DAVID NICHTERN

When we take a deep look at who we are, we still see some kind of continuity to our ever-changing existence, even though we may not actually find an independent and permanent entity called me. Exploring that continuity is how we can come to understand the notion of karma. 

Karma literally means “action,” particularly as it relates to the continuity of cause and effect. In a way it’s like shooting pool. If we’re dazed and confused as we play the game, then we’re just sort of knocking the balls all over the place. If there’s clarity and precision as you set up your shot, the balls go where you want them to go. When we look at our pool table, we can see the balls form a pattern, just as in this very moment the various elements of our lives form some kind of pattern. As we survey our situation on the table, we have some kind of response to it, and we prepare to take our next shot. As we pick up our pool cue, we have some assessment, some feeling, and some kind of intention going forward.

When we take our shot, we not only move the cue ball (me), but also affect the motion and pattern of all the other balls (others) on the table. In so doing we create a new situation, albeit one that is highly dependent on the immediately previous situation. We can’t just take all the balls off the table and place them wherever we want in the middle of a game (life). So every moment has its own unique patterning as we approach it. Based on our past thoughts and actions, mixed with our current intentions, we move ourselves through life and move those around us. If we can learn to see the patterns of our actions and their effects, over time we will develop an understanding of how the karma game of our lives works.

Positive karma—again, a relative term—basically describes a series of actions in which our intentions and efforts move our lives in a positive direction, that is, a pattern of action that moves both us and others toward some kind of desirable outcome. We can think of such good outcomes as similar to a good lay of billiard balls on the table: it leaves us with a clear view of a reasonable sequence of mostly accessible shots. For example, you might end up in a good situation, living a relatively wakeful life in a sympathetic environment, actually able to enjoy yourself and appreciate your existence, and foster positive circumstances for yourself and the people around you.

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