A primer on karma

stonemanCheck out this Tricycle article on the much misunderstood Buddhist concept of karma. It’s an interview with Matthieu Ricard, born in France in 1946, and who trained as a molecular biologist at the  Institute Pasteur before taking up robes as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1972. Note: the article is live to non-members of Tricycle.com only through Sunday, June 2. Some highlights:

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RICARD: At each point in our lives, we are at a crossroads. We are the fruit of our past and we are the architects of our future. When we ask, “Why did this happen to me?” it is because of our limited view. If we throw a stone up in the air and forget about it, when it falls down on our heads, we shouldn’t complain, although we usually do. We have this notion that what happens to us is somehow independent of our own actions. We can ask, why did this happen? but the more important question is, what we are going to do about it?

If you want to know your past, look at your present circumstances. If you want to know your future, look at what is in your mind. If we know that our fate is in our hands, then the quality of our actions becomes a central issue. The whole point of karma is to recognize how our actions determine our future, so that we can begin to act properly. It’s not just a cosmological or philosophical matter. It’s entirely practical. The main point is not to get in trouble again.


1. Karma is definite: An action will definitely bring its specific results unless it meets an obstacle. A positive action will result in happiness. A negative action will ultimately produce suffering.

2. Karma increases: Just as a small seed gives rise to a towering tree, the seeds of both positive and negative karma increase in potency unless they are obstructed. Positive results can be obstructed by expressions of anger and other negative actions. Negative results can be obstructed through purification.

3. Karma is specific: Karmic results are experienced only by one who created the cause for that experience.

4. Karma is never lost: The karmic seeds do not lose their potency of their own accord. Without purification and the cessation of negative actions, those karmic seeds will never lose their potential. They will continue to have the power to bring us suffering when the proper conditions arise. -Mark Magill

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