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Doctrinal Q&A - Everything is “Own Karma, Own Harvest.”

Q: What are the Three Karmas?


Karma of the body

Karma of the mouth

Karma of the mind

(Buddhist Doctrine 1 Question 18)

What decides our fate? This is what we want to know the most. In a nutshell, Buddhism teaches: “Own karma, own harvest.”

“Karma” is a Sanskrit word meaning “deeds,” and thus “own karma” refers to our own deeds (causes). “Own harvest” means “I myself harvest the results (fate).” Therefore, “own karma, own harvest” means that our own deeds create our own fate. There are three kinds of “karmas (actions, causes)”, known as the Three Karmas: karma of the body, karma of the mouth, and karma of the mind.

Karma of the body: Deeds that we do with our bodies.

Karma of the mouth: Words that we speak with our mouths.

Karma of the mind: Thoughts that we think with our minds.

These three karmas of the body, the mouth, and the mind turn into and remain as an invisible and indestructible energy. This is called “karmic energy.” This “indestructible karmic energy” becomes a cause, and, when united with the right condition, brings about our own fate (results).

A “condition” is something that helps a cause give rise to an effect (See the chart below).

The mind is the most important. In Buddhism, people are evaluated in three ways: by the mind, the mouth, and the body. Of these, the mind is the most important. In our daily lives, the mind is often considered more significant than the mouth and the body. If someone says, “Your tie is twisted,” the trouble is easily fixed, but to be told, “Your heart is twisted” is much harder to deal with. It is more hurtful because we place more importance on the mind. Why does the invisible mind receive so much more emphasis than actions and utterances that we can see and hear? The answer is this: the words of the mouth and the acts of the body are controlled by the thoughts of the mind (See the chart below).

the Three Karmas of the body, mouth, and mind

Our invisible mind receives so much more emphasis than actions and utterances we can see and hear.That is because the words of the mouth and the acts of the body are controlled by the thoughts of the mind.

If the mind is a fire, then deeds and words are the sparks it gives off. Just as the sparks fly from the fire, our deeds and words are expressions of our thoughts. That is why Buddhism always places priority on the workings of the mind. Then, let us look into what it is that we think with the mind every day. Do you dare to say your innermost thoughts aloud? Don't you have thoughts you cannot disclose to your parents or your siblings or even to your spouse? In Buddhism it is said that “the mere contemplation of murder is no less evil than its commission.” Shakyamuni Buddha teaches that the evil committed with the mouth or the body is nothing compared with the evil committed in the heart.

Here is a poem of reflection by Genshin (942-1017), a learned monk whom Shinran revered as a patriarch of Pure Land faith:

All night long

I searched and searched

for the Buddha's Way,

only to arrive at last

at the workings of my heart.

It is important to look carefully at our deeds of the mind (karma of the mind).

Our deeds of the mind, mouth, and body turn to “indestructible karmic energy,” and then it becomes a “cause”, and, when united with the right “condition”, brings about our good fate or bad fate (result).


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