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I think one of the essential keys to understanding what the Buddha taught is understanding the term karma. Now, I know this has come up before, but let’s look a little more closely at it, because karma is one of the terms that has been adopted into English in a horribly distorted, badly translated sort of accumulation of half-understood concepts combined with Victorian Orientalist New Age whoo whoo.

To put it gently.

The whoo whoo explanation of karma — which, to be fair, is at least similar to the understanding in more theistic kinds of Hinduism too — is that it’s some kind of Scale of Cosmic Justice that arranges, through reincarnation, to see to it that you are punished through horrible life experiences in one life for bad things you’ve done in some previous life, and that you’re rewarded for good things you’ve done. So anything, good or bad, that happens to you is the result of some thing you did in some previous life that you now have no control over. “It’s just karma, man!”

The word karma, though, has a much simpler and more straight-forward meaning: it’s “action”. It’s paired with another word, vipaka, which just means “consequences of an action”.