The origin of the word karma is found in the Sanskrit word karman which simply means act and held no special significance in the earliest Vedic texts.
Buddha defined karma as intention.
According to Richard Gombrich*, “whether the intention manifested itself in physical, vocal or mental form, it was the intention alone which had a moral character: good, bad or neutral […]”
In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to acts driven by intention, a deed done deliberately through body, speech or mind, which leads to future consequences. The Buddhist concepts of karma (acts) and karmaphala (the fruits of acts) explain how our intentional actions keep us tied to rebirth in samsara, the wheel of life, whereas that path called the Noble Eight-fold Path reveals the way out of Samsara.
The Buddhist idea of rebirth says that these cycles are driven by ignorance, desire and hatred. The Noble Eight-fold Path is said to lead to knowledge, or freedom from ignorance and the stilling of desire and hatred at which time the cycles of samsara cease.
On the other hand, there is also the Acintita Sutta to consider. The Buddha warned that there are Four Imponderables and should be avoided at all cost. These are:
- The range of powers a Buddha develops as a result of becoming a Buddha
- The range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhana
- The precise working out of the results of karma
- Conjecture about the origin of the world
So as you might guess, this question opens up quite the can of worms.
*Gombrich, Richard F. (1997), How Buddhism Began. The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
…is a Saiva Tantrika, Gyana Yogi and founder of Uma Maheshwara Yoga & Ayurveda. David has an MA in Semiotics, lives in Japan with his family and works as a coach in L & D, devoting his time to developing science-based tools and programs that help people reach the fullest potential of the human condition.