Some people hold to the idea that karma is a system of reward and punishment, that the universe rewards and punishes beings in order to maintain some kind of perfect yin-yang balance or something, and they look at the outward appearances of events as being either good or bad, and then attribute that good or bad value as being the result of karma, or of previous actions.
Suppose you have to catch a flight on a plane. It is very important. Maybe you are going to an interview for a very high paying job.
But there is a traffic jam, and you miss your flight. You say, "That is because of my bad karma".
However, shortly after takeoff, the plane crashes and all the passengers are dead. So, now you think, "Oh, I must have very good karma!"
But, the plane crashed into your house and destroyed everything you owned. So now, you are back to "my bad karma".
However, being with no possessions and no job, you decide to become a monk...
So, it is foolish to look at appearances of things and think "this is my good karma" or "this is my bad karma" because that completely misses the point.
It may be said that a person who is extremely greedy in this life will experience poverty in the next life. So, some people think that means the person will be born into a household with no money, and they look at poor people and think, "its their bad karma".
However, what that rebirth into poverty really means is, because a person has cultivated a greedy mind, even if they are reborn into a family of millionaires, they will always suffer the feeling that they do not have enough. They will always be tormented with wanting more and more. Basically, even though they have all they need, they will experience poverty.
Whether the karmic results of actions occur in this lifetime or in future lifetimes depends on a variety of circumstances. It is the same as being extremely tired and sleepy, drinking some coffee or tea and then going to sleep. The caffeine from the drink is in yours system, but the force of sleepiness is more powerful at the moment, so it is possible to fall asleep. However, in an hour or so, when the body has rested a little, the power of sleepiness is not a strong as the caffeine, and now it's the coffee or tea's turn, and you wake up. Likewise, an action you commit may not come to fruition right away, but will later.
Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth. Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.