Many people use the term “karma” without truly understanding what it means. “It’s my karma to be poor,” they say. Or instead of poor they say “ill” or “lonely.” In doing this they make karma appear to be the same as what is usually called “fate.” It is not. In fact, the original notion of karma is quite the opposite of fate.
The term karma simply means “action.” There is nothing in the definition that indicates fate. In a spiritual context it means that everything you do will cause a reaction. If you do something good, you will receive something good. If you do something bad, something bad will happen to you.
There are two important aspects of this. First, it means there are no “lords of karma” watching over the process. There is no one to judge you. Further, it means that your intent plays no part in the working of karma. Whether you planned to harm someone or it was an accident, if you harm someone there will be a karmic result. Yes, even if it was an unintended action, you are still responsible for it. This is similar to the concept that if you drop a pebble in a quiet body of water, waves will appear from where you dropped the rock. It does not matter whether you intended to drop it or why you dropped it.
Second, with karma, the reaction to your action need not be instantaneous. I’m sure you have seen someone who has acted poorly and seemed to profit from those actions. The response to an action may take weeks, months, years, or even several lifetimes.
Types of Karma
Traditionally, there are three types of karma.
Prarabdha Karma means “Actions began; set in motion.” It is that portion of Sanchita Karma you are working on in this lifetime or is seeing fruit. Some people think of this as a fourth type of Karma, but I consider it a subset of Sanchita Karma. Example: you shoot someone in the legs in a past lifetime (Sanchita karma) and in this lifetime you are dealing with being born a paraplegic (Parabdha karma).
Some people consider Parabdha to be a separate form of karma and Agami and Kriyamana to be the same.
Working It Off
The key to understanding karma is the concept of working it off. Through self-study, introspection, and other means such as divination, we can discover the actions that caused our karma, how to overcome it and never face it again. Karma then, can be seen as the great teacher. When you face something negative caused by karma the goal is not to make you suffer; it is not to punish you. Rather, it is to awaken you and tell you that for your own sake you need to change. Indeed, the goal of karma is to make us better, more caring, more loving, more spiritual people.
Once you discover the cause of your karma, the means of working it off can become quite self-evident. Are you poor? What can you learn and put into practice from your poverty? Are you in ill health? What can you learn about life as a result of the illness and how can you share this information with others?
There are other means of working off karma, including reciting certain magical words hundreds of thousands of times. A few of these will be covered later. However, the most common way to deal with unwanted effects of karma is to learn the lesson that karma wants you to have and act on that information, often doing the opposite of what initially caused the karma. There is no good or bad karma, there is just karma. How we interpret it makes it seem good or bad. What we do about it makes it important.