What is a definition of karma?

As a mother, I have taken great care in teaching my children about virtues, but children these days need to have good reasons. So they often would ask me a question in return concerning the standard one would use to measure good and bad? I am unable to answer their question sufficiently, so I ask you, Luangphaw, to help provide a definition to the word karma? How many ways can one acquire karma? What are the determining factors? https://dmc.tv/a3473

Dhamma Articles > Question and Answer for Life
[ Nov 9th, 2006 ] - [ read : 15191 ]
 
Question:
Venerable Luangphaw Sir, as a mother, I have taken great care in teaching my children about virtues, but children these days need to have good reasons.  So they often would ask me a question in return concerning the standard one would use to measure good and bad?  I am unable to answer their question sufficiently, so I ask you, Luangphaw, to help provide a definition to the word karma?  How many ways can one acquire karma?  What are the determining factors?
  
 

Answer
by Venerable Dhattajeevo Bhikku
 
 

 

Greetings.  In response to the first question on the definition of karma.  Karma is a Buddhist terminology which, in layman’s terms, is defined as any of our actions or deeds.  Everyone produces karma everyday whether through speech, thought, or physical action.

But Karma is more specific than just any general action because karma is an action conducted with a certain intent.  Those deeds that were conducted without intent are not considered karma.

How many different ways can a person produces karma?  Everyone, no matter if you’re a male or female, a child or an adult, can produce karma in three different ways.  They are:

1)  Physically, by using our hands, feet or the whole body. For example, when one bangs his own head on the floor.  It is karma because one intended to do the action.  If one bows down to pay respect to somebody, it is karma too because one conducted the deed with intent.  If one folds one’s hands in the lotus position to pay respect to a virtuous person, it is also karma, a wholesome karma.  If one folds one’s fingers into a fist and punches another, it is also karma, but an unwholesome karma.

2)  Verbally, it is considered a wholesome karma when one acknowledges friends for their various wholesome actions through honest praising.  On the contrary, it is also karma when we speak harshly about someone with malevolent intent, but it is an unwholesome verbal karma.  However, when a person mumbles in his sleep or a sick person talks deliriously, it is not considered karma, for the person was behaving without consciousness.

3)             Mentally, it is karma when we think about loving, hating, loathing or envying someone.  Even though it was merely a thought, it is still a karma   because it was triggered either by a benevolent or malicious motive.

Now, from this perspective, when it comes time to make a decision about which kind of karma is considered as good or evil, the question that arises is: “what is the measurement used to distinguish good from bad?  Usually, the standard of measurement used differs from one person to another.  The qualitative judgment of moral standard is based on a wise person, not just from any individual. 
In Lord Buddha’s time, there were also other curious people like you who asked Him similar questions.  For example, when a child asked the question on the difference between good and bad deeds.  Lord Buddha would give an answer suited to the child’s level of understanding.  He would define a bad deed as any action that brings distress to both the doer and others.

In a second scenario, if an action brings distress to us but happiness to others, it is still considered a bad deed.  Like being robbed or harassed by others just for their enjoyment.  They gain pleasure, but we suffer.  This is an unwholesome karma.

 On the contrary, if it pleases us, but distresses them when we harass someone for our enjoyment, it is considered an unwholesome karma.

 Any action that causes no distress to anybody, but brings delight to both sides is considered a wholesome karma.  This was the way Lord Buddha answered a child’s inquiry.

 When Lord Buddha answered the same question for an adult, He would answer it in the manner that suited an adult’s comprehension. Any action that will bring distress at a later time is also considered unwholesome, so don’t do it.

 Although, in the beginning of doing such things, one has fun, ease or convenience.  In the end one will suffer the consequences.  It is bad, so avoid it.  For example, drinking alcohol is an enjoyment in the beginning but could result in a brawl after getting drunk, or you could experience a terrible hangover the next morning.
Thus, any deed that causes trouble or distress at a later time is a bad deed.  Good deeds bring no regret or distress at a later time.  For instance, students who have studied their subject materials diligently from the beginning of the semester, along with doing their assigned reading and homework, will scarcely have the time to seek out pleasure.   Are they exhausted?  Yes they are exhausted, but they will be rewarded with good grades on their exams at the end of the year.  It is a good deed.  These are the thoughts that Lord Buddha gave on the measures of a good or bad deed.

For the adult who was less educated, the Lord Buddha gave a simpler answer which required little deep contemplation.  He said:

The unwholesome karma created through actions are comprised of:

     1)  killing living beings

     2)  stealing

     3)  committing adultery

The unwholesome karma created through speech are comprised of:

1)      telling lies

2)      foul language

3)      divisive speech

4)      idle chatter and frivolous talk

 The unwholesome karma created through thought are comprised of:

 1)     covetousness

 2)     vengeful thinking

 3)     faults  seeking

 4)     foolish thinking

 5)     jealous thinking

For the people who were well educated or had trained themselves in meditation, Lord Buddha said that any action that clouds the mind is a bad deed.  But, if it brightens or purifies the mind, it is a good deed.  Thus good and bad deeds are judged in this manner.
You should explain the issue little by little to your children and adjust the answers according to your children’s ages.

 


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