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How often are you aware of your karma?

Today is June 19 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you aware of your karma?” This reflection will help you better understand one of the most misused, misunderstood, and misplaced words the West has borrowed from the East – karma. In short, karma is not what you probably think it is.

Those who navigate the chaos often remind themselves of the original definition of karma in order to translate their dreams into reality. As Buddha said, “you harm yourself as dust thrown against the wind comes back to the thrower.” This one sentence provides an excellent clue as to the actual meaning of karma. Dating back thousands of years in the East, karma has been bastardized in the West to involve cause and effect.

For example, if someone robs a bank and the police fail to catch them that day, the incorrect interpretation of karma as practiced by those in the West, would then apply the “well eventually karma is going to catch up to them and they will get caught.” The slang version is often applied as well and is often said as “karma is a bitch,” or “karma and payback are a bitch, they will get their day.”

This is not how karma works. Actually, if you are waiting for karma to ‘get back at someone’ for what they did to you, that could well last a lifetime and it also may distract you from navigating the chaos. The 7th century Brihadaranyaka Upanishad described karma in this manner:

Now as a man is like this or like that,

according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be;

a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad;

he becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds;

And here they say that a person consists of desires,

and as is his desire, so is his will;

and as is his will, so is his deed;

and whatever deed he does, that he will reap.

In short, karma involves action and reaction: if we show goodness, we will reap goodness. Additionally, as Lachlan Brown noted “When we say, ‘that’s karma,’ when a bad thing happens to us, we are giving up our internal power. We are giving up our ability to change things. It’s because of this false view that we desire to transform karma into a sort of cash machine based on our ethical and spiritual behavior. However, if we can let go of this understanding of happiness, we can see that all we need is to live deeply in the present moment with mindfulness and discover our true nature. Karma is simply energy. It’s our intentional thoughts and actions. The energy we generate now and in the future will affect us. It has nothing to do with reward or punishment. Karma is unbiased and it’s ours to control.”

Here is one example explaining the Eastern and Western views of karma. In this example there is a vicious woman who was, by most accounts, a very nasty and manipulative person. No one in her neighborhood liked her. When the woman became terminally ill, several neighbors commented that the illness was her karma. That’s the typical Western interpretation and it is wrong. Her karma was that when she became ill because she had offended so many people, she suffered mostly alone and disconnected without the love and support of others to help her transition out of this life. The consequence of her bad behavior wasn’t that she got sick. It was that no one cared when she did.

This Eastern interpretation is far more aligned with the traditional meaning of karma in that the woman put out bad energy in the universe and in return, received bad energy. She failed to control her karma.

When examined more closely, Karma is generally divided into three categories: sanchita (latent karma), prarabdha (ripened karma), and agami (future karma). Sanchita is the accumulated karma from your past thoughts and actions, the results of which will eventually be experienced in the future. Sanchita is like the seed of a tree you planted in the past. In due time, the tree will grow and produce a particular fruit you’re destined to eat. Prarabdha is what you’re experiencing now. It is the seed of a past action that has grown into a tree, producing the fully ripened fruit you’re eating in the present. Agami is a seed of action you’re planting in the present that will inevitably produce the fruit of the future.

The three categories of karma ultimately work in creating a cycle of cause and effect. The fruit you eat now (prarabdha) leaves an impression in your mind — compelling you to plant more of a particular seed (agami), which will cause you to eat similar fruit in the future (sanchita). In other words, karma is habit forming. Repeated actions become like grooves in the mind that get deeper and deeper. You have the free will to change your habits at any time, but the deeper the groove, the harder those habits — whether good or bad — are to change.

  • How often are you aware of your karma?

  • How often do you subscribe to the Western definition of karma?

  • Have you ever hoped karma would “get someone” for what they did to you?

  • How often do you take responsibility for all of your actions and realize karma is within your control?

  • With the knowledge that karma is within your control, what does that do to your interpretation of the concept?

  • Know that you know you can control your future karma, how might you leverage your mind, body, and spirit to create new habits?


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