What Is Karma?
By Leo Gura - January 26, 2015 | 95 Comments
Why your life is a living hell
Hey, this is Leo for Actualized.org, and in this video I want to talk about what is karma.
“You harm yourself, as dust thrown against the wind comes back to the thrower.” – Buddha
That is one of my favorite quotes from the Buddha. This quote gives us a really good hint and clue as to what karma actually is. Karma is a concept that comes to us from the East. It’s really popular in the Buddhist, Indian and Yogi traditions. This dates back thousands of years to the dawn of civilization in the East.
Karma itself is a Sanskrit word. I’m going to tell you what it means in a second. Before I do that, there is something I notice. I notice that here in the West, people who use this concept don’t really understand the subtlety of it. They use it in a really ham handed kind of way.
I want to put the nuance of subtlety back into the concept of karma. In the West, the way we think of karma and the way we use it looks something like this. We think of it as a universal of justice. For example, someone goes and robs a bank.
This is an act we consider evil. The police come and don’t catch him and he gets away with it. What we tend to think is that karma will get him in the end. By that, we mean that at some point later in his life, the laws of justice will eventually even themselves out naturally because something bad will happen to that person.
Somehow, he deserves it now. He’s going to get some other punishment for it. Maybe five years later, someone will steal a car from him. Maybe five years later, something bad will happen in some other aspect of his life, and we will say – “Ha, ha! Karma got you because you did something evil in your past.”
This is really not how karma works. This is kind of a cartoon character version of how karma works. I want to give you the more accurate and nuanced way in which karma works. This is going to apply directly to your life, so it’s not just about bank robbers and murderers.
This is going to apply to everything that’s happening to you right now. It’s going to explain a lot about why you suffer in life and why you aren’t getting the results you want in life. This is worth understanding.
Basically and as the Buddha was saying, every action that you take in life has a certain consequence to it. Bad actions have natural bad consequences. These bad consequences don’t have to come from the outside. The worst of them come from the inside.
Karma Is Action
The word karma itself is a Sanskrit word. It’s an ancient word. What does it actually mean? Karma actually means action. Karma equals action. If you take away only one thing from this video, let it be this. Karma equals action.
When you think about this, you might wonder – “Action? What does this have to do with justice and equality that we take karma to mean?” Think about it like this. Your actions and everybody else’s actions in life, including the actions of governments, societies and organizations, animals and also the natural actions of life, universe flowing, the actions of gravity and all the other natural forces that we have, are all potentially actions.
Every action has a consequence to it. It’s basically the law of cause and effect. Every effect has a cause. Life itself is just this giant interplay of actions. We can take the moment you’re born and stretch it out to the point of when you’re going to die and everything in between we can consider being a series of actions.
Basically, these series of actions go like this. One leads to the next. The actions you took earlier on will lead to some eventual consequences down the road as just a natural consequence of the way life works.
Recognizing this and specifically applying it to your life basically means that if you take good actions, you will get good consequences. If you take bad or evil actions, you will get bad or evil consequences. All of this seems fairly straightforward, but what most people don’t understand is what good and bad actually mean here.
It’s very different than you might think. I’m going to get to that in a second. The other thing people tend to think about the law of karma is that this is some sort of supernatural law. There is some sort of an old man with a beard, sitting up in the clouds, and keeping tabs on everybody or keeping an account of who did how much good and bad stuff, and then trying to even it out for everybody.
That’s really not the way I think this law is supposed to work. This law is a natural law. This law is a psychological law. What really gets interesting is the psychology of it. It’s so profound in the way it explains how human psychology works.
It’s also a spiritual law. The spiritual part of it is really understood when you start to understand what the Eastern sages mean by good and bad. Here is what it means, and it isn’t what we tend to think here in the West at all.
Good Means Selfless, Bad Means Selfish
Good means selfless. These are actions that don’t come from your ego, but from your spiritual nature. Bad means selfish, and you can also say that this is evil. Evil is not an objective thing out there.
There isn’t a devil that is sitting out there and going to turn you into something evil. Evil is actually something very mundane and simple. This is where it applies directly to your life. All of this applies directly to your life.
