By Bonfire Fundo (Ben Fa), Malawi

What is Karma?

We are kept prisoners in the circle of birth and death because of our ignorance, attachment and aversion. We are all alike insofar as we are subject to afflictions, yet there are many differences among living beings with which we are all familiar. For instance, some of us are wealthy, while others of us are poor; some are strong and healthy while others are weak and diseased, and so forth. All difference arising which separates beings from actions, needs and behaviors are what we call karma. Karma also determines what kind of next life into which one should be reborn. We might also recall that part of the Buddha’s experience on the night of his enlightenment consisted of gaining an understanding of how karma determines the rebirth of living beings--how living beings migrate from happy to unhappy and from unhappy to happy conditions as a consequence of their particular karma. So, the real definition of karma is action; that is to say, the act of doing this or that. This action however is not mechanical nor is it unconscious or involuntary. On contrary, karma is intentional, conscious, deliberate action motivated by volition or will.

Law of Karma

According to the law of karma, if we perform a wholesome action, sooner or later we will obtain a wholesome fruit, or result, and if we perform an unwholesome action, we will inevitably obtain an unwholesome or unwanted result. In Buddhism, there is a saying, which goes, “particular causes bring those particular effects that are similar in nature to those causes.” This law is fixed.

How karma is classified

In this section I will consider human karma as the central figure of discussion because we all belong to the same realm. Human karma is separated into three ways. This is what the Buddha said. We have body-generating karma, speech-generating karma and mind-generating karma. All intentional actions of body, speech and mind produce karmic results that will inevitably occur. This is unchangeable, and even the Buddha cannot change this law. You make it, you face the results.

Kinds of karma

Generally speaking, karma is divided into three basic kinds; I have tried to give a brief description of these kinds in the following sections.

Good, bad and neutral karma

According to your action, you may have a good, bad or neutral result. Good karma is produced by acts that are intended to help other living beings; for example, donations of materials to those in need. Bad karma is produced by acts that are intended to harm other living beings, like walking on top of ants, killing mosquitoes, murdering, cursing and scolding, etc. Unintentional acts produce neutral karma. According to Ven. Hui Re cha’n master of the Nan Hua Temple in South Africa, killing a person with the intent of saving a million people is not kill him out of anger, but out of compassion to the million. For example, if one person has hijacked hundreds of people in a plane and one uses his methods to go and save those hijacked but he meets a stiff resistance in doing so and has nothing to do but kill that evil person that is considered as a neutral karmic action. Another example is an unintentional killing of a person because you think that person is a tree or something else. In such a situation though you are subject to facing your karmic retribution of killing, however it is still regarded as a neutral karma.

Guiding karma and determining karma

Why are you a person now and why do we have dogs and all animals around us? Have you ever thought about it before? This guiding karma is the one, which determines whether to be reborn as an animal, a human, a ghost, or so on. When you are reborn, there follows another karma that will give you features. This is what we call detailed karma. It determines what kind of body one will have, what one’s circumstances will be, to which family or which nation one will be born, what one’s colour of skin will be, whether one will be poor or rich, etc

Shared and individual karma

Shared karma is the karma that is shared by many different beings at once. For example, all of us on this planet share the same planet; people in a continent, in a nation, in society and homes also share these smaller elements. In my country Malawi we used to have water floods that swept peoples’ crops and left behind hunger. Sometimes there are years of heavy drought, with no rain for almost a year. In case of floods, you may be sleeping but from nowhere there comes water that sweeps away your belongings and leaves you behind with nothing. This is what we call shared karma. In other countries, people share the karma of wars, earthquakes, racism, political instabilities, etc.

But while the place or country experiences such disasters like earthquake, for example, not all the people will have the same outcomes. The degree of being affected will be different; this is what we call individual karma. In the Bible there is a story that is much related to this karma. When the Israelites were taken captive in Babylon not all of them remained forever in Babylon, others returned to the Promised Land. And they all faced different punishments though they had a shared karma of being in exile.

Author's comment:

Here Bonfire Fundo has tried to explain about Karma and its categerories as also one of very important and deep teachings in Buddhism. The Buddha has explained about this Karma at many areas in the Tripitaka. We can find many explanations in the Abhidhamma pitaka and Sutta pitaka. Mainly these explanations are in Abhidhamma pitaka, the collection of profound teachings.

The Buddha has explained how these karma activate people on the Cullakamma vibhanga sutra (The Shorter Exposition of Kamma) and Maha kamma vibhanga sutra (The Greater Exposition of Kamma) inthe Majjima nikaya. I have given more explanation about this Cullakamma vibhanga sutra under the chapter six.

Karma is theory about world nature. We can not jump away from the workings of this theory. If some body does good he will get good result, but if he does bad he will get bad result. This law continues on the world. Buddhism always talks about this point. Our present life and belongings are the result of our last actions. Also what we do now will have the result for that.

To get a good rebirth in a good place, get a long life, get good health and wealth we have to have accumululate good karma. If not we get opposite result of them. Most of the african community have povery, short life, diseases and low living condition. One of the main reason for that is their past kamma. It is better to understand this theory and maintain life according to that law of karma. Then they can reach good places and good conditions. Withou this understanding and its practical application in the right way, it is difficult to come out from their present situation to good condition