karma, kárma or kárman (Sanskrit: कर्म, "act, action, performance") — is a noun-form coming from the root kri meaning "to do," "to make." Literally karma means "doing," "making," action. Karma is pronounced as "karmuh," the "uh" being subtle. Karma can best be translated into English by the word consequence. It corresponds to the "action" or "deed" which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect (i.e., the cycle called saṃsāra). It applies to all levels of action, including thought, word, feeling and deed, and the effects of it.
Karma refers to (1) any act or deed; (2) the principle of cause and effect; (3) a consequence or karmaphala ("fruit of action") or uttaraphala ("after effect"), which sooner or later returns upon the doer. What we sow, we shall reap in this or future lives. Selfish, hateful acts (papakarma or kukarma) will bring suffering. Benevolent actions (punyakarma or sukarma) will bring loving reactions. Karma is a neutral, self-perpetuating law of the inner cosmos, much as gravity is an impersonal law of the outer cosmos. In fact, it has been said that gravity is a small, external expression of the greater law of karma. The impelling, unseen power of one's past actions is called adrishta.
It is karma operating through the law of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all life and binds the atman (the Self) to the wheel of saṃsāra (birth and death). The process of action and reaction on all levels — physical, mental and spiritual - is karma. God does not give us karma. We create our own. Karma is not fate; humans are believed to act with free will, creating their own destinies. According to the Vedas, if an individual sows goodness, he or she will reap goodness; if one sows evil, he or she will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of mankind's actions and their concomitant reactions in current and previous lives, all of which determine the future. However, many karmas do not have an immediate effect; some accumulate and return unexpectedly in an individual's later lives. The conquest of karma is believed to lie in intelligent action and dispassionate reaction.
|1.||Sanchita karma||"accumulated actions."||The sum of all karmas of this life and past lives.|
|2.||Prarabdha karma||"Actions begun; set in motion."||That portion of sanchita karma that is bearing fruit and shaping the events and conditions of the current life, including the nature of one's bodies, personal tendencies and associations.|
|3.||Kriyamana karma||"Being made."||The karma being created and added to sanchita in this life by one's thoughts, words and actions, or in the inner worlds between lives. What we are currently creating through our choices right now. It is our creativity that is unfolding, it is our "free will".|
|4.||Agama karma||"coming, arriving," and vartamana, "living, set in motion."||Is the actions that we are planning for the future. Actions that will or will not be achieved depending on the choices (free will) that we are making now and those that we have made in the past.|
While some kriyamana karmas bear fruit in the current life, others are stored for future births. Each of these types can be divided into two categories: arabdha (literally, "begun, undertaken;" karma that is "sprouting"), and anarabdha ("not commenced; dormant"), or "seed karma."
In a famed analogy, karma is compared to rice in its various stages. Sanchita karma, the residue of one's total accumulated actions, is likened to rice that has been harvested and stored in a granary. From the stored rice, a small portion has been removed, husked and readied for cooking and eating. This is prarabdha karma, past actions that are shaping the events of the present. Meanwhile, new rice, mainly from the most recent harvest of prarabdha karma, is being planted in the field that will yield a future crop and be added to the store of rice. This is kriyamana karma, the consequences of current actions.
For each of the three kinds of karma there is a different method of resolution. Non-attachment to the fruits of action, along with daily rites of worship and strict adherence to the codes of dharma, stops the accumulation of kriyamana. Prarabdha karma is resolved only through being experienced and lived through. Sanchita karma, normally inaccessible, is burned away only through the grace and diksha of the satguru, who prescribes sadhana and tapas for the benefit of the shishya. Through the sustained kundalini heat of this extreme penance, the seeds of unsprouted karmas are fried, and therefore will never sprout in this or future lives.
The Law of Karma
The law of karma governs the universe and all beings within it; it acts impersonally and binds each atman (inner Self) to the world and in addition to the cycle of transmigration. The law of karma acts impersonally, yet we may meaningfully interpret its results as either positive (punya) or negative (papa) — terms describing actions leading the Self either toward or away from the spiritual goal. Karma is further graded as: white (shukla), black (krishna), mixed (shukla-krishna) or neither white nor black (ashukla-akrishna). The latter term describes the karma of the jnani, who, as Rishi Patanjali says, is established in kaivalya, freedom from prakriti through realization of the Self. Similarly, one's karma must be in a condition of ashukla-akrishna, quiescent balance, in order for liberation to be attained. This equivalence of karma is called karmasamya, and is a factor that brings malaparipaka, or maturity of anava mala. It is this state of resolution in preparation for samadhi at death that all Hindus seek through making amends and settling differences.
