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{{About|the Indian religious concept}}{{redirect|Karmic|the EP by Nada Surf|Karmic (EP)}}{{pp-semi-indef}}{{pp-move-indef}}{{Use dmy dates|date=May 2016}}{{Use Indian English|date=May 2016}}{{multiple image
| direction = horizontal
| footer = Karma symbols such as endless knot (above) are common cultural motifs in Asia. Endless knots symbolize interlinking of cause and effect, a Karmic cycle that continues eternally. The endless knot is visible in the center of the prayer wheel.
| image1 = EndlessKnot03d.png
| caption1 = Endless knot
| width1 = 140
| image2 = Hand made prayer wheel from Nepal.jpg
| caption2 = Endless knot on Nepalese temple prayer wheel
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Karma ({{IPAc-en|ˈ|k|ɑr|m|ə}}; , {{IPA-sa|ˈkɐɽmɐ|IPA|Karma.ogg}}; ) means action, work or deed;See:
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 15, New York, pp 679-680, Article on Karma; Quote - "Karma meaning deed or action; in addition, it also has philosophical and technical meaning, denoting a person's deeds as determining his future lot."
  • The Encyclopedia of World Religions, Robert Ellwood & Gregory Alles, {{ISBN|978-0-8160-6141-9}}, pp 253; Quote - "Karma: Sanskrit word meaning action and the consequences of action."
  • Hans Torwesten (1994), Vedanta: Heart of Hinduism, {{ISBN|978-0802132628}}, Grove Press New York, pp 97; Quote - "In the Vedas the word karma (work, deed or action, and its resulting effect) referred mainly to..." it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect).Karma Encyclopædia Britannica (2012) Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and happier rebirths, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and bad rebirths.Lawrence C. Becker & Charlotte B. Becker, Encyclopedia of Ethics, 2nd Edition, {{ISBN|0-415-93672-1}}, Hindu Ethics, pp 678
The philosophy of karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in many schools of Indian religions (particularly Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and SikhismBOOK, Parvesh Singla, The Manual of Life – Karma,weblink 4 June 2011, Parvesh singla, 5–7, GGKEY:0XFSARN29ZZ, ) as well as Taoism.Eva Wong, Taoism, Shambhala Publications, {{ISBN|978-1590308820}}, pp. 193 In these schools, karma in the present affects one's future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives - one's saṃsāra.File:Thirthankara Suparshvanath Museum Rietberg RVI 306.jpg|thumb|Shrivatsa or the karmic knot depicted on the chest of the TirthankaraTirthankara

Definition and meanings

(File:Karma AS.jpg|170px|thumb|right|Karma as action and reaction: if we show goodness, we will reap goodness.) Karma is the executed "deed", "work", "action", or "act", and it is also the "object", the "intent". Wilhelm HalbfassHalbfass, Wilhelm (2000), Karma und Wiedergeburt im indischen Denken, Diederichs, München, Germany explains karma (karman) by contrasting it with another Sanskrit word kriya. The word kriya is the activity along with the steps and effort in action, while karma is (1) the executed action as a consequence of that activity, as well as (2) the intention of the actor behind an executed action or a planned action (described by some scholarsJulius Lipner (2010), Hindus: Their religious beliefs and practices, 2nd Edition, Routledge, {{ISBN|978-0-415-45677-7}}, pp 261-262 as metaphysical residue left in the actor). A good action creates good karma, as does good intent. A bad action creates bad karma, as does bad intent.Karma also refers to a conceptual principle that originated in India, often descriptively called the principle of karma, sometimes as the karma theory or the law of karma.Karl Potter (1964), The Naturalistic Principle of Karma, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Apr., 1964), pp. 39-49 In the context of theory, karma is complex and difficult to define.Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, pp xi-xxv (Introduction) Different schools of Indologists derive different definitions for the karma concept from ancient Indian texts; their definition is some combination of (1) causality that may be ethical or non-ethical; (2) ethicization, that is good or bad actions have consequences; and (3) rebirth.Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, pp 3-37 Other Indologists include in the definition of karma theory that which explains the present circumstances of an individual with reference to his or her actions in past. These actions may be those in a person's current life, or, in some schools of Indian traditions, possibly actions in their past lives; furthermore, the consequences may result in current life, or a person's future lives.Karl Potter (1980), in Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions (O'Flaherty, Editor), University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, pp 241-267 The law of karma operates independent of any deity or any process of divine judgment.See:
  • For Hinduism view: Jeffrey Brodd (2009), World Religions: A Voyage of Discovery, Saint Mary's Press, {{ISBN|978-0884899976}}, pp. 47;
  • For Buddhism view: Khandro Rinpoche (2003), This Precious Life, Shambhala, pp. 95
Difficulty in arriving at a definition of karma arises because of the diversity of views among the schools of Hinduism; some, for example, consider karma and rebirth linked and simultaneously essential, some consider karma but not rebirth essential, and a few discuss and conclude karma and rebirth to be flawed fiction.see:
  • Kaufman, W. R. (2005), Karma, rebirth, and the problem of evil, Philosophy East and West, pp 15-32;
  • Sharma, A. (1996), On the distinction between Karma and Rebirth in Hinduism, Asian Philosophy, 6(1), pp 29-35;
  • Bhattacharya, R. (2012), Svabhāvavāda and the Cārvāka/Lokāyata: A Historical Overview, Journal of Indian Philosophy, 40(6), pp 593-614 Buddhism and Jainism have their own karma precepts. Thus karma has not one, but multiple definitions and different meanings.Harold Coward (2003), Encyclopedia of Science of Religion, MacMillan Reference, {{ISBN|978-0028657042}}, see article on Karma It is a concept whose meaning, importance and scope varies between Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other traditions that originated in India, and various schools in each of these traditions. O'Flaherty claims that, furthermore, there is an ongoing debate regarding whether karma is a theory, a model, a paradigm, a metaphor, or a metaphysical stance.
Karma theory as a concept, across different Indian religious traditions, shares certain common themes: causality, ethicization and rebirth.


