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What is karma? Ask a Buddhist

Karma is one of the most important teachings of Buddhism, but it's often misunderstood! Let's talk about what karma is (actions and their results), how mindfulness practice can help us create good karma, how hard times can help us burn off bad karma, and more. See the video or audio link below for the full teaching.

  • Karma, as Buddhists understand it, is an action taken with intention (e.g., donating money to a nonprofit with the hope that their research will lead to better cancer treatments and less suffering). It's also the results of that action, in this lifetime or future ones (e.g., having great health in a future lifetime).

  • We can create karma with our body, speech, and mind. If we have a fleeting kind thought, it's not that powerful, but if we notice that moment of kindness, pause to strengthen it, and finally act on it, it becomes much more powerful. Or if we notice a moment of harshness toward ourselves or others, we can notice it and the discomfort it brings rather than following it up with a harsh text or social media post -- or even smacking someone "upside the head"!

  • Karma compounds over time as our actions become habitual, and then we're likely to repeat them. The more we get into the habit of creating positive karma -- like active kindness to ourselves and others or practicing meditation daily -- the more we're shaping our future behavior, too.

  • Mindfulness plays a key role in this process since it helps us to notice our motivation and mental state at any given time and get intentional about the way we speak and act. We can begin to shape our karma consciously instead of bumbling along, doing whatever our minds tell us to.

  • Finally, when we encounter suffering in life, if we understand it as the result of our own negative karma (possibly from some lifetime in the distant past), we can reframe it as an opportunity to burn off the past. When we intentionally do that, we can move forward lighter and freer.

Below you'll find a mini-workshop (in video and audio forms) that offers a deeper dive on the topic. It was originally offered on Insight Timer live; to find me on that platform and participate live in future talks, click here.

And if you'd like to enroll for free in my email course on the Four Noble Truths, click here.

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