Evil is doing things from your ego, from your identity or from yourself. This one concept here goes so deep that I want to shoot a lot more videos on it. It’s going to be necessary, especially if you’re interested in spiritual enlightenment work, which I will be shooting a video on soon.
This means selfish acts. What do we mean by selfish acts? This is such an interesting concept to unravel. Of course, we mean the most selfish acts. When we think of selfish, the most common example that comes to mind is this.
You’re going to Thanksgiving dinner. You’re sitting there and you take all the best food for yourself. You don’t give it to anybody else and you don’t share any of the food. The other people are left hungry at the table. Clearly, that’s very dick like and selfish.
We also think a selfish act might be taking some candy from a baby. That would be clearly selfish, evil and wrong. That leads to bad consequences. What are the bad consequences here?
It’s interesting because we tend to think that the worst consequences come from punishment from the outside. For example, if you steal candy from a baby, the baby is going to cry. If you steal candy from a baby, other people will think badly of you. If you take all the food at the Thanksgiving dinner, some people might get mad and start a fight with you.
Those would be bad external consequences. If you take an action like robbing a bank, then going to jail would clearly be a really bad consequence. Actually, the law of karma isn’t concerned with that.
The law of karma is more concerned about what’s going on up in your mind. This is really the most damaging part of the whole thing. You might think that the worst thing that could happen after robbing a bank is to be sent to jail, but no.
As the Buddha was saying, what happens is that the dust comes back into your face after you throw it. This means that immediately and as soon as you take the bad and selfish action, you will already suffer the consequence, even if you don’t get caught, nobody sees you or the baby doesn’t start crying. It already damages you on the inside.
How does this happen? More importantly, you have to understand how damaging this damage is on the inside. You tend to think and say – “Oh well, a little white lie here, a little bit of getting angry at someone here, or doing a little bit of something here isn’t going to cause too much damage to me on the inside, as long as I can avoid the external consequences.”
Actually, no! What we’re talking about here and what the Easterners were talking about is carrying through of the cycle of selfishness that your entire life basically is. When your actions come from yourself, promoting yourself, defending yourself or fighting on behalf of yourself, they are all selfish actions.
What we mean by it is this. You! When I’m pointing my finger at you right now, that’s what I mean by selfish. I don’t just mean taking candy from a baby. I mean any actions which defend, promote or aggrandize you, the self and the identity. I don’t mean just some part of you, but all of you.
Whatever your name is, you can say your name in your mind right now. That’s what we mean by you. Any action which promotes or defends that is a selfish action. It’s an evil action. This is a difficult pill for many of us to swallow, especially if you carry the ramifications of this through your entire life.
If you do, you will discover this. “Oh my god, my entire life has been about me! It’s been very selfish and self-absorbed.” There are a lot of examples I want to give you here because it’s not just black and white. “Oh Leo, but I never robbed a bank. I never murdered somebody. I never took candy from a baby. I never did anything bad at the Thanksgiving Day table.”
See, those are really easy black and white examples. It’s easy to point at some person and say he did something clearly wrong. There is a much more subtle element to evil that lurks in your life and you’re doing it every single day.
What you have to realize is that you already committed many evil acts just today. Karma is getting you because of this. The way karma gets you is something like this. Let’s say this bank robber robs a bank and gets away with it. He goes to some tropical island. He’s living on the island now and just chilling there.
You might say he got away with it. Maybe karma will get him five years later by something going wrong with him. No, karma already got him. This is a selfish person. The act originated from selfishness. It’s not like the person just did something evil and that was an isolated example.
Actually, this selfish nature is causing this person to do evil acts. Why is his nature selfish? This is because he is unconscious and he doesn’t really understand what he is doing with his actions in life. As you get more conscious, you unwittingly realize that you commit more evil.
Evil is promotion and defending of yourself. In this case, because this person was imagining how great his life could become if he robbed a bank and had millions of dollars, he did this evil act to promote himself. He secured himself at the cost of others.
That is an evil action. That’s a very clear evil action, just from a societal standpoint because we have laws against that stuff. There are also a lot of evil actions we take that we don’t have laws against. Nevertheless, it gets you.