(File:Tema Nezahat Gokyigit Park 1060584 nymphaea.jpg|thumb|240px|Lotus symbolically represents karma in many Asian traditions. A blooming lotus flower is one of the few flowers that simultaneously carries seeds inside itself while it blooms. Seed is symbolically seen as cause, the flower effect. Lotus is also considered as a reminder that one can grow, share good karma and remain unstained even in muddy circumstances.Maria I. Macioti, The Buddha Within Ourselves: Blossoms of the Lotus Sutra, Translator: Richard Maurice Capozzi, {{ISBN|978-0761821892}}, pp 69-70)A common theme to theories of karma is its principle of causality. One of the earliest association of karma to causality occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Hinduism. For example, at 4.4.5-6, it states:The relationship of karma to causality is a central motif in all schools of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist thought.Bruce R. Reichenbach, The Law of Karma and the Principle of Causation, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Oct., 1988), pp. 399-410 The theory of karma as causality holds that (1) executed actions of an individual affects the individual and the life he or she lives, and (2) the intentions of an individual affects the individual and the life he or she lives. Disinterested actions, or unintentional actions do not have the same positive or negative karmic effect, as interested and intentional actions. In Buddhism, for example, actions that are performed, or arise, or originate without any bad intent such as covetousness, are considered non-existent in karmic impact or neutral in influence to the individual.Anguttara-Nikaya 3.4.33, Translator: Henry Warren (1962), Buddhism in Translations, Atheneum Publications, New York, pp 216-217Another causality characteristic, shared by Karmic theories, is that like deeds lead to like effects. Thus good karma produces good effect on the actor, while bad karma produces bad effect. This effect may be material, moral or emotional — that is, one's karma affects one's happiness and unhappiness. The effect of karma need not be immediate; the effect of karma can be later in one's current life, and in some schools it extends to future lives.see:
  • James McDermott, Karma and Rebirth in Early Buddhism, in Editor: Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, pp 165-192
  • Padmanabh Jaini, Karma and the problem of rebirth in Jainism, in Editor: Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, pp 217-239
  • Ludo Rocher, Karma and Rebirth in the Dharmasastras, in Editor: Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, pp 61-89
The consequence or effects of one's karma can be described in two forms: phalas and samskaras. A phala (literally, fruit or result) is the visible or invisible effect that is typically immediate or within the current life. In contrast, samskaras are invisible effects, produced inside the actor because of the karma, transforming the agent and affecting his or her ability to be happy or unhappy in this life and future ones. The theory of karma is often presented in the context of samskaras.Damien Keown (1996), Karma, character, and consequentialism, The Journal of Religious Ethics, pp 329-350.Karmic principle can be understood, suggests Karl Potter,Karl Potter's suggestion is supported by the Bhagavad-Gita, which links good bondage and bad bondage to good habits and bad habits respectively. It also lists various types of habits - such as good (sattva), passion (rajas) and indifferent (tamas) - while explaining karma. See the cited Potter reference; elsewhere, in Yoga Sutras, the role of karma to creating habits is explained with Vāsanās - see Ian Whicher, The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana: A Reconsideration of Classical Yoga, State University of New York, {{ISBN|0-7914-3816-3}}, Chapter 3, particularly pp 102-105 as a principle of psychology and habit. Karma seeds habits (vāsanā), and habits create the nature of man. Karma also seeds self perception, and perception influences how one experiences life events. Both habits and self perception affect the course of one's life. Breaking bad habits is not easy: it requires conscious karmic effort.Ian Whicher (1998), The final stages of purification in classical yoga, Asian Philosophy, 8(2), pp 85-102 Thus psyche and habit, according to Potter and others,Harold Coward (1983), "Psychology and Karma", Philosophy East and West 33 (Jan): 49-60. link karma to causality in ancient Indian literature. The idea of karma may be compared to the notion of a person's "character", as both are an assessment of the person and determined by that person's habitual thinking and acting.

Karma and ethicization

The second theme common to karma theories is ethicization. This begins with the premise that every action has a consequence, which will come to fruition in either this or a future life; thus, morally good acts will have positive consequences, whereas bad acts will produce negative results. An individual's present situation is thereby explained by reference to actions in his present or in previous lifetimes. Karma is not itself "reward and punishment", but the law that produces consequence.Francis X. Clooney, Evil, Divine Omnipotence, and Human Freedom: Vedānta's Theology of Karma, The Journal of Religion, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 530-548 Halbfass notes, good karma is considered as dharma and leads to punya (merit), while bad karma is considered adharma and leads to pāp (demerit, sin).Wilhelm Halbfass (1998), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routledge, London, see article on Karma and Rebirth (Indian Conceptions)Reichenbach suggests that the theories of karma are an ethical theory. This is so because the ancient scholars of India linked intent and actual action to the merit, reward, demerit and punishment. A theory without ethical premise would be a pure causal relation; the merit or reward or demerit or punishment would be same regardless of the actor's intent. In ethics, one's intentions, attitudes and desires matter in the evaluation of one's action. Where the outcome is unintended, the moral responsibility for it is less on the actor, even though causal responsibility may be the same regardless. A karma theory considers not only the action, but also actor's intentions, attitude, and desires before and during the action. The karma concept thus encourages each person to seek and live a moral life, as well as avoid an immoral life. The meaning and significance of karma is thus as a building block of an ethical theory.see:
  • James Hastings et al. (1915), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Hymns-Liberty), Volume VII, Article on Jainism, pp 469-471;
  • Chapple, Christopher (1975), Karma and the path of purification, in Virginia Hanson et al. (Editors) - Karma: Rhythmic Return to Harmony, {{ISBN|978-0835606639}}, Chapter 23;
  • Krishan, Y. (1988), The Vedic origins of the doctrine of karma, South Asian Studies, 4(1), pp 51-55


The third common theme of karma theories is the concept of reincarnation or the cycle of rebirths (saṃsāra).{{Sfn|Obeyesekere|2005|p=1-2, 108, 126-128}}{{Sfn|Mark Juergensmeyer|Wade Clark Roof|2011|pp=272-273, 652-654}} Rebirth is a fundamental concept of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.James Lochtefeld (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Rosen Publishing, New York, {{ISBN|0-8239-2287-1}}, pp 351-352 The concept has been intensely debated in ancient literature of India; with different schools of Indian religions considering the relevance of rebirth as either essential, or secondary, or unnecessary fiction. Karma is a basic concept, rebirth is a derivative concept, so suggests Creel;Austin Creel (1986), in Editor: Ronald Wesley Neufeldt, Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments, State University of New York Press, {{ISBN|978-0873959902}}, Chapter 1 Karma is a fact, asserts Yamunacharya,M Yamunacharya (1966), Karma and Rebirth, Indian Philo. Annual, 1, pp 66 while reincarnation is a hypothesis; in contrast, Hiriyanna suggestsM. Hiriyana (1949), Essentials of Indian Philosophy, George Allen Unwin, London, pp 47 rebirth is a necessary corollary of karma.Rebirth, or saṃsāra, is the concept that all life forms go through a cycle of reincarnation, that is a series of births and rebirths. The rebirths and consequent life may be in different realm, condition or form. The karma theories suggest that the realm, condition and form depends on the quality and quantity of karma.James Lochtefeld (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Volume 2, Rosen Publishing, New York, {{ISBN|0-8239-2287-1}}, pp 589 In schools that believe in rebirth, every living being's soul transmigrates (recycles) after death, carrying the seeds of Karmic impulses from life just completed, into another life and lifetime of karmas.Harold Coward (2003), Encyclopedia of Science of Religion, Karma This cycle continues indefinitely, except for those who consciously break this cycle by reaching moksa. Those who break the cycle reach the realm of gods, those who don't continue in the cycle.The theory of "karma and rebirth" raises numerous questions—such as how, when, and why did the cycle start in the first place, what is the relative Karmic merit of one karma versus another and why, and what evidence is there that rebirth actually happens, among others. Various schools of Hinduism realized these difficulties, debated their own formulations, some reaching what they considered as internally consistent theories, while other schools modified and de-emphasized it, while a few schools in Hinduism such as Charvakas, Lokayatana abandoned "karma and rebirth" theory altogether.see:
  • Wilhelm Halbfass (1998), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routledge, London, see article on Karma and Rebirth (Indian Conceptions)
  • Ronald Wesley Neufeldt, Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments, State University of New York Press, {{ISBN|978-0873959902}}A. Javadekar (1965), Karma and Rebirth, Indian Philosophical Annual, 1, 78 Schools of Buddhism consider karma-rebirth cycle as integral to their theories of soteriology.Damien Keown (2013), Buddhism: A very short introduction, Oxford University Press, {{ISBN|978-0199663835}}Étienne Lamotte(1936), Le traité de l'acte de Vasubandhu: Karmasiddhiprakarana, in Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques 4, pp 151-288

