His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from 'Kindness, Clarity and Insight'
The Sanskrit word Karma (or kamma in Pali) literally means action. In Buddhism however, karma mainly refers to one'sintention or motivation while doing an action. The Buddha said:
“It is volition that I call karma; for having willed, one acts by body, speech, and mind.”
AN 3:415, from In the Buddha’s Words, p. 146.
(In the west, the word karma is often used for the results of karma; the Sanskrit words for the effects or results of karma are 'vipaka' or 'phala'. )
The shortest explanation of karma that I know is: 'you get what you give'. In other words; whatever you do intentionally to others, a similar thing will happen to yourself in the future. Causing suffering to others will cause suffering to ourselves, causing happiness to others will result in happiness for oneself.
Perhaps our biggest to understanding or even believing in karma may be time. The 're-actions' or results of our actions usually show up with a big time delay, and it becomes extremely hard to tell which action caused which result. Actions done in a previous life can create results in this life, but who can remember their past life, and who can tell exaclty which action caused which result? For ordinary humans, the mechanisms of karma can be intellectually understood to some extent, but never completely "seen".
The idea behind karma is not only found in Buddhism and Hinduism; it seems that the Bible...