In INNER KNOWLEDGE by Erik Pema Kunsang14 Comments

Karma means action, deed and doing, willfully or semi-unaware. Only a fraction of karma is expressed in words and visible behavior. The rest plays out within the mind as wishes, secret urges, neuroses and our daily emotions. Each moment of intention spins a cord of karma that will pull events we face in later lives or within this life. Just because the inner life is invisible to others, it still has consequences, like a string on a puppet that moves its legs and mouth. Right now, this human body walks and talks controlled by karmic strings invisible to our eyes. These strings are spun from our thoughts and emotions, we call them habits, personality, and what I like and dislike.

Every single moment this stream of being is bombarded with uncountable impressions through the senses, through memories and the echoes of present thoughts. This colorful and multifaceted barrage that we call our life and world, is it fate, destiny, or divine intervention? Whatever the label, it is the infinitely detailed consequences of mental, verbal and physical actions created by former moments of the same stream of mind. That is the law of karma. Is it personal? Yes, it is. Is it created by the present you? No it isn’t. Is it created by someone else? Absolutely not! The present mind suffers or enjoys the consequences of actions created by earlier moments of mind. Not somebody else’s mind, but your mind. This is the ultimate conspiracy, but also the perfect justice. Moreover, it isn’t carved in stone; it’s a workable situation, because you can change your karma, by changing habits and direct your own destiny, in the present moment.

When we witness or read about cruelty, hear about rape or exploitation, trafficking, economical, social or psychological abuse, the first feeling is outrage, indignation and the wish to help the victims. Often we forget that the perpetrators create tremendous negative karma to become victims in the future, not necessarily in this life. We should take a stand out of kindness to help them stop. Every little act of kindness or cruelty matters and has consequences. The way to change the karmic pattern is to be mindful, and then to accept and reject. This doesn’t mean to be in a passive, neutral state of noticing, while hurting others, being a jerk or bitch, mindfully. It’s so important to take distance from the tendency to hurt another or oneself with the firm decision: I will not be this way. Otherwise the circle never ends, the strings are never broken. Don’t think that subtle aggression is fine as long as no words are spoken and no stones are thrown. Hate hurts the hater, it leaves a track that is easy to follow next time and next life.


It’s almost impossible to see what we did hundred lifetimes ago, but the echoes are played out daily in the form of likes and dislikes, preferences and inclinations, and it is here that we can directly step in and make a change. Softening the heart thins the veil of karma, making it easier to be free, open, kind and wise. Don’t be condescending, even jokingly, don’t tease by pointing out another’s faults; it’s not really funny. Verbally bulling undermines the self-worth in someone who trusts you, chipping away the trust. And what does it do to you? It damages your intuitive intelligence and empathy, numbs your sensitivity, making you one step closer to be heartless. This track leads to lack of situational awareness, both toward others and inwardly blind to one’s mistakes; therefore it’s better to be kind.

As conscious beings in a human body, we are not vacant space, and we are also not biological robots. We are embodied spirits. Part of our stream of consciousness is to throw balls out into our living dimension, incessantly. As the ball hits the wall, you hear that famous thump sound, and then the rubber’s yielding, compression and expansion allow the magical bounce sending it into space, following exact laws of physics. It’s unmistakable. It’s fun. Every child knows it. They game is to catch it as it flies right at you, the one who threw it.

There are two ways to deal with already created karma. One is to throw more balls of kindness and mindful presence. The other is skillful ways of catching previous thrown balls by handling the pains and the joys that we experience every day, emotions in all varieties, and in the form of people around us, moods of every kind, dilemmas and obligations. All that happens can be used as way to loosen up the knots of self. One way is to savor each moment, appreciating its uniqueness, it makes you more content and enriched. One way is to give room to every pain and pleasure; this makes you more balanced on an even keel. One way is to think, this is all magical illusions; this makes you less frustrated and more at ease. One way is to shoulder hurts, wishing others to be free; this fosters greater courage and a noble mind.

Usually people only think that the word karma means what happens to me, but not my present actions. But to master karma we have to change what we do, not what happens. Therefore if you want to do yourself a favor, stop yanking the invisible strings of karma that cause pain. Do not take the life of a single creature, no matter how small. Everyone wants to live, so let the living be. Save lives, set them free. Especially, help minds to be free. Don’t pull the strings that cause pain and suffering through abuse or manipulation. Don’t invest your pension funds in companies that make bombs or steal from others.