Karma is one of the important spiritual laws that govern our life experiences through principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, total cosmic justice and personal responsibility. Karma is not fate. You have free will. No God or external force is controlling ones life. It is our own karmic creation. We are bounded by Karma in this and other lifetimes until we understand the complete consequences of all our actions. As Athma (Soul), we experience a constant cycle of births and deaths into a series of bodies until we have learned all the spiritual lessons that the totality of all experiences have to teach us. Until we have learned, we will find that "resistance" to the rules of karma is "futile". A person carries with him the dharma and the Karma from one birth to another.
Like gravity, karma was always there in its fullest potency, even when people did not comprehend it. The early seers who brought through the Vedas were practitioners, mystics and divine oracles who put into practice the knowledge of karma. To them, Karma (from the root kri, "to do") was a power by which they could influence the Gods, nature, weather, harvests and enemies through right intent and rites righteously performed. Thus by their actions they could determine their destiny.
Through the ages, other realized souls explained the workings of karma, revealing details of this cosmic law and, when the tradition of writing came into vogue, recording it for future generations. In this way they established karma as perhaps the fundamental principle of Hindu consciousness and culture then and now.
A Cosmic Building Block
To the rishi (seers), karma appeared with such fundamental force and substantive reality that they perceived it as one of the thirty-six primary evolutes of form, called tattva, which range from Parashakti (pure consciousness), to prithivi tattva, earth. Karma is number eight, called niyati tattva, a spiritual-magnetic energy form. This identification of its magnetic quality is a crucial clue to understanding how karma "comes back," rather than just "goes out."
Each karma, or action, generates a vibration, a distinct oscillation of force, a vasana, or subliminal inclination that continues to vibrate in the mind. These vasanas are magnetic conglomerates of subconscious impressions. Like attracts like. Acts of love attract loving acts, malice attracts malice. And each action, karma, continues to attract until demagnetized. This is accomplished through re-experiencing it, or resolving it with understanding (rather than compounding it with reaction) or through other subtler spiritual means and practices.
Karma is not Fate
Karma has suffered a chronic association with the word fate. Fate is a Western idea, derived largely from the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It means, with wide variation, that one's life has been set by agencies outside oneself. Karma is exactly the opposite.
"‘It is the coward and the fool who says this is fate,’ goes the Sanskrit proverb," said Swami Vivekananda.
"But it is the strong man who stands up and says, ‘I will make my fate.’"
Everything in the Universe is in a state of creation, maintenance, or destruction. Similarly, the mind creates a thought, maintains or follows it for some time, and the thought ultimately dies down (perhaps to be replaced by another thought). In addition to the three states of consciousness, the fourth state of being is called Turiya or pure consciousness, where the mind is not engaged in thinking but just observes the thoughts. Actions in the Turiya state do not create karma. Meditation is a practice aimed at giving individuals the experience of being in this objective state. An individual who is constantly in the turiya state is said to have attained moksha where their actions happen as a response to events (and not because of thought process); such actions do not result in accumulation of karma as they have no karmic effect.
Illustration on Karma
Karma, pre-destination and free will
One can't use the word "pre-destination" or "fate" to substitute with Karma because they do not mean the same. Karma is not pre-destination. However, karma is the underlying principle between Pre-destination and Freewill. The Hindu understanding of karma includes both pre-destination and free will. To understand the implications of karma, we have to understand the sublime synthesis of pre-destination and free will. Both aspects exist simultaneously. To conceive of this apparently inconceivable reality, we have to consider both sides of the law of karma: the point of view of action, and the point of view of reaction.
The free will is excersized in Kriyamana karma and Agama karma. In terms of prarabha, it’s clear that one has no choice about whether to allow prarabha or not, because the reaction has started, and it is going to have to work itself out. Yet, we are free to choose what we’ll receive, but what we receive is determined by our past Karma (prarabha karma - part of the reaction that is coming from all the accumulated actions of the past). Thus, as far as experience is concerned, one is given a choice to choose according to their Karma. The choice always has two paths - to face darkness or to turn towards light. The decision made now (good or bad) determines the future ones and that will determine the future choices given.
