The Venerable Thubten Chodron wrote, “Karma means action, and refers to intentional physical, verbal, or mental actions. These actions leave imprints or seeds upon our mindstreams, and the imprints ripen into our experiences when the appropriate conditions come together. For example, with a kind heart we help someone. This action leaves an imprint on our mindstream, and when conditions are suitable, this imprint will ripen into our receiving help when we need it. The seeds of our actions continue with us from one lifetime to the next and do not get lost. However, if we don’t create the cause or karma for something, then we won’t experience that result: if a farmer doesn’t plant seeds, nothing will grow. If an action brings about pain and misery in the long term, it is called negative, destructive, or nonvirtuous. If it brings about happiness, it is called positive, constructive, or virtuous. Actions aren’t inherently good or bad, but are only designated so according to the results they bring.”
This is a very clear explanation of the workings of cause and effect: every thought, word and action has a result. Fundamentally, this reminder tells us that it’s important how we live our everyday lives, and that karma is the action of choice-making. Every moment of every day we are faced with choices. The result of those choices is karma.
Karma is also created by intention. An intention will create a flow of energy that will result in a karmic pattern. Our lives flow in patterns created by intention … and intention can change it. When we change the intention, the pattern can change. Our thoughts–especially our habitual thoughts–determine our behavior. A teacher I heard some years ago used to quote Lou Tice all the time. He’d say, “We move toward and become like that which we think about. We act on what we believe and believe what we experience.” This is the pattern of karma and, again, we can change it. All that is required is careful attention. Mindfulness.
As we pay attention to our thoughts we can choose which ones we will follow. We can decide if it’s skillful or unskillful–wise or unwise–to act on or speak the thought. When I think of karma I think of a big empty field. Each action I take in life plants a seed. The seeds grow and bear fruit according to the action. So my field is filled with roses and orange trees and tulips and every beautiful flower and plant. It’s also filled with brambles and nettles and noxious weeds of every sort. When I decide to stop doing those unskillful things, the noxious weed connected with them begin to die off. Not all at once of course, but little by slowly.