For more than 2,500 years, the religion we know today as Buddhism has been the primary inspiration behind many successful civilizations, the source of great cultural achievements and a lasting and meaningful guide to the very purpose of life for millions of people. Today, large numbers of men and women from diverse backgrounds throughout our world are following the Teachings of the Buddha. So who was the Buddha and what are His Teachings?
This natural Law of Kamma becomes the force behind, and reason for, the practice of morality and compassion in our society.
The man who was to become the Buddha was born Siddhattha Gotama around 2,600 years ago as a Prince of a small territory near what is now the Indian-Nepalese border. Though he was raised in splendid comfort, enjoying aristocratic status, no amount of material pleasure could satisify the enquiring and philosophic nature of the young man. At the age of 29 he left palace and family to search for a deeper meaning in the secluded forests and remote mountains of North-East India. He studied under the wisest religious teachers and philosophers of his time, learning all they had to offer, but he found it was not enough. He then struggled alone with the path of self- mortification, taking that practice to the extremes of asceticism, but still to no avail.
Then, at the age of 35, on the full moon night of May, he sat beneath the branches of what is now known as the Bodhi Tree, in a secluded grove by the banks of the river Neranjara, and developed his mind in deep but luminous, tranquil meditation. Using the extraordinary clarity of such a mind with its sharp penetrative power generated by states of deep inner stillness, he turned his attention to investigate upon the hidden meanings of mind, universe and life. Thus he gained the supreme Enlightenment experience and from that time on he was known as the Buddha. His Enlightenment consisted of the most profound and all-embracing insight into the nature of mind and all phenomena. This Enlightenment was not a revelation from some divine being, but a discovery made by Himself and based on the deepest level of meditation and the clearest experience of the mind. It meant that He was no longer subject to craving, ill-will and delusion but was free from their shackles, having attained the complete ending of all forms of inner suffering and acquired unshakeable peace.
Kamma means 'action'. The Law of Kamma means that there are inescapable results of our actions. There are deeds of body, speech or mind that lead to others' harm, one's own harm, or to the harm of both. Such deeds are called bad (or 'unwholesome') kamma. They are usually motivated by greed, hatred or delusion. Because they bring painful results, they should not be done.
There are also deeds of body, speech or mind that lead to others' well being, one's own well being, or to the well being of both. Such deeds are called good (or 'wholesome') kamma. They are usually motivated by generosity, compassion or wisdom. Because they bring happy results, they should be done as often as possible.
Thus much of what one experiences is the result of one's own previous kamma. When misfortune occurs, instead of blaming someone else, one can look for any fault in one's own past conduct. If a fault is found, the experience of its consequences will make one more careful in the future. When happiness occurs, instead of taking it for granted, one can look to see if it is the result of good kamma. If so, the experience of its pleasant results will encourage more good kamma in the future.
The Buddha pointed out that no being whatsoever, divine or otherwise, has any power to stop the consequences of good and bad kamma. The fact that one reaps just what one sows gives to the Buddhist a greater incentive to avoid all forms of bad kamma while doing as much good kamma as possible.
Though one cannot escape the results of bad kamma, one can lessen their effect. A spoon of salt mixed in a glass of pure water makes the whole very salty, whereas the same spoon of salt mixed in a freshwater lake hardly changes the taste of the water. Similarly, the result of a bad kamma in a person habitually doing only a small amount of good kamma is painful indeed, whereas the result of the same bad kamma in a person habitually doing a great deal of good kamma is only mildly felt.