Early development

{{anchor|Etymology}}The Vedic Sanskrit word {{IAST|(:wikt:कर्मन्#Sanskrit|kárman-)}} (nominative {{IAST|kárma}}) means "work" or "deed", often used in the context of Srauta rituals.a neuter n-stem,   from the root {{IAST|√kṛ}} "to do, make, perform, accomplish, cause, effect, prepare, undertake" kṛ,कृ Monier Monier-Williams, Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1899).In the Rigveda, the word occurs some 40 times.JOURNAL, Krishan, Y., 1988, The Vedic Origins of the Doctrine of Karma, South Asian Studies, 4, 1, 51–55, 10.1080/02666030.1988.9628366, ;BOOK,weblink The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions, Yuvraj Krishan, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1997, 978-81-208-1233-8, 4, 12, 17–19, for context see 1–27, In Satapatha Brahmana, sacrifice is declared as the "greatest" of works; Satapatha Brahmana associates the potential of becoming immortal (amara) with the karma of the agnicayana sacrifice.The earliest clear discussion of the karma doctrine is in the Upanishads."Karma" in: John Bowker (1997), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press. For example, the causality and ethicization is stated in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3.2.13 ("Truly, one becomes good through good deeds, and evil through evil deeds."){{Sfn|Mark Juergensmeyer|Wade Clark Roof|2011|p=653}}Some authorssee:
  • Y. Masih (2000) In : A Comparative Study of Religions, Motilal Banarsidass Publ : Delhi, {{ISBN|81-208-0815-0}}, page 37, Quote - "This confirms that the doctrine of transmigration is non-aryan and was accepted by non-vedics like Ajivikism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Indo-aryans have borrowed the theory of re-birth after coming in contact with the aboriginal inhabitants of India. Certainly Jainism and non-vedics [..] accepted the doctrine of rebirth as supreme postulate or article of faith."
  • Gavin D. Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press: UK {{ISBN|0-521-43878-0}}, page 86, Quote - "The origin and doctrine of Karma and Saṃsāra are obscure. These concepts were certainly circulating amongst sramanas, and Jainism and Buddhism developed specific and sophisticated ideas about the process of transmigration. It is very possible that the karmas and reincarnation entered the mainstream brahaminical thought from the sramana or the renouncer traditions."
  • Bimala Law (1952, Reprint 2005), The Buddhist Conception of Spirits, {{ISBN|81-206-1933-1}}, Asian Educational Services; in particular, see Chapter II
  • Y. Krishan, The doctrine of Karma and Åšraddhas, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 66, No. 1/4 (1985), pp. 97-115 state that the samsara (transmigration) and karma doctrine may be non-Vedic, and the ideas may have developed in the "shramana" traditions that preceded Buddhism and Jainism. OthersYuvraj Krishan (1985), The doctrine of Karma and Åšraddhas, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 66, No. 1/4, pages 97-115 state that some of the complex ideas of the ancient emerging theory of karma flowed from Vedic thinkers to Buddhist and Jain thinkers. The mutual influences between the traditions is unclear, and likely co-developed.Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, pp xvii-xviii; Quote - "There was such constant interaction between Vedism and Buddhism in the early period that it is fruitless to attempt to sort out the earlier source of many doctrines, they lived in one another's pockets, like Picasso and Braque (who, in later years, were unable to say which of them had painted certain paintings from their earlier, shared period)."
Many philosophical debates surrounding the concept are shared by the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, and the early developments in each tradition incorporated different novel ideas.BOOK, Wendy Doniger, Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions,weblink 1980, University of California Press, 978-0-520-03923-0, xii–xxiii, For example, Buddhists allowed karma transfer from one person to another and sraddha rites, but had difficulty defending the rationale.BOOK, James McDermott, Wendy Doniger, Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions,weblink 1980, University of California Press, 978-0-520-03923-0, 165–192, In contrast, Hindu schools and Jainism would not allow the possibility of karma transfer.BOOK, Padmanabh Jaini, Wendy Doniger, Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions,weblink 1980, University of California Press, 978-0-520-03923-0, 217–239, BOOK, Ludo Rocher, Wendy Doniger, Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions,weblink 1980, University of California Press, 978-0-520-03923-0, 61–89,

In Hinduism

The concept of karma in Hinduism developed and evolved over centuries. The earliest Upanishads began with the questions about how and why man is born, and what happens after death. As answers to the latter, the early theories in these ancient Sanskrit documents include pancagni vidya (the five fire doctrine), pitryana (the cyclic path of fathers) and devayana (the cycle-transcending, path of the gods).Colebrooke, H. T. (1829), Essay on the Philosophy of the Hindus, Part V. Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2(1), 1-39 Those who do superficial rituals and seek material gain, claimed these ancient scholars, travel the way of their fathers and recycle back into another life; those who renounce these, go into the forest and pursue spiritual knowledge, were claimed to climb into the higher path of the gods. It is these who break the cycle and are not reborn.William Mahony (1987), Karman: Hindu and Jain Concepts, in Editor: Mircea Eliade, Encyclopedia of Religion, Collier Macmillan, New York With the composition of the Epics - the common man's introduction to Dharma in Hinduism - the ideas of causality and essential elements of the theory of karma were being recited in folk stories. For example:In the thirteenth book of the Mahabharata, also called the Teaching Book (Anushasana Parva), sixth chapter opens with Yudhishthira asking Bhishma: "Is the course of a person's life already destined, or can human effort shape one's life?"Chapple, Christopher (1986), Karma and creativity, State University of New York Press, {{ISBN|0-88706-251-2}}; see Chapter 3 and Appendix 1 The future, replies Bhishma, is both a function of current human effort derived from free will and past human actions that set the circumstances.Chapple, Christopher (1986), Karma and creativity, State University of New York Press, {{ISBN|0-88706-251-2}}; pp 60-64 Over and over again, the chapters of Mahabharata recite the key postulates of karma theory. That is: intent and action (karma) has consequences; karma lingers and doesn't disappear; and, all positive or negative experiences in life require effort and intent.J. Bruce Long, The concepts of human action and rebirth in the Mahabharata, in Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, Chapter 2 For example:
  • Manmatha Nath Dutt (1896), Vana Parva - in multivolume series: A prose English translation of the Mahabharata, Elysium Press, page 46-47; For a Google Books archive from Stanford University Library, see this
  • There is extensive debate in the Epic Mahabharata about karma, free will and destiny across different chapters and books. Different characters in the Epic take sides, some claiming destiny is supreme, some claiming free will is. For a discussion, see: Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), pp. 44-45; Quote - "(...) In the Epic, free will has the upper hand. Only when a man's effort is frustrated or when he is overcome with grief does he become a predestinarian (believer in destiny)."; Quote - "This association of success with the doctrine of free will or human effort (purusakara) was felt so clearly that among the ways of bringing about a king's downfall is given the following simple advice: 'Belittle free will to him, and emphasize destiny.{{'"}} (Mahabharata 12.106.20)
}}Over time, various schools of Hinduism developed many different definitions of karma, some making karma appear quite deterministic, while others make room for free will and moral agency.Harold Coward (2003) Encyclopedia of Science of Religion, MacMillan Reference, see Karma Among the six most studied schools of Hinduism, the theory of karma evolved in different ways, as their respective scholars reasoned and attempted to address the internal inconsistencies, implications and issues of the karma doctrine. According to Halbfass,
  • The Nyaya school of Hinduism considers karma and rebirth as central, with some Nyaya scholars such as Udayana suggesting that the Karma doctrine implies that God exists.Sharma, C. (1997). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, {{ISBN|81-208-0365-5}}, pp. 209-10
  • The Vaisesika school does not consider the karma from past lives doctrine very important.
  • The Samkhya school considers karma to be of secondary importance (prakrti is primary).
  • The Mimamsa school gives a negligible role to karma from past lives, disregards samsara and moksa.Wilhelm Halbfass, The concepts of human action and rebirth in the Mahabharata, in Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, Chapter 11
  • The Yoga school considers karma from past lives to be secondary, one's behavior and psychology in the current life is what has consequences and leads to entanglements.
  • According to Professor Wilhelm Halbfass, the Vedanta school acknowledges the karma-rebirth doctrine, but concludes it is a theory that is not derived from reality and cannot be proven, considers it invalid for its failure to explain evil / inequality / other observable facts about society, treats it as a convenient fiction to solve practical problems in Upanishadic times, and declares it irrelevant; in the Advaita Vedanta school, actions in current life have moral consequences and liberation is possible within one's life as jivanmukti (self-realized person).
The above six schools illustrate the diversity of views, but are not exhaustive. Each school has sub-schools in Hinduism, such as Vedanta school's nondualism and dualism sub-schools. Furthermore, there are other schools of Hinduism such as Charvaka, Lokayata (the materialists) who denied the theory of karma-rebirth as well as the existence of God; to this school of Hindus, the properties of things come from the nature of things. Causality emerges from the interaction, actions and nature of things and people, determinative principles such as karma or God are unnecessary.Eli Franco (1981), Lokayata La Philosophie Dite Materialiste de l'Inde Classique, Nanterre-Paris, FranceFranco, Eli (1998), Nyaya-Vaisesika, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, London

