The Sanskrit word, Dharma, has made it’s way into western pop-culture, with the help of Beat writers and tacky sitcoms, but if I were still living in the west, I doubt I would yet have any idea what it actually means. “Dhamma” in Pali, the assumed language of Gotama Buddha, refers to his teachings, and Buddhist teachings that have developed since. It means ‘law’ or ‘natural law’ and can be taken as simply “truth”. It’s kind of the Buddhist version of a combined theory of relativity, and if they ever come up with one, I’m sure the laws of Dhamma would not contradict it. Dhamma is the law of the universe as explained by Buddha. Everything in the universe, along with us, is within it.
Kamma on the other hand (Sanskrit, Kharma), we’ve got a basic, superficial idea of. We’ve all heard or spoken of our “good” or “bad” Kharma, but it goes a little deeper than that. The root of the word Kamma is “action”. Your Kamma is your action. Since all actions begin with the mind, your thoughts and intentions are also your Kamma. You are responsible for your action, you are responsible for the reaction. If we want to live in an more idealistic world, we should start with our own Kamma, our own actions. One of my favorite analogies is, if you want a pear tree, you have to plant a pear seed. You can’t plant thistle then complain that its fruit is not sweet and juicy. When we are able to see the results of our Kamma unfold before us it’s easy to understand, but when the residue of past Kamma suddenly arises, it can make life seem unreasonable or unfair. But, from a Buddhist perspective, the universe is as it should be, the world is as it should be, “good” or “bad”, because nothing has ever happened that wasn’t preceded by its own cause. It doesn’t mean that all of the things that happen are ideal, just it is as it should be. Nothing that happens to us is by chance. We are all right here, at this moment doing exactly what we are doing because of a series of endless decisions that took us to this action or situation at this moment. The culmination of all my Kamma has lead me to typying this post right now, in a few minutes, or hours, or days your Kamma will culminate in reading it. I will be off creating or dissolving more Kamma elsewhere, and your Kamma will decide to continue reading or not then proceed elsewhere. Whatever happens then and after, good or bad, is the result of your Kamma.
Our habits are also Kamma. It’s pretty easy to see how that can be true; when you do something one time, you are more likely to do it again, and again, and again. When you do it enough times then it becomes your habit, and difficult to stop. With this in mind, I try to control my habits. I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, but I do a lot of things that are pretty much a waste of time instead of using my time productively. Meditating is a habit I would like to have, so I try to meditate at least 30 minutes each day. If I didn’t take time one day, I will at least sit for 5 minutes before going to sleep to keep my habit of doing it. Not doing can also become a habit. I had never meditated for more than 5 days in a row in the past but over the past few weeks I’ve only missed one day. With just a small effort good habits can be made.
I think if you want “good kamma” you can’t worry about “my” good Kamma, but just proper Kamma. I hadn’t thought too much about this before. I was only focusing on my good Kamma or my bad Kamma. I was in India having my breakfast, talking to the young Indian man who was managing the guest house for his mother. There was one huge fly buzzing around my plate, so I nonchalantly asked him, “Will it give me bad Karma if I kill that fly?” I wasn’t really expecting a response, but he immediately shot back, “That’s not the right reason not to kill the fly.” It only took me a sort moment to see what he was saying, and at that moment I had never been more profoundly affected over the life of a fly! Maybe it was just the simple, slightly indirect way he said it, Indians have had several thousands of years to think about Karma, I had only been working on it for a few months, but I realized I wasn’t actually concerned with the life of the fly, I was only thinking about my own personal Kamma. With that mind, I wasn’t creating any worthwhile Kamma at all, I was only propagating selfishness.
I once heard a story that Buddha’s most advanced student had a habit of playing in puddles like a child. Buddha said it was because he still had some past Kamma from a previous life that he had yet to dissolve. According to Buddhist teachings, our Kamma is carried along with that part of us that is reborn when it leaves the flesh. In the end, it’s best to have no Kamma at all, to dissolve everything. There was a monk in China who, after realizing enlightenment, took all the families gold and valuable things, put them in a boat then sunk them into the bottom of a lake. If he would have given all that gold away, he would have been creating a huge amount of Kamma that would have had to come back to him, but by throwing it into the lake he was keeping himself free from that obligation.