“Nothing happens by chance, by fate. You create your own fate by actions. That’s Karma.”
~ Unknown

Karma. When people hear this word, they automatically give it a religious flavor by associating it with reincarnation. Their arising skepticism about the possibility of inheriting the after-effects of deeds from the previous life is understandable.

Leaving all vague topics aside, I will not touch any metaphysical aspects of Karma. My goal here is to share with you my thoughts on it hoping that in the end of this section even the most skeptical readers will consider that the concept of karma can be seen as a rather practical tool that is worth integrating into a personal philosophy. So, here we go.

Karma from Sanskrit means action, work or deed. All actions start with an initial intent. Although an intent alone in its thought-form is not entirely harmless, it is only when the intention is put into action that it starts to impact your life and lives around you. The potential energy previously-stored inside finds release and turns into kinetic energy setting the gears of the Universe in motion.

Any action is a cause for what follows after — the effects. The effects, in turn, become causes for further forthcoming events. This observation brings us to a very simple definition of karma without drifting into excessive esoterism or religiousness.

Karma is a Law of Cause and Effect.

The Law of Cause and Effect leads us to one important implication about personal freedom. If we do not meticulously select and observe our thoughts regularly watering the seeds of goodness and eradicating mental rubbish, if we lack mindfulness about our daily actions and choices letting them be arbitrary and spontaneous, we let the existing system define us.

“They are the way the world allows them to be.”

To understand how the Law of Cause and Effect works one must first accept the fact that this law is emotionless, relentless and inexorable. It is like gravity. One cannot defy gravity — it exists and functions regardless of the attitude toward it. No one ever succeeded to break the law of gravity by jumping from the building. Likewise, nobody who ignored the law of karma has ever escaped its execution. Karmic debts may be delayed but never left unpaid.

Vikarma.

Vikarma is “bad” karma. Those are the actions that are detrimental to your well-being. Sometimes the strike-back of the vikarma is instant. Sometimes the negative effect of the bad actions is accumulating over the years leading to a single breakage point.

This can be illustrated by a simple example: a cigarette. A minute of delusional joy and “stress-relieving” relaxation. A paper tube with some dry hogweed inside is a deadly enemy in disguise — a killer of your lifetime.

I was a smoker for seven years. Looking back, I can see now how that first cigarette was my deliberate step into the abyss. Cigarettes enslaved me for years that I spent being weak, sick and depressed. I quit but for many smokers forging the discipline to conquer themselves remained an impossible challenge. My father has smoked for 35 years. That one little seemingly harmless action repeated hundreds of thousands of times did not only define the course of his life, it became a part of his life that now can’t be undone.

In English people say “Today’s seed — tomorrow’s harvest”. In Russian, this proverb exists in a more unfolded version: “Seed a thought — harvest a deed. Seed a deed — harvest a habit. Seed a habit — harvest your principles. Seed principles and harvest your destiny”.

Akarma.

Akarma is “good” karma. Those are the actions that nurture virtues and good qualities. The essence of akarma can be best illustrated by an old Vedic parable.

Once upon a time, there lived two brothers: two farmers. They built two houses with two barns right next to each other. The older brother was married, he had a family: a wife and children. The younger brother was single. They both worked hard together day and night in the field to make a living and shared the grain equally: 50/50.

During the dinner, they were always arguing about the way they divide the grain. The younger brother always started: “Brother, you have such a big family, you have children to take care of whereas I live alone, I live frugally and not needing much. You must take more grain than me.”

The older brother always replied: “Brother, you don’t have a family. My kids will grow up and look after me but you have no children to take care of you when you get old. You need to think about your future. Take more grain than me, sell it and make savings.” The argument had no end. Two brothers couldn’t come to an agreement.

In the night, the older brother would lie in his bed hugging his wife and stare at the ceiling. The idea that his younger brother had less grain kept him awake. So, he was getting up, going to his barn, filling up the sack of grain, bringing it to the younger brother’s barn and pouring it out there. After that, he was coming back to his bed falling asleep calmly with a smile on his face.