In Buddhism

Karma and karmaphala are fundamental concepts in Buddhism.{{sfn|Kragh|2006|p=11}}{{sfn|Lamotte|1987|p=15}} The concepts of karma and karmaphala explain how our intentional actions keep us tied to rebirth in samsara, whereas the Buddhist path, as exemplified in the Noble Eightfold Path, shows us the way out of samsara.BOOK, P. T. Raju, Structural Depths of Indian Thought,weblink 1985, State University of New York Press, 978-0-88706-139-4, 147–151, BOOK, Charles Eliot, Japanese Buddhism,weblink 2014, Routledge, 978-1-317-79274-1, 39–41, Karmaphala is the "fruit",{{sfn|Kalupahana|1992|p=166}}{{sfn|Keown|2000|p=36-37}}{{sfn|Gombrich|2009|p=19}} "effect"{{sfn|Kopf|2001|p=141}} or "result"{{sfn|Kragh|2001|p=11}} of karma. A similar term is karmavipaka, the "maturation"{{sfn|Keown|2000|p=810-813}} or "cooking"{{sfn|Klostermaier|1986|p=93}} of karma.{{sfn|Keown|2000|p=36-37}}{{refn|group=note|Keown: "The remote effects of karmic choices are referred to as the 'maturation' (vipāka) or 'fruit' (phala) of the karmic act."{{sfn|Keown|2000|p=36-37}}}} The cycle of rebirth is determined by karma,{{sfn|Buswell|2004|p=712}} literally "action".{{refn|group=note|In early Buddhism rebirth is ascribed to craving or ignorance,{{sfn|Vetter|1988|p=xxi}}{{sfn|Buswell|2004|p=416}} and the theory of karma may have been of minor importance in early Buddhist soteriology.{{sfn|Matthews|1986|p=124}}{{sfn|Schmithausen|1986|p=206-207}}{{sfn|Bronkhorst|1998|p=13}}}} In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to actions driven by intention (cetanā),{{sfn|Bronkhorst|1998}}{{sfn|Gethin|1998|p=119-120}}{{sfn|Gombrich|2009|p=19}}{{refn|group=note|Rupert Gethin: "[Karma is] a being's intentional 'actions' of body, speech, and mind—whatever is done, said, or even just thought with definite intention or volition";{{sfn|Gethin|1998|p=119}} "[a]t root karma or 'action' is considered a mental act or intention; it is an aspect of our mental life: 'It is "intention" that I call karma; having formed the intention, one performs acts (karma) by body, speech and mind.'"{{sfn|Gethin|1998|p=120}}}} a deed done deliberately through body, speech or mind, which leads to future consequences.{{sfn|Gombrich|1997|p=55}} The Nibbedhika Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya 6.63:}}}}How these intentional actions lead to rebirth, and how the idea of rebirth is to be reconciled with the doctrines of impermanence and no-self,{{sfn|Dargyay|1986|p=170}}{{refn|group=note|Dargray: "When [the Buddhist] understanding of karma is correlated to the Buddhist doctrine of universal impermanence and No-Self, a serious problem arises as to where this trace is stored and what the trace left is. The problem is aggravated when the trace remains latent over a long period, perhaps over a period of many existences. The crucial problem presented to all schools of Buddhist philosophy was where the trace is stored and how it can remain in the ever-changing stream of phenomena which build up the individual and what the nature of this trace is."{{sfn|Dargyay|1986|p=170}}}} is a matter of philosophical inquiry in the Buddhist traditions, for which several solutions have been proposed.{{sfn|Buswell|2004|p=712}} In early Buddhism no explicit theory of rebirth and karma is worked out,{{sfn|Matthews|1986|p=124}} and "the karma doctrine may have been incidental to early Buddhist soteriology."{{sfn|Schmithausen|1986|p=206-207}}{{sfn|Bronkhorst|1998|p=13}} In early Buddhism, rebirth is ascribed to craving or ignorance.{{sfn|Vetter|1988|p=xxi}}{{sfn|Buswell|2004|p=416}}The Buddha's teaching of karma is not strictly deterministic, but incorporated circumstantial factors, unlike that of the Jains.{{sfn|Kalupahana|1975|p=127}}{{sfn|Bhikkhu Thanissaro|2010|pp=47-48}}{{refn|group=note|Bhikkhu Thanissaro: "Unlike the theory of linear causality — which led the Vedists and Jains to see the relationship between an act and its result as predictable and tit-for-tat — the principle of this/that conditionality makes that relationship inherently complex. The results of kamma ("kamma" is the Pali spelling for the word "karma") experienced at any one point in time come not only from past kamma, but also from present kamma. This means that, although there are general patterns relating habitual acts to corresponding results [MN 135], there is no set one-for-one, tit-for-tat, relationship between a particular action and its results. Instead, the results are determined by the context of the act, both in terms of actions that preceded or followed it [MN 136] and in terms one's state of mind at the time of acting or experiencing the result [AN 3:99]. [...] The feedback loops inherent in this/that conditionality mean that the working out of any particular cause-effect relationship can be very complex indeed. This explains why the Buddha says in AN 4:77 that the results of kamma are imponderable. Only a person who has developed the mental range of a Buddha—another imponderable itself—would be able to trace the intricacies of the kammic network. The basic premise of kamma is simple—that skillful intentions lead to favorable results, and unskillful ones to unfavorable results—but the process by which those results work themselves out is so intricate that it cannot be fully mapped. We can compare this with the Mandelbrot set, a mathematical set generated by a simple equation, but whose graph is so complex that it will probably never be completely explored."{{sfn|Bhikkhu Thanissaro|2010|pp=47-48}}}} It is not a rigid and mechanical process, but a flexible, fluid and dynamic process.{{sfn|Harvey|1990|p=42}} There is no set linear relationship between a particular action and its results.{{sfn|Bhikkhu Thanissaro|2010|pp=47-48}} The karmic effect of a deed is not determined solely by the deed itself, but also by the nature of the person who commits the deed, and by the circumstances in which it is committed.{{sfn|Kalupahana|1975|p=131}}{{sfn|Bhikkhu Thanissaro|2010|pp=47-48}} Karmaphala is not a "judgement" enforced by a God, Deity or other supernatural being that controls the affairs of the Cosmos. Rather, karmaphala is the outcome of a natural process of cause and effect.{{refn|group=note|Khandro Rinpoche: "Buddhism is a nontheistic philosophy. We do not believe in a creator but in the causes and conditions that create certain circumstances that then come to fruition. This is called karma. It has nothing to do with judgement; there is no one keeping track of our karma and sending us up above or down below. Karma is simply the wholeness of a cause, or first action, and its effect, or fruition, which then becomes another cause. In fact, one karmic cause can have many fruitions, all of which can cause thousands more creations. Just as a handful of seed can ripen into a full field of grain, a small amount of karma can generate limitless effects."{{sfn|Khandro Rinpoche|2003|p=95}}}}Within Buddhism, the real importance of the doctrine of karma and its fruits lies in the recognition of the urgency to put a stop to the whole process.{{sfn|Gombrich|2009|p=21-22}}{{sfn|Vetter|1988|p=79-80}} The Acintita Sutta warns that "the results of kamma" is one of the four incomprehensible subjects,{{sfn|Buswell|Lopez Jr.|2013|p=14}}accesstoinsight, Acintita Sutta: Unconjecturable, Anguttara Nikaya 4.77 subjects that are beyond all conceptualization{{sfn|Buswell|Lopez Jr.|2013|p=14}} and cannot be understood with logical thought or reason.{{refn|group=note|Dasgupta explains that in Indian philosophy, acintya is "that which is to be unavoidably accepted for explaining facts, but which cannot stand the scrutiny of logic."{{sfn|Dasgupta|1991|p=16}} See also the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta "Discourse to Vatsagotra on the [Simile of] Fire," Majjhima Nikaya 72,{{sfn|Buswell|Lopez Jr.|2013|p=852}}:to accesstoinsight, Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in which the Buddha is questioned by Vatsagotra on the "ten indeterminate question,"{{sfn|Buswell|Lopez Jr.|2013|p=852}} and the Buddha explains that a Tathagata is like a fire that has been extinguished, and is "deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea".accesstoinsight, Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu}}Nichiren Buddhism teaches that transformation and change through faith and practice changes adverse karma—negative causes made in the past that result in negative results in the present and future—to positive causes for benefits in the future.BOOK, Fowler, Jeaneane and Merv, 2009, Chanting in the Hillsides, 78,

