Cosmology and Karma

A Teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal

The Buddhist cosmology reviewed: Raga dhatu is the desire realm, the gross material world that we live in. Our happiness is dependent on external circumstances. We experience strong desires and attractions, and because of that, we experience samsara. Rupa dhatu is the form realm, the subtle material world. Inhabitants are more attracted to inner mental joy or peace.

Arupa dhatu is the immaterial world. Inhabitants are not attracted to or attached to inner mental joy or pain, but equanimity.All three realms are created by the mind. There are two types of mind, universal and individual.Our world, the gross material world, is created by the universal mind.We all share this mind; it does not belong to any one individual. In the gross material world, we also experience collective karma and individual karma.


Karma is a Sanskrit word. The direct translation is "action." Every action has a reaction equal to or greater than the action. Karma is an action directly or indirectly produced by movement of the individual mind, a mind motivated by conceptual thoughts and emotions. Karma is produced by an intentional act arising from anger or attachment or jealousy, the emotions that manipulate the movements of the mind, our ways of thinking. Our mind manipulates our actions. Our actions arise from our mind, speech, and body. When actions are produced, they leave imprints on our mindstream, a residue. The residue or imprint left behind by our action is called karma.

It’s like taking a photograph; you focus, click, the image is instantly on the film. Just so an action is imprinted in our mind, but not yet developed. Just as we might not develop every photograph taken, we might not develop the full karma. Karma can be destroyed without destroying the mind where it was imprinted, just as an image on film might not be developed and the film is not destroyed. The subtle residue of karma is carried from lifetime to lifetime. The subtle consciousness carries information from our past to our present, from our present to our future until the karmic imprint is exhausted or the fruit is fully experienced.

Karma is not destiny. Emotions are not karma. Negative thoughts are not karma. Karma has to come from action; action creates a new karma. Thought has to manipulate the mind; the mind has to manipulate action. Harsh words and hurt feelings lasting days and days have karma because the thoughts are expressed as anger. The most important step to avoiding negative karma is to control actions manipulated by negative emotions. You must dissolve negative emotions before they catch fire.

Practice mindfulness. Be aware. Try to catch yourself. Everyone can do mindfulness practice. This is how we diminish the stainsof past karma and avoid creating new karma. If we carry anger, the subtle residue of anger causes repeat behavior.This is called habituation. There are four results of karma, and habituation is one. Habituation isvery bad. You keep repeating negative actions and never exhaust the karma created. To exhaust previous karma, you must avoid repeating past habits. Experiencing pleasure, joy, or pain is not experiencing karma. Karma only comes when thoughts and emotions manipulate the mind, the mind manipulates action, and the actions are fully manifested. The moment action arises, it leaves an imprint.

Characteristics of karma

1. Karma is fixed.
2. Karma multiplies greatly.
3. Karma is not shared. You will not experience the results of karma you did not create. If you did not create the cause, you will not experience the results. I don’t share the consequences of your karma; you don’t share the consequences of mine.
4. Karma will not exhaust itself until the results are fully ripened or manifest. Karma is not exhausted by time or physical distance.

More in depth:

Karma is fixed: Every single desirable experience must arise from a good action. Every single unpleasant experience must arise from a bad action. For example, the Bible says one will know the nature of the seed from its fruit. If the fruit is poisonous, the seed must be poisonous. A negative action yields a negative result. A positive action yields a positive result.

Karma multiplies greatly: If you don’t immediately purify from negative action, karma multiplies eighty times every day. Purification is not like confession, where you tell a priest what you did wrong and he says, "Okay, now you can go." In Buddhism, purification is complicated.


There are two types of purification practice. Whether purification works is based on four factors.

First, there must be sincere and honest regret, not guilt, but regret. Guilt focuses on oneself. "My whole being is negative, bad, oh dear." Regret focuses on actions. Guilt is past-oriented. Regret is future-oriented.

Second, you must see how destructive the act and its consequences were. And you must have a strong resolve, from now on, not to repeat that negative action, even though it might cost you your life.

Third, You must understand how harmful the action was to yourself, how harmful the action was to others. Through seeing that, you must desire happiness for yourself and others and not desire unhappiness for yourself and others. You must see your and others’ right to overcome pain and suffering. You must consciously and sincerely create sympathy and empathy, not pity. You must have a full awareness of how your action was destructive and harmful and bring your whole mental feeling into a positive state.

Fourth, you must engage in antidotal practice.

Antidotal practice: The antidotal practice is called Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva involves meditation, visualization, and recitation of a 100-seed syllable mantra with total absence of conceptual thought and single-point focus. Think of keeping clothes clean. When clothes get dirty over a period of time and you don’t wash them, the accumulated dirt is more difficult to remove than if you had washed the dirt away immediately. Because karma multiplies, you have a large and complicated task when you purify.

A second purification practice involves visualizing the 35 compassion Buddhas, reciting the name of each Buddha while visualizing each Buddha and each Buddha’s color, sort of a slide show. This is harder than Vajrasattva; the effectiveness is the same.

When all these elements are fully present during purification practice, karma will be diminished.

Question: What if you had taken money and paid it back?

Answer: With genuine feeling, you could create positive karma, but you would not have eliminated the negative karma.

Question: If your head and stomach hurt and you’re angry, is this rebound karma?

Answer: No, there isn’t a "rebound." But you could be experiencing side effects of past karma.

Notes from a teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal in Columbia, South Carolina, April 27, 2001.