There are so many definitions and descriptions of what Karma is. What it really comes down to in my philosophising is: what Karma is to you. Anything from a full blown ‘understanding’ of the traditional conceptualisation, to a loose superstition about ‘bad’ consequences from ‘bad’ actions. These understandings are ultimately derived from what we read, hear and remember (possibly from a past life?). Whether you believe in an distinct single existence or in multiple lives over a fluctuating timeline; if you believe absolutely in the Christian God or have a belief system grounded in an understanding of Krishna’s multiplicity; Karma is still relevant and can fit into the way you view the universe and you within it.

My understanding is that Karma is a way of describing the spiritual and physical consequences of your spiritual and physical actions. I do not believe in any one God. Yet, I believe one day I will meet my makers. So my philosophies are a mix of ethos, bound up in the superstitions of myriad definitions of religion and ritual. Yet freed somehow from all of it.

The original conceptualisation of Karma is a way of defining cause and effect. Through the course of our life we have thoughts, make decisions and act them out. We therefore cause certain effects to come into play. Depending on the nature of our thoughts, decisions and actions the effect will be a corresponding ‘universe balancing effect’. If we think and act negatively then negativity will be drawn to us. If we act positively then the effective result will reflect this.

The precise philosophical explanation of karma differs slightly between various traditions and religions. The general concept is basically the same. Through the law of karma, the effects of all deeds actively create past, present, and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain and joy it brings to him/her and others. The effects or ‘fruits’ of our actions are called karma-phala. In belief systems that are based on reincarnation, karma extends through one’s present life, and all past, and future lives as well.

Karma translates directly to mean “deed” or “act”. More broadly it names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction that governs all life at all times through a fluctuating timeline.

Many Hindu belief systems believe in a God’s direct involvement, while Buddhist and Jain belief is that Karma is merely causality. Both agree that Karma is not punishment or retribution, rather that it is simple consequence of your own action. Causality is not bound to single acts either. It is an ebb and flow. A more tidal, or natural, understanding of overall actions and re-actions by nature. Neither is Karma fate, for we are free to act as we will. Through our actions we create our own destinies, and if you can get your head around it: your own past as well. The concept of karma is of intelligent action and dispassionate response.

Lastly, Hindu scriptures divide karma into three kinds: Sanchita (accumulated), Prarabdha (fruit-bearing) and Kriyamana (current) karma.

Other religions have concepts very similar to Karma. Christianity’s belief that your actions in this life will stain or clean your soul, and directly define you for one afterlife or another. All religiously defined ‘punishment’, ‘retribution’, the ‘wrath of a God’ and other like concepts are conceptualisations of Karma: dispassionate punishment inflicted by the universe for deeds and thoughts of an individual/society.

In today’s mix of lifestyle, belief, ethnicity, culture and world understandings we tend to use the term ‘Karma’ rather loosely. Yet, always with some seriousness. Often in saying something, even jokingly, we are acknowledging it and admitting that we have some belief in it. Think upon it yourself, what you believe or dismiss. What Karma is to you. Which aspects of your life it relates to. It can be a reason for vegetarianism or egalitarianism, for seeking wisdom or for fortifying set beliefs.

What journey will Karma take you on?