Karma (intentional action capable of bearing welcome and unwelcome results) is one of the most important and difficult subjects in Buddhism. The Buddha was originally called a Karmavadin (a teaching of the efficacy of action).
The "working out of karma" is one of the Four Imponderables*
- non-greed (selflessness, generosity, want to help oneself and others)
- non-hatred (loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, equanimity)
- non-delusion (insight, wisdom, understanding, knowledge, learning)
- non-fear (courage; psychologically, fear is a manifestation of hatred)
- greed (selfishness, stinginess, lust, avarice, hoarding. discontent)
- hatred (aversion, annoyance, disliking, fear [yes, fear], sadness)
- delusion (wrong view, ignorance, misperception, misunderstanding)
- fear (aversion, resistance, disgust, motivation to avert, cowardice)
*The Four Imponderables
A.IV.7 (based on Wings of Awakening translation)
These Four Imponderables are not to be pondered (speculated about). Anyone who persisted in pondering them would come unhinged and experience vexation. What are the four?
- The sphere of a Buddha's influence (Buddha-range of the Buddhas, i.e., the range of powers a Buddha develops as a result of becoming a perfectly enlightened teacher)...
- The jhana-range of one absorbed in jhana (the range of powers that one may develop from meditative absorption]...
- The results of karma...
- The [first moment, purpose, etc., of the] universe...
These Four Imponderables, if pondered (and persisted in, speculated about), lead to madness and vexation.
According to Buddhism, there are Five Orders or processes (Niyamas) that operate in the physical and mental realms:
- Karma Niyama, order of action and result: such as good and bad actions producing corresponding desirable and undesirable results.
- Utu Niyama, physical order (inorganic matter): such as seasonal phenomena.
- Bija Niyama, seed or genetic order (organic matter): such as rice being produced from rice-seed, sweet taste from sugary plants; cells, genes, and heredity may be ascribed to this order.
- Citta Niyama, order of mind: such as processes of consciousness (citta vithi), psychic power, perception.
- Dhamma Niyama, order of phenomena: the natural phenomena occurring at the birth of a Bodhisatta in his last birth, gravitation, and so on.
[The Buddhist term dhamma is tricky. It is best translated as "things" or "phenomena," which can include the Dharma (Doctrine or Teachings) though it is usually distinguished from it by capitalization. The Buddha's Teachings point at the Truth.]
Every mental or physical phenomenon can be explained by these five all-embracing Orders, which are lawful processes in themselves. Karma is only one of the Orders that prevail in the universe. It is a "law" (orderly process) in itself without a governing law-giver. "Laws of nature," such as gravitation, need no law-giver. They operate in orderly ways within their own fields or domains without the intervention of any external independent ruling agent.