect the state of mind you're in. If you're in a dark, unhappy, miserable state of mind, you don't see many choices if any, and those you do see lead to greater darkness. This is a somewhat more accurate way to understand karma.
"It's good not to think of karma as an alien force that's outside of yourself because you are the generator of karma. Karma is your own energy - the energy patterns that emanate from your life, from your actions, from your thoughts, feelings and desires, your attractions and aversions, hopes, dreams, plans and schemes - karma." ~Rama
For example, if you find that you make an unwise choice, one that seemed promising but ended up bringing you to a state of unhappiness and misery, then you find yourself with less options in front of you. It doesn't necessarily get better because the situation that made you unhappy is gone. Your state of mind was impacted, and results in unhappiness. Perhaps you'll decide at this point to get your mind off of your unhappiness, and you'll look for distractions to feel better, while knowing all the while that the distraction will only be temporary. Eventually you'll return full bore to the state of mind that the original bad situation carved into you. At this point, if you understand something about karma, you might be inclined to look a little more deeply into the matter. You might ask yourself honestly - how did I get here? And, if you're honest with yourself, you might be able to turn things around with your sheer will, but for most people, they don't necessarily want to look into it. They'd rather continue on distracting themselves, hoping that the unhappy state of mind will go away. And maybe it will, but the impact of the original scenario has been made - on you, your state of mind, your view of life. It has changed your karmic profile from one that was a little lighter, a little brighter, to one that is a little darker, one that is a little more inhibited - that has less clarity and expansiveness to see what's in front of you.
"The idea is simple. For every action there's a reaction, for every cause there's an effect, for every effect there's a result, and a new situation is created. Karma can be examined within the structure of an hour, a year, a lifetime, thousands of lifetimes. But the active principle is the same - you, your choices, your decisions, your awareness. How aware are you? What determines how aware you can become?" ~Rama
Karma is your state of mind - right now. How did you get to this current state of mind? If you track back, you'll realize that everything you've been through up to now, and more specifically the way you responded and the state of mind that resulted from your life's experiences, has brought you to this moment of the current state of mind you're in. In talking about karma this way, most people can relate. You make a choice that wasn't the greatest for you, and then you make another that continues not to be very good for you. You start to build up a momentum and things keep moving in a direction that is more and more limiting. It makes you feel locked in. At a certain moment, you ask yourself - wow - how did I get here? The answer is, karma.
When people consider how this happens in life, most agree - yes, it has happened many times. And at the end, we feel that we're in a bind and don't know how to get ourselves out of this mess. Perhaps we hope someone will come along and help, or it will go away, or something great will happen to make things better. This might be the case, but even in these scenarios, if your karmic profile starts turning around, toward brightness, it's because you've shifted your state of mind. And the shift helps you to see there's another direction - one that can take you higher, to greater insight and to cognizance of brighter options. But for most of us, we find ourselves getting stuck and becoming more miserable and more locked in, without having the courage to seek help, or having the insight to get ourselves out of it.
"Karma, first of all, comes from the mind. Karma is engendered by states of mind. For example, if you're in a happy state of mind, that will engender one kind of karma. If you're in an unhappy state of mind, that will engender another kind of karma. It's best to think of karma, not so much in terms of physical action, but as waveforms of vibratory energy." ~Rama
The best, most wonderful wild card that humanity possesses is meditation. When you meditate, you gain perspective. You take the time to lift yourself out of your current state of mind - your current self, and you move your mind into expanded states of awareness - unencumbered by thoughts. In these expanded states, you gain perspective. It's as if you've been down in the mire of the jungle, with a limited view, inhibited by all the trees, bushes, vines and obstacles, and then you climb a mountain. Suddenly, you can see. You can see the jungle below you and the traps you got snagged in. You can see a lake just a ways off that you didn't even know was there. You can also see a path that leads out of the jungle and into an open meadow. You continue going up higher, and eventually you can see there are a myriad of other paths that lead to many new, exciting and beautiful places. Now you have options. You have choices, you can see. Your state of mind has shifted from one of being crowded in with the dramas of your life (the metaphorical jungle), to one that has clarity, perspective, new insights and many more options (the metaphorical mountain heights). Options that you couldn't have known were in front of you when you were mired in the foliage of the jungle (your thoughts and emotions).
After a meditation, you don't ever have to go back down to that jungle. You can forge ahead on one of the many new paths you discovered in front of you. Paths that will lead to new adventures, new discoveries. And in those scenarios, no doubt, you'll find yourself getting stuck again, and again and again, but now you've learned how to find and climb to the high points. You know how to meditate. And you've come to find, when you really apply yourself, that meditation can lift you right out of where you are, right out of who you are, and into newness.
