By Sanjeev Verma

Though karma is commonly-cited as a reason for having something good or bad happen in our lives, most people don’t understand the true significance of this spiritual concept that has been around for thousands of years. Here’s what you need to know about what it really is, how it works, and what you can do about it.

1. Karma isn’t a bartering system.

How often have you heard someone say, “Oh, it must have been bad karma,” in response to something inconvenient or a situation not playing out the way they thought it might? Or maybe you’ve heard people quip, “I guess I have good karma now,” after holding the door open for a stranger or doing a favor for a family member.

While your actions do have an impact on the quality of your life, this isn’t really how fate works. It’s much more subtle, much more complex, and much more meaningful.

This concept doesn’t just apply to human beings. It’s happening all around us. Plants, animals, trees, each of the five elements—water, air, fire, and so on—and more all have their own karma, and these forces work together, allowing flowers to bloom, birds to sing, and life to go on, as we know it.

2. Personal karma can be broken down into three types.

*Current karma (CK): This is closest to what is commonly understood about the concept. Anytime you put an action in motion with intention that is an act of karma, which, in turn, has consequences. It comes full circle, in some sense, as every action has a reaction. With CK, you have some choices to make; you are in control. If you imagine your karma as a farm, CK is where you can plant the seeds of whatever you’re going to grow. The farm is neutral and will nourish whatever you plant, so it’s up to you whether you choose actions that plant positive or negative seeds.

*Accumulated karma (AK): This type is already in the seed form, but has not come to fruition, meaning you haven’t experienced it yet. Not all AK will come to fruition in one lifetime. Think of it this way: In your karma farm, there are all different types of seeds, and some are harvested after 10 years, while others are harvested after 500. We have no control over this; the seeds—good, bad, and neutral—just grow and manifest at their own pace.

*Your destiny: When AK comes to fruition, it becomes your destiny. Then, you live your destiny.

These three types come together to form you as a person, your nature, and your overall being. Karma is not just your intentions, but also your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and heart intelligence.

3. You chose your own karma.

One thing that can help people put this spiritual concept in perspective is that you have chosen your own destiny. When you were born, your soul assumes a body, which it was able to pick and choose from different lifetimes and karmas.

Essentially, your soul uses its past life learnings to choose and create the life you are currently living. It knows what you can handle, and what you can’t withstand. It knows your past, present, and future. It knows everything. You choose to have a certain kind of life, and that allows you to gradually move toward your soul’s higher purpose.