With this person you might say he got away with it. He’s sitting on the beach and sipping Pina Coladas. His life is great. Actually, that’s not the case at all. The kind of person who went out and robbed a bank isn’t like an isolated example. This person is coming up with these actions because he’s screwed up on the inside.
He’s unconscious on the inside, and so you have a chain of this. This is what we mean by karma. It’s this perpetuating chain of selfishness. The punishment is not jail, someone yelling at you or a fine that you get. The punishment is suffering.
The punishment is the emotional suffering and stresses this person experiences in their life. Even though he got away from this bank, he’s always going to be afraid now, in the back of his mind. He’s always going to be looking over his shoulder.
“Are they going to catch me tomorrow?” Maybe they won’t, but he’s going to suffer for that. He’s also going to probably feel some remorse or guilt. He is probably going to feel out of integrity with himself because he isn’t following his own principles.
He knows that robbing a bank isn’t right. He did it anyway because he knew it would make him feel good. However, he didn’t calculate the suffering that would come after the fact. Of course, you could say he could suppress that stuff. What if he isn’t going to feel guilty about it?
That’s true. You can suppress that stuff. Still, it seeps out, right? You can’t suppress it forever and in the ways that it’s going to come back and get you. The way that it gets you is this. Just because he did something so obviously selfish here, it’s going to create a habit of selfish behavior.
Even though he says he is never going to rob a bank, that’s fine. However, the selfishness is still going to be within him. The problem is that he isn’t recognizing that he is doing selfish stuff. He isn’t admitting it to himself, and so this is where a lot of the harm comes from.
Now he has all of this money. He might go and something else that is selfish. He might be selfish in his relationship with his girlfriend. That relationship might go sour because of that. He might have a string of bad relationships throughout his whole life because he’s being selfish there and not recognizing it.
Maybe he goes and does something else that is selfish. Maybe he goes partying with his friends and then they have a fight because they are unable to agree on something. He has a fight with his friends, his whole life is very turbulent and there is a lot of suffering because he isn’t able to get along with his friends, his girlfriend or potential wife or other aspects of his life.
He now feels he needs pleasure from this money he’s got. What if the money runs out? How is he going to feel then? The selfishness keeps perpetuating itself. In the end, you have to apply conscious awareness if you want to stop this cycle in order to see that what you are doing is selfish.
This is not easy to do. It’s easier to do in black and white cases, but it’s hard to do in more subtle cases. This brings us to the point of you. We’ve been talking about this extreme example, but what about you right now?
You Commit Evil And Selfish Acts All The Time
The fact is that you commit evil and selfish actions all the time.
An example of this would be the way you get jealous towards people. Maybe it isn’t even something that you verbalize. Maybe it’s just something in your mind, like a thought that you have. The thought itself can be an evil action.
You don’t have to actually go and do something evil. Maybe you’re a little bit jealous and resentful at work because one of your coworkers is better than you at some of the tasks there. He is likely to receive the next promotion.
Maybe you find out that one of your coworkers earns a little bit more than you, and so you get mad and jealous about that. Maybe you get upset on someone cutting you off on your drive to work. Maybe you get mad at your girlfriend, wife or husband.
Maybe you criticize people all the time. You maybe don’t even say it, but you just criticize people in your head. You see someone who looks funny and you judge them and criticize them. You see someone doing something stupid and you judge them and criticize them.
Maybe you manipulate people in subtle ways. In your relationship with your friends, maybe you try to manipulate them and play little power games. You try to be the one who is best in your circle of friends. Maybe you do this with your girlfriend or boyfriend.
You try to manipulate them in very subtle ways that you won’t even admit to yourself as manipulation. However, you do. You do this manipulation. Why are you doing this? You’re doing this because, in the end and at the very core of it, you’re afraid and you need to protect yourself.
Remember we’re talking about you, the identity of you and your ego. The you feels like it needs to live life protecting itself all of the time. This has been the case for you from the moment you were born and up to right now. It will likely be the case until you die.
