Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning “action” but it is perhaps better understood as meaning “the law of cause and effect.” Every action produces an effect.
Karma, not God, controls the universe. Yes, there are sentient beings in the heavenly worlds but they are not our judges.
The law of cause and effect is like the law of gravity: It extends everywhere, it never stops working, and there is no brain behind it.
No god sits in judgment, deciding to punish us when we are bad and deciding to reward us when we are good.
Thanks to the law of gravity, we trip, we fall. Karma works the same way. Punch other people in the nose and get punched back in return. Help others, receive help.
What is the most obvious observation that anyone could ever make? Here it is, the open secret of the universe:
Everything that happens is the result of every thought that has arisen.
How could it be otherwise? Can effects appear without a cause? And doesn’t every effect then become the next cause? Stephen Hawking tells us that in the quantum world, causes may precede effects but such effects appear to disappear in the larger world.
And there is, apparently, no first cause. (Something earlier would have had to cause a first cause).
But the law of karma does not always operate in an obvious way. Sure, some simple karmic activities like kicking a brick wall while barefooted have immediate karmic consequences but it isn’t always so obvious. It can even carry over from lifetime to lifetime, but that’s another subject. See reincarnation and rebirth.
We are the sum of all our thoughts. Scary as it may seem, all of us have thought ourselves into our respective predicaments. Where we are today is the result of everything we have ever thought from beginningless time and what we do today sets us on a course into the endless future.
But if there is no self, who experiences the results of a thought? Answer: Another thought experiences the result of a preceding thought.
We are simply the thoughts we cling to or identify with. Disengagement from thoughts arises from the practice of zazen and the practices that make effective zazen possible.
Do we perceive the world as one big loving family? Or as a mean place where terrorists lurk? Most of us see the world as a mixture of good and bad. However, a person with little or no spiritual enlightenment will see the world as an extremely hostile place and a fully enlightened Buddha will see the world as Nirvana.
As one is, so one sees.