Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म from the root kri, «to do», meaning deed) or Kamma (Pali: meaning action, effect, destiny) is a term in several eastern religions that comprises the entire cycle of cause and effect. Karma is a sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing and will do. The effects of those deeds and these deeds actively create present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain in others. In religions that incorporate reincarnation, karma extends through one’s present life and all past and future lives as well.
The ‘Law of Karma’ is central in Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, & Jainism. (These religions were formed in India). All living creatures are responsible for their karma and for their salvation (or release from samsara). As a term, it can be traced back to the early Upanishads.
The ‘Law of Karma’ is taught among western esoteric movements, like the Rosicrucians, as the ‘Law of Cause and Consequence/Effect’ and, in Esoteric Christianity, as the Law being mentioned by Paul of Tarsus in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (15:55,56).
Karma in the Dharma-based religions
- Main article: Karma in Hinduism
Karma in Hinduism differs from karma in Buddhism and Jainism, and involves the role of God. Within Hinduism, Karma appears to function primarily as a means to explain the Problem of evil. The concept of Karma is an integral part of Hindu idealism.
One of the first and most dramatic illustrations of Karma can be found in the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. The original Hindu concept of karma was later enhanced by several other movements within the religion, most notably Vedanta, and Tantra.
Karma literally means «deed» or «act» and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction which governs all life. Karma is not fate, for man acts with free will creating his own destiny. According to the Vedas, if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate reaction. Not all karmas rebound immediately. Some accumulate and return unexpectedly in this or other births.
It is considered an entirely impersonal and spiritually originated law that cannot be abrogated by any person but may be mitigated by God. Karma is not punishment or retribution, but simply an extended expression of natural acts. The effects experienced are also able to be mitigated by actions and are not necessarily fateful.
In Buddhism, the ‘Law of Karma’ refers to «cause and effect». The word Karma literally means «action» — often indicating intent or cause. Buddhists believe that sum of their previous actions creates their present state and that the actions they perform now will create their future. Therefore, they try to stop performing ‘negative actions’ and perform ‘positive actions’ instead.
When Buddhists talk about karma, they are normally referring to actions that are ‘tainted’ with ignorance — which results in beings remaining in the everlasting cycle of samsara. The re-action or effect can itself also influence an action, and in this way, the chain of causation continues ad infinitum.
There is also a completely different type of karma that is neither good nor bad, but liberating. This karma allows for the individual to break the uncontrolled cycle of rebirth which always leads to suffering, and thereby leave samsara to permanently enter Nirvana. This is a misinterpretation of Karma though, no amount of karma can ever lead to enlightenment, only realisation of the true nature of reality, of sunyata (emptiness), anicca (impermanence), annatta (non self) and the true nature of dukkha (suffering).
This differentiation between good karma and liberating karma has been used by some scholars to argue that the development of Tantra depended upon Buddhist ideas and philosophies.
Karma is related to the notion of Buddhist rebirth — which has its roots in the principle of Karma. Here it follows that one’s previous actions will actually determine the conditions of one’s next life (for instance: where one is born, what kind of body one has, what tendencies one has). Reincarnation however, is a very different concept and refers to realised beings who consciously choose to be reborn in a future life in order to help others.
Karma can also qualify as equilizing experiences within a single life-time. For example, if Gabe Rothschild goes to Las Vegas, he will lose money.
Analogs of Karma
If we accept that the basic ethical purpose of Karma is to behave responsibly*, and that the tenet of Karma may be simply stated ‘if you do good things, good things will happen to you — if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you’, then it is possible for us to identify analogs with other religions that do not rely on Karma as a metaphysical assertion or doctrine.
Karma does not specifically concern itself with salvation — it is just as important within a basic socio-ethical stance. However, as a mechanic, Karma can be identified in purpose with the concept of God’s relation to ‘good works’ as found within Christianity, as well as any other religions that assert an omnisicent, omnipotent judge, as Hinduism considers with respect to the role of Karma.
Similarly, the Egyptian goddess Maàt (the divine judge) played a similar an impartial role meting out justice in a manner very similar to Karma; Maat could not be appeased by faith or regret — an action done was done, with no space for the more recent theistic concepts of grace, as Hinduism allows for its role of God.