Karma works to develop our ability to handle free will responsibly. Karma operates impersonally, giving us the opportunity at every moment to become open to greater levels of love and compassion. The goal is to give us needed experiences so we evolve into greater levels of awareness and responsibility. All we do at every moment is our choice. Once we accept total responsibility for who we are, for what we have done or will do, and for all our choices, life straightens out.
In a nutshell, Karma (good and evil, or whatever) - are actually by-products of our free will. As we realize this, we come to the point of the exercise. At that moment of awareness, at the instant we understand our responsibility for our situation, we can let go of thousands of years of karma, good and bad. Although the laws of karma set up and predestine the circumstance we are now in, we have free will to decide how to react in each situation. But having free will doesn't make us "free" and independent. Free will means that we can choose how to act under the influence of a specific set of circumstances, positively or negatively; however, we cannot control the results of our actions which come upon us according to the law of karma which is constantly awarding us the results or reactions of our previous actions.
We are not restricted to act in a specific manner. We have free will. But with this free will comes responsibility, because the way we act determines our reactions. Thus we are free to choose our future, both individually and collectively. Whatever we do creates a reaction that we must enjoy or suffer. We are constantly receiving the reactions of our previous actions created using our free will. We are responsible for our happiness and distress, and the material nature creates the conditions within which we enjoy or suffer. The ultimate goal is to give us needed experiences so we evolve into greater levels of awareness and responsibility.
Answers to the problem of 'evil'
Hindu answers to the problem of evil are different from most answers offered in Western philosophy, partly because the problem of evil within Hindu thought is differently structured than Western traditions, mainly Abrahamic traditions. In the Hindu tradition the problem of evil is phrased as the Problem of Injustice. This problem can be considered in the following manner:
God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Just. Yet injustice is observed to persist in the world. How is this possible?
"No partiality and cruelty (can be charged against God) because of (His) taking other factors into consideration." — Brahma Sutra 2.1.34
Sankara's commentary explains that God cannot be charged with partiality or cruelty (i.e. injustice) on account of his taking the factors of virtuous and vicious actions (Karma) performed by an individual in previous lives. If an individual experiences pleasure or pain in this life, it is due to virtuous or vicious action (Karma) done by that individual in a past life.
"If it be argued that it is not possible (to take Karma into consideration in the beginning), since the fruits of work remain still undifferentiated, then we say, no, since the transmigratory state has no beginning." — Brahma Sutra 2.1.35
The opponent now argues that there could have been no "previous birth" at the very beginning of creation, before which Karma could not have existed. Sankara replies that it is not so, for the number of creation cycles is beginningless, vide the next verse:
"Moreover, this is logical, and (so) it is met with (in the scriptures)." — Brahma Sutra 2.1.36
Sankara provides references from the Vedas concerning the beginninglessness of Creation:
"The Ordainer created the sun and moon like those of previous cycles" (Rig Veda 10.190.3).
This shows the existence of earlier cycles of creation, and hence the number of creation cycles is beginningless. Thus Sankara's resolution to the Problem of Injustice is that the existence of injustice in the world is only apparent, for one merely reaps the results of one's moral actions sown in a past life, which is compatible with the Justness of an Omniscient and Omnipotent God. On the higher level of Existence, however, there is no evil or good, since these are dependent mainly on temporal circumstances. Hence a jnani, one who has realized his true nature, is beyond such dualistic notions.
The rules of Karma governing life on earth
#1: Karma teaches by experience and not to punish
Although it may often "feel" like punishment, the purpose of karma is to teach not to punish. Often the way we learn "the best" is to endure the same type of suffering that we have inflicted on others. For example, I remember little of my life as a City Commander in ancient Constantinople where I killed many without mercy, often with little justification. Yet, I remember vividly the life where I repaid that karma by being slaughtered by an Indian during the Martin's Hundred massacre. Believe me, I learned the lesson of mercy in the final terrifying moments of the massacre.
#2: We are all here to learn lessons taught by karma
We are all here to learn lessons as "spiritual beings in human form". These lessons are designed to help us grow into greater levels of love, joy, and awareness. They teach us to "choose love at every moment", to "forgive everyone, everything", and to "live happy". Where we do not choose love, show forgiveness, teach tolerance, or display compassion, karma intervenes to put us back on the path of these lessons. Quite simply, the only way to achieve a state of karmic balance is to be love.
