What is Karma? (Q&A)

What is Karma?

Karma is a Sanskrit word that literally means “action” or “deed.” It is a key concept in several Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. At its core, karma is the idea that every action or deed has consequences that affect the individual’s current or future lives. It is a complex, multi-faceted concept, and its interpretations vary across different traditions.


Karma is rooted in ancient Indian philosophy and religious beliefs, dating back to the Vedic period (1500-5000 BCE). The concept was later developed and elaborated upon in the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, and other Hindu texts. It also became central to the teachings of Buddhism and Jainism, both of which emerged around the 5th century BCE.

In Hinduism, karma is an essential aspect of the belief in reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls (samsara). According to Hindu belief, the karma accumulated in one’s lifetime determines the circumstances of one’s future rebirths, including one’s social position, wealth, and even physical appearance. The ultimate goal in Hinduism is to attain moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, which can be achieved by resolving one’s karmic debt and realizing one’s true nature.

In Buddhism, karma is similarly integral to the belief in rebirth. Actions are believed to have consequences not only in this life but also in future lives, shaping one’s destiny in the cycle of samsara. The goal in Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment (nirvana) and break free from the cycle of birth and death. To attain this, one must cultivate wholesome actions and mental states and avoid unwholesome ones.

Jainism also emphasizes the concept of karma, but with some differences from Hinduism and Buddhism. Jains believe that karma is a type of material substance that clings to the soul due to one’s actions. The accumulation of karma over lifetimes can be cleansed by following the path of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment.


  1. Positive karma: If a person consistently performs acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion, they will accumulate good karma. This may result in favorable circumstances in their present life, such as being surrounded by supportive friends and family or experiencing success in their career. In their future lives, they may be reborn into more favorable conditions or even attain spiritual liberation.
  2. Negative karma: If a person engages in harmful or unethical actions, such as stealing, lying, or causing harm to others, they will accumulate negative karma. This may manifest in their present life as challenges, hardships, or suffering. In their future lives, they may be reborn into less favorable circumstances or experience further suffering as a result of their actions.
  3. Neutral karma: Some actions may be considered neutral and have no significant karmic consequences. For example, mundane activities like eating, sleeping, or walking are generally considered neutral, as long as they are not performed with any harmful intent.

It is important to note that karma is not a system of punishment or reward, but rather a natural law that governs the consequences of one’s actions. By understanding and working with the principles of karma, individuals can make conscious choices to create a better future for themselves and others.

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