In Jainism

File:Types of Karma.JPG|thumb|Types of Karmas as per Jain philosophy]]{{See also|Causes of Karma (Jainism)|God in Jainism}}In Jainism, "karma" conveys a totally different meaning from that commonly understood in Hindu philosophy and western civilization.Hermann Kuhn, Karma, the Mechanism, 2004 Jain philosophy is the oldest Indian philosophy that completely separates body (matter) from the soul (pure consciousness).WEB,weblink dravya - Jainism, Encyclopædia Britannica, In Jainism, karma is referred to as karmic dirt, as it consists of very subtle particles of matter that pervade the entire universe.Acharya Umasvati, Tattvartha Sutra, Ch VIII, Sutra 24 Karmas are attracted to the karmic field of a soul due to vibrations created by activities of mind, speech, and body as well as various mental dispositions. Hence the karmas are the subtle matter surrounding the consciousness of a soul. When these two components (consciousness and karma) interact, we experience the life we know at present.Jain texts expound that seven tattvas (truths or fundamentals) constitute reality. These are:BOOK, Acharya, Pujyapada, S. A. Jain, Reality, 1992, Jwalamalini Trust,weblink 7, {{open access}}
  1. JÄ«va- the soul which is characterized by consciousness
  2. Ajīva- the non-soul
  3. Āsrava- inflow of auspicious and evil karmic matter into the soul.
  4. Bandha (bondage)- mutual intermingling of the soul and karmas.
  5. Samvara (stoppage)- obstruction of the inflow of karmic matter into the soul.
  6. Nirjara (gradual dissociation)- separation or falling off of part of karmic matter from the soul.
  7. Moká¹£ha (liberation)- complete annihilation of all karmic matter (bound with any particular soul).
According to Padmanabh Jaini,This emphasis on reaping the fruits only of one's own karma was not restricted to the Jainas; both Hindus and Buddhist writers have produced doctrinal materials stressing the same point. Each of the latter traditions, however, developed practices in basic contradiction to such belief. In addition to shrardha (the ritual Hindu offerings by the son of deceased), we find among Hindus widespread adherence to the notion of divine intervention in ones fate, while Buddhists eventually came to propound such theories like boon-granting bodhisattvas, transfer of merit and like. Only Jainas have been absolutely unwilling to allow such ideas to penetrate their community, despite the fact that there must have been tremendous amount of social pressure on them to do so.ENCYCLOPEDIA, Collected papers on Jaina studies, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Jaini, Padmanabh, 2000, 1st, Delhi, 137, The key points where the theory of karma in Jainism can be stated as follows:
  1. Karma operates as a self-sustaining mechanism as natural universal law, without any need of an external entity to manage them. (absence of the exogenous "Divine Entity" in Jainism)
  2. Jainism advocates that a soul attracts karmic matter even with the thoughts, and not just the actions. Thus, to even think evil of someone would endure a karma-bandha or an increment in bad karma. For this reason, Jainism emphasise on developing Ratnatraya (The Three Jewels): samyak darśana (Right Faith), samyak jnāna (Right Knowledge) and samyak charitra (Right Conduct).
  3. In Jain theology, a soul is released of worldly affairs as soon as it is able to emancipate from the "karma-bandha".ENCYCLOPEDIA, From Nigoda to Moksa: The Story of Marudevi, Jainism and Early Buddhism: Essays in Honor of Padmanabh S. Jaini, Asian Humanities Press (an imprint of Jain Publishing Company), Jaini, Padmanabh S., Qvarnström, Olle, 2003, I, Fremont CA, 1–28, In Jainism, nirvana and moksha are used interchangeably. Nirvana represents annihilation of all karmas by an individual soul and moksha represents the perfect blissful state (free from all bondage). In the presence of a Tirthankara, a soul can attain Kevala Jnana (omniscience) and subsequently nirvana, without any need of intervention by the Tirthankara.
  4. The karmic theory in Jainism operates endogenously. Even the Tirthankaras themselves have to go through the stages of emancipation, for attaining that state.
  5. Jainism treats all souls equally, inasmuch as it advocates that all souls have the same potential of attaining nirvana. Only those who make effort, really attain it, but nonetheless, each soul is capable on its own to do so by gradually reducing its karma.Sancheti Asoo Lal, Bhandari Manak Mal – First Steps to Jainism (Part Two): Doctrine of Karma, Doctrine of Anekant and Other Articles with Appendices – Catalogued by Library of U.S. Congress, Washington, Card No. 90-232383

