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 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. Even if it was an unintended action, you are still responsible for it. If you drop a pebble in a quiet body of water, waves will still appear from where you dropped the rock. It does not matter whether you intended to drop it.
Second, with karma, the reaction your action causes 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.
Three Types of Karma
Traditionally, there are three types of karma. First, there is Sanchita Karma. This is the collected karma from all of your past lifetimes. Some people refer to Prarabdha Karma—that portion of Sanchita Karma you are working on in this lifetime—to be a fourth type, but I consider it an aspect of Sanchita Karma.
The second type is called Agami Karma. This is the karma you have created in your current life. It differs from Parabdha Karma in that you are not working on it (that is, trying to work it off ), you are just acquiring it. The third type is called Kriyamana Karma. It is the karma you create and working off immediately, popularly known as "instant karma." For example, park your car illegally and you get a ticket.
Working It Off
The key to understanding karma is the concept of working it off. Through self-study, introspection, and other means, we can discover the actions that caused our karma and 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 do better. Indeed, the goal of karma is to make us better, more caring, more loving 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 illness and how could you share this information with others?
There are other means of working off karma, including reciting certain prayers hundreds of thousands of times. Most westerners don't have the months required to do this. For westerners, the most important way to overcome karma is to do the opposite of what caused the karma and to learn from the message in the reaction caused by the karma.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to discover the source of current karmic experiences, especially if it comes from past lives. There are fortunetellers who may claim to reveal this information to you, but they may not be accurate. Unless you know someone who is reliable, how can you discover the sources of your karma?
As Alexander Pope wrote, "The proper study of man is man." Indeed, the secrets of karma are part of us. They can be discovered through astrology, but for many of us the answer is as close as our hand.
Palmistry has long been used as a way to look at your past, present, and future. You may not be aware of it, but many of the lines in your hand change over time. The palm can reveal what your karma is and how it evolves.
The first book in the West that I've seen that describes this is Karmic Palmistry by Jon Saint-Germain. It shows how your hands reflect karmic influences and challenges. Once you learn these you can create the future you desire, leaving negative or bad karma behind. I recommend this book highly.