What Is Karma and How to Be Free of the Karmic Cycle

What Karma Means

Buddhist Definition of Karma

What exactly is Karma?  What does it mean to be free of the Karmic cycle?  These are excellent questions and today I will try and shed some light on this important topic.  This topic is important really because understanding it deeply, will help you a great deal in living your life correctly and accelerating your spiritual progress.

To help with this complex topic, I am going to provide the thoughts of the great Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, from his A+ book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  This is not just a Buddhist view of Karma, this is actually a clear view of the Law of Karma.  Also, I provide a nice 9 Day Karma Cleansing Challenge which is a great spiritual test to take in the bottom of this article.


Zen Buddhist Master Shunryu Suzuki on What is Karma?

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Pages 100, 102

According to the traditional Buddhist understanding, our human nature is without ego.  When we have no idea of ego, we have Buddha’s view of life.  Our egoistic ideas are delusion, covering out Buddha Nature.  We are always creating and following them, and in repeating this process over and over again, our life becomes completely occupied by ego-centered ideas.  This is called karmic life, or karma.  The Buddhist life should not be karmic life.  The purpose of our practice is to cut off the karmic spinning mind.  If you are trying to attain enlightenment, that is a part of karma, you are creating and being driven by karma, and you are wasting your time on the black cushion.  According to Bodhidarma’s understanding, practice based on any gaining idea is just a repetition of your karma.  Forgetting this point, many later Zen masters have emphasized some stage to be attained by practice.

He goes on to say…

Before Buddha attained enlightenment he made all possible effort for us, and at last he attained a thorough understanding of the various ways.  You may think Buddha attained some stage where he was free from karmic life, but it is not so.  Many stories were told by Buddha about his experiences after he attained enlightenment.  He was not at all different from us.  When his country was at war with a powerful neighbor, he told his disciples of his own karma, of how he suffered when he saw that his country was going to be conquered by the neighboring king.  If he had been someone who had attained an enlightenment in which there was no karma, there would have been no reason for him to suffer so.  And even after he attained enlightenment he continued the same effort we are making.  But his view of life was not shaky.  His view of life was stable, and he watched everyone’s life, including his life.  He watched himself, and he watched others with the same eyes that he watched stones or plants, or anything else.  He had a very scientific understanding.  That was his way of life after he attained enlightenment.

When we have the traditional spirit to follow the truth as it goes, and practice our way without any egotistic idea, we will attain enlightenment in its true sense.  And when we understand this point we will make our best effort in each moment.  That is true understanding of Buddhism.  So our understanding of Buddhism is not just an intellectual understanding.  Our understanding at the same time is its own expression, is the practice itself.  Not by reading or contemplation of philosophy, but only through practice, actual practice, can we understand what Buddhism is.  Constantly, we should practice zazen, with strong confidence in our true nature, breaking the chain the karmic activity and finding our place in the world of actual practice.

Buddhist Understanding of What Karma Means

The above excerpt offers the best way to view and Karma, Karmic Bondage and Karmic Living.  In addition, I wanted to present this excerpt to you as it has other hidden gems in it as well.  Let me highlight these points for you below.

1. What is Karma?

Karma is life and action that is led by the ego and for the ego.  The more the ego is involved, the more Karma there is.  Both as a driving force and in accumulation as fuel (Karma) for future egotistical action.  Lets see this cycle at work using the simple pleasure principle.

When you experience some pleasure, that is fine, it is just sensation.  But then the mind tends not to leave it at that.  It forms an emotional memory and starts to chew on the memory of that experience, giving it more and more strength.  Then, it starts to crave that pleasure experience again.  This emotion soaked memory then lays the foundation for desires and influences future actions. 

So Karma is formed by the mind spinning the pleasurable experience, building emotion soaked memory, which then becomes the seed for ego gratification in the future, leading to more experience and sensation.  This then forms more emotion soaked memory, if it is spun around in the mind, and the Karmic cycle continues.  Thus we are bound by our Karma, as we already have in us emotion soaked memories, which are the seeds that will then influence our mind to pursue more ego oriented activity.  Purging this emotion soaked memory is the emptying of the mind which you hear about in meditation.

