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The teaching of Karma concerns the ethical law concerning our voluntary acts and their effects, and the procedure through which we either create a world of suffering for ourselves and others, or reduce the suffering and are led to liberation and enlightenment.
The word Karma has entered the everyday vocabulary of many Westerners. However, it is often misunderstood: either as an occult, mystical, metaphysical force, or as an inevitable fate.
Karma (the Action), according to the Buddha’s teaching, is in fact nothing more than our own intention, will or volition (cetanā), expressed through a particular action. Therefore, it does not have the mystical meaning it acquired later on.
Karma or Kamma is an Indian word meaning “action”, “activity”, “accomplishment”. It comes from the verb kara, meaning “to do, to act”, etc. In Greek, we also have the words “κάμνω, κάμει, έκαμα, καμωμένος, κάμωμα, καμώματα”, etc. which may be of Indo-European linguistic origin, from the Indian word “Kamma” or “Karma” and they have the meaning of “a finished action”.
Essentially, Karma denotes our good and bad intentions (kusala-, akusala-cetanā). These intentions manifest themselves as good or bad actions with our body, our speech and our mind. In turn, our actions bring about effects called “Karma-vipāka”, namely: the effect, the consequence, the fruit of the actions, the maturation of the actions. Usually, however, the word Karma is used by ordinary people for both the actions and the effects, which is not accurate.
Therefore, Karma (the Action) follows the natural law of cause and effect, the natural law of action and reaction. And there is no other teacher in the world who has taught this law in as much detail and clarity as the Buddha. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “If there was any teacher in the world who insisted upon the inexorable law of cause and effect, it was Gautam”.