Karma is generally explained as 'action', while I do prefer the term 're-action'. People moreover do often refer to it as 'bad karma' or 'good karma', while I consider 'bad karma' to be what is generally meant by 'karma' and 'good karma' then just means no or less karma. That is because karma is a re-action, karma happens when we, unconsciously, react to something. Some reactive response is given to a certain situation, caused by past influences that we carry along with us. E. g. someone says something that reminds you of some past experience that is stored and labeled as negative in your mind and you get angry. That happens very fast and therefore mostly in an unconscious way. You would normally not even know the past conditioning behind it. Once the anger is there, your mind will most likely come up with some thoughts that justify this anger and obscure its original cause. This happens as unconscious as the upcoming of the anger, you are only conscious of the thought, but not of its origin. The anger and the mental justification might within only a few seconds lead you to more reactions of speech and body and these are still very likely to happen almost completely unconscious. That is karma acting itself out through you. It is reactive, because it is an almost mechanical effect of the words of the other person. We all know situations where things happen like this and only minutes later might we be able to partly realize what has actually happened and then maybe regret it.
The good news is that at every single step of this process there is the possibility to stop that unwholesome chain of karma. This is simply by bringing awareness of what's going on into the play. Before responding with angry words or even hitting the other person, you could take a step back and realize that something has made you angry and you are just about to react with an unwholesome response to it. If your awareness is more advanced you might already notice the thoughts that accompanied the anger and notice that they are simply justifications by your reactive mind and not the truth. There might still be anger for a short while then, but you are not likely to act stupidly out of it. You just watch it as it 'til it disappears again. An even more advanced awareness might even be able to be there at an earlier stage of the process and right when the first sign of anger appears, notice it, laugh at it and see it disappear within seconds. At this stage you are very likely not to be acting out any karma.
So acting out karma is being reactive. It is an almost mechanical effect of something else and caused by negative influences of the past. Karma is reaction and if you manage not to react, you so to say reduce karma. That's what people use to call 'good karma', it means to give a conscious response to a situation, instead of an unconscious, blind reaction ('bad karma'). What people mean when they speak about 'good karma' is actually that it is an action that does not accumulate new karma.
Now this was just an example. Karma actually governs everything. It is so to say the reason why things are as they are, why we live as we live and, yes indeed, why we do exist at all! Every single action that we take, and that includes every thought, every feeling and so on, is governed by karma. It actually only appears because there is still karma. Therefore it is almost entirely reactive! Our very existence is, from this point of view, but one big reaction! We exist because there is amind of storage of karma, of unwholesome influences from the past, which we have to work on. Does that make sense? Probably not, but let me try to explain.
Why do you do anything at all? That is because there is an impulse, a desire, a drive in you that calls for nrings about action. Why are you reading this at all? Whatever the very reason is, there have been some things going on in your mind, some interest, desire or whatever, which made you start to read this and it is obviously still a desire there, that makes you continue to read this second by second. Because if not, you would have stopped already or would stop now. And why would you stop? Because there would be a contrary desire to do something else, or a sudden aversion against this stuff or whatever. So every action happens due to the cause of something else, existence is generally conditioned. And if we are honest, we do mostly not know our conditionings. If we did, we would have to be very highly developed in our awareness. The awareness would, in other words, have to be much quicker than our thoughts, impulses and all the other little and extremely quick things that happen in our minds in every milisecond. The mechanisms of the mind are, so to say, the conditionings that we face, they are like one big karma-machine, they are actually very much like a computer programm that calculates extremely fast in the background, while we normally are only able to conceive of the very surface, the computer screen. We tend to simply take the screen for everything that there is. Well, not necessarily so. All this is only true if we leave the mind largely unobserved, as most people at this time on this planet do. That humanity is acting out a lot of karma ('bad karma') these days, is hard to ignore.
But the reconciliating thing about that is, that it happens completely unconscious. If people knew what they were doing, they would stop it. It was Jesus on the cross, who said: Forgive 'em, because they do not know what they are doing. In the words used above this means that they are not observing their minds, they are not being aware of the negativity they are accumulating by their actions. If they would, they would stop, immediatelly, because they would see the pain they are creating and pertaining - to themselves! They are not free, they are slaves to their minds, slaves to the past so to say, to their conditioning, to their karma. And so are we, if we are honest, most of the time. But there is, as Jesus suggests us, no reason to judge ourselves for that. There very moment we notice it, awareness has taken over and we have become partly free of our karma. That's our job. Simply to watch what crazy stuff our minds do all day.
