Karma (कर्म)

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Karma (कर्म) also mentioned as Karman (कर्मन्) refers to the correct performance of an activity and is a universally admitted doctrine embedded in the principles of Sanatana Dharma. It generally refers to a series of actions which could be ethical or unethical leading to an apparently single, however, encapsulating a plethora of events, occurring as a consequence. Originally, “karman” referred to correct performance of ritualistic activity with a view to receiving the desired results. It was believed that if a ritual is duly performed, nobody, not even divinities, could stop the desired results. On the other hand, any mistake in the performance of rituals, say, word mispronounced, will give rise to undesired results. Thus, a correct action was a right action and no moral value was attached to such an action. Eventually karma acquired larger meaning and came to signify any correct action having ethical implications.[1]

Central to the civilization of Sanatana Dharma encompassing almost all Indian traditions, including the Non-Vedic Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions, is the concept of Karma.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

A commonly stated account of karma in terms of “as you sow so shall you reap” or “as you act, so you enjoy or suffer” are attempts to connect the underlying thought to our ordinary ethical and soteriological thinking and, precisely for this reason, does not capture the underlying thought in its totality.[1]

Thus this axiom does not go far enough although it is a simple way of understanding the import of Karma. For the sowing and reaping in the ancient Indian system, may be separated by a great gulf of time. This axiom is based on the premise that time is linear but Kala (time) is cyclical as per the laws of the cosmos according to Bharatiya Kalamana. The law of Karma says that any action (good or bad) has consequences, far in excess of what is visible to the eye. Thus the term Karma came to include not just actions but all its consequences (Phalita), for they - Karma and Karmaphala (the fruits of action) have Samavāyasaṃbandha (समवायसंबन्ध) in the sense that they are inherently and inseparably connected and arise together, even though separated by great lengths of time. Just like a fruit (Phala) manifests from a tree after a long period from the time the seed was sown, so also Karmaphala, takes time to emerge. The law of Karma has come to be accepted as a universal law of causation.

व्युतपत्तिः ॥ Etymology

The word “karma” is derived from the verbal root “kr । कृ (डुकृञ् करणे),” meaning “act,” “bring about,” “do,” "that which is characterized by movement". Its pratipadika form Karman (कर्मन्) is also widely in usage.

According to Shabdakalpadhruma Karma is defined as कर्त्तुः क्रियया यद्व्याप्यते तद्वा क्रियाव्याप्यं कर्म्मेति । (Shabdakalpadhruma[2]) that when the karta (subject who does the karma) by his actions permeates or the spread of the action itself.

According to Vyakarana shastra, Karma is defined as that which is earnestly desired by the Karta as a fruit of his action. व्याकरणपरिभाषिते कर्त्त्रा क्रियाफलाश्रयतयाप्तुमिष्टतमे पदार्थे “कर्त्तुरीप्सिततमं कर्म” (Vachaspatyam[3])

The words ‘Karma and Kriti’ refer to the deeds done by a man and the actions taken by him. While the word ‘Kriti’ refers to the act of doing, accomplishments, making an effort, performing an act, the word ‘Karma’ refers to the work done or the deeds that are undertaken by a man. Both these terms are closely linked with each other and cannot be separated and understood correctly. If one does any deed, he is naturally taking some action. Whereas the term ‘action’ applies to the physical activity, the process of doing anything, the activity itself, the term ‘deed’ would apply to something someone has done, a notable achievement. An action is taken to accomplish success in one’s endeavour, while the deed would describe in general terms the category under which one’s actions can be classified—i.e. whether the action was good or bad.[4]

The doctrine of karma forms the basis of a plethora of ethical, metaphysical, psychological, and theological siddhantas given by ancient maharshis, and is one of the core civilizational principles given to the world by Sanatana Dharma.

