Understanding Karma ~ The Law Of Cause And Effect

Excerpt from Everyday Enlightenment: Walking The Path to Happiness in the Modern World by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa

Understanding Karma

I always thank my karma whenever something good happens to me, such as meeting old friends and students, and seeing that they are healthy and happy. Karma is often a little misunderstood in the modern world as something very mystical and related to fate, but we Buddhists do not believe in coincidence and we do not believe in luck.

It is simply a matter of cause and effect. Every action and even every thought has an effect, a consequence. It is easy in the rush and bustle of our busy lives to forget this and pay little or no attention to a great many of our decisions and choices over the course of a day, to forget that they matter, that everything matters. Unlike the concept of fate, karma is not rigid and so we can all make a difference.

Literally, ‘karma’ means ‘actions’. Whatever you do is included in karma, no matter if it is a physical, mental or spoken action. Of course, we do so many actions while blind to karma, but as we become a little closer to our own nature, to our wisdom, then we will understand the good and bad effects more clearly. A person who is a little closer to her wisdom will not be carried away so much by ignorance, which is often the case in day-to-day life. We rush around, not really aware of everything we are doing, walking in ignorance, talking in ignorance. We are always on the move because of ignorance, even in our dreams!

The first step is to begin to realize what we are doing. This transformation in our awareness will help to replace ignorance with wisdom in our actions. We will listen more to our natural wisdom instead of only our intelligent or egotistic mind, allowing it to grow and function in its own beautiful way.

When we understand that everything matters, then we begin to behave in a thoughtful way, thinking about the consequences of our actions and how we might benefit others. When we are careful then good things follow one after another.

Karma isn’t a blame game

Sometimes people feel the need to blame misfortune on some great being or the universe. Instead we have to understand that it’s our own karma and carelessness. Through this understanding, rather than blaming all our bad luck and misfortunes on someone or something else, we can see how we need to work hard and we need to be mindful of all our thoughts and actions to make sure that these misfortunes will not happen in the future.

I realize that karma is a difficult idea when we think about how often bad things happen to very good people. But as with everything in life, our karma is not just our own, separate from everyone else. Our karma is collective and inter-connected with all others. In Buddhist philosophy this collective karma even goes back many generations, as we have all been here before and will visit again in the future. From a more mundane perspective, modern science says we are influenced by past generations by inheriting their genetics and traits and we will influence future generations by giving them our genes and traits. So you see, we all have the karma of the world in our own hands. That is why we mustn’t hide away or think of ourselves as somehow separate from others. We are all human beings. Of course, we all come from different backgrounds but we are connected by our karma. Since we have this great karma to meet, we should be supporting each other and encouraging each other. This spiritual path that we are walking is full of bumps and pot-holes, we have to carefully hold hands with warmth, sincerity and understanding. Nothing is impossible when we walk together.

For the sake of this short life, we unfortunately tend to do all sorts of things that create bad karma. To get a nicer home, more money or more pleasure we may act selfishly, pushing others out of the way in our rush to be the best, to serve our own happiness. We are all looking for happiness but by putting our own ahead of others we accumulate a lot of bad karma for the world.

If we understand the rule of karma then we may stop and think before we act selfishly for our own happiness. Should we put our own short life first and accumulate all this bad karma or should we think of others and the lives to come and do our best to put out as little bad karma as possible? We may only be here for the blink of an eye but the way we live our lives will stay with the universe forever.

When we are able to stop, pause and think more about our actions, words and thoughts, we begin to see the cause and effect more clearly. We then begin to understand that by changing the cause, if it is in our ability, we can change the effect. You might notice, for example, that if you can put aside jealousy then you are less likely to speak harsh words to that person or feel pain yourself. And, equally, that by showing great joy in another person’s wellbeing or happiness that you will feel a warm glow yourself. This is why we talk so much of love, compassion and kindness to others. Once you begin to be truly mindful of acting in this way, your love, compassion and kindness will give your words and actions great colour and very good karma,


  1. I so appreciate this! I always enjoy when the Buddhist philosophy gets reinforced by science. This description of Karma mirrors the concept of epigenetics and generational trauma. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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