Reception in other traditions


In Sikhism, all living beings are described as being under the influence of maya's three qualities. Always present together in varying mix and degrees, these three qualities of maya bind the soul to the body and to the earth plane. Above these three qualities is the eternal time. Due to the influence of three modes of Maya's nature, jivas (individual beings) perform activities under the control and purview of the eternal time. These activities are called "karma". The underlying principle is that karma is the law that brings back the results of actions to the person performing them.This life is likened to a field in which our karma is the seed. We harvest exactly what we sow; no less, no more. This infallible law of karma holds everyone responsible for what the person is or is going to be. Based on the total sum of past karma, some feel close to the Pure Being in this life and others feel separated. This is the Gurbani's (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) law of karma. Like other Indian and oriental schools of thought, the Gurbani also accepts the doctrines of karma and reincarnation as the facts of


Interpreted as Musubi, a view of karma is recognized in Shintoism as a means of enriching, empowering and life affirming.BOOK, Shinto: A Celebration of Life, Aidan Rankin, 133,weblink


Karma is an important concept in Taoism. Every deed is tracked by deities and spirits. Appropriate rewards or retribution follow karma, just like a shadow follows a person.The karma doctrine of Taoism developed in three stages.Livia Kohn (1998), Steal holy food and come back as a Viper - Conceptions of Karma and Rebirth in Medieval Daoism {{Webarchive|url= |date=9 January 2014 }}, Early Medieval China, 4, pp 1-48 In the first stage, causality between actions and consequences was adopted, with supernatural beings keeping track of everyone's karma and assigning fate (ming). In the second phase, transferability of karma ideas from Chinese Buddhism were expanded, and a transfer or inheritance of Karmic fate from ancestors to one's current life was introduced. In the third stage of karma doctrine development, ideas of rebirth based on karma were added. One could be reborn either as another human being or another animal, according to this belief. In the third stage, additional ideas were introduced; for example, rituals, repentance and offerings at Taoist temples were encouraged as it could alleviate Karmic burden.Erik Zurcher (1980), Buddhist influence on early Taoism, T'oung Pao, Vol. 66, pp 84-147

Falun Gong

David Ownby, a scholar of Chinese history at the University of Montreal,NEWS,weblink Book Review {{!, 'Falun Gong and the Future of China,' by David Ownby|last=Kahn|first=Joseph|date=2008-08-22|work=The New York Times|access-date=2019-03-14|language=en-US|issn=0362-4331}} asserts that Falun Gong differs from Buddhism in its definition of the term "karma" in that it is taken not as a process of award and punishment, but as an exclusively negative term. The Chinese term "de" or "virtue" is reserved for what might otherwise be termed "good karma" in Buddhism. Karma is understood as the source of all suffering - what Buddhism might refer to as "bad karma". Li says, "A person has done bad things over his many lifetimes, and for people this results in misfortune, or for cultivators it's karmic obstacles, so there's birth, aging, sickness, and death. This is ordinary karma."David Ownby, Falun Gong and the Future of China (2008) Oxford University PressFalun Gong teaches that the spirit is locked in the cycle of rebirth, also known as samsaraTranscending the Five Elements and Three Realms, Zhuan Falun {{Webarchive|url= |date=9 June 2011 }}, accessed 31 December 2007 due to the accumulation of karma.Transformation of Karma, Zhuan Falun Lecture 4, accessed 01/01/08 This is a negative, black substance that accumulates in other dimensions lifetime after lifetime, by doing bad deeds and thinking bad thoughts. Falun Gong states that karma is the reason for suffering, and what ultimately blocks people from the truth of the universe and attaining enlightenment. At the same time, karma is also the cause of one's continued rebirth and suffering. Li says that due to accumulation of karma the human spirit upon death will reincarnate over and over again, until the karma is paid off or eliminated through cultivation, or the person is destroyed due to the bad deeds he has done.Ownby regards the concept of karma as a cornerstone to individual moral behaviour in Falun Gong, and also readily traceable to the Christian doctrine of "one reaps what one sows". Others say Matthew 5:44 means no unbeliever will not fully reap what they sow until they are Judged by God after death in Hell. Ownby says Falun Gong is differentiated by a "system of transmigration", though, "in which each organism is the reincarnation of a previous life form, its current form having been determined by karmic calculation of the moral qualities of the previous lives lived." Ownby says the seeming unfairness of manifest inequities can then be explained, at the same time allowing a space for moral behaviour in spite of them. In the same vein of Li's monism, matter and spirit are one, karma is identified as a black substance which must be purged in the process of cultivation.Li says that "Human beings all fell here from the many dimensions of the universe. They no longer met the requirements of the Fa at their given levels in the universe, and thus had to drop down. Just as we have said before, the heavier one's mortal attachments, the further down one drops, with the descent continuing until one arrives at the state of ordinary human beings." He says that in the eyes of higher beings, the purpose of human life is not merely to be human, but to awaken quickly on Earth, a "setting of delusion", and return. "That is what they really have in mind; they are opening a door for you. Those who fail to return will have no choice but to reincarnate, with this continuing until they amass a huge amount of karma and are destroyed."Li Hongzhi, Zhuan Falun, Volume II {{Webarchive|url= |date=21 August 2011 }}, published 1996, translated June 2008, accessed 2008-06-21Ownby regards this as the basis for Falun Gong's apparent "opposition to practitioners' taking medicine when ill; they are missing an opportunity to work off karma by allowing an illness to run its course (suffering depletes karma) or to fight the illness through cultivation." Benjamin Penny shares this interpretation. Since Li believes that "karma is the primary factor that causes sickness in people", Penny asks: "if disease comes from karma and karma can be eradicated through cultivation of xinxing, then what good will medicine do?"Benjamin Penny, Canberra, 2001, The Past, Present and Future of Falun Gong, A lecture by Harold White Fellow, Benjamin Penny, at the National Library of Australia, accessed 31 December 2007 Li himself states that he is not forbidding practitioners from taking medicine, maintaining that "What I'm doing is telling people the relationship between practicing cultivation and medicine-taking". Li also states that "An everyday person needs to take medicine when he gets sick."Lectures in United States, 1997, Li Hongzhi Schechter quotes a Falun Gong student who says "It is always an individual choice whether one should take medicine or not."Danny Schechter, Falun Gong's Challenge to China: Spiritual Practice or Evil Cult?, Akashic books: New York, 2001, pp. 47-50.