कर्मलक्षणम् ॥ Karma Lakshanam

Vaiseshika Darshana

Unlike the usages of “karma” in other systems, karma in this school is taken to signify movement of a thing from one place to another. Karma, is motion according to the Maharshi Kanada who gave us the Vaiseshika Darshana. Karma is simply displacement of positions in space and it is with the help of karma that one thing reaches another place. But it is a deeper concept than mere physical displacement with respect to time.[1][5]

एकद्रव्यमगुणं संयोगविभागेष्वनपेक्ष कारणमिति कर्मलक्षणम् । वैशेषिक-१,१.१७ । संयोगविभागवेगानां कर्म समानम् । वैशेषिक-१,१.२० । (Vais. Sutr. 1.1.17 and 20)[6]

The characteristics of motion are

  1. एकद्रव्यम् । being dependent or pertinent to one single material entity (or substance)
  2. अगुणं । not possessing any guna (quality)
  3. संयोगविभागेष्वनपेक्ष कारण। independent cause (essential cause) for both conjunction and disjunction

Motion is the common cause of conjunction, disjunction and speed. Another lakshana of Karma is as follows[5]

कर्म कर्मसाध्यं न विद्यते। (Vais. Sutr. 1.1.11)[6]

Motion does not exist (which) can be caused by (another) motion.

One motion cannot be caused by another motion without the material entity (substance) and its qualities. Motion requires a cause such as some substance along with its gunas.[5]

Thus the characteristics of Karma or Activity can be summarized as

  1. Activity/Motion depends on substance
  2. By itself, Activity does not possess any guna. It is one of the two important features possessed by matter or substance.
  3. It is said to be active when the substance moves from one position to another. In this process motion (Karma) is the common cause for any disjunction (Vibhaga or separation) of the substance (whole or part) from its previous position and conjunction (Samyoga or joining) with a new position. Motion is common cause of conjunction, disjunction and speed (or impetus) with which the substance moves.
  4. Karma is not instantaneous. Vyomashiva clearly explains that motion is not instantaneous instead it is incremental. This is true even in a process like cooking the food where the food is neither cooked instantaneously nor does a change occur in its state until a minimum energy is expended. Such a minimum energy can be seen as similar to the threshold energy concept of today. The incremental nature of change in substances explained by Vyomashiva is what follows from today’s relativistic physics about no action being instantaneous.[7]

कर्माणि भेदाः ॥ Types of Karma

Based on Direction of Movement

सप्तपदार्थान्तर्गततृतीयपदार्थः । तत्तु पञ्चविधम् ।

Interpreted as motion, Karma can be classified into five categories based on the direction of movement as explained by the Vaiseshika sutra below.

उत्क्षेपणमवक्षेपणं आकुञ्चनं प्रसारणं गमनमिति कर्माणि । वैशेषिक-१,१.७ । (Vais. Sutr. 1.1.7)[6]

They are

  1. उत्क्षेपणम् ॥ Ut-kṣepaṇa (Upward movement): movement causing conjunction with a spot above the present spot
  2. अवक्षेपणम् ॥ Ava-kṣepaṇa (Downward movement): movement causing conjunction with a spot below the present spot
  3. आकुञ्चनम् ॥ Ākuñcana (Contraction or flexion): movement causing conjunction with a nearer spot
  4. प्रसारणम् ॥ Prasāraṇa (Expansion or extension): movement causing conjunction with a spot farther from the body
  5. गमनम् ॥ Gamana (Other general movements): movement in general with flexibility to permit any type of motion. As per Maharshi Kanada and Prashastapada, the following additional categories of movements universally observable are special types of motion.[5]
    1. Rotation or circular motion (भ्रमणम् - Bhramaṇa)
    2. Evacuation, gushing out or expulsion (रेचन - Recana)
    3. Harmonic motion, flowing (स्यन्दनम् - Syandana)
    4. Horizontal movement (तिर्यग्गमनम् - tiryag-gamana)
    5. Bending forward (नमनम् - namana)
    6. Rising upward (उन्नमनम् - un-namana)

It is interesting that गमनम्। motion can mean, in general, just about any type of motion as mentioned above.

