Karma - Meaning and View in Hinduism , Buddhism and Jainism :

In traditional Indian religions Karma is regarded as part of the universal or Cosmic Law of Cause and effect. This means we reap the fruit ( Vipaka) of what we sow ( Karma). In actuality , in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism , it is Actually passing of Karma, rather than the rebirth of a soul, that assumes priority. Soul rebirth is primarily the vehicle of manifestation of Karma. Indeed even spiritual liberation is subordinate to Karma.

There is no concrete evidence FOR or AGAINST Karma is obtainable, therefore a belief in karma is ultimately on the basis of faith alone.

Karma and Justice : There has been a long standing argument amongst traditional oriental religious system as how rigid or flexible Karma is. In Jainism karma is viewed as more or less inflexible or absolute, since it is considered to be a form similar to “ clay Particles”. For this the Jains believe instead of developing good or bad karma it should try to avoid creating any kind of new karma and getting rid of all past karma. In Jainism an action has more of a life of its own which means one must experience the vipaka (karmic consequences) of the action regardless of the intention .

In Hinduism and Buddhism it is intentions that count more than the action itself, which makes karma far more relative. To be subjected to vipaka for an action one does, there must have been conscious intent to perform that action followed by the consequence of the action. For example, killing in self defense the intentionality to kill was forced upon whereas; the revenge killing was entirely intentional.

Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism teach Free-will and technically opposed to western doctrine of determinism. This views Karma as a kind of lease tied to a pole in the ground by which one’s life is held. While one cannot breach the radius of the rope but has complete freedom to act within the radius.

Classification of Karma: Hinduism and Buddhism a very similar classification is found. ( Pali canon)

1. Sanchita Karma: which is unresolved karma accumulated from past life. This can be altered to some degree through spiritual practices.

2. Prarabha Karma: which is karma that is inherited from past lives. This cannot be altered within the present life, so it must simply be accepted.

3. Agami Karma : which is created in the present life and over which one has complete control. This must be resolved in the future life.

karma classified based on particular function

a) Regenerative(Janaka) Karma: which conditions the future birth

b) Supportive(Upattham- bhaka) Karma : which assists or maintains the results of already existing karmas

c) Counteractive(Upapidaka) karma : which suppresses or modifies the results of the regenerative karma

d) The destructive(Upaghataka)Karma: which destroys the force of existing karma and substitutes its own results

karma Classified according to the priority of the results.

a) Heavy( Garuka ) Karma : which produces the results in the present or next life and can be sub divided in positive or negative form. On the negative side the highly serious crimes(karma) is i) killing ones mother. ii) killing ones father iii) killing a saint iv) wounding a Buddha v) creating a schism in the monastic (sangha) order. In Chandogya Upanishad it is i) he who steals gold ii) he who drinks wine iii) he who dishonours the teacher’s bed iv) he who kills a brahmana , this four do fall and also the fifth who consorts with them

There is also death – proximate (asana) karma which is the action one does at the moment before death either physically or mentally. It is this karma which is said to determine the conditions of next birth , if there is otherwise no positive or negative Garuka Karma. In the absence of either Asanna karma or garuka Karma the condition of the next birth is determined by Habitual (Acinna) Karma . and finally in the absence of Acinna Karma rebirth is determined by Reserved (Katatta) Karma which is the unexpended karma of a particular being.

Karma of place or site

This belief that certain places such as home or cities have their own karma connected to the action of their inhabitants. If this is true the when so ever someone is planning to move may study the background or history of the new place to move to a karmically better or worst site. The most karmically charged places would presumably be holy sites e.g. Hardwar, Varanasi, Jerusalem, Mecca, etc. because of the amount of holy feeling imprinted in those places over the centuries.

Karma - East vs West view : In the west the doctrine of karma has been seen as a form of determinism . The western(judeo – Christian) view that a personal memory is required for individuality and hence for genuine individual moral responsibility. The western belief in very personal God who send evil person to eternal hell and a personal God as a judge of human transgression who can forgive act of karma. This givers sinner all the necessary chances to reform that they need. In eastern religion to gain forgiveness as a part of the fruit(vipaka of karma) require one to make forgiving karma to receive such forgiveness. There is no doubt that many passages in the both the old and new testament teach that what a person sow , so shall he reap .(Deuteronomy 24:16) a man shall put to death for his own sin ( job 4:8) this I know, that those who plough mischief and sow trouble reap as they have sown (psalm 9:16).

