Karma Is Never Wasted – Reaping Now and Later

Karmic seeds may be dormant for a time, but they are never lost. They will come to fruition when the right conditions arise for ripening.

An example in nature from inland Australian highlights this. Normally, rainfall in central Australia is minimal, and acutely so during years of drought. Then, once in about a generation, heavy rains come. The entire landscape is carpeted in spectacular floral beauty. Interestingly, all during the drought years, the seeds existed, lying dormant in the ground – but the necessary condition of rain did not allow them to bloom.

Whenever we engage in any action, the karmic imprint of that action is established in our consciousness. This is an immediate consequence. The karmic imprint will then continue to be carried in the consciousness until the conditions are right for it to ripen.

In other words, once karma is created, it will not disappear of its own accord. “Karma does not grow stale after a long time,” writes Pabongka Rinpoche, “nor does it lessen, become non-existent, and so on.” Clearly, being mindful of all our actions is vitally important.

For those who contemplate the possibility of past lives, the causes for certain outcomes may be created in one life, but the results will come forth in another life. Therefore, due to its delayed fruition, karma remains a hidden factor, veiled and unknown.

An example illustrates. A person might observe that some people are well-off, but also stingy, and conclude “I don’t believe in karma.” However, such wealthy, but miserly, people do not disprove karma. Since there is a law of cause and effect, one may conclude that their wealth has come from generosity in the past. True, they may be tight now, which is opposite to the cause of their wealth. Their miserliness may well cause them financial difficulties and loss in a future life. In other words, karma is an unseen factor, operating across lifetimes, and peoples’ present wealth is not related to their current miserly approach.

In sum, an action is never wasted. Actions cannot simply vanish and we cannot give them away to someone else and thus avoid our responsibility. The Buddha stated: “The actions of living beings are never wasted even though hundreds of eons may pass before their effects are experienced.”

Closing Comments

When we see how karma works, it prompts faith and conviction in the inevitable law of cause and effect – as well as a corresponding desire to change our behavior accordingly.

The spiritual classic, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, describes virtuous and non-virtuous karma. The ten non-virtues, or behaviors to abandon, are: killing, taking things not given, and sexual misconduct (non-virtues of the body); lying, divisive speech, harsh words, and idle gossip (non-virtues of speech); and covetousness, harmful intent, and wrong views (non-virtues of the mind).


Naljor Prison Dharma Service, “Karma: The Possession That Follows Us Everywhere” (PO Box 1177, Mount Shasta CA 96067), found at http://www.naljorprisondharmaservice.org/index.html. (Accessed December 1, 2012.)

Yangsi Rinpoche, Practicing the Path: A Commentary on the Lamrim Chenmo (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2003), 158-160.

Pabongka Rinpoche, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment, new revised edition, edited in the Tibetan by Trijang Rinpoche, translated into English by Michael Richards (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006), 391-392.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Joyful Path of Good Fortune: The Complete Buddhist Path to Enlightenment (Ulverston, England: Tharpa Publications, 1995), 234.

© 2014 Alexander Peck