That, in fact, is what meditation is about. And it was and is meditation, that enabled me to understand, to see the things that I am trying to explain here. If you cannot make sense of it, that might be either because my abilities to explain it are very small, or because you haven't yet really investigated into your mind. You might think that you know what's going on in your mind, but as psychoanalysis and and other approaches to 'deep psychology', even brain sciences and of course the extremely rich psychology that is contained in the wisdom traditions of both East and West, as all these have told us, we actually have very little clue about our minds. That's why, e.g., Gnothi Seauthon, meaning Know Thyself, was weitten at the entrance to the oracle of Delphi, or why Jesus said that 'the truth will set you free' and so on in all of the wisdom traditions. I have chosen to explain this regarding the notion of karma because it is a very wide perspective, from which a lot of these things can come into the picture.
As karma governs our actions and makes them into reactions, it is at the same time our actions that govern karma. If we keep on reacting, we create new karma that we will have to face later on. Just like if you keep on treating your body badly, you will have to face the consequences later on. You might not be aware of your bad treatment or this later on might be far away enough, so that you don't care about it. But at some point, you will have to face it. Exactly the same is true for karma generally.
Now, one of the questions you might have in mind is: How do I know which action creates new karma and which one does not (or does at least create less karma). The answer is ... not to be found in rules. Following rules of conduct like they are brought to us in every major religion, can be helpful, but these are very general and abstract. They are good for general orientation (and for people with a herd instinct) but they will often not be helpful in a certain situation. And they additionally can be used to frighten and thread people in order to keep them under control. So be aware of rules and use them mindfully! In the end the test if something is creating karma or not is only in you, not in anything, anyone or any rule outside. You will have to face the consequences, you will at a certain point feel that you have created new karma. It will ripen and let you know. So in the immediate situation all you can do is to become more sensitive and to feel. How does that action, that thought, that emotion feel? This feeling is not emotional, it is deeper than that. It is more like an intuition, it is actually your heart speaking. Unfortunatelly we are trained not to listen. We are trained to listen to our minds, which are concerned with rules and options, with what others say and think, generally with things that can be planned, calculated, controlled, decided and so on.
The heart is the opposite. Its voice is very soft and subtle, so you have to really learn to listen. It is never indecisive, it always tells you which action is wholesome for you. Conflict only arises, when you do not know if you should listen to it or not. Oftentimes conflict is between the heart and the mind. The mind often has all the power behind it. The power of the past, that wants you to do what you have done before or planned before or thought to be most rational or what others expect from you or whatever. All of this is not you, is what the heart tells you, softly. It is very difficult to life in a society like ours and to listen to the heart. Nonetheless it's the only way to stop creating new karma. And this, in the end, is of course best for the society also, because you reduce not only your own, but at the same time the collective karma of your family, your society, your nation, your planet. Collective and individual karma are closely interrelated, you can actually not seperate them from each other, simply because individual and society and the whole universe are similarily interrelated.
But at the same time, it is good to keep in mind that all you can do is influence your own karma! This will then by itself have good or bad effects on your environment or the planet. You do not have to do anything directly for others, for nature or whatever. You actually cannot! If it is good for you, it is instantly and without exception good for the whole, for everyone! Many people bother themselves with things they consider to be good for others and treat themselves badly at the same time. This kind of behaviour is not good for any one. If you are not well, if you are not aware, if you are not doing your best for you, you actually cannot help anyone else. You only make things worse. Even if it seems that you are helping, your unconsciously carried negativity, your karma, your unobserved mind will have its influence on those you seem to be helping. So just clean your own house and everything else will fall into place.
This is again not to be misunderstood in the way that it would be 'wrong' to care for others. Not at all! It is wonderful, one of the most wonderful things you can do, but this is mainly because it is good for you! That's why you should do it. It feels good, you immediatelly feel the improvement in your state of mind, your heart tells you it is wholesome and that's why you do it. Don't make others wellbeing the main focus of your action (see it more as a sideeffect) because if you do so, you are likely to forget about yourself and this will in fact not be good for anyone! Don't believe me, try it for yourself. Observe how it really feels to do it this or that way. If you simply believe it or simply reject it, if you only want to speculate about its truth, but not apply it fir yourself, this will have no effect for anyone. It will be useless. Give it a try, test if this is helpful for you at this point of time. If not, then do yourself and the world a favour and forget it!
Now, what the hell does all that have to do with reincarnation? The thoughts accompanying that term might mostly be about a soul that incarnates into this world via a body, fulfilling a certain task and having had thousands of lifetimes in thousands of worlds before. And we might find that there is very little reason to believe in stuff like that. I do indeed think that there is very little reason to believe in that, but that has more to do with believe than with these subjects. They do make some sense to me and I do find notions like these quite plausible, but this has come to me in a very intuitive way and I would not know how to justify that properly to anyone who cannot make sense of it. Moreover I do not think that it is very important to believe in these things or not. It is actually another, kind of more down to earth, more practical, but also more radical aspect or notion of reincarnation that I have come to find useful and would like to share with you.
Reincarnation is in any case very closely connected to karma. In the traditional beliefs it is karma that is the reason for every incarnation and it is the goal of the soul's existence to be free of karma, in order not to be reborn again. Now, what if we do not apply this to lifetime after lifetime, which is kind of abstract and very difficult to grasp for most of us, but to this very moment? We have seen above that we can stop the wheel of karma, that means the unwholesome influences of the past that we carry along with us, simply by being aware of them. We could say that our karma actually incarnates in every second that we are not aware of it. If we are aware of our unconscious reactions, they dissolve by themselves. They stop reincarnating themselves and playing themselves out through us. From this viewpoint it is up to us to stop reincarnation and we can only do that right now!
In the East it is very common to kind of accumulate good deeds for the sake of a better reincarnation next time. This has very much to do with hope, because we never know what is going to happen and it, so to say, sacrifices the present and what we are doing now, for some imagined state in the future. Now, I am not suggesting that this is in any way a wrong practice. It can actually be very helpful for some people to conceive of things like that and it can have a positive outcome in their lives right now. But still I feel the time has come to go about these things much more directly and honestly. The only things we can ever do is do the best we can in that very moment. Past and future are actually nothing but thoughts that arise in this very moment.
That is not to say that they are 'not real' or anything like that, thoughts can actually be very real and threatening to us, if we allow the mind to go on in an unobserved way. And we are all haunted by our unwholesome influences from the past, i.e. karma, even if these only appear in the mind in this very moment. But it is nonetheless our task to become free of the past as best as we can. Only if we do so, can we get in touch with freedom, only then can we be free of the mechanical structure of past conditioning that keeps us trapped in our old habbits, roles and thoughtforms. Bringing awareness into these mechanism is being present, is being Now. Having said this, we can easily see that the very same thing applies to the future! The mind constantly produces expectations, hopes and fears about the future, to lead us away from the present moment. This is as unwholesome an action and in the same way karmic as is any other of the mind's mechanical functions, as long as they are unobserved. Being overly concerned with the future is actually in the same way an unwholesome influence from the past, it is simply an old habit, just like our angry reaction to what someone says.
So what is the point? If you are concerned with reincarnation and karma, you should be concerned with what happens right now! You can stop reincarnation right now and you can only stop it right now. You cannot stop it from happening in the future. This is simply not in your hands and whatever you believe, it might very well happen to you again and again. But all you can do is observe the mind and its very mechanism, because they are acting out the karma, they are the karma machine that keeps us trapped in ignorance and despair or whatever we are trapped in.
And isn't this a strange and finally liberating insight that it is all, without exception in our mind? We do not need any notion of god, not even of an outside world for that and it will especially be very helpful not to blame any other human being for our karma! Even if it would be true, it would not help us, because we can by no means change other people's minds. We only have ourselves to work on and to blame (but it will be better not to even blame ourselves!), every trouble we are in is our own and it is in a way even completely selfimposed. But not only the trouble is all in ourselves and by ourselves, the same is true for the knowledge that we can change it, it's in our hands to stop reincarnation and if this is not something that YOU know to be true, it is not going to help you. Simply believing will most likely not help. We will have to try and see ourselves how it works, how karma works and what we can do about it. And if we don't, then we don't - some heavy karma keeps us away from these insights and time has not yet come for us to see. No need to worry. That is perfectly fine also! We cannot fight karma. It is as it is and there is reasons, good reasons for it to be as it is. It serves us to learn the lessons that we have to learn. By fighting it, we simply amplify it. All we can do is watch it, observe it, neutrally and acceptingly. It will then - what a beautiful wonder actually! - dissolve by itself. But we do not 'do' this dissolution. Evything is governed by karma, not 'by ourselves' and 'our will'. Even our attempts to observe and their success and failure are of course themselves governed by karma. But, I know, this might not be the proper information for many people at this time.
So please, if you cannot make any sense of whatever I have been writing in this article, just forget it. It doesn't serve any purpose for anybody, if you put loads of effort to figure it out or if you put loads of effort to find reasons to reject it. It's more or less a waste of time. Whatever speaks to you, will speak to you, by itself, just let it happen. And if not, then not. I have actually come to conceive of things in a way, that we are always being provided with exactly the information we need right now, to do the next step, we simply have to see it for what it is and make use of it. There is in fact very little effort in this, but I know that we have been trained to do just about everything we do only with effort and will power. So it will take time to find another source from which action and existence can flow. But take your time and give the karma its time to ripen. That's all you can do anyway.
With my best regards and wishes to you! Make friends with karma ... ;)