The younger brother was also sleepless. He was rolling in the bed thinking about his brother who had a big family to take care of yet took the same share of grain. So, he was also getting up, going to his barn, filling the sack with grain and carrying it to his older brother’s barn.

And this is how they were sneaking into each other’s barns carrying the grain around until one night they bumped into each other with the sacks of grain behind their backs.

So, what is the moral of this story?

The moral of the story is simple: the amount of grain in the barns did not change but the Love was growing. This is Akarma.

What you do may be invisible for the whole world but it doesn’t matter as long as it helps you to make the most of yourself.

The Two Wolves.

An old man shared a life lesson with his grandson, “Inside every person, there is an eternal fight: a fight between two wolves. One wolf represents evil: jealousy, resentment, egoism, ambitions, pride, lies. Another wolf represents goodness: peace, love, hope, truth, kindness, and loyalty.

The grandson took a pause, paused to think for a moment, and asked, “So, which wolf wins the fight in the end?”

The old man smiled and replied, “The one you feed.”

I brought up this parable because it is relevant to our conversation. Vikarma strengthens the former wolf and Akarma nourishes the latter. Your soul is their battlefield. Your attention is what they fight for.

Everything you think or do counts. Every word and every deed skew the balance of the invisible scales behind your shoulder. It is for you to decide which way to tip the scales. One thing is certain: it has never been wise to underestimate the karmic forces.

Karma heritage.

Don’t worry. I won’t bring up any mystical nonsense about how people inherit their karma from their parents in some supernatural ways. For me, karma heritage is a very down-to-earth concept. We inherit karma from our family in a very unsophisticated and real way. It can be described as follows:

The life values that you cultivate in yourself will run in your family.

Your kids will naturally adopt your life philosophy, your ethics, and your principles as well as the absence of such. This is how children inherit their parents’ karma and this is how parents find continuation in their children. This is also the reason why it is so important to always excel. If you do not strive to become better than you are, then would you expect your children to do so?

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “Families are always rising and falling in America.” What he meant by that, of course, is that the destiny of a family lies in the hands of the individuals who comprise that family. It is in their power to bring the family to wealth, peace, and prosperity as well as to completely abandon their familial responsibilities ending the bloodline.

Our actions, what we do to ourselves, or ‘karma’ as we have just defined it, is to be inherited by the next generation. Youth absorbs and mimics the behavior they see. Thus, taking smoking again as an example, children whose parents smoke are twice as likely to become smokers in teenage years. This is only one instance out of many of how one negative habit shared by a couple can determine a course of the innocent life they invite into this world.

With that in mind, I often question myself, “Do I have a right to bring a child to this world if I can’t raise him up a creator?” This question motivates me to continue working on myself because I know that the day when I will have to start passing on my knowledge is due. Will I be able to look my children in the eyes if I arrive to that day hollow and “empty-handed”? My answer is unequivocal ‘no’.

About the Futility of Revenge.

Approaching the concept of karma in a correct pragmatic manner brings us to one mindset that makes it easier to sail through the journey of life. That mindset is: revenge is futile.

In short, when people wrong you, do not bother. In cases when retaliation can be held back, assume by default that it is also a wiser choice to do so. Ignore your haters. Toxic people don’t deserve your attention. Let the Universe take them down and do not doubt its execution because it will. Where there is a cause, there is an after-effect. Where there is premeditated malice there is always a repercussion.

On the other hand, not taking responsibility for your own actions and intentions toward other people is equally dangerous as you may rest assured that both your mental attitude and the way you treat others will have its fruitage. What is sent from within comes back in unpredictable shapes and forms. A regretful scenario can be one hasty decision away from forgiveness, whereas forgiveness is always the safest choice. A decision to forgive is not simply a refusal to retaliate, it is an internal consent to let the Universe deliver its just retribution.

Mahatma Gandi once wrote: “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”. For one who wants to stay sighted, it is essential to remember some basic truths: you reap what you sow; what you water thrives; what is done by you today is what you shall become tomorrow. That is what karma is. Be mindful of it.

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