Four Laws of Karma

Floral GardenFrom experience, we may observe that karma – the law of cause and effect – functions in four discernible ways. These four aspects of karma can be referred to as the “four laws of karma”.

First, karma and its results are certain and unfailing – with the results at all times being similar to the cause. Positive actions of body, speech, and mind will always bring the positive results of some form of happiness and benefit. Negative actions of body, speech, and mind will always bring the negative results of some form of suffering. Karma and its results are exactly like a seed and its fruit.

Second, karma expands. Once we have an imprint of an action in our mind, it tends to be habit-forming.

Third, no results come without a cause. Actions not engaged, will not brings results. In other words, if the cause has not been created, the effect will not be experienced – and things do not just appear out of nothing.

Finally, once an action is done, the result is never lost. An action performed is not lost – it will ripen and bring results.

These four laws of karma are now described in further detail.

Karma Is Definite – Reaping What Is Sown

Karma is fixed and definite. If an intention (compared to a seed planted in the mind stream) is positive, then the mental state, as well as any bodily or verbal action, will be correspondingly positive, creating well-being and happiness. These actions also create more karmic seeds in the mind to ripen in the future.

By contrast, if an intention is negative, the resulting mental state, as well as any actions or words, will be harmful and unhelpful, creating unhappiness and suffering.

Either way, a karmic result is inescapable – it is definite. In the Vinaya Sutras, the Buddha expressed it this way: “For every action we perform we experience a similar result.”

Agriculturally, when a farmer plants celery seeds, celery plants will result – not garlic plants.  Likewise, happiness cannot come as a result of a non-virtuous cause, and suffering can only come from a non-virtuous cause.  

In sum, as Yangsi Rinpoche states: “Since karma is definite, all negative actions, no matter how small, bring suffering, and all positive actions bring happiness. Whatever we sow, we will reap. Whatever the cause is, so is the result.”