The literal meaning of the word â€œkarmaâ€ is â€œdeed.â€ This notion includes every kind of purposeful actions (verbal, mental, or physical). In a general sense, karma is viewed as a sum of both bad and good actions. Ultimately, karma embraces volition, which may be either moral or immoral. Regardless of the fact that unconscious, involuntary or unintentional actions are by their nature deeds, they are not constituent elements of karma as they exclude the aspect of volition. Therefore, it may be reasonably claimed that karma is an intentional action that one has desired with his/her thoughts, body, and speech.
To understand the essence of karma better, let us describe the notion of karma through its qualities. To begin with, karma predetermines a subconscious human reaction to what is happening. For instance, a greedy person would reject instantly, without hesitation to lend some money. Remorse of consciousness is not typical of a thief; and an honest man, having found some money, would instantly try to find out who had lost it. Secondly, karma makes definite situations repeat. Due to karma, a person finds himself/herself instinctively in the same situations. Suppose a pugnacious man is coming along the street â€“ he is very likely to get into a fight, whereas a calm person may not even notice the same fight. Even if pugnacious people want to leave in peace, not taking part in various fights, they attract or cause the latter unintentionally. It happens so because every human causes vibrations, which correspond with his/her karma, and, consequently, attracts and is attracted by similar vibrations. To get rid of the vibrations causing fights, such people should change themselves.
Karma is changed and gained due to previous actions. Ordinary people would not kill or rob somebody. But if a person has already committed several crimes, he/she may continue committing them with no remorse of consciousness, which results in the corresponding karma. On the contrary, a pious person acquires good karma and enjoys its fruits in the future. Karma may also get irreversibly entangled. If one person has killed another in a country, where vendetta is a custom, this may lead to hostility between the two families or clans. Hostility lasts for centuries and takes lives of numerous victims. Consequences of some negative actions may cause further range of negative deeds and twisted situations, and only enormous efforts may help overcome them. Karma may be â€œfinishedâ€ during one life or transmitted from one birth to another. A person who did only good things throughout his/her life may hope for a good further birth. A thief, correspondingly, could await only a bad one.
Karma emanates from two main sources. The major cause is avijja â€“ ignorance or unawareness of the real essence of things. Another similar source of karma is tanha â€“ an ardent desire. Two causes mentioned give birth to bad deeds. The fruit of karma is Vipaka â€“ a result of an action. As well as the karma, Vipaka may be good or bad, and they both pertain to the mental realm. When one’s karma is good, he/she experiences Vipaka as bliss or happiness; bad karma makes Vipaka manifest itself in the form of misery or unhappiness. Results of one’s actions may go along with Anisamsa, beneficial material things, such as health, prosperity, and durability, and Adinaya, disadvantageous material phenomena, like disease, poverty, ugliness, etc.
There exist several classifications of karma. The first classification is functional, i.e., based on the functions karma fulfills, and includes: a) reproductive karma; b) supportive karma; c) counteractive/obstructive karma; d) destructive karma. Let us consider each of these types in particular. Every further birth is predetermined by a past karma (either good or bad), which prevailed at the moment of death. Reproductive karma ensures the future birth. Death is considered to be an â€œephemeral end of an ephemeral phenomenon.â€ The point is that, although the current form disappears, the Karmic force, which sets in motion the flux of life, still remains and generates thought-vibrations at the moment of death. Therefore, the further birth is predetermined by a bad or a good karma.
Reproductive karma also ensures the rebirth of consciousness and arousal of the three decades: sex-decade, body-decade, and base-decade. Constituent elements of the body-decade include: pathavi (the component of extension), apo (the component of cohesion), tajo (the component of heat), and vayo (the component of motion). The following four derivatives (upadana rupa) arise from these elements: vanna (color), gandha (odor), rasa (taste), and oja (nourishing essence). These eight elements (Avinibhoga Rupa or indivisible substance) together with jivitindriya (vitality) and kaya (body) make up the body decade or Kaya dasaka. Base-decade and sex-decade are composed of the first nine elements named, bhava (sex), and vathu (set of consciousness) correspondingly. Thus, it becomes clear that the sex is not an accidental combination of ovum cells and sperm but is conditioned by person’s karma. Reproductive karma also results in feelings of happiness and pain, which people experience during their lives.
