Two Karmas. . .
The law of karma is a fundamental principle of the Buddhist worldview. In brief, karma refers to the idea that intentional actions have consequences for the agent, in this life and in future lives; in fact, it is karma that leads to rebirth. Buddhists understand the law of karma as another manifestation of dependent arising (paṭicca-samuppāda), the law of cause and effect, whereby everything that exists arises due to specific conditions. In this sense, the law of karma is a sort of natural law, so that actions are naturally followed by consequences, not as the result of divine judgement. But they will follow: the Buddha emphasised that actions lead inevitably to appropriate consequences:
“Not in the sky, nor in the midst of the sea,
Nor by hiding in a mountain cave:
No place on earth is to be found
Where one might escape one’s wicked deeds.”
The inevitability of karmic consequences is a large part of the way that traditional Buddhism has presented its ethical teachings. Evil actions, like killing, stealing, lying, are bad karmas and will lead to rebirth in an unpleasant human situations. Good actions, on the other hand, such as generosity, makes merit and leads to good rebirth in a pleasant human situations. Western Buddhists, while aware of the traditional teachings on karma, are generally more inclined to understand the law of karma in a psychological sense, as a reminder that good actions will produce pleasant experienced consequences in this life, and that bad actions will lead to unhappiness.
The psychological meaning of the law of karma is extremely important for understanding how practicing ethics has good consequences and leads to a happier, more integrated sense of self. This is the best basis for further progress on the Buddhist path. It is worth noticing that Buddhist ethics is based on the axiom that ‘actions have consequences’, but a good action is one that has good consequences for everyone, not just for oneself. The law of karma follows from the ethical axiom, but the psychological consequences for onself should not be the only considersation for our actions. But perhaps for a lot of us the promise of greater happiness acts as a prompt to remember to be good.
The truth that good actions have good consequences which are experienced in the here and now seems to be part and parcel of the Dharma, which is said to be evident, timeless, inviting, guiding and to be experienced individually by the wise.
Peace and Love, Jim