Karma is a difficult topic to explain because most people use the word karma to mean what comes around goes around, which is so misleading. The word Karma means action or deed. Every word, thought and act created by you, mentally, physically and spiritually, is an action resulting in karma. Let me give you this example. Picture a scale with a balance on each side. I have decided to stop a bad habit, say biting my nails. Every time I bite a nail, I put a weight on the bad side of the scale. Every time I remember to pull my finger away from my mouth, I put a weight on the good side. The good and bad weights sometimes even each other out, right? At that point, you could say my karma is even or balanced. When the bad side outweighs the good, it doesn't mean something bad is going to happen to me in response; I now carry this negative or vipaka that leads to bad things because the Law of Attraction says "like attracts like". Karma is the action, vipaka is the result.
Karma is not punitive as most people reference. We are inheritently good. Karma is our reminder to stay that way! So, the thought may have crossed your mind, if nothing flies from the Universe to punish us for bad deeds, why would we care about our karma? Fair question! Karma is with you from birth to death, through transition or reincarnation and into your next life. The karma you have at the moment of death is what you are born with into your next life. If you did a lot of bad things in this life, and never learned to change those actions into good, you built up bad karma. Why would you want to start off your next life with that baggage?!
Karma is about understanding that our actions (thought, word and physical) are all based on intention. When I set positive intentions, I am expecting a desired result. Bad karma intentions are based in greed and hatred and maya (illusion from ignorance). Positive karma has intentions based in wisdom and peace and good will. Your very existence is action based. Your actions come from your intentions. Your intentions result in your positive, negative or balanced karma. Your karma is the only actual link that connects all your lives through reincarnation.
Let's use the example of someone who is paralized in a wheelchair and cannot move. Can they produce bad karma since they do not have the physical ability to act? Absolutely! In fact, Buddhists would say the only element of pre- determination in this life comes from your past life's karma. Let's assume the handicap of this person is the vipaka (result) of bad karma in his preceding life. This person still has the ability of thought. Negative thoughts will move out into the Universe and continue to build on the bad karma pile. Good thoughts prove free will as now the person is able to rescind the bad karma; change it for the good producing a different result.
Karma is not an external energy waiting to strike you for the bad; karma is created from within. We all actively create our own karma each and every day. Let's face it- we all have deeply rooted habits. Some are fabulous and make us who we are. Some we need to change because they cause us suffering; they do not serve us in any good way. Becoming aware of those patterns is the first step. Changing them is next. Your yoga practice helps you to recognize and dig out these deep roots so you change suffering into joy!
Wayne Dyer says, "How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours. " I would add that how you treat yourself is also your choice of karma.
Still confused? Karma is trying to teach you to let go of the past. All those feelings of guilt or sadness or regret that you carry around with you by choice do not allow you to stay present and move forward with learning to produce change.
An islamic scholar wrote, "Happy is the person whose karma is their dharma." Dharma means path and our path is strewn with learning lessons. Our karma brings us lessons we need to learn so we can reconfigure our initial intentions.
My yoga instructor/guru, Silvia Mordini, writes, "Today, I'd like us to practice mindful forgetting. Where we stop paying so much attention to PAST actions. At some point any shame or embarrassment from what's been done is only stealing from this moment and furthering an unnecessary suffering. Offering forgiveness to those that have hurt us [ I would add, including ourselves], instead of continuing to remind them of past actions will help us move forward in light and love... stop blaming yesterday for your today, using it as an excuse for the quality of your life right now. It's not fair, it's not healthy. "
There are many different types of karma but what you ultimately need to understand is that you have the power to create your own karma, you have the choice of free will to change, and that karma is not just about the past. It is about right now; you are creating it right now! If you are angry or jealous, you are sending that out and your intentions and thoughts come from this source. Choose happiness. Choose love. Your karma can be freeing.
So the expression "what comes around goes around" in reference to karma is very misleading and I think detrimental to personal responsibility. It makes it sound like some unseen force is going to swoop in and dole out punishment to someone who does bad. Understand, they are already doing that to themselves. The lesson abides in the learning and changing. The built up karma is like the potential energy you learned about in science. If I pull back a rubberband and hold it there, it has potential energy to move forward when I let go. If I pull back with an ignorance-based bad intention and send the rubberband flying with that energy, I am left with the negative results I created. Contrarily, if I pull back with loving intentions formed from having learned from past mistakes, I send love forward and am left with positive karma.
I leave you with this last overexaggerated example...Criminal A and B are both in prison for murder. Very bad karma, obviously. Criminal A spends his days pissed off and mad for ending up in jail. He feels he's a victim of his circumstances and the guy got what was coming to him. He dies with this thought. Criminal B is remorseful. He lives out his days trying to make amends from behind bars. Maybe he takes up meditation and learns to change the energy he emits. He sends out positive thoughts to the world and dies doing so. Do they have the same karma? Only you can make the change.