The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind: Part Three: Karma
If you missed the first parts of this series, you can find Part One here and Part Two here.
Karma is a much misunderstood concept in our Western world because western belief systems imply that some outer supreme being will punish us if we do bad things. This is not how Buddhism treats the concept. Buddhist philosophy has no concept of self or other. In this sense it is an atheistic religion with no external God figure. All elements of our world are interdependent and cannot be separated. The ego(monkey mind) is pretty invested in getting us to believe in self and other so it can keep us in fear and be in control. The power of the ego is not an authentic power. It is in a sense counterfeit and easily disarmed with practice and a proper understanding of Buddha Nature. Buddha Nature is the merging of wisdom and compassion in its purest form. All conflict in our lives is our curriculum or vehicle for transforming suffering to wisdom and compassion.
In Buddhism, Karma is simple cause and effect. If we express kindness and compassion our world will be an out picturing of that. If we express greed and jealousy our world will be tainted in that way. So in reality everything is Karma, since cause and effect operates so intrinsically in our Human Realm.
I had a wonderfully enlightening experience while attending a training from Lama Khadro in Northern California. She said that all suffering as a result of Karma is purification of that Karma. So when crappy stuff happens in our experience rather than thinking "wow, what did I do to deserve this?" we think about how grateful we are to be purifying negative Karma that has been accumulated over many lives.
The way in which understanding Karma improves our experience is that we are encouraged to be more altruistic and empathetic toward ourselves and others. Since there is no "self" or "other" we know that harming others is just as harmful to self in the Karmic sense. We come to understand that our thoughts and actions are crucial to the healing of the world and that there is no such thing as "getting away with" anything. This provides the motivation for refraining from warlike behavior on the interpersonal as well as the global level. The Buddhist understanding of Karma also encourages personal responsibility and autonomous character building with the end result being maturity and wisdom.