The word Karma is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Kri,’ meaning ‘to do,’ implying all action is Karma.
Technically, the term incorporates both an action and its consequence.
What determines the nature of the Karma is the will or intention behind an act.
As mentioned in the Buddhist text ‘Anguttara Nikaya,’ “It is will (Chetana), that I call Karma; having willed, one acts through body, speech or mind.”
Right and Wrong
An action is right or wrong as the motive is right or wrong:
“One who acts with the best of intentions, does not get the sin of the outward consequence of his action.” (Yoga Sikha).
For example, a doctor is not responsible for murder, if the operation per chance ends in the death of his or patient.
“Even if a man does not succeed, he gets all the merit of doing his duty, if he strives theutmost to his capacity.” (Mahabharata: Udyoga Parva 93.6)
“Some undertakings succeed, and others fail. That is due to the Divine order of things. If a man does his part of the work, no sin touches him.” (Mahabharata: Santi Parva 24.30).
It is the psychological impulse behind an action that is ‘Karma,’ that which sets going a chain of causes culminating in karmic fruits. Actions then must be intentional if they are to generate karmic fruits.
This Buddhist belief is slightly at variance from that of the Jains.
They saythat accidentally treading on an insect does not have such an effect as the latterbelieve. Thinking of doing some bad action is a bad Karma, however, especially whenone gives energy to such a thought, rather than just letting it pass.
One of the most significant instructional references to Karma comes from the BhagavadGita, which says, You have the right only to work, but not to the fruits thereof. (2.47)
Significant here is the fact that we are entitled only to act, and have ‘no right’ over the ensuing results. This profound assertion is not mere discourse, but loaded withsound practical advice, which can act as a sensible strategy for whatever we set out toachieve.
The Chinese example
In medieval China lived an old farmer, who had a weak, ailing horse for ploughing hisfield. One day, the sickly horse ran away to the hills.
The farmer’s neighbours said in sympathy: “Such rotten luck!”
“Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” mused the farmer.
A week later, the old horse returned, bringing with it a herd of wild horses from the hills.
This time, the neighbours swarmed and congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply however was the same: “Good luck? Bad luck? Who can tell?”
Sometime later, while trying to tame one of the wild horses, the farmer’s only son fell offits back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this was bad luck. “Bad luck? Good luck? Idon’t know,” said the farmer.
A few weeks later, the King’s army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied young man. The farmer’s son, who was laid up with a broken leg was let off.
Now what was this? Good luck or bad luck? Who can tell?
Blessing in disguise
Things that seem adverse on the surface may actually be good in disguise andsomething that seems to be attractive and ‘lucky’ may actually be harmful to our bestinterests. The learned ones often leave it to a higher power beyond the material world todecide what is best for them.
Good and evil are not constant – they change according to time and circumstance. Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran said:“The selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.”
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked;
For they stand together before the face of the Sun even as the black thread and the whiteare woven together.
Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.
These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.