You will be living this self-survival mode all of the time. It’s always about self-protection and self-aggrandizement. How do I make myself more money so that I can feel more comfortable and secure? How do I find myself that husband or wife who can make me feel a little bit more secure?
How do I get that house or car that is going to make me feel a little bit more secure? How do I get that better career promotion or improvement in my business so that I can feel a little better and more secure about myself? How can I improve the way I look, dress, how my teeth look and how my hair looks? How can I improve all of that so that I’m a little bit more secure?
It’s always about making yourself a little bit more secure. That’s why when anything comes into your life that threatens this security, you get afraid, angry, manipulative, critical and all of these negative things. These negative things start to come out and you suffer because of that.
This is a very deep truth and it’s something I’m going to cover in my spiritual enlightenment video. At the very center of this karma stuff, the problem is that there is this identity that thinks it needs to be protected. There is the you.
Fundamentally, this identity is false. It’s really an illusion. It’s created out of thoughts and concepts. It’s not a part of actual and physical reality. Because of this, your entire life is basically this big drama of trying to protect an illusion, which always feels insecure because it’s hollow at the center of it.
There is nothing solid there. It’s completely hollow. Because of this, you have your perpetual cycle of suffering in life. The one thing we tend to think about life is this. “Well, life is pretty hard. Life is challenging, difficult and full of negative emotions. Life is full of drama, pain and this is just how life is.”
What’s interesting is that it’s not actually true. Life is that way for 99.9% of people because they are behaving selfishly all the time and karma is always nipping at their heels. That’s why that is. The punishment for karma is suffering on the inside, and not external punishments. Those can be bad as well.
Karma’s Punishment Is Internal
It’s the inner punishment you get. For example, when you get a little bit jealous of that coworker of yours, what is the internal punishment? The coworker might not ever find out that you got jealous of him. However, the internal punishment is that your mood is soured.
Now you feel passive—aggressive towards him. Because you’re thinking of how angry you are at him while you’re driving, you will maybe cut somebody off. You come home and you snap at your wife or husband, or you snap at your kids.
Maybe you perform worse at work because, instead of focusing on your work and what you’re doing, you are thinking about this colleague of yours who is doing better and getting better paid than you. You’re jealous of it. It undermines you.
You’re trying to protect yourself, it’s all about me—me—me. “Why isn’t it me who is at that nice position that employee has? Why isn’t it me, why is it him?” Because of this, you are so focused on yourself that your whole life becomes a cycle of being focused on yourself.
You might think this. “Leo, what’s wrong with focusing on me? This is how I survive. Life is kind of a dog—eat—dog world. I’ve got to survive, don’t I?” The problem is that you don’t have to actually put so much attention to your survival.
When you put so much attention and effort into your survival, you become blind and unconscious in a way that this survival cycle is actually damaging your life. It damages your life. It makes you unable to have a peaceful, calm and happy life.
You aren’t able to be happy because you’re always looking over your shoulder. You’re always afraid of what’s going to happen to you. You’re always afraid that this hollow illusion you’re defending is somehow going to be found out by somebody else.
You are afraid of this. You’re protecting yourself and putting more and more layers over this illusion so that it feels a little bit more real. However, that’s a battle you’re never going to be able to win.
Not only are the bad actions you’re doing and bad thoughts that you’re having contributing to this cycle, but even some of the stuff you think is good. It’s pretty obvious that when you get angry at somebody, it’s probably hurting you psychologically and on the inside. This goes for when you try to manipulate people or criticize them.
This goes even for good stuff. For example, have you ever contributed to charity? Have you ever given a couple of dollars to a bum on the street? The reason you did that isn’t because you were honestly doing a selfless act.
Instead, you were masking this selfishness in a veneer of selflessness. What does that actually mean? You go and do some charity because it makes you feel good or because it gives you a good reputation. You give that bum some money on the side of the street because, if you didn’t give it to him, you would feel awkward on the inside.
You are once again protecting that self – that you. You don’t want to feel awkward or you don’t want to be a person who doesn’t give to charity. You don’t like those associations. What do you do? You give it to charity, but you give it kind of reluctantly.
