The root verb of karma means “doing”, which includes thinking, speaking and acting. One classical definition of karma is the movement of the mind and what it produces in terms of speech and action. If, for instance, I were to think of eating an ice-cream, express that desire to a friend, then wolf down a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, I would have performed a complete karma.
But “doing” is only one half of the karma scenario. The other half constitutes the consequences that spring from our every thought, word or act. Karmic software has no viruses—it is perfect, infallible and inexorable. So why doesn’t every mafia don who traffics in hard drugs, prostitution and illegal arms end up being riddled with bullets in some dark and filthy alley? Why does a kind and ethical man go down the samsaric tubes, while low-life crooks happily sport Gucci gear, drive Maseratis, and date superstars?
Because karmic seeds can 1) take lifetimes to ripen, 2) sprout after decades, 3) produce near instant effects—as when you hit a seven-foot bully and he whacks you into a coma—which is why, of course, karmic theory does not work unless it is married to the theory of reincarnation.
My Buddhist teacher used to say that if there were no killer gap between an act and its consequence—if, for instance, our own ribs cracked the instant we stepped on a cockroach—we would all take care to be very compassionate humans indeed! Since lifetimes can separate an act from its effect, most humans believe they can get away with anything—which would account for the sporadic eruption of unspeakable scum such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, who have scourged our little planet with their mindless evil.
Now for simple distinctions between good, bad and neutral karma: good karma brings pleasure, bad causes pain, and neutral, well, it’s neutral. This same guru once remarked that karma is 99% intention…meaning that the same act performed by two different people with two different motives causes different karma.
Let’s say a mother gets a call from the police to report that her bungee-jumping teenage son has had a serious accident, and is teetering on that shimmering edge between life and death. Heart thudding with fear, she roars off to the emergency room in her Jeep Cherokee. On the way, she knocks down a child riding his bicycle, and he dies.
At the same time on another side of town, a nasty drunk staggers out of a seedy pub and manages to ease himself behind the wheel of his jalopy. On his way home, he too hits a child on his bicycle, killing him instantly.
Two similar incidents with a similar end result—and yet the effects vary vastly, for karmic software is far from unfair: the distraught mother, while she cannot escape the relentless hammer of karma for taking an innocent life, will reap light consequences; the drunk is likely to do time in one of those hell realms the Buddhists describe with such vivid glee. (Of course these examples serve merely to illustrate a point, for the true intentions of humans are often cloudy to other human eyes. Karmic software, however, cannot be deceived.)
Read more in Part 3…