But, another interesting aspect of karma is the attribute that develops a momentum that most people get caught up in and don't know how to stop it. Imagine that a rock falls out of the sky and into a lake. The lake will ripple. All the ripples in the lake will affect everything in the lake - the swimmers, the fish, the boats. For the time of the ripple effect, everything is impacted. So too, there are karmic ripples. These karmic ripples simply play out. We can watch them with detachment, with the simple understanding that this is the effect of the initial karmic splash. For example, back to our jungle example. If we're in the jungle, and our toe gets snagged on something, perhaps it's broken and bleeding. Just because we climb up on the mountain and get perspective doesn't mean the broken toe will go away. It won't. It's there, it's part of the karmic ripple of getting caught in a trap, that was in the jungle. But having climbed up high, we can now see where the traps are and avoid them in the future, or find another scenario altogether. But, we still have our broken toe. The broken toe was the result of getting caught. Now, we're no longer caught, and we can see how to avoid that trap and maybe others like it, but, we still have the broken toe.
So, back to karma as a state of mind, specifically, the state of mind you're in right now. This is your karma. One bad decision can send you on a track of bad decisions; make the bad decision, get hurt, become upset, become reactionary, lose your balance, make another bad bad decision. It can become a cycle. Or conversely, one good decision can send you on a track of good decisions; generate insight, experience joy, achieve clarity, make another good decision. The game of life is far more enjoyable and satisfying when you can see. When you can see where you're going, you can choose where to go. When you can't see, then it's easy to get frustrated, to fall, crash into things, and not see the options in front of you of how to best proceed. And the thing about being human is, when we fall and crash, we become upset. We get angry or depressed or violent, or apathetic...And the reaction locks in the state of mind on a path - a path that spirals down (or up).
For example, imagine running out of the house to catch the bus to work and you miss it, you might get upset. Then, being upset, you're not really watching where you're going, and we stub our toe. It hurts, you cry out, you hit a tree in anger and hurt your hand. Now, you're limping and aching and angry. Someone walks by you who was ready to be kind, but you can't see or notice their smile. Perhaps it was an old friend from college, and if you'd been in a better state of mind, with the ability to maintain your equilibrium, you might have stopped to talk, and in the conversation, they might inform you of a great job they know of that would be perfect for you. You'll never know that because you were wrapped up in your reactionary state. It shifts your life. You get to work and your boss is upset that you're late. It might not have been so bad, but they point out that your foot is bleeding and insist that you go get it taken care of. That take another 30 minutes. Now, you've missed a key meeting, one which you might have been able to give great input, which may have created new ripples of opportunity. But you missed it. And, your boss is more upset because you're missing more work, which upsets you. And on and on it goes.
On the other hand, if you had meditated that morning, even if you'd missed the bus, you might have a moment of aggravation, but you'd have the clarity and perspective to realize it's not the end of the world, and perhaps you'd quickly realize there's another line that can get you close to work across the street. In a more balanced state of mind, you'd stop to notice your old friend, and perhaps you'd pat yourself on the back for getting a lead to a great job, and you'd feel that being late was worth it. And that new state of mind carries you through the day, giving you different and varied experiences because your state of mind is open, clear and joyful.
That's a closer idea of karma than, do something nice, and something nice will happen to you. Instead, it's perhaps more accurate to say, if you do something kind, it will open your state of mind. That new state of mind will allow you to see new options more clearly, and your life will continue to take new directions, ones that keep leading you to greater clarity, more opportunities, more kindness, and attracting people and situations that keep you moving in the highest direction.
"There is only one thing that karma can't decide, and that's how far you will evolve in this lifetime. How much you'll wake up. How much you'll come to see and know before you leave this place again. That is up to you. The rest is karma." ~Rama
So, meditation is the wild card - the key, to not only show you the karma producing dramas that keep you locked into ever shrinking views and opportunities, but to give you the power and insight to find and move in new directions. Ones that keep you expanding and growing. And learning all the while to accept the karmic ripples with equanimity and humor, with courage and understanding, until one day, the karmic engine stops altogether. Then, the karmic ripples will move through your life, once and for all, as you watch with clarity, wisdom and love, beyond wheel of karma, beyond the wheel of birth and death. Have fun living in the wild territory of new and ever heightening perspectives that come from your meditations!
To hear more from Rama's Karma talk, go to his Zen Talks to listen to
Karma and other Zen Talks (click on link)