You don’t really give it selflessly. You actually give it selfishly. In your mind, you’re telling yourself you’re doing good. You say things like this – “Oh, I’m doing good! Look at me, look at how good I am!” Even if you don’t tell anyone and you just give someone a dollar on the street, you’re still telling yourself on the inside that you are a good human being.
You’re building up this ego of yours. You’re building it up. Make no mistake that when you do that, you’re going to suffer for it. Because of this ego, you have to carry it around with you wherever you go, every interaction you’re in or when you go into your marriage.
That ego is going to be there. Guess what? It’s going to be that inflated ego that you got when you gave that person a dollar on the street and you were feeling good about yourself for it and patting yourself on the back.
That creates more problems and it creates this cycle of karma. There you have it. The real punishment for all of this is basically hell. In the West, we have a Christian notion of hell. Hell is somewhere out there, in another life.
Punishment Is Living Hell
Actually, that notion is not what hell literally means. Where did that notion of hell come from? It came from the actual hell, which is here, for you. You have the hell. You’re living in hell right now – a hell on Earth.
That’s what your life is. It’s a life where you’re actually unable to have true happiness and a peace of mind. You don’t have true peace of mind because you’re always stressed and anxious all of the time.
You’re always secretly angry or bitter at someone, trying to manipulate some circumstance. Wherever it is in your life, you’re always trying to do that. Your whole life is that. This concept goes very deep and it’s very subtle, because you don’t like hearing this stuff.
You don’t like admitting this stuff. The only way it’s actually effective is when it’s not admitted. It takes a lot of mindfulness work and a lot of, what I call, enlightenment work. It also takes stuff like meditation to suddenly see how you subtly manipulate everything around you, in order to promote and protect yourself.
This is what we call evil selfish action. On the other hand, if you want to know what selfless action is, it is action without thought. That’s what true spirituality is. It’s action without thought. Why is it action without thought?
Contrary to what we think in the West here, thought is a problem because your thoughts create the notion of you. They create the identity, the false identity. It’s constructed out of thoughts. The only way to get rid of that is to get rid of the thoughts.
When you silence the thoughts, you can still have practical everyday thoughts. If you need to go buy some gas or figure out how to get to the grocery store, those are okay. Here, we are talking about thoughts about you.
These are the self-absorbed thoughts that permeate and predominate your entire existence. For example, just today, how many times did you think negatively of yourself, what someone is going to do to you or how something is going to threaten or harm you? Just today, how many times has that thought entered your mind?
If you’re self-honest, it’s probably a dozen times at least. It’s more likely about 50 or a hundred times. You have to become more and more mindful of this because your punishment is hell. Make no mistake about it. You are living in a hell right now.
What’s bad about it is that you don’t even recognize this. Many of you don’t even recognize that this hell is here for you right now, and you’re living in it. You’re always afraid that hell is going to be somewhere out there for you.
No, hell is right now for you. You’re unable to be happy. The opposite side of that coin and the other punishment you get is that because you’re in hell all of the time, you aren’t able to experience paradise and heaven. What is paradise and heaven?
Again, that’s not something up in the clouds somewhere after you die. It can be here for you right now. Heaven is the state of being spiritual, the state of having no thoughts and the state of selflessness.
When you get rid of the sense of self that you have, when you unravel that whole thing, which is basically what all enlightenment work is leading towards, you discover you can actually have true happiness, right here and right now, regardless of external circumstances. You can also have paradise for yourself right here.
You can have true peace of mind because you aren’t caught up in this karmic cycle. That’s what the Buddha is really talking about. That’s what the Eastern Yogis talk about with karma. You perpetuate your own hell and suffering here on Earth. 99.99% of people do this.
If you want to turn this around, you simply have to just become aware of what is really going on here and how this karma is working. It can always work in your favor. If you start to dissolve the self and start to behave from a selfless place, you get this positive karma building up. Then, you can experience paradise.
It’s really that simple. You have to see how nuanced this is. You have to see how deep this rabbit hole goes. We can talk about this for hours and all the subtle ways in which you manipulate yourself to perpetuate your negative karma cycle.
That’s it for now and for here. I will cover more in other videos.
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