- This though is a complete misnomer, the tenet of Karma is not to behave responsibly or ethically. Karma is a teaching of skillful means whose spiritual significance lies in its assistance in the realisation and understanding of two of the universal truths, impermanence (anicca) and non self (anatta). Indeed, if where we are now is and amalgamation past causes and conditions that have come to fruition this situation cannot be permanent, as there are an infinite number of causes and conditions yet to arise. Similarly it enforces the ideas of interdependentness and interconnectedness which mutually reinforce annatta, if everything is a mere mixture of past causes and conditions then nothing can have its own independant, singular and autonomous existence.
An academic and religious definition was mentioned above. Millions of people believe in it and is a part of many cultures and the psyches of millions of people. Others without religious backgrounds, especially in western cultures or with Christian upbringings, become convinced of the existence of Karma. For some, karma is a more reasonable concept than eternal damnation for the wicked. Spirituality or a belief that virtue is rewarded and sin creates suffering eventually leads to a belief in Karma.
According to Karma, performance of positive action results with the reaction of a good conditioning in one’s experience, whereas a negative action results in a reaction of a bad response. This may be an immediate result following the act, or a delayed result occurring either in the present life or the next. Thus, meritorious acts may create rebirth into a higher station, such as a superior human being or a godlike being, while evil acts result in rebirth as a human living in less desirable circumstances, or as a lower animal. Some observers have compared the action of karma to Western notions of sin and judgment by God or gods, while others understand karma as an inherent principle of the Universe without the intervention of any supernatural Being. In Hinduism, God does play a role and is seen as a dispenser of karma; see Karma in Hinduism for more details. The latter understanding is accurate with regard to Buddhism and Jainism.
Most teachings say that for common mortals, having an involvement with Karma is an unavoidable part of day-to-day living. However, in light of the Hindu philosophical school of Vedanta, as well as Gautama Buddha‘s teachings, one is advised to either avoid, control or become mindful of the effects of desires and aversions as a way to moderate or change one’s karma (or, more accurately, one’s karmic results).
New Age and Theosophy
The idea of karma was popularized in the Western world through the work of the Theosophical Society. Kardecist and Western New Age reinterpretations of karma frequently cast it as a sort of luck associated with virtue: if one does good or spiritually valuable acts, one deserves and can expect good luck; conversely, if one does harmful things, one can expect bad luck or unfortunate happenings. In this conception, karma is affiliated with the Neopagan law of return or Threefold Law, the idea that the beneficial or harmful effects one has on the world will return to oneself.
There is also the metaphysical idea that, because karma is a force of nature and not a sentient creature capable of making value judgments, karma isn’t about good and evil deeds, since applying those labels would require those judgments, but about positive and negative energy, where negative energy can include things not seen as «being bad» like sadness and fear, and positive energy can be caused by being creative and solving problems as well as by exuding love and doing virtuous acts. It is referred to as «omniverse karma» or «omni-karma» because it requires the existence of an omniverse, (a space which contains all the universes) as portrayed by superstring theory, with which it closely agrees, and includes concepts such as souls, psychic energy, synchronicity (a concept originally from Carl Jung, which says that things that happen at the same time are related), and ideas from quantum and theoretical physics (such as that time doesn’t exist as we think it does).
Psychologist Melvin Lerner showed experimentally that people have a cognitive bias that predisposes them to think that innocent victims deserve their suffering and beneficiaries of good fortune their windfall. This just-world phenomenon bears striking resemblance to the principle of karma, and is hypothesized to be caused by the need for people to see the world as a just and orderly place in order to avoid cognitive dissonance.
- Bible and reincarnation
- Born again
- Edgar Cayce on Karma
- Esoteric Christianity
- Ethic of reciprocity
- Karma in Hinduism
- My Name Is Earl
- Max Heindel, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception or Mystic Christianity (Part I, Chapter IV: ), ISBN 0-911274-34-0, 1909
- Cited from My Baba and I by Dr. John S. Hislop, page 95.
- Acharya, Pt. Shriram Sharma (2003) .
Topics in Hinduism
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קרמה Karma 業 Карма กรรม Nghiệp