Karma - action and its consequences.
Just about everybody has heard the word karma and is likely even, at some point, to have used it in some context. The basics of 'what goes around comes around' are understood, but beyond that, most people are rather ignorant of the full implication of the word. It gets bandied about as meaning 'luck' or 'retribution'.
Karma, (pronounced 'kurmuh' and not kaarmaa), is multileveled in its concept. Yes, at life-level, it definitely refers to 'be careful what you do less it returns to haunt you.' However, that is just the very tip of it. That part is the starting point for what becomes not only a full-life effect but a whole-spirit (many lives) effect.
When we use karma in the Western context, we are often referring to someone getting their just deserts - according to us. It is not for us to judge, however! Karma is for us to pay attention to ourselves. At this first level, it is to be remembered in every thought, word and deed (kriyaman karma - 'working'). With the understanding of the broader implication of karma, we are more likely to make better choices and efforts in our interactions and work. This alone is worth incorporating as part of our daily travel. Whether or not we subscribe to the whole jiiva and punarjanman (reincarnation) concept, at the very least, there is an expectation of being the very best human being that we can be. That involves constant self-assessment in exercising judgement of the sort which is indicated by karma at the first level.
Being clear, then, karma is not about pointing fingers at others and wishing it upon them, but about our own responsibility to ourselves.
Neither is it something to be blamed when things are not going our way. Indeed, it may be that karma is at work when we are having a 'bad run' in life. However, it is at work at all times in life. Every minute of every day is about karma. It is not for the fatalistic, surrendering their power of self-determination. It is about knowing that we alone are responsible for the ripples we make.
Karma is our 'account' in the Bank of Existence. As soon as the jiiva hits its material target it brings with it a 'balance' (sanchita karma - 'retained'). There are things that happen in life for which we raise our hands and beg the question 'what did I do to deserve this?!' The answer will lie in that balance. It could be that something that is done in an entirely different existence, in an entirely different place and time, has yet to reach its fructification, and this life is where it happens - good or bad (praarabdha karma - 'destiny').
Now for a major statement; there is no such thing as luck. There, it's out. What there is, is the movement of a currency called karma. Not talking here of the cheap 'n' nasty kind of luck some pine for in gambling - that's about numerical odds and luck doesn't come into that either, but that's a whole other discussion. No. This is the 'luck' of life events; job of one's dreams - or nightmares; a home - or not; True Love - or lust and pain… There is a Scottish saying, "what is for ye willnae go past ye." We all get what we have earned in our karma account. It is prudent, then, for an alert jiiva to attend to each thought which arises, how that thought transforms into action, and to consider the cost first to itself and then to others with whose karma it may have intersected.
Closely related to this process is the work of the vaasanas. (These will not be discussed in this series of articles so that link is highly recommended.) The context of the 'grooves' of our personality in relation to karma is that, where karma is the actual currency, vaasanas are the process of transaction. Most philosophies will advocate dropping bad habits and forming better ones when embracing self-growth. In Vedanta, it is referred to as burning the vaasanas. Work out your own motivations, the drivers behind your very thoughts, those are the vaasanas - the seed desires - and sift them, refine them, clarify them. Remember, every action we take has a desire behind it. Every action.