What is Karma?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2019
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The word karma itself comes from the Sanskrit language, and is often translated as an act of volition, an effect, destiny or an action. It is important to understand that it is the action itself, not necessarily the good or bad results of that action. Some Eastern religions call these inevitable reactions vipaka. Karma and vipaka are considered to be the basis for a cosmic law of cause and effect, although many Westerners use the word by itself to suggest causality.

The concept of karma is central to both Buddhism and Hinduism, since both religions believe in reincarnation as a means of spiritual renewal. In the purest sense, karma is any action willfully performed by a person who understands the goodness or evilness of that act. It is essentially the stone that causes future ripples in a soul's lifestream. The fruits of that action may be seen right away, or they may takes several reincarnation cycles to manifest themselves.


The idea that the effects of karma may not be experienced in one's current lifetime is one incentive for believers to consider each of their actions carefully. The accumulation of bad karma over several lifetimes can cause a person to experience a lifetime of misery and sacrifice. In some Eastern belief structures, it can affect the actual form a reincarnate soul will take. Those with an abundance of good karma may return as higher forms of life, while those who have accumulated bad may become creatures of a lower form.

In the Western sense, many people tend to view it as a cosmic version of "what goes around, comes around" or "you reap what you sow." In one sense, karma does indeed address the idea of causality, or the principle of action and reaction. If someone chooses to commit a criminal act, for example, he or she should be aware that there will be a cosmic price to pay for their action. Consequently, if someone chooses to perform an act of charity, the concept of universal karma dictates his or her selfless action will eventually be rewarded.

Karma is not necessarily experienced in an overt way. One cannot simply perform a good act with the express hope of receiving karmic payback instantaneously. As with the Western belief in God's benevolence towards mankind, karma also works in mysterious ways. A lifetime of performing good works often results in a sense of satisfaction during one's old age, which is essentially the message inherent in this belief.


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Post 6

If karma is correct as expressed in the writings, then a good part of the world is heading for the lower caste. We have seen the inhumanity to the poor and disenfranchised on the planet where some live large and others can hardly find food for survival.

Post 3

As I understand it, karma includes not only your action, but also your intentions (secret and overt), your feelings while performing the action, and your feeling after performing the action. Therefore, you get more good karma for performing a deliberate unselfish action that you do not regret afterward. If you act generously but regret your generous act you get less benefit from it.

Post 2

I truly believe that to some degree. I was born into Buddhism. I've learned and experienced couple of other religions through out my life time. No matter what religion you believe in, by adapting goodness to your heart and mind makes you a good human being with a pure and innocent soul. I am a firm believer of Karma. I've also witnessed many good and bad Karma that was a reflection of someone's action. As the article above states, karma sometime (depend on what type)will appear right away within days, months, years, ones' life time or per reincarnation etc. But usually what I've so far witnessed was (is) wihin days, weeks, months, and years.

Post 1

I wonder if karma differentiates between selfless help (help that is truly and only for the recipient's benefit) and selfish help (help that is provided because to some degree it helps the helper). It must, must it not?

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