The Real Meaning of Karma

Karma is a concept taught by various religions and cultures throughout history. It’s an idea that dates back thousands of years. But despite the popularity of the notion, it seems that it’s frequently misunderstood. It’s like being tossed around by various ideologies and religions. And we have no real understanding of its true meaning.

What is the real meaning of karma? Is it the same as punishment? Is it an action or result? Does life revolve around karma and its results? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered.

The Definition of Karma

In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma is action. It includes the things we do, and our actions bring upon inevitable results. Such results may be good or bad, either in this life or after reincarnation. The Hindu religion also views karma as one of the means of reaching Brahman.

Theosophical scholars, on the other hand, see karma as a cosmic principle. Karma involves one’s deeds, in which a person rewarded or punished in one incarnation. It also means that our acts from a past incarnation have certain positive or negative results in the next incarnation.

Popular culture defines karma as fate or destiny. It involves good or bad emanations that are believed to be generated by someone or something. Some people see karma as similar to predestination, predetermination or kismet.

In short, karma is about everything you do. All your activities and work. The Astha mentions that your future depends on your present karma.

The Mixup between Karma and Results

So by definition, karma is action. But many people still get confused with this concept. As a result, they tend to mix karma and results together. Karma is often misused to denote luck, fate or destiny. It is also misused as a way to explain hardships in life.

Many people associate karma this way: what you do to others, they do to you. Let’s look at this more closely. Karma is about what you do to others. What others do to you is the result of your karma. And what other people do to you is their karma. Karma is only the action part.

In a sense, John Lennon’s thought that “instant karma’s gonna get you” is, by definition, incorrect.

Here’s another example: working at the office. Your job activity is your karma. And if you do good, like helping society or your company grow, you’ll be rewarded. It’s like for each and every action; there’s a corresponding result.

Taking a bribe is another form of karma. And this action is punishable by law. Thus, punishment is the result of such karma. Hence, karma is not punishment.

Therefore, we can say that all actions are karma. And all our actions have results. This also implies that the result of karma influences our subsequent actions. We can also think that karma controls our destiny as a whole. Every action that we do brings us to an inevitable course of life. Life, basically, revolves around karma and its consequences.

Karma in Hinduism

The Hindu religion views karma as a law of nature. Just like gravity, it treats everyone similarly. According to the law of karma, man is wholly responsible for his/her actions. He/she is also responsible for everything that is done to him/her. This way, Hindus believe that good actions lead to a virtuous life.

Karma in Buddhism

The Buddhists believe that karma means “action” or “doing”. Karma is derived from the verbal root “kṛ”, which means “do, make, perform, and accomplish.”

On the other hand, the “fruit” or result of karma is referred to as “karmaphala”. This concept was originated from a metaphor in agriculture. If one sows a seed, there is a period in which some mysterious invisible process takes place. Then, the plant germinates and later is reaped.

Tibetan Bhavacakra: The Wheel of Life

More importantly, karma is central to the concept of reincarnation. This concept is similar to “rebirth.” It means a person is reborn in a new human or non-human body after death. A person’s karmic sum (the sum of one’s actions) determines the form he or she will take in the next life.

The Buddhist concepts of karma and karmaphala explain how our actions keep us tied to the “wheel of life.” Samsara, the “cycle of rebirth” has no beginning and end. It is an ever-going process, and that our actions determine the nature of our resurrection.

Karma is all about our actions. It involves our past, present, and future actions. Karma itself is not a reward or punishment. Instead, reward or punishment is the result of our karma. Therefore, each action we take will affect us at some time in the future. Scholars believe that this also applies to our thoughts and words. In a sense, karma also revolves around the cycle of cause and effect. Because of this, we are responsible for our karma and its consequences. And since we are accountable for our karma, we should guide ourselves, do good and pursue a righteous path of life. 

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