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What Is Karma and How Does it Work?

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The term "karma" is often used with great casualness, with little understanding of its profundity. People dismissively say "it's my karma," suggesting that their destiny or fate is merely the luck or bad fortune of the draw. This use of the term suggests a lack of personal power or responsibility for being at both the cause and the effect of what occurs in one's life. Using the phrase "it's my karma" suggests victimhood, and karma is anything but victimhood.

In Christianity, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, the term "sin" is commonly defined as missing the mark through "deliberate disobedience to the known will of God." This missing of the mark, also called karma, is the spiritual accountability for our actions. Thus, "karma" is not what we commonly think of as "good" or "bad" fortune, but rather the causal responsibility for those results.

This deeper understanding of karma rests upon our essential identity as souls -- spiritual beings who are animated by a vital and divine force. As souls we are spiritually held accountable for what we create, promote, and allow in our lives. We are constantly in the process of accruing and/or balancing out karmic debts of responsibility for our creations. Karma is not physical, it is spiritual, and we carry karma forward through time within a given lifetime or, as some believe, from one lifetime until the next. Once accrued, the balancing action of karma plays out on the stage of our everyday lives through our bodies, thoughts, feelings, relationships, circumstances, and experiences. The name of the game of life is to pay off our karmic debts rather than accruing new ones so we can come to know ourselves and others as divine beings and enter into the consciousness of God.

Just as gravity is a law of the physical world, so is karma a law of the spiritual world. We are held responsible for our actions and, more precisely, for the intention of our actions. This responsibility exists within the context of an individual soul's relationship with God. When one deliberately disobeys the will of God, karma is accrued. It is the intent of one's actions that generates karma. All major religions have some version of the seven deadly sins to caution followers in avoiding yielding to desires, illusions, and choices that take us away from the will of God. The causal relationship between our current actions and future occurrences is referenced in Galations 6:7 (King James Version) "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

Spiritually, as well as physically, the type and quality of seeds one plants will determine the quality of the crop to be harvested. As souls, what we do comes back to us according to God's design. If we have imbalances in our consciousness (known as karmic debts), we either find ourselves presented with the same lesson again and again within one lifetime until we gain the wisdom and value of the lesson being presented, or we re-embody, carrying the karma over from one lifetime till the next. Spirit is forever patient with our process of learning.

Karma is not about retribution, vengeance, punishment or reward, but a reaping of the harvest we ourselves have planted. Through our thoughts and behaviors, we sow seeds that are later harvested.

When karma comes present in our lives, it is because we are being given the opportunity to reap our harvest. There is no such thing as a good harvest or a bad harvest. It is just our harvest. It is our opportunity to make different choices in life than those that caused our karmic accrual in the first place. Karma is at once the consequence of past actions and the opportunity for healing and balancing in the present. It is a balancing action that offers us chances through life circumstances, situations, and relationships to learn important spiritual lessons. It has been my experience that gaining understanding of how the karma has been manifesting in our lives comes only after the balancing and learning have already occurred -- like a kind of 20/20 hindsight. Understanding these lessons sharpens and clarifies the lens through which our consciousness perceives, and in so doing, elevates our awareness of the presence of Spirit in our lives.

If you espouse the belief that this world is somehow a classroom and we, as souls, are here to learn, then you probably appreciate the law of karma as an exquisite design to tailor our lessons to our own personal needs. The irony is that the personality and mind of our ego self is subject to a higher authority when it comes to determining the nature of the lessons to be learned and how and when they will be taught.

If you believe in God, you probably think that the unpredictability of karmic payback is pretty smart too. While we are in total control of whether or not we create new karma for ourselves, we don't get a say in how and when payback comes. So, a worldview with God in it is rather like being a kid trying to behave because Christmas is coming. You know your behavior has consequences and that you are accountable for your choices.

The goal here is not to have an absence of karma. We are here because we have karma to work out and lessons to learn. However, learning our lessons and seeking a healthy relationship with God seems to be a really smart strategy.

Here are a few great quotes about karma:

Men are not punished for their sins, but by them. -- Elbert Hubbard

Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny. --Tryon Edwards

There are the waves and there is the wind, seen and unseen forces. Everyone has these same elements in their lives, the seen and unseen, karma and free will. -- Kuan Yin

There is a destiny that makes us brothers: none goes his way alone,
All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own. -- Edwin Markham

Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don't even notice it. -- Sakyong Mipham

I would love to know your thoughts about karma and how it informs our lives.

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Around the Web

What Is Karma? - About the Karmic Law of Cause & Effect

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Basic Buddhism: The Theory of Karma

Karma | Define Karma at Dictionary.com

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