In its traditional Buddhist form, rather than current colloquial understanding, karma is the intentional actions of body, speech or mind and the imprints those actions leave in our minds. So the things we say, do and think, and the imprints in our minds left by them determine how we are going to understand the world we live in, and how we are going to act in the future. Karma tells us that there is a relationship between what we do and how we feel that results from the intention behind our actions. This means karmic actions have a moral dimension, with intention being crucial. Unintentional actions, such as a tree falling on a house, do not fall under the doctrine of karma.

Karma Definitions and Notes

  • Karma is, collectively, the motivational dispositions stored in our brain which, when conditions warrant it, assemble into narratives that suggest how we should act.
  • Karma is the destiny that you earn though your actions and thoughts.
  • Karma is an echo of the past that determines the future.
  • Karma means and explains that our past actions actually bind us to our present actions.
  • Karma a foundational thesis of Indian moral philosophy.
  • Karma are the intentional acts that result in states of being and the arising of new Selfs from moment to moment.

From Thanissaro Bhikkhu: The general understanding of the doctrine of karma is that actions from the past determine present pleasure and pain, while present actions determine future pleasure and pain. So karma is the moral principle that governs human conduct. It declares that our present experience is conditioned by our past conduct and that our present conduct will condition our future experience. But if past action were the sole determining factor, then present action should have no effect on our present experience of pleasure or pain.

In this way, the Buddha points to one of the most distinctive features of his own teaching on karma: that the present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the ancient Indian notion of karma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened. In other words, this addition is what makes Buddhist practice possible.