Motivation is the primary factor in karma. If we wish to perform an action, engage in the activity, and are happy with its execution – then that is a complete karma. A complete karma encompasses the feeling of satisfaction after the act. We believe the activity was a good idea and we are happy that we followed it through. This complete karma creates a pattern, a tendency, a predisposition. If we are given the opportunity to engage in that activity again, intention will most likely arise to do so, and we shall follow it through to actually engaging in the activity. If the following through from intention to accomplishment was a satisfying experience, the pattern is now strongly established and will function as a perceptual filter.
I decide to eat sprouts with the expectation of enjoying them. I enjoy them and I am satisfied that I have fulfilled my expectation and enjoyment. This is a complete karma, and establishes a strong pattern of attraction. If I decide to eat sprouts with the expectation of hating them, I hate them and am satisfied that my expectation of disgust has been fulfilled. This is a complete karma and establishes a strong pattern of aversion.
However if we wish to perform an action, we carry it out, and then are not satisfied, this is an incomplete karma. If we regret the action in some way and decide it was not such a good idea after all, the karma is incomplete. It does not have the weight of patterning of a complete karma. If we engage in the activity again, but continue to feel unhappy about it, we will eventually give the action up. It is unlikely that we shall carry on with activity that fails to provide us with satisfaction.
If I decide to eat chocolate but remember that I am on a diet, I may enjoy the taste but will not feel completely satisfied because I have undermined my diet. This is an incomplete karma, and has not established or strengthened the pattern of attraction. The result of eating the chocolate is less defined. If I found I did not like sprouts, but decide to eat some with the intention of seeing if maybe they were not so bad after all, I may find I do not hate them quite as much as I remembered. Again the result is less defined, and I may give sprouts another try sometime.
The experience of lack of satisfaction keeps the activity in a state of ambivalence – we are unsure about the intention and result. From the perspective of Tantra, this is a workable state. It has the possibility of movement and transformation. It lacks the fixity of a definite ‘yes this is good’ or ‘no this is bad’.
The third possibility is that intention arises but is not acted upon. We have the intention to engage in a certain activity, but decide not to follow it through and are glad that we did not do so. In this case, the intention has little impact on conditioning. We allowed the intention to dissolve before it was carried through to response. No effective karmic pattern is created.
When karma is viewed in this way as perception and response, we can see that its nature is no mystery. It is logical. It makes sense.
We do not have to fear the effect of a bad activity lurking somewhere ready to leap out and repay us at the first opportunity. It is simply that deep ditches on our path are easy to fall into and difficult to get out of. And these ditches of response become deeper every time we repeat a response to a particular perception. We never know what circumstances in our lives will cause us to fall into a particular furrow of automatic response. Our life circumstances are more chaotic and unknown than we might care to imagine. Our potential response is also unknown but is patterned by previous responses to the same or similar stimuli. Our lack of presence—the ability to dwell with clarity in the present moment—makes us unable to recognise choice at the moment of perception. We respond automatically without awareness. Presence enables us to choose the direction of our response, regardless of the furrow attempting to dictate our path.
The subjective definition of whether intention is positive or negative has no bearing on whether or not the karma is complete. It is the factor of intention carried through to action, and the experience of satisfaction or regret at the completion of the action which dictates whether the karma is complete. If we return to the idea of cause and effect, we could say that positive intention carried through to action creates merit and negative intention carried through to action creates sin. However from the perspective of perception and response, positive intention carried through to action creates a pattern which tends to unwind the distortion we create through splitting emptiness and form. Negative intention carried through to action compounds the distortion created through dualism.
It is we who give meaning to the words ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ in terms of referentiality. We interpret ‘that which supports my feeling of security of self’ as positive, and ‘that which undermines my feeling of security of self’ as negative.
From a practitioner’s point of view however, ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ are given meaning with regard to whether the perception and response is helpful or unhelpful in undermining our dualistic conditioning. From the perspective of realisation there is no positive or negative, but simply perception and response that leads us towards non-dual realisation, or perception and response that leads away from it.
Intention is the energy of perception that leads to response. If perception is dualistic, the intention and response will be dualistic. Intention or motivation is the energy that activates the process of cyclic existence. So long as we continue to attempt to separate emptiness and form, intention will drive the wheel of cyclic existence. When perception is non-dual, response spontaneously arises as pure appropriateness – intention is simply the energy of non-dual perceptual-responsive congruency. The cogs of dualistic distortion no longer click into action. Karma no longer arises because perception and response are spontaneous and clear.
Intention is always present in any action and interaction with others, whether we are aware of it or not. Intention and motivation always arise as we perceive circumstances and respond to that perception according to our conditioned patterns of response – yet at the level of intention we always have choice. We have the choice of allowing the patterned response to kick in – or not. We always have the choice of how we respond to perception. We always have the choice to change our response and to refrain from entering the pattern of neurotic conditioning.