Few concepts are as misunderstood as the concept of karma. It’s often perceived as a kind of reward and punishment system that is woven into the fabric of the universe.

People may assume that the more good deeds they do, the more they will be rewarded with good fortune. Or some people might witness someone experiencing something painful and say it’s just their karma. They must have created this situation. It’s just fate. There is often a feeling that the universe is judging, condemning, or elevating us for good or bad deeds.

But that’s not quite it.

Every Action Has a Reaction

The word karma means “action.” It’s a core concept in Hinduism and Buddhism (and other wisdom traditions) that invites us to recognise that all our actions produce effects.

The understanding of karma helps us to become aware that every choice we make leads to an outcome. When we dwell on a thought, play out an emotion, indulge in desire or take an action it has a ripple effect – we set in motion a cause that will have an effect in our lives…and the lives of those around us. In some way our every action ripples out and touches everything.

The Ripple Effect of Our Actions

In his book “The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology,” Jack Kornfield writes this:

“A good way to begin to understand karma is by observing our habit patterns. When we look at habit and conditioning, we can sense how our brain and consciousness create repeated patterns. If we practice tennis enough, we will anticipate our next hit as soon as the ball leaves the other player’s racquet.

If we practice being angry, the slightest insult will trigger our rage. These patterns are like a rewritable CD. When they are burned in repeatedly, the pattern becomes the regular response. Modern neuroscience has demonstrated this quite convincingly. Our repeated patterns of thought and action actually change our nervous system.”

The Intention Behind Our Actions Matters…A lot

In the Buddhist teachings on karma, the intention behind our actions is of incredible importance.

Actions taken with virtuous intentions grow the seeds of happiness and love in our lives, whereas actions that come from intentions to harm or from greed, hatred or selfishness will move us towards suffering. And again, all of our actions, whether virtuous or not, will ripple out and affect everything around us.

“Karma moves in two directions. If we act virtuously, the seed we plant will result in happiness. If we act non-virtuously, suffering results.”― Sakyong Mipham

How Karma Helps us Grow and Evolve

Part of the Buddhist teaching on karma is that on a personal level we will continually get certain life situations drawn to us that we have seeded through our previous intentions and actions.

These circumstances are part of the evolutionary impulse of life. They do not come back to us as punishments or rewards, but rather they arrive to help us wake up further and open our hearts.

To the degree that we didn’t understand in the past how to stop getting stuck in egoic patterns of protection, defence and armouring our hearts, we’re given this gift of teachings, in the form of our life circumstances, to give us everything we need to awaken further.

How Mindfulness Moves Us Towards ‘Good Karma’

Mindfulness enables us to choose our intentions and actions more wisely.

The inspirational message of the teachings on karma is we are interconnected with everything and that our actions and choices are a powerful force, not only shaping our own lives, but also helping to shape life itself.

All Of Our Actions Matter

All of our actions matter. The invitation of these teachings is for us all to take responsibility for the quality of our lives and to be custodians of our bodies, minds and the planet and to keep choosing to follow the path that leads to kindness, connection and genuine happiness and freedom.

Learn the Art of Mindful Living with Melli O'Brien: