Word of the Day: Karma

By Daniel Scocco

Karma [kär’mə], according to the Buddhism, is the overall effect that the actions of a person will have on his or her own future existence. It is also used generally in the western world to indicate one’s destiny or fate.

According to the mysticism, karma is considered to be non-physical emanations that each person releases, and which may affect the environment around him or her.

Sharon Stone’s films are facing a boycott in China after the actress suggested that the massive earthquake there earlier this month, which is estimated to have killed some 65,000 people, was the result of bad “karma” stemming from the country’s mistreatment of Tibet. (The Economist Blogs)

I don’t want to get into a “My Name Is Earl” thing, but Roethlisberger is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. And he made that fabulous game-saving tackle (and maybe Super Bowl-making tackle) in the playoffs against the Colts after Jerome Bettis had fumbled. I sit here and ask myself, did his karma turn bad? (Washington Post)

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19 Responses to “Word of the Day: Karma”

  • Loden Jinpa

    And when it is “used generally to indicate one’s destiny or fate” this is an incorrect usage.

    I thought you were teaching us how to used English correctly. There is enough misuse of the natural law of cause and effect – karma – already without this.

  • Sam

    I’m not so sure about the mystic definition, here. It is non-physical, but much in the way karma is non-physical in buddhism. In all usages, the simplistic definition is the reaction from an action–ideally, the nature of the reaction should mirror the nature of the action (good intent vs. ill intent, etc); it also indirectly refers to the subject’s demeanor.
    Whether you talk about it in concrete terms (Bob does Jill a favor, Bob finds twenty bucks) or abstract terms (Bob does Jill a favor, so Bob’s got good karma–something good is due, he’s got ‘stored karma’ that “may affect the environment”), it boils down to the same concept.

  • Brad K.

    Loden Jinpa, Karma has been a part of colloquial English for quite some time. The colloquial use of ‘good Karma’ and ‘bad Karma’ is well understood and accepted, especially by people that would not intentionally use mystical terms.

    Consider most usage of the word and concept of Karma to be colloquial jargon. Within spiritual context, the word takes on a different and specific meaning.

  • Loden Jinpa

    That’s fine but, if it is going to be hijacked for colloquial slang usage don’t then accuse Buddhism when used incorrectly. As per the two examples above.

    Moreover, karma is not fate nor destiny. This is simply incorrect. Using karma this way makes it seem like some type of folk belief in the supernatural. There are many misconception abound about Buddhism without adding more.

    Misrepresenting another Buddhist concept here when the blog is about learning to use words correctly strikes me as ironic. As a long time reader I feel I have the right to point this out.

    This is not about being critical, rather, as your readers may go onto used this term incorrectly, I feel I have the responsibility to point it out.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Loden Jinpa,

    The people make the meaning of the words. The can’t alter the concept of Karma on Buddhism, but they sure can create another concept for it on the western world.

    It is like the word God. Does it mean the same for all the people around the world? It sure don’t.

    For some it is God the creator described in the bible. For others it is Allah, for others it is Zeus, for others yet it is just an energy, for others still it is nothing.

    Now who are we to say what people should associate with a word?

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Loden, that being said I rephrased the post from “It can be used” to “It is generally used.”

    That is just a fact now and not a recommendation.

  • cat

    This post does make me wonder where Thailand’s karma is sitting right now… on the fence… or off… or hanging by its fingernails?

    (I’ve been so very good this year… so please, karma gods, release the airports no later than the 5th…)

  • Beth

    I’m confused by the phrases “on the Buddhism” and “on the mysticism.” As a native American English speaker, I would not use these phrases in this way. Is there something I’m missing?

  • Marie

    Well – when someone on my team is being a “little evil” and then something happens to them – we normally spit out – “KARMA!”

    You know the whole – what goes around….comes around thing.

    Have fun – enjoy the day – no matter which way the karma is flowing!

  • ReddyK – The Atma Jyoti Blog

    Here is the definition from the “Brief Sanskrit Glossary”:

    “Karma, derived from the Sanskrit root kri, which means to act, do, or make, means any kind of action, including thought and feeling. It also means the effects of action. Karma is both action and reaction, the metaphysical equivalent of the principle: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). It is karma operating through the law of cause and effect that binds the individual soul to the wheel of birth and death. There are three kinds of karma: 1) sanchita karma, which is all the accumulated actions of all previous births. 2) Prarabdha karma, the particular portion of such karma allowed for being worked out in the present life. 3) Agami karma, the current karma being freshly performed by the individual.”

    Though karma has many modern nuances and permutations (and distortions), this is the classical meaning.

    By the way, I subscribe to your blog feed, and am grateful for the continuation of my education.

  • Loden Jinpa

    Before I forget, I ‘d like to ask for more posts on grammar and at a deeper level if possible, please:)

    It would be great to get some screencast video explain some of the core punctuation/grammar rules. These could then be used to show students and non-English speaking people.

    @Daniel: If people use the term differently or extend its meaning mrphing the word into something that it is not, fine. But, you are positioning this word with “Buddhist” word, then defining it incorrectly.

    Perhaps you could add its correct meaning, showing how to use it correctly. Then how people use it incorrectly.

  • bad tim

    i’m with loden, your description of the origin and spiritual meaning of karma in this post is superficial at best. it originated in hinduism, not buddhism, but the buddhists use the term in the same way.

    modern american usage is a highly superficial version of the hindu definition. i don’t ever hear people speak of karma as ‘fate or destinty’ but as reward or punishment.

    i’ve corrected a lot of my fellow americans on their usage of the word, because they think of karma as an instant rebate program. i’ve neve met anybody who thinks of it as destiny in such a simplistic way [sports journalists don’t count as english speakers].

    i must admit, tho, to using the term ‘parking karma’ in my daily vocabulary; not as my destiny to get a good spot, but as my reward for tolerating stupid drivers.

  • GM

    If you already know how it’s used, why are you at this site?

    And what’s with using the ‘at’ sign (@) before addressing a particular poster? I always read it as ‘at’. Why not just use the poster’s name? Geez, talk about supplying your own definition for something!

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Loden and Tim, please give me your meaning for the word then and I will gladly review my own.

    I also cross checked with some Buddhist references, and the result was the following definition (which is in the post): “the overall effect that the actions of a person will have on its own future existence”

    You think that is wrong?

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Beth, I rephrased that.

    Sometimes I get confused by the structures of English, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian grammar. Sorry about that.

  • bad tim

    i didn’t say that your definition of the buddhist meaning was wrong, and i don’t presume to understand the full meaning of the concept as it is used in hinduism and buddhism.

    my point is that in western usage, ‘karma’ is a mere shadow of its original meaning, and that ‘fate or destiny’ is not an accurate description of its usage; which your quotes illustrate. stone’s meaning is that the earthquakes were a punishment to china, not its fate. the washington post quote is talking about the results of the man’s performance, not his super bowl destiny.

  • Brad K.

    GM – the “@GM” usage seems to have cropped up recently. On other blogs where comments routinely involve conversations between visitors, it is handy to have a visual signal that a particular comment addresses two or more different visitors or authors. And so the “@” sign.

    It felt rude to me, the first time I encountered the usage. I was used to “x AT domain.com” for emails, or three (3) potatoes @ $0.37 per pound.

    Since then I have come to accept that the @ symbol is a shorthand “address”. And read “@GM” as “To GM: “. I usually leave a blank line above, to separate comments for the second addressee from earlier writing.

    As I see it, this usage for the seems to fill a communication niche. Or maybe it is just quicker, and more universally available, than an ampersand-coded symbol, a line of hyphens or underlines, or multiple blank lines (that will get compressed to a single line, on some platforms, to separate comments addressed to different people. It has been cropping up occasionally in the last three months or so – which almost makes it a standard! lol!

    Enjoy the day.

  • Zaheen

    Here is what I’ve learnt as an Indian with equal usage of Hindi and English…

    “Karma” (pronounced as Kurm) is a simple substitute for the English word ‘deed’.

    The religious ideology is that you do good ‘deeds’ and so shall be done unto you…

    Karma is just deed

  • Trupti Ashar

    Karma (karm) is also a Hindu concept, the meaning of which is very correctly explained above originally. It may also be explained in the following manner….however you may act in the present lifetime-good or bad- the results will be deposited permanently in your “account” and will reflect upon your future lifetime in the same manner.

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