Free will and destiny

One of the significant controversies with the karma doctrine is whether it always implies destiny, and its implications on free will. This controversy is also referred to as the moral agency problem;Kaufman, W. R. (2005), Karma, rebirth, and the problem of evil, Philosophy East and West, pp 15-32 the controversy is not unique to karma doctrine, but also found in some form in monotheistic religions.[Moral responsibility] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University (2009); Quote - "Can a person be morally responsible for her behavior if that behavior can be explained solely by reference to physical states of the universe and the laws governing changes in those physical states, or solely by reference to the existence of a sovereign God who guides the world along a divinely ordained path?"The free will controversy can be outlined in three parts: (1) A person who kills, rapes or commits any other unjust act, can claim all his bad actions were a product of his karma: he is devoid of free will, he can not make a choice, he is an agent of karma, and he merely delivers necessary punishments his "wicked" victims deserved for their own karma in past lives. Are crimes and unjust actions due to free will, or because of forces of karma? (2) Does a person who suffers from the unnatural death of a loved one, or rape or any other unjust act, assume a moral agent is responsible, that the harm is gratuitous, and therefore seek justice? Or, should one blame oneself for bad karma over past lives, and assume that the unjust suffering is fate? (3) Does the karma doctrine undermine the incentive for moral education—because all suffering is deserved and consequence of past lives, why learn anything when the balance sheet of karma from past lives will determine one's action and sufferings?Herman, Arthur (1976), The Problem of Evil in Indian Thought, Delhi: Motilal BanarsidasThe explanations and replies to the above free will problem vary by the specific school of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The schools of Hinduism, such as Yoga and Advaita Vedanta, that have emphasized current life over the dynamics of karma residue moving across past lives, allow free will.Harold Coward (2003) Encyclopedia of Science of Religion, Macmillan Reference, see Karma Their argument, as well of other schools, are threefold: (1) The theory of karma includes both the action and the intent behind that action. Not only is one affected by past karma, one creates new karma whenever one acts with intent - good or bad. If intent and act can be proven beyond reasonable doubt, new karma can be proven, and the process of justice can proceed against this new karma. The actor who kills, rapes or commits any other unjust act, must be considered as the moral agent for this new karma, and tried. (2) Life forms not only receive and reap the consequence of their past karma, together they are the means to initiate, evaluate, judge, give and deliver consequence of karma to others. (3) Karma is a theory that explains some evils, not all (see moral evil versus natural evil).Reichenbach, Bruce (1990), The Law of Karma, University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, {{ISBN|978-0333535592}}Other schools of Hinduism, as well as Buddhism and Jainism that do consider cycle of rebirths central to their beliefs and that karma from past lives affects one's present, believe that both free will (Cetanā) and karma can co-exist; however, their answers have not persuaded all scholars.Matthew Dasti and Edwin Bryant (2013), Free Will, Agency, and Selfhood in Indian Philosophy, Oxford University Press, {{ISBN|978-0199922758}}

Psychological indeterminacy

Another issue with the theory of karma is that it is psychologically indeterminate, suggests Obeyesekere.G. Obeyesekere (1968), Theodicy, sin and salvation in a sociology of Buddhism, Practical religion, Editor: E.R. Leach, Cambridge University Press That is, (1) if no one can know what their karma was in previous lives, and (2) if the karma from past lives can determine one's future, then the individual is psychologically unclear what if anything he or she can do now to shape the future, be more happy, or reduce suffering. If something goes wrong {{en dash}} such as sickness or failure at work {{en dash}} the individual is unclear if karma from past lives was the cause, or the sickness was caused by curable infection and the failure was caused by something correctable.This psychological indeterminacy problem is also not unique to the theory of karma; it is found in every religion adopting the premise that God has a plan, or in some way influences human events. As with the karma-and-free-will problem above, schools that insist on primacy of rebirths face the most controversy. Their answers to the psychological indeterminacy issue are the same as those for addressing the free will problem.


Some schools of Asian religions, particularly Popular Theravada Buddhism, allow transfer of karma merit and demerit from one person to another. This transfer is an exchange of non-physical quality just like an exchange of physical goods between two human beings. The practice of karma transfer, or even its possibility, is controversial.Ronald Wesley Neufeldt, Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments, State University of New York Press, {{ISBN|978-0873959902}}see:
  • Charles Keyes (1983), Merit-Transference in the Kammic Theory of Popular Theravada Buddhism, In Karma, Editors: Charles Keyes and Valentine Daniel, Berkeley, University of California Press;
  • F.L. Woodward (1914), The Buddhist Doctrine of Reversible Merit, The Buddhist Review, Vol. 6, pp 38-50 Karma transfer raises questions similar to those with substitutionary atonement and vicarious punishment. It defeats the ethical foundations, and dissociates the causality and ethicization in the theory of karma from the moral agent. Proponents of some Buddhist schools suggest that the concept of karma merit transfer encourages religious giving, and such transfers are not a mechanism to transfer bad karma (i.e., demerit) from one person to another.
In Hinduism, Sraddha rites during funerals have been labelled as karma merit transfer ceremonies by a few scholars, a claim disputed by others.Ronald Wesley Neufeldt, Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments, State University of New York Press, {{ISBN|978-0873959902}}, pp 226, see Footnote 74 Other schools in Hinduism, such as the Yoga and Advaita Vedantic philosophies, and Jainism hold that karma can not be transferred.Wendy D. O'Flaherty (1980), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, University of California Press, {{ISBN|978-0520039230}}, Chapter 1