May every ball we throw be boundless kindness and compassion and every action noble and spontaneous, to pacify and enrich, to magnetize and subjugate, ensuring peace and freedom for everyone.

About the Author
Erik Pema Kunsang

Erik Pema Kunsang

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Translator of ancient Buddhist scriptures, author, bridge-builder to modern life, Buddhist teacher & meditation instructor. Board of director at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Founder of Rangjung Yeshe Publications and LEVEKUNST art of life. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author. Erik's website & retreats.

Featured image: Fun in Galway by Barnacles Hostels. Photo of ball player by Moise Theodor, Romania.

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  1. Avatar

    I have to say Erik, this is one of the most profound commentaries upon karma, I have ever come across. Thank you deeply.

  2. Avatar

    Like a song, it speaks the truth of being. Muchas gracias, Eric for the reminder of the invisibility of karmic “reality”.

  3. Seema Sahoo

    Thank you so much Erik !
    Kamic ripening and adversity from others , etc. has been on my mind in recent times. Your article and explaination has given me a lot to work on. When I read mike edelman question to you about “old karma” playing quicker it was intersting for me because I have pondered about that and your answer has been some peace strangely :). How lucky it is to have the opportunity to work on “old karma” in the same lifetime. Most times it is the intent and effort to be mindful in mind, body and speech , to not do any harm in any way but I dont always do a very good job in that.
    Thank you so much !

  4. mike edelman


  5. Avatar

    Thank you for this one, Erik!

  6. Rune Lacroix

    Thank you Erik for this inspiring explanation!
    You write: “The way to change the karmic pattern is to be mindful and then to accept and reject”. Can you explain how to integrate this important awareness of cause and effect with the dzogchen view of neither acceptance or rejection?

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      Dzogchen can also be understood as great inclusion, in that all other vehicles for awakening are auto-included. I assume that with Dzogchen you mean the innermost heart of Dzogchen, and not Dzogchen’s entire body. But a body is more than the heart or the blood within the heart. The article here deals mainly with the veil of karma, among the four veils. We need to deal with the entirety of our being and that includes removing all four veils. The Dzogchen teachings on the general and special preliminaries, for instance in The Words of My Perfect Teacher and The Notes, skillfully shows how to remove the veils of karma and emotions. The veil of habits is dealt with in yidam practice. All are part of Dzogchen. Dzogchen’s instruction in the Thorough Cut deals with the cognitive veil. That is the traditional and pragmatic approach and it is the same as Gampopa’s Four Dharmas, so precious to Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.

      For the authentic practitioner of Dzogchen, accepting the good and helpful and rejecting the unwholesome and harmful actions in thought, word and deed, are auto-included. Just like a person with open eyes does not jump into an abyss, the Dzogchen meditator does not kill or abuse others for selfish benefit. But let’s be honest an realistic, even for people who have been tntroduced to the Dzogchen teachings, is every single moment really nondual, naked awareness? Or is it more a matter of trying one’s best, flicking back and forth, on and off? It’s during the off-time that accepting the helpful and rejecting the harmful is of utmost importance, just like protecting our eyes.

      In short, to begin thinning the veil of karma, place one knee on the ground, join the palms before your heart, and from your innermost make the commitment: from this day onwards, to the best of my ability, I will cause no harm to sentient beings. This commitment to nonviolence is the first step on the Dzogchen path. It is also the basis for refuge and the connecting with what is true and real.

      1. Rune Lacroix

        What an eminent answer Erik. And an important clarification, since in these days there seem to be a common view that dzogchen is only about it’s innermost essence – and not it’s totality, the great encompassment of the whole path. A misunderstanding that I’m somehow still stuck with. So thank you very much for this clarification.
        I’m amazed by how the path incorporates practices on all levels, relative and ultimate, without contradiction. And I also find it very beautiful that a greater realization of the innermost essence of dzogchen seems to be connected with an even more profound attention to cause and effect. Somehow it gives me an even greater trust in paying very close attention to my actions and intentions right now.

  7. mike edelman

    I don’t remember where but, I had heard that when we begin Dharma practice, working to purify our mindstream and begin to have small glimpses of spiritual progress, that old karma starts to “play” itself out at quicker frequency than if mind left as is. Have you heard of this and is there any truth?

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      That’s for sure, Mike. The Prajnaparamita and other sutras mention in great detail that as a practitioner begins to aim at awakening and sees through the illusion of personal identity, karma that would otherwise have come to pass over many lifetimes may begin to ripen within that same life. It could be as illness or adversity from other people.

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