Eastern view: when it comes to the issue of karma and God religious opinion generally has divided along theistic (Hinduism and Sikhism) and non theistic(Buddhism and Jainism). However this belief in God doesnot make much difference in karmic rebirth as technically it is performed by impersonal law of karma and thought as of independent of god.

If there is a fundamental difference between Christianity and Hinduism , it is said that it consists in this, that while the Hindu to what so ever school he belongs believes in the succession of lifes , the Christian believes that it is appointed to men wants to die but after this the judgement ( John McKenzie : Two religions (1950), p.112. some western philosophers and early Christian theologians accept the principle of rebirth).

Karma and Rebirth as per Upanishads :

The principle which governs this world of becoming is called karma. The law of karma is not external to the individual . The judge is not without but within. The law by which virtue brings its triumph and ill doing its retribution is the unfolding of the law of our being. The world order is a reflection of the divine mind. The vedic gods were regarded as the maintainers of the order ‘ rta’ of the world. They are the guardians of ‘rta’ god, for the svetasvatara Upanishad, is the ordainer of karma, karmá dhyaksh . The working of karma is totally dispassionate, just, neither cruel nor merciful . even the soul in the lowest condition need not abandon all hope. The future of the soul is not finally determined by what it has felt , thought and done in this one earthly life. The soul has chances of acquiring merit and advancing to life eternal. Until the union with the timeless reality is attained there will be some form of life or other. The Upanishads gives us the detailed descriptions of the manner in which a man dies and born again. As illustrated as a goldsmith , after taking a piece of gold, gives it another, newer and more beautiful shape, similarly does this self , after having thrown of this body, and dispelled ignorance, take another, newer and more beautiful form. The soul is creative in the sense that it creates a body . The state of each existence of the soul is conditioned and determined by its knowledge (vidya), its conduct(karma) in the previous existence. From the Brhad- aranyaka Upanishad it appears that all the organs accompanying the departing soul , which enters into the samjnana and become possessed of knowledge and consciousness vijnana . The results of learning and conduct cling to the soul .

The ignorant , the unenlightened go after the death to sunless demoniac regions. The goods are said to go up to regions which are sorrowless through the air , sun, and the moon. The Chándogya Upanishad speaks of two ways open to mortals, the bright and the dark, the way of the gods and the way of the fathers . Those who practise penance and faith enter the path of light , ( deva-y?na) and never return to the cycle of human existence. Those who are only ethical, performing works of public utility, travel by the path of smoke, dwell in the world of the fathers ( pit?- y?na) till the time comes for them to fall down and born again according to their deserts ( residuum of their karma). The description may be fictitious but the principle of the ascent and the descent of the soul is what the Upanishads insist on. Beautiful characters attain covetable births and the ugly ones miserable births. Heaven and hell belong to the world of time.

MOKSA : there are certain characteristics of the state of moksa or freedom it is conceived as freedom from subjection to time . As birth and death are symbols of time life eternal or moksa is a liberation from the same. It is the fourth state of consciousness beyond the three worlds , what the Bhagavad Gita calls paramam Brahma or Brahma- nirv??a. It is the freedom from subjection to the law of karma . the deeds good or bad of a released , cease to have any effect on him. As the horse shakes its mane , the liberated soul shakes as of his sin.

The law of karma prevails in the world of sa?sára, where our deeds lead us to the higher or lower stations in the world of time. If we obtain knowledge of the eternal reality , Brahman or atman , deed have no power over us. Knowledge takes us to the place where desire is at rest , a-káma, where all desires are fulfilled ápta-káma, where self is the only desire(satapatha brahmana X) . The state of life eternal is said to be beyond good and evil. The knower of the self ceases to be stained by action. He goes beyond the ethical , though rooted in it , anyatra dharmát, anyatradharmát.


Acknowledged Biblio :

a) Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma (Norman C.McClelland)

b) The Principal of Upanisadas ( S. Radhakrishnan)