Explain the Relationship Between Karma, Dependent Origination

Karma, dependent origination and rebecoming are all big parts of the Buddhist religion and link quite closely – dependent origination basically teaches that everything is connected, which corresponds with karma, the teaching that good behaviours will have good consequences and bad behaviours will have bad consequences, and generating bad karma will result in being trapped in samsara, the process of rebecoming that is structured by suffering or dukkha – another concept dependent origination explains.
Dependent origination or the principle of conditionality (paticca samuppada) is the principle that nothing exists independently of anything else. Everything depends on something else in order for it to exist, and is part of a web of conditions whereby when the conditions one thing relies on cease to exist, it does too. These conditioned states define us as we constantly change whilst we are in samsara, however they cause dukkha to arise as they are impermanent and caused by craving or tanha. Karma is within dependent origination.
The literal meaning is ‘volitional (willed) action’ or ‘volitional actions have consequences’. Good or skilful actions, kusala, generate good merit, punna, and bad pr unskilful actions, akusala, generate bad merit, apunna. The general understanding of karma is that if you do something bad then the universe will cause something bad to happen to you. In Buddhism it is believed that karma is carried through the process of samsara, be it good or bad karma, and it shapes who we are – as the Dhammapada says, ‘our life is shaped by our mind, we become what we think’.

It is often likened to a seed (bija) as it is stored in the unconscious mind, and it will ripen (vipaka) and produce fruit (phala) when under the right conditions, caused by positive karmic action. It does not necessarily mean that if you cause something bad to happen to someone or something then you will generate bad karma – the nature of the karma relies on the intention of an action rather than the outcome. Punna can also come about as the result of auspicious actions.
These include supporting the sangha (Buddhist community), providing help to those in need (for example giving food and shelter or donating to charities), empathising with another person’s auspicious deeds. Karma helps to develop wisdom and mindfulness, as we become more aware of the consequences of our actions and therefore are more careful. It also emphasises the importance of freewill, as it helps to explain that we make our own destiny and we cannot always refer to fate as the reason behind happenings. Karma is very relevant to the cycle of rebecoming as karma is passed on through each life – in Buddhism there is no soul, only karma.
Rebirth can occur in different realms displayed in the Tibetan wheel of life – the Heaven Realm, where the fruits of previous positive karmic actions are enjoyed but beings forget that they must still strive for enlightenment; the Titan Realm, where warlike beings are constantly conflicting and have also forgotten the might strive for enlightenment; the Animal Realm, where the only concern is for the basic physical needs of food, sex and sleep and beings are lacking in education and culture; the Hell Realm, where torture and hatred is constantly present; the Hungry Ghost Realm, where nothing is satisfying and everything turns to fire; and the Human Realm, where pleasure and pain are both present and enlightenment is most easily attainable. These realms are not exactly literal but more in reference to different states of mind. The ultimate goal is to exclude oneself from the ongoing cycle of pain and suffering by becoming enlightened. To achieve this, ignorance (avidya) must be tackled in order to recognise the consequences of actions (karma) and avoid suffering caused by impermanence (anicca) and no self (anatta).

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