Understanding the law of karma

The law of karma is a special instance of the law of cause and effect, according to which all our actions of body, speech and mind are causes and all our experiences are their effects.

Understanding the law of karma helps us to improve the quality of our life. We will naturally avoid those actions that lead to suffering both for ourself and others, and we will experience greater happiness now and create the causes to experience a purer form of happiness in the future.

In his book, How to Transform Your Life, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains clearly how to meditate on the law of karma and how to bring this wisdom into our modern, daily lives. Extracts from the book, also available as a free eBook download, are included in the explanation that follows.

How to Transform Your Life by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

“These instructions are scientific methods to improve our human nature.”

(No sign-up required)

What is Karma?

In How to Transform Your Life, the modern-day meditation Master, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, uses the analogy of sowing seeds in a field to explain what karma means and how it functions:

‘Karma means actions: the actions of our body, speech and mind. This subject is very meaningful …'
'Every action we perform leaves an imprint, or potentiality, on our very subtle mind, and each imprint eventually gives rise to its own effect. Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing seeds in that field. Virtuous actions sow seeds of future happiness and non-virtuous actions sow seeds of future suffering. These seeds remain dormant in our mind until the conditions for them to ripen occur, and then they produce their effect. In some cases, this can happen many lifetimes after the original action was performed.’

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Someone sowing a seed in a field

We may not be able to see directly how our present experiences are determined by our past actions, or how our present actions will determine our future experiences. However, by contemplating analogies such as this, and by thinking deeply about our own actions and experiences and those of others, our conviction in karma will grow.

The Law of Karma

Karma is often referred to as a 'law' in much the same way in which we refer to gravity as a 'law'. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains:

'The law of karma is a special instance of the law of cause and effect, according to which all our actions of body, speech and mind are causes and all our experiences are their effects. The law of karma explains why each individual has a unique mental disposition, a unique physical appearance and unique experiences. These are the various effects of the countless actions that each individual has performed in the past. We cannot find any two people who have created exactly the same history of actions throughout their past lives, and so we cannot find two people with identical states of mind, identical experiences or identical physical appearances. Each person has a different individual karma. Some people enjoy good health while others are constantly ill. Some people are seen as very beautiful while others are seen as very ugly. Some people have a happy disposition that is easily pleased while others have a sour disposition and are rarely delighted by anything. Some people easily understand the meaning of spiritual teachings while others find them difficult and obscure.'

From this we can see that understanding karma helps us to accept in a positive way any physical or mental difficulties we may be experiencing. Perhaps we have a difficult relationship at work or with our partner, or we find it difficult to fulfil our needs and desires. These difficulties are often very painful and unless we have a correct way to fully understand why they are happening they can cause us to become depressed or angry and resentful, which will cause even more problems both for ourself and for others. Instead of living in constant conflict with everyone and everything around us, understanding karma will help us to develop the wisdom to change our situation in a positive way and to generate the inner strength to accept positively the things we cannot change, and this will enable us to enjoy a more peaceful and happier life.

Why it is Important to Understand Karma

Understanding karma enables us to live in harmony with the people and conditions that we encounter in daily life. Through recognizing that the main causes of our experiences are our own previous actions of body, speech and mind, motivated by delusions, we can learn to accept our experiences, both good and bad. Also, recognizing that our actions determine our future experiences encourages us to live a positive way of life, acting now in a way that brings greater happiness to others. If, on the other hand, we do not accept karma, or fail to live in accordance with a positive understanding of it, we will have to experience again and again the unwanted effects of our negative actions.
In How to Transform Your Life, a free eBook download Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:
'Throughout our life we have to experience various kinds of suffering and problems without choice. This is because we do not understand what actions we need to abandon and what actions we need to practise. If we had this knowledge and put it into practice there would be no basis for experiencing suffering and problems.'
Understanding this we will naturally develop and strengthen the determination to maintain the following views and intentions in our daily life:
  • To abandon negative actions, such as the ten non-virtuous actions, that cause suffering for others now and for ourself in the future
  • To engage in positive actions, such as the ten virtuous actions and the six perfections: giving, patience, moral discipline, effort, concentration and wisdom, which will lead to happiness for ourself and others, both now and in the future
  • To patiently accept whatever arises, without thinking that things should be other than the way they are
  • To be more tolerant of others, to empathize and develop love and compassion for them
  • To purify our mind of the imprints of negative actions before they ripen as suffering
Cultivating these views and intentions in our daily life will purify our actions and our mind. Since our state of mind determines our experiences, eventually we will come to experience a pure world where there is no suffering, conflict or unhappiness and where there is only peace, joy and lasting happiness. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:
'Once we have purified our mind of self-grasping and all other delusions, all our actions will naturally be pure. As a result of our pure actions or pure karma, everything we experience will be pure. We will abide in a pure world, with a pure body, enjoying pure enjoyments and surrounded by pure beings. There will no longer be the slightest trace of suffering, impurity or problems. This is how to find true happiness from within our mind.'
Man smiling and full of self-confidence

How to Transform Your Life - A Blissful Journey

How to Transform Your Life, by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, provides all the necessary techniques and practical advice we need to make real, inner development and transformation. In the Introduction, he says:

‘Through practising the instructions presented in this book we can transform our life from a state of misery into one of pure and everlasting happiness. These instructions are scientific methods to improve our human nature. Everybody needs to be good-natured with a good heart, because in this way we can solve our own problems as well as those of others, and we can make our human life meaningful. Every living being has the same basic wish – to be happy and avoid suffering. Even newborn babies, animals and insects have this wish. It has been our main wish since beginningless time and it is with us all the time, even during our sleep. We spend our whole life working hard to fulfil this wish.’


Receive weekly gems of inspiration from each chapter of How to Transform Your Life, to help you establish a regular practice of training your mind.

How to Transform Your Life being read on a mobiles phone

At Tharpa Publications we value your privacy and your email will not be passed on to 3rd parties. You have the option to unsubscribe at any time using the unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email or by contacting [email protected]