Supportive karma sustains the reproductive karma. The criteria of â€œgoodâ€ or â€œbadâ€ are not applied to it; its main function is assisting or maintaining the actions of janaka during one’s life. Supportive karma may be moral â€“ it helps give wealth, happiness, health, etc. to a person born with moral janaka â€“ and immoral â€“ which helps give sorrow, pain, etc. to somebody, whose reproductive karma is immoral (akusala janaka). Obstructive karma usually interrupts, weakens, and retards the fulfillment of actions by the reproductive karma. On the one hand, a person born with good janaka may suffer from various illnesses which prevent him/her from enjoying the brilliant results of his/her good actions. On the other hand, an animal born with bad janaka is likely to lead a good life as result of its good counteractive (upabidaka) karma, which prevents the actions of the bad reproductive karma.
Destructive (upaghataka) karma is more powerful than supportive and obstructive ones since it possesses an immense destructive force. Upaghataka is karma of the past, which is constantly seeking a chance to operate rather unexpectedly and may nullify the potential energy of the reproductive karma. To illustrate the operation of all four types of karma, let us consider Devadatta’s life. This monk tried to kill the Buddha and created a split between his followers. Due to his good janaka, Devadatta was born in a royal family. Supportive karma helped him lead prosperous life. Obstructive karma manifested itself when Devadatta was anathematized. Finally, upaghataka caused his miserable death.
The second classification of karma is based on the predominance of an effect. According to this principle, karma is subdivided into weighty (garuka), death-proximate (asanna), habitual (accina), and cumulative or reserve (katatta) karma. Weighty karma may be good or bad and would manifest itself in current or further life. Good garuka is exclusively mental and results either in absorption or ecstasy. The opposite weight karma is carnal or verbal. In terms of immorality, there are five depraved crimes â€“ patricide, matricide, a murder of a spiritual practitioner (an Arahant), Buddha’s wounding, and the creation of a split between the Sangha, Buddha’s followers.
Proximate or death-proximate karma refers to what a person does or thinks at the moment of death. Asanna plays an immense role in conditioning the future birth, and, therefore, many Buddhist countries attach great importance to it. That is why it is a widespread Buddhist custom to remind a dying person of his/her good deeds, encouraging him/her to do something good on the deathbed. It follows from this that even bad people may get a good birth if they die happily, i.e., remembering or doing good deeds before the moment of death. In the same way, good people may die in sorrow if they suddenly remember an evil deed, word, or even thought.
Habitual karma is based on one’s habitual preferences. This means that either bad or good habits shape somebody’s character. Accina manifests itself most frequently when a person is left unguarded or at the moment of death. For instance, Cunda, a butcher, died yelling like a pig because he was slaughtering the animals all his life. The literary meaning of the word â€œkatarraâ€ is â€œbecause doneâ€. Reserve karma is like a reserve of a definite being. It accumulates all the actions, which do not fit into other types of karma, and the actions which one forgets soon. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Depending on the time when people can enjoy the results of their karma, the latter may be immediately effective (ditthadhammavedaniya), subsequently effective (uppapajjavedaniya), indefinitely effective (aparapariyavedaniya), and ineffective (ahosi). Human experiences the first type in his/her present life. The ineffective karma does not function in this life, while â€œsubsequently effectiveâ€ karma manifests itself only in the subsequent life. However, if this type of karma fails to operate even in the second birth, it may take place in nirvana â€“ this is the indefinitely effective karma.
All things considered, karma can be defined as a total sum of human intentional good and bad actions. The main sources of karma are avijja (ignorance) and tahna (string desire for something). Vipaka is the fruit of karma and it may either good or bad. According to different principles, there are several classifications of karma. The functional classification gives four types of karma: reproductive, supportive, counteractive/obstructive, and destructive karma. The classification based on the predominance of an effect distinguishes between weighty, death-proximate), habitual, and cumulative or reserve (katatta) karma. According to the time when people can reap the fruits of their karma, the latter may be: immediately effective, subsequently effective, indefinitely effective, and ineffective.