Karma-no big deal, just the way things work

Steve Goodheart Essay

Karma-just the way things work

In Buddhism, dharma has many meanings but at its simplest level, dharma is just the way things work.  When through experience, suffering, and observation, you gain genuine insight into how the world really works, in that moment you are an awakened one.

Why we are fooled about life

The problem is, on the face of it, it may not be so obvious how the world really works.  We may, for example, believe (and our experience may tell us) that the only way to get ahead in the world is through being ruthless and putting our own interests above all others’.  We may believe progress depends on who we know and what connections we have.  And again, our experience may seem to confirm that this is so. After all, look at so-and-so, that’s exactly how she got ahead in the world.

What we have is a kindergarten sense of cause and effect that is extremely narrow in its scope,  We have blinders on and are only focusing on immediate effects of actions, not long-term consequences.  In Buddhism, karma, the law of cause and effect, runs wide and deep. It always asks, what thoughts and actions lead to lasting happiness and what don’t?

Karma in a nutshell

A scientific understanding of karma has two parts.  First, we are fully convinced that our actions always have results.  Not sometimes, always! Seems obvious, but how often do we do something we know is wrong or injurious and yet deceive ourselves into thinking it doesn’t matter or can’t really affect us or others.

Second, understanding karma means we are fully convinced that we are fully responsible for our actions.  Not partly, but fully! Whatever outside pressures and circumstances we may face, the choices we are ours.  We own them, and in a sense, they own us.  Our choices and decisions, good or bad, largely determine our happiness or suffering.

Karma – you’re in it for the long run

Of course, the decisions and choices of others also greatly affect our experience, but in the long-run—and Buddhism is all about long-term, lasting happiness—the one thing we do have control over is our own choices.  As Viktor Frankl notes, it’s our last great freedom, something even a prison-camp can’t take from us.

The more we can live our lives honestly and courageously—making better and better choices and taking responsibility for and learning from the results of those choices, the happier we will be. The dharma really is that simple, and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice this path.

Owning our lives – the Noble Way to live

Living the dharma is really a matter of understanding, “I own my life.  I own my choices.  I own and accept the results of my choices.”  If we don’t understand this, we abdicate our dignity as human beings. We become little more than mindless corks bobbing on a sea of forces we can barely comprehend.

So, take heart!  The very laws of the universe can help us, when we understand them.  The Buddha’s dharma speaks to the nobility in each of us—our innate capacity to choose right and reject wrong.  This nobility leads to a truly noble path that can take us all the way to the limitless freedom of an awakened mind and heart.

See also:

Karma—It’s not fate!


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

3 Responses to “Karma-no big deal, just the way things work”

  1. Samster Huey and the Curbludgeon Corblimey Reply 2016/02/21 at 10:38 PM

    You realise that lots of people in eastern religions shrug at the sufferings of the poor because ‘they must deserve it karmically’. Does buddhism have a book of Job, where someone clearly righteous suffers for non-Karmic reasons? Or do all upright non bodhisattvas get elevated? I understand that you are applying Karma within a lifetime, which has the opposite lacuna of not explaining corrupt, successful people. Buddhists should realise that life is unfair and lamentable, and get with antinatalism. Our great father (philosophically), Schopenhauer, derived much solace from the Upnishads. We aren’t that far apart, it’s just these mysterious ad hoc things (affirming reincarnation while denying the self, affirming justice within a lifetime (when there is no such thing), affirming our basest drives with our highest philosophy) that drive a wedge between us.

  2. It was dark when I woke. This is a ray of suhsinne.


  1. Yes, Karma Can Be a Real Bitch When It Comes “Back Around” « Metta Refuge - 2010/05/03

    […] Karma-No Big Deal-Just the Way Things Work […]

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