Hinduism and Karma

The word karma is a common one in our world. But what is karma? First, we need to understand something about Hinduism. The belief in the reincarnation of the soul is a fundamental assumption of Hinduism. The form that one returns to after death can be almost anything: another human, an animal, perhaps a demon, perhaps a god. What determines one’s status in the next life is simply the way one lives one’s life here and now. The word for this concept has become a familiar one in the West, Karma. Karma is simply action and its consequences.

In older Vedic times, karma referred to ritual action. In classical Hinduism in came to include moral action. This moral connotation implied essentially two kinds of karma: good karma and evil karma. By performing good actions one accrued positive karma. Wicked and immoral actions accrued negative karma.

A preponderance of good karma meant a favorable rebirth. A preponderance of bad karma meant an unfavorable rebirth. Although we may speak about many philosophical subtleties, karma is ultimately that simple.

For many, karma is hard to conceptualize. Jainism, which was established at just about the same time as classical Hinduism thinks of karma as a very fine imperceptible substance that literally clings to the soul. The classical Hindu notion is less materialistic than the Jain. In Hinduism, karma is more akin to a form of energy. Just as dropping a pebble into a pond causes ripples that reverberating on the surface of the water, so every action has reverberating consequences. These consequences return to the agent.

The essential offshoot of the concept of karma is that every person gets what he or she deserves. In this respect, karma is the principle of absolute justice. The reaping of karma may not occur immediately. It may take more than one life time, but it will occur. This occurs impersonally just like the law of gravity acting on physical bodies.

What Hindus mean by karma is reflected in the Western expression “what goes around comes around”. For better or worse, we cannot escape the consequences of our action.

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