#3: We "forget" about karma to see if we have learned
Before we came, we agreed to put ourself in the path of all that is we needed to learn. Once we got here, we agreed to "forget" this. The purpose of "forgetting" is to keep us from being overwhelmed by the totality of our past while making sure that we have really learned our lessons. For example, having been a General in many lifetimes, I tended to treat others in a domineering manner. In this life, I put myself into my situations where humility would have served me better than being "the dictatorial General". Only when I overcame this "problem" and learned my lesson did I understand why I had put myself into those karmic places.
#4: Karma is impersonal, logical, and predictable
Karma gives you the opportunity at every moment to become open to greater levels of love and compassion. It operates impersonally: applying to everyone, all the time, no exceptions. It is very logical: what you sow is what you reap in exact and precise measure. Karma is as predictable as the laws of gravity: what is done to you is the net result of what you have done to others.
#5: Karma is perfectly fair and creates total justice
For example, there are no "innocent" people in prison, they are there for a reason. If they appear "innocent" in this life, it is because they were "guilty" in a past life and "got away with it". The "innocent" feel "cheated" now because they cannot see the cause of this life was the effect of a past life when they were "guilty".
#6: Karma makes us link our actions with their results
The cause of this life is always the effect of a past life(s). The goal of karma is to ensure that we link our actions (the cause) with their results (the effect). "It is the loving God which helps each Soul develop it's highest spiritual potential through experience." It is our experience which teaches us the Law of Love.
#7: Karma teaches us totally responsibility
The goal of karma is to give you all the experiences that you need to evolve into greater levels of love, joy, awareness, and responsibility. Karma teaches that you are totally responsible for the circumstances of your life. Karma is like "training wheels". They keep you on the straight and narrow until you have mastered your vehicle and can ride freely on your own.
#8: Karma teaches us love and compassion for all
"See that you are at the center of the universe… Accept all things as being part of you… When you perceive that an act done to another is done to yourself… you understand the great truth." Tolerance opens the door to compassion and love.
#9: Karma drives us to wholeness and unity with life
Karma drives us from oneness to wholeness to unity with life. Karma forces us to look beyond ourselves (oneness) so that we can see ourselves as we truly are (wholeness or Self Realization). Once we truly understand ourselves, we can see our divinity (God Realization) and our unity with all life.
#10: Karma drives us to service and then to love
Karma drives us to service. Service - co-workership with God - is the ulitmate expression of love. Love means service: service is your choice. Once you accept total responsibility for your life, you see yourself as Soul in service to life. Once you do, you become a fully realized co-worker with God.
#11: Understanding karma is the key to harmony
"Belief in karma ought to make the life pure, strong, serene, and glad. Only our own deeds can hinder us; only our own will can fetter us. Once let us recognize this truth, and our liberation has struck. Nature cannot enslave the Soul that by wisdom has gained power and uses both in love."
#12: For any question, love is always the answer
Karma shows us that for any question love is the answer. "Love is our birthplace, our final refuge, and our reason for being. If we recognize that compassion and love are the ultimate destination of our journey, the heart of the universe responds."
Glossary related to Karma
- The bonds of actions, i.e., being bound to rebirth.
- Sinful work or vice, blunder; evil consequences.
- Corrupt in action.
- Act-born; resulting or produced from an act, good or bad.
- Livelihood earned by work, trade, profession.
- Annihilation of work.
- Place of religious acts.
- The removal of bad deeds or their effects.
- Diligent in performing religious actions.
- Ripening of acts, matured results of acts of former births.
- The fruit of actions.
- The commencement of an act.
- "Holder of karma." Describes body of the soul.
- Equipoise of karma.
- Successful action.
- Abandoning worldly duties and obligations.
- The necessary influence or repercussion of actions.
- Rule of action; mode of conducting ceremonies.
- "Union through action;" selfless religious service.
- kriyamana karma
- Actions being made. Karma being created.
- Wickedness, sin, crime. Wrongful action. Demerit from wrongdoing.
- Penance. "Predominant thought or aim; weighing heavily on the mind."
- prarabdha karma
- Actions set in motion.
- Holy, virtuous; auspicious. Meritorious action.
- sanchita karma
- The entirety of all karmas of this life and past lives. Released to bear fruit in one's current life.
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