Karma: A Definition From It’s Root Origins

To some, karma has become an exercise and excuse not to do something, or do something that may be detrimental as it will haunt them later. While for others, it’s become a mainstream belief based solely on complete conjecture.

There are those who are struggling in life, suffering from bad health or financially, who pinpoint it to some type of karmic retribution of some past deed done wrong, this in either their current life or even a past one.

Karma is viewed as an organic internal judicial system where if “it’s” going to happen to them, and if they deserve it, they’re then doomed to receive the due judgment based solely on some past act which they may have once committed.

The Traditional Meaning Of Karma
The historic definition of karma is based on intention. Extracted from ancient beliefs, karma is all about the nature of our true intentions, on acts that we do at this precise moment of our lives. Translated, karma is “intention.”

To better understand this meaning, it’s believed that for every action that we take, the motivation always has two distinct components. The first being our “bare behavior” of actually doing the act, while, secondly, what our intentions are behind that behavior.

The definition of “bare behavior” in this sense would include any physical movement, what we say, or what our thoughts are. What forms our character isn’t the action of the bare behavior itself, but rather our intention in performing that action. The intention becomes karma.

For instance, when you participate in a physical action such as waving a wooden stick, the “bare behavior” is the actual waving of that stick. But the true intention of what’s behind that action could be; using a wooden spoon to bake a cake, which is a good intention, or it could be for waving and clubbing a wooden baseball bat over someones head, this out of sheer anger, for no apparent reason, which is a bad intention.


There are several different intentions which motivates the actions, which are:
• kindness or anger
• compassion or cruelty
• generosity or greed

The intentions which are based on kindness, compassion, or generosity, are all non-harmful and usually positive actions which can relieve suffering. The intention of baking fresh chocolate chip cookies is one of good-will, displaying the kindness and generosity intentions.

The other actions, however, which are anger, cruelty, and greed, are all intentions which can cause or be harmful to someone. The intention of clubbing someone over the head with a baseball bat in anger, just to steal or hurt another are intentions of anger and greed.

The same physical act of waving that stick around can also be applied to speech. If you yell at someone, “Stop! Don’t move!” what that’s doing is displaying your “bare behavior.” The intention could be based on complete good-will, such as attempting to stop someone from stepping off the curb and getting hit by a car, or the intention could be completely ill-willed, yelling, “Stop, Don’t move! while holding a gun on someone’s back to rob him.

This also applies to your thoughts and what you think as well. If you see someone who appears to be homeless on a cold wintery evening, which is the “bare behavior,” the intention could either be one of compassion, hoping that he finds a warm place to stay that evening, or the intention of cruelty, hoping that he gets frostbite.

Intentions Are What Designs Our Character
This definition of karma can help in our development as caring individuals since once we decide to act on our non-harmful intentions, what we’re doing is predisposing and conditioning ourselves to act that same way again. So once we plant that behavioral seed, it eventually becomes a habit.

On the other hand, if we constantly act out our actions on harmful intentions, we then also predispose ourselves to act the same way in the future, making it a lot more likely that we’ll repeat the same harmful behavior.

It Then Becomes Our Inclination
It becomes all about inclination. Each time that our intention happens to be ill-willed, for instance, then our future inclination to respond the same way, with ill-will, will most likely occur over and over again, as we are conditioned to that mindset. So we’ll more than likely act out in the same “bad” manner in the future.

But conversely, each time our intention is for the greater good, to be kind, our inclination will be to respond in the future with the same kindness, which is further strengthened. What we’ve then decided to do is learn how to be kind, and as a result, we’ll more that likely be kind in our next similar bare behavior action. The same applies to the other intentions as well.

Once we form this character, in turn, it begins to project a positive aura of us which illuminates on the world and everything around us. How many times have you seen a complete stranger and instantly knew they were kind. The reverse is also true as well, once we decide to respond our actions towards anger, greed, or cruelty, that’s what we project to others.


Developing Our Inclinations
So the key to developing our inclinations, hopefully for intentions based on good will, is to determine whether our actions such as our speech will promote further suffering towards others, or ourselves, or would it ease it.

Practicing the art of mindfulness helps since it makes us a lot more aware of our tendencies when we react. Then, instead of just reacting on impulse or out of habit, we can instead be able to examine our exact intentions before we decide to take that action.

Our implications can potentially be life altering. It’s entirely possible that we can change ourselves regardless of how deep our habits may be. As Buddha has said, “When intending, what one does is karma…”

Thus, when we intend not to cause harm, we then “do” karma, meaning that we’re kind, or are becoming kind, generous and compassionate, and vice-verse.

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