The example of the savings bank is particularly effective, especially in the context of karmic actions. Whoever puts money into the bank can get it out again later, often including interest! In the case of karma, we can see that even from a small karmic action it is possible to reap a heavy consequence. Though the cause may be small, the result is often large, or heavier.

Once the imprints of our actions are stored in the all-base, it is sometimes possible that a long period of time elapses before the result shows itself. Sometimes, however, only a little time is needed. The result can ripen in two ways: as the “result in accordance with the cause” and as the “completely ripened result.” As for the “result in accordance with the cause,” the causal action is similar to the later experienced result. If, for example, we are angry, a greater anger may later be the result. Or, should a person develop compassion, this compassion can increase more and more. This is due to the power of the karmic imprints. As for the “completely ripened result of our actions,” it is a reply to the causal action. If we are nasty to another person, as a reply, later, we will experience nastiness inflicted upon ourselves. This, also, is due to the power of karmic imprints.

The completely ripened result of an action can express itself in four different ways. If we have got an intensely strong intention and act accordingly, this is said to be a “karmic action with the result being experienced in this life.” This means that, when we act virtuously we will experience the positive result with our present body of this life. Whoever commits negative actions will experience the corresponding negative result within this life. In other cases, however, the fruit might not ripen within this life but within the next. Then it is a case of “karmic actions with the result experienced after rebirth.” It can also happen that the result is neither experienced in this life nor in the next, but at some time thereafter, when the right causes and conditions come together. This means that in some future life, at some time or other, the result will show. This is called a “karmic action with the experience of the result after an uncertain number [of rebirths].” If the causal action has even less power than this, it is uncertain whether the result will be experienced at all. If it is very weak, it is possible that the result is lost entirely due to other, stronger conditions. In this instance it is a case of a “karmic action with uncertainty over the experience of a result.” In all these cases the karmic imprints are stored in the all-base and can come out in all these various ways.

Even while meditating, karmic imprints are formed. Within calm abiding the sixth consciousness, the mind consciousness, relaxes. While doing that, however, it still continues to function. Even if the mind rests in total calm, the stream of its clarity aspect is uninterrupted; only the coarse thoughts are calming down. One can compare the mind consciousness to waves and the all-base consciousness to the ocean. In the same way that the waves arise from the ocean, the mind consciousness emerges from the all-base. When the waves collapse and smooth out, the ocean becomes quiet. This corresponds to the relaxed abiding of the mind consciousness within the all-base. All the coarse thoughts have become calm. Nevertheless, we do not meditate like a stone, for the clarity aspect of mind that knows and understands everything is never interrupted. Due to this reason the mind is clear and radiant, even when it rests within the all-base.

In the case of deity meditation, it is the mind consciousness that creates the body of the deity. It is thus a mentally created body, and thus, so to speak, unreal. When, however, the karmic imprints of this visualization get stored in the all-base and become more clear and more stable, it is actually possible to meet the deity one day, of Guru Rinpoche, for example, face to face! This is the result of deity meditation with in-front visualization.

As for self-visualization, we meditate on ourselves as being the deity. In the beginning this thought—that we ourselves are the deity, or for example Guru Rinpoche, is unreal as well. However, when the karmic imprints of that become more stable, the mind, primordial awareness, compassion, and all the innate qualities of Guru Rinpoche will manifest within ourselves. This is so because we already have these qualities within our mind. They are just temporarily obscured, and the obscurations can be removed step by step through meditation using the method of self-visualization.

Thus all karmic imprints are stored within the mind. This is also true of the imprints of our dharma practice. Whoever is able to practice the true dharma in a perfect way will soon reach the ultimate result. If, however, we are not able to practice in such a perfect way—for example when we only practice occasionally—the karmic imprints will not get lost, because they are also stored with the mind, i.e., the all-base. They function like a rooted seed that will grow bit by bit. Some practitioners think that their practice does not manifest any results; nevertheless, just carrying this seed of practice is very beneficial.

This was taught by Buddha Shakyamuni in the sutras. In this context he taught that even practicing only a small act of dharma activity is beneficial. When he was asked whether it was beneficial to show your respect by just raising one hand instead of folding both in a gesture of prayer, he explained that ultimately the level of buddhahood can be reached through doing only that. The reason for the attainment of such an unsurpassable result is not the raising of one hand—there is no inherent benefit in this—but it is the karmic imprint of respect that is stored within the all-base, and therefore is able to increase more and more without getting lost. This is why the ultimate fruit of buddhahood can result from just a small act of dharma activity

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche is the ninth incarnation of Thrangu Rinpoche and a holder of the Zhentong lineage handed down by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. He is the Abbot of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. His publications include The Three Vehicles of Buddhist Practice, The Four Foundations of Buddhist Practice and Transcending Ego-Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom.

From Everyday Consciousness and Buddha-Awakening by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. © 2002 by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Suzanne Schefczyk. Reprinted with permission of Snow Lion Publications (