As this is a very interesting and important topic and there is a lot of confusion around what Karma is I will go into this in more detail in a future article, but for now I think you should get the gist of what I am saying from the explanation and example above.

2. How to Free Oneself from the Karmic Cycle?

The answer to the question, “How to be free from the Karmic Cycle?”, emerges from the understanding above.  Do what the Buddha did.  Learn to become a detached witness to the comings and goings of your life.  Even the Buddha, after enlightenment, had to live out the Karma that was already present in him, but by bearing witness and not getting drawn in, he stopped creating more emotion soaked memory, or more Karmic seeds.  Also, by bearing witness, the content of consciousness (emotion soaked memory) starts to reveal itself and gets purged.

In other words, develop the Witnessing Consciousness.  Residing in this Witnessing Consciousness or Big Mind, means to not live via the ego oriented, small mind, but to live instead in moment to moment awareness.  This awareness is your Buddha Nature.  It is the Big Self and the substratum on which the drama of life is being playing out on.  Residing in such awareness, is residing in your Buddha Nature and this alone frees you from the cycle of Karma.

Summary and Karma Cleansing Challenge:

So karma boils down to a very simple thing.  If you strengthen the ego, give it more importance and are caught in nothing but ego-centric desires, then you are accumulating karma, if on the other hand, you are residing in pure consciousness and witnessing, you are freeing yourself from the entanglements of karma and the dualistic world.

Of course this is not at all easy to accomplish, but it can really be a lot of fun to do if you are up for the challenge.  To help you on this journey here is a great 9 Day Karma Cleansing Program.  It is difficult to do, but even trying it will give you a great deal of insight into how your ego functions and also, how to live with moment to moment awareness.  If doing all of what this challenge requires is too much, just pick a few of the requirements, that too will be of enormous benefit to you.

9 Day Spiritual Test and Karma Cleansing Program

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11 replies
  1. Susan
    Susan says:

    The reason I was looking up Karmic freeing was because my astrology forecast was telling me I would finally get Karmic freeing from old wounds. My numerology number is 9.

  2. Susan
    Susan says:

    I agree with what is being said, have been having alot of problems in my personal relationships with my family; it seems like I always come up against frustration with them and they are not being fair with me. The reason I looked up Karmic freeing was because of the astrologic advice I got!

  3. Jake
    Jake says:

    Anmol—-Is the most important aspect of Karma focus on stopping your poor decisions, forgiving yourself and others and committing to better ones in the future?

  4. Royalt Free Meditation Music Guy
    Royalt Free Meditation Music Guy says:

    Undertstanding the true meaning of what karma is and how to free yourself from your karmic cycle is one of the most difficult aspects of spiritual life to understand. You’ve done a great job of explaining the foundation of what it’s all about, but readers need to remember that this is a particularly deep subject that many people contemplate throughout their whole lives. If you liked this article, then you must explore the subject more deeply – it can take time to really come to grips with the true meaning of karma.

  5. Kim Constipation Remedies
    Kim Constipation Remedies says:

    Thanks for the explanation of what Karma is. Having recently attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation course, I can so appreciate what you are talking about when you mentioned being a conscious observer of yourself and your sensations and the importance of not being mired in the emotional entanglement. I think the creation of a beautiful mind free of cravings and aversions must be one of the hardest thing one can embark on in life. As with most things in life, what is worth it is never easy.

  6. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    Hi Amnol,
    Your articles are great. I wasn’t sure about it but now I am. I have been battling my ego for some time and have come a long way but still experience these times of struggle that seem to come out of nowhere. Why? It would be good if you could give us an idea of what to expect during the process. Because the ego is a trickster and is always trying to find its way to your life force. I feel I get to some kind of weak point and I should be learning something but it is quite overwhelming and I can sense that ego trying to break in. What is the connection?

  7. Aparna
    Aparna says:

    Hi Anmolji, Past Life Regression Therapy is the latest rage in India these days, could you shed some light on this through your post? Would love to hear your views about this.


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