The problem of evil

There has been an ongoing debate about karma theory and how it answers the problem of evil and related problem of theodicy. The problem of evil is a significant question debated in monotheistic religions with two beliefs:R Green (2005), Theodicy, in The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd Edition (Editor: Lindsay Jones), Volume 12, Macmillan Reference, {{ISBN|978-0028657332}} (1) There is one God who is absolutely good and compassionate (omnibenevolent), and (2) That one God knows absolutely everything (omniscient) and is all powerful (omnipotent). The problem of evil is then stated in formulations such as, "why does the omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God allow any evil and suffering to exist in the world?" Max Weber extended the problem of evil to Eastern traditions.Max Weber (Translated by Fischoff, 1993), The Sociology of Religion, Beacon Press, {{ISBN|978-0807042052}}, pp. 129-153The problem of evil, in the context of karma, has been long discussed in Eastern traditions, both in theistic and non-theistic schools; for example, in Uttara Mīmāṃsā Sutras Book 2 Chapter 1;Francis Clooney (2005), in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism (Editor: Gavin Flood), Wiley-Blackwell, {{ISBN|0631215352}}, pp. 454-455Francis Clooney (1989), "Evil, Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom: Vedanta's theology of Karma", Journal of Religion, Vol. 69, pp 530-548 the 8th century arguments by Adi Sankara in Brahmasutrabhasya where he posits that God cannot reasonably be the cause of the world because there exists moral evil, inequality, cruelty and suffering in the world;P. Bilimoria (2007), Karma's suffering: A Mimamsa solution to the problem of evil, in Indian Ethics (Editors: Bilimoria et al.), Volume 1, Ashgate Publishing, {{ISBN|978-0754633013}}, pp. 171-189See Kumarila's Slokavarttika; for English translation of parts and discussions: P. Bilimoria (1990), "Hindu doubts about God {{en dash}} Towards a Mimamsa Deconstruction", International Philosophical Quarterly, 30(4), pp. 481-499 and the 11th century theodicy discussion by Ramanuja in Sribhasya. Epics such as the Mahabharata, for example, suggests three prevailing theories in ancient India as to why good and evil exists {{en dash}} one being that everything is ordained by God, another being karma, and a third citing chance events (yadrccha, यदृच्छा).Manmatha Nath Dutt (1895), English translation of The Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Chapter 159, verse 15 The Mahabharata, which includes Hindu deity Vishnu in the form of Krishna as one of the central characters in the Epic, debates the nature and existence of suffering from these three perspectives, and includes a theory of suffering as arising from an interplay of chance events (such as floods and other events of nature), circumstances created by past human actions, and the current desires, volitions, dharma, adharma and current actions (purusakara) of people.Gregory Bailey (1983), Suffering in the Mahabharata: Draupadi and Yudhishthira, Purusartha, No. 7, pp. 109-129Alf Hiltebeitel (2001), Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader's Guide to the Education of the Dharma King, University of Chicago Press, {{ISBN|978-0226340531}}, Chapters 2 and 5 However, while karma theory in the Mahabharata presents alternative perspectives on the problem of evil and suffering, it offers no conclusive answer.Emily Hudson (2012), Disorienting Dharma: Ethics and the Aesthetics of Suffering in the Mahabharata, Oxford University Press, {{ISBN|978-0199860784}}, pp. 178-217P.B. Mehta (2007), The ethical irrationality of the world {{en dash}} Weber and Hindu Ethics, in Indian Ethics (Editors: Billimoria et al.), Volume 1, Ashgate, {{ISBN|978-0754633013}}, pp. 363-375Other scholarsUrsula Sharma (1973), Theodicy and the doctrine of karma, Man, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 347-364 suggest that nontheistic Indian religious traditions do not assume an omnibenevolent creator, and someThe Nyaya-Vaisesika school of Hinduism is one of the exceptions where the premise is similar to the Christian concept of an omnibenevolent, omnipotent creator theistic schools do not define or characterize their God(s) as monotheistic Western religions do and the deities have colorful, complex personalities; the Indian deities are personal and cosmic facilitators, and in some schools conceptualized like Plato's Demiurge.P. Bilimoria (2013), Toward an Indian Theodicy, in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Editors: McBrayer and Howard-Snyder), 1st Edition, John Wiley & Sons, {{ISBN|978-0470671849}}, Chapter 19 Therefore, the problem of theodicy in many schools of major Indian religions is not significant, or at least is of a different nature than in Western religions.G. Obeyesekere (I968), Theodicy, sin and salvation in a sociology of Buddhism, in Practical religion (Ed. Edmund Leach), Cambridge University Press, {{ISBN|978-0521055253}} Many Indian religions place greater emphasis on developing the karma principle for first cause and innate justice with Man as focus, rather than developing religious principles with the nature and powers of God and divine judgment as focus.B. Reichenbach (1998), Karma and the Problem of Evil, in Philosophy of Religion Toward a Global Perspective (Editor: G.E. Kessler), Wadsworth, {{ISBN|978-0534505493}}, pp. 248–255 Some scholars, particularly of the Nyaya school of Hinduism and Sankara in Brahmasutra bhasya, have posited that karma doctrine implies existence of god, who administers and affects the person's environment given that person's karma, but then acknowledge that it makes karma as violable, contingent and unable to address the problem of evil.Bruce R. Reichenbach (1989), Karma, Causation, and Divine Intervention, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 135-149 Arthur Herman states that karma-transmigration theory solves all three historical formulations to the problem of evil while acknowledging the theodicy insights of Sankara and Ramanuja.Arthur Herman, The problem of evil and Indian thought, 2nd Edition, Motilal Banarsidass, {{ISBN|81-20807537}}, pp. 5 with Part II and III of the bookSome theistic Indian religions, such as Sikhism, suggest evil and suffering are a human phenomenon and arises from the karma of individuals.P. Singh, Sikh perspectives on health and suffering: A focus on Sikh theodicy, in Religion, Health and Suffering (Editors: John Hinnells and Roy Porter), Routledge, {{ISBN|978-0710306111}}, pp. 111-132 In other theistic schools such as those in Hinduism, particularly its Nyaya school, karma is combined with dharma and evil is explained as arising from human actions and intent that is in conflict with dharma. In nontheistic religions such as Buddhism, Jainism and the Mimamsa school of Hinduism, karma theory is used to explain the cause of evil as well as to offer distinct ways to avoid or be unaffected by evil in the world.Those schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that rely on karma-rebirth theory have been critiqued for their theological explanation of suffering in children by birth, as the result of his or her sins in a past life.Whitley Kaufman (2005), Karma, rebirth, and the problem of evil, Philosophy East & West, Vol. 55, No. 1, pp. 15-32 Others disagree, and consider the critique as flawed and a misunderstanding of the karma theory.Chadha and Trakakis (2007), Karma and the Problem of Evil: A Response to Kaufman, Philosophy East & West, Vol. 57, No. 4, pp. 533-556

Comparable concepts

{{synthesis|date=January 2016}}{{further|Poetic justice|Mills of God}}(File:It Shoots Further Than He Dreams.jpg|alt=|thumb|It Shoots Further Than He Dreams by John F. Knott, March 1918.)Western culture, influenced by Christianity, holds a notion similar to karma, as demonstrated in the phrase "(wikt:what goes around comes around|what goes around comes around)".


Mary Jo Meadow suggests karma is akin to "Christian notions of sin and its effects."BOOK, Meadow, Mary Jo, Christian Insight Meditation, 28 August 2007, Wisdom Publications Inc, 9780861715268, 199, She states that the Christian teaching on a Last Judgment according to one's charity is a teaching on karma. Christianity also teaches morals such as (wikt:reap what one sows|one reaps what one sows) (Galatians 6:7) and live by the sword, die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).BOOK, Karma, rhythmic return to harmony, Haridas Chaudhuri, 78 and 79, The Meaning of Karma in Integral Philosophy,weblink Most scholars, however, consider the concept of Last Judgment as different from karma, with karma as an ongoing process that occurs every day in one's life, while Last Judgment, by contrast, is a one-time review at the end of life.Raymond Collyer Knox and Horace Leland Friess, The Review of Religion, Volume 1, Columbia University Press, pp 419-427


There is a concept in Judaism called in Hebrew midah k'neged midah, which literally translates to "value against value," but carries the same connotation as the English phrase "measure for measure." The concept is used not so much in matters of law, but rather, in matters of ethics, i.e. how one's actions affects the world will eventually come back to that person in ways one might not necessarily expect. David Wolpe compared midah k'neged midah to karma.Wolpe, David. "Drash." Sinai Temple. Los Angeles, CA. 18 November 2017. Drash. MP3 file.


Jung once opined on unresolved emotions and the synchronicity of karma;Popular methods for negating cognitive dissonance include meditation, metacognition, counselling, psychoanalysis, etc., whose aim is to enhance emotional self-awareness and thus avoid negative karma. This results in better emotional hygiene and reduced karmic impacts.{{citation needed|date=January 2014}} Permanent neuronal changes within the amygdala and left prefrontal cortex of the human brain attributed to long-term meditation and metacognition techniques have been proven scientifically.Davidson, Richard J., Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jessica Schumacher, Melissa Rosenkranz, Daniel Muller, Saki F. Santorelli, Ferris Urbanowski, Anne Harrington, Katherine Bonus, and John F. Sheridan. "Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation." Psychosomatic Medicine 65 (2003): 564–70 This process of emotional maturation aspires to a goal of Individuation or self-actualisation. Such peak experiences are hypothetically devoid of any karma (nirvana or moksha).

Theosophy, Spiritism, New Age

The idea of karma was popularized in the Western world through the work of the Theosophical Society. In this conception, karma was a precursor to 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. Colloquially this may be summed up as 'what goes around comes around.'The Theosophist I. K. Taimni wrote, "Karma is nothing but the Law of Cause and Effect operating in the realm of human life and bringing about adjustments between an individual and other individuals whom he has affected by his thoughts, emotions and actions."I.K. Taimni Man, God and the Universe Quest Books, 1974, p. 17 Theosophy also teaches that when humans reincarnate they come back as humans only, not as animals or other organisms.E.L. Gardner Reincarnation: Some Testimony From Nature 1947

See also






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  • {{Citation | last=Matthews|first=Bruce|chapter=Chapter Seven: Post-Classical Developments in the Concepts of Karma and Rebirth in Theravada Buddhism| editor-last =Neufeldt| editor-first=Ronald W. | year= 1986 |title =Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments | publisher =State University of New York Press |isbn= 0-87395-990-6 }}
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External links

{{EB1911 Poster|Karma}}
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