Based on the Agent of Action

Karma is of two types based on the causal agency of action

  1. सत्-प्रयत्न कर्म ॥ Sat-prayatna Karma - Action is caused due to the Prayatna (effort) by a person or an external agent which sets about the action on a thing. Thus the cause of action of a thing is due to the Prayatna of another thing or being, thus is called Prayatna-purvaka karma. Example - A person moves a table, the movement of the table is due to the Prayatna or effort of a person.
  2. असत्-प्रयत्न कर्म ॥ Asat-prayatna Karma - An action is not directly caused by effort, but happens due to the impulse sustained by the initial action. Example - Rebounding activity. A ball is thrown on a wall - this is the initial action, it rebounds due to the impulse of the retained from the initial action.

Based on the Nature of Activity

Karma is again of many kinds apart from general activities and includes many dharmik (or spiritual) rites or rituals described in scriptural texts. Shabdakalpadhruma[2] states the five kinds of Karmas as follows

नित्यनैमित्त्यकाम्य-प्रायश्चित्तनिषिद्धभेदात् । तत्र आद्यानि चत्वारि
धर्म्म्याणि । अन्त्यं अधर्म्म्यम् ।

They are Nitya, Naimittika, Kamya, Prayaschitta and Nishiddha karmas. Of these the first four follow the principles of dharma, while the Nishiddha karmas are adharmik.

  1. लौकिक-कर्म ॥ Laukika Karma - These include the daily activities such as walking, running, reading etc.
  2. नित्य-कर्म ॥ Nitya Karma (Regular rituals) नित्यानि - अकरणे प्रत्यवाय सधानानी संध्यावन्दनादीनी । (Veda. Sara. 1.9)[8] Include the daily dharmik activities such as devata puja, sandhyavandana. According to Mimamsakas these rituals are obligatory and therefore not performing them produces pratyavaya in the sense of harm or papa (पापम्) to those who are supposed to perform them. Panchamahayajnas are included in this category. Nityakarma does not include daily duties, it also includes regular/periodic scheduled karmas such as Amavasya tarpana, and Grahana karmas. Some nitya karmas include:
  3. नैमित्तिक-कर्म ॥ Naimittika Karma (Occasional rituals) नैमित्तिकानि - पुत्रजन्माद्यनुबन्धानि जातेष्टादीनि । (Veda. Sara. 1.10)[8] Jaateshti (Ishti a kind of yajna) etc., performed subsequent to birth of a son are called Naimittika Karmas to be observed on special occasions. The performance of these is obligatory for a grhastha.
  4. काम्य-कर्म ॥ Kamya Karma (Intentional rituals) काम्यानि - स्वर्गादीष्टसाधनानि ज्योतिष्टोमादीनि । (Veda. Sara. 1.7)[8] Yajnas such as Jyotishtoma etc., are perform to enable their performers to get the desired fruits such as living in heaven etc., are known as Kamya karmas. These ceremonies are performed with a definite motive or desire.
  5. प्रायश्चित्त-कर्म ॥ Prayaschitta Karma (expiatory rituals) प्रायश्चित्तानि - पापक्षयसाधनानि चान्द्रयाणादीनि । (Veda. Sara. 1.11)[8] Rituals such as Chaandrayana vrata etc., which are instrumental in the expiation of papa (पापम्) are called Prayaschitta karmas.
  6. निषिद्ध-कर्म॥Nishiddha Karma (forbidden actions) निषिद्धनिषिद्धानि - नरकाद्यनिष्टसाधनानि ब्राह्मणहननादीनि । (Veda. Sara. 1.8)[8] Actions such as the slaying of a Brahmin etc., which bring about undesired results as going to Naraka (for punishments) are forbidden acts.
  7. उपासना ॥ Upasana Karma (Mental activities) उपासनानि - सगुणब्रह्मविषयमानसव्यापार-रूपाणि शाण्डिल्यविद्यादीनि । (Veda. Sara. 1.12)[8] Mental activities relating to Saguna Brahma - such as are described in the Shandilya Vidya are termed Upasanas or devotional activities.

Further in Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, we find the following divisions of karma based on the nature of karma.

कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मणः । अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गतिः ॥४-१७॥ (Bhag. Gita. 4.17)[9]

One has to understand about Karma as well as about Vikarma and also about Akarma for whatever it is, Karma is a deep mystery. Here

  1. कर्म ॥ Karma is to be understood as action as prescribed in shastras (शास्त्रविहितस्य कर्म)
  2. विकर्म ॥ Vikarma include forbidden actions (प्रतिषिद्ध कर्म)
  3. अकर्म ॥ Akarma is inaction (तूष्णींभाव)

Based on when Karmas fructify

Karma of a every person born in this earth is of four kinds according to Vedanta. They are based on the concept of Punarjanma and Kala (time).

तच्च जन्मभेदात् चतुर्व्विधम् सञ्चितं प्रारब्धं क्रियमाणं भावि च । इति वेदान्तमतम् ॥ * ॥ Shabdakalpadhruma[2]

According to Vedanta, by birth there are four karmas that fructify in every person's life based on when the Karma-phala is revealed. Some karmas do not fulfill themselves immediately while some others are in store. While there is a mention of four karmas in this classification, three are primarily discussed in many texts. The four karmas

  1. सञ्चित-कर्म ॥ Sanchita Karma (Accumulated unripe actions)- It is the unripe karma accumulated in all previous lives along with that accumulated in the present life. These are yet to be resolved, dormant and include both the good and bad karmas of a person. These karmas are used along with Kriyamana karma in the present life. Liked to the arrows in a quiver.
  2. प्रारब्ध-कर्म ॥ Prarabdha Karma (Manifesting ripe actions)- A few actions from the past (sanchita) that have become ripe and are manifesting in the present life, ready to yield results. Karma-phala of such karmas have taken a decided course and give pleasure or pain. Liked to an arrow that has left the bow and is ready to hit the target.
  3. क्रियमाण--कर्म ॥ Kriyamana Karma (Present unripe actions)- A few actions from the past (sanchita) that have just started to manifest in the present life. It is still in the unripe stage liked to an arrow that is ready for discharging. Once ripe these karmas will be converted into prarabdha karmas. Karma-phala of such karmas are not yet visible but will be visible in the present life. They serve five additional purposes - (anusangika purposes/inadvertently obtained in some cases)
    1. संकल्पपूर्तिः sankalpa purti - fulfills past sankalpas (desire to do something, desire to obtain some karmaphala)
    2. नित्यावासरपूर्तिः avasara-purti fulfilling needs such as hunger etc
    3. कामनापूर्तिः kamana-purti fulfilling desires such as when Kaarireshti is performed the desired karmaphala is to obtain good rains.
    4. भविष्यत् प्रयोजनं bhavishyat prayojanam - such karma is performed with the expectation that it gives results in the near future as in the example where we eat food to obtain strength in the future.
    5. When sanchita karma is joins the kriyamana karma it gives immediate desired results, for example - medicine is consumed (kriyamana karma) for mitigating the malefic health problems but when sanchita karma is added to this present action, health is restored due to punya sanchita karma or deteriorates due to papa sanchita karma which is invoked in this case.
  4. भावि- or आगामि-कर्म ॥ Bhavi or Agami Karma (Future actions)- These are unripe actions which will fructify future time of either present or next lifetimes. For example - jyotishtoma yajna is performed with a desire to attain svarga loka. The fruit of this karma will only be seen after the lifetime of the yajamana.

Agent of Karma

No one can escape Karma, not even the Trimurtis, as expressed in the Garuda Purana shloka

ब्रह्मा येन कुलालवन्नियमितो ब्रह्माण्डभाण्डोदरे विष्णुर्येन दशावतारगहने क्षिप्तो महासङ्कटे । रुद्रोयेन कपालपाणिपुटके भिक्षाटनं कारितः सूर्यो भ्राम्यति नित्यमेव गगने तरमै नमः कर्मणे ॥ १,११३.१५ ॥

Meaning: Salutations to that Karma, which forces Brahma to work like a potter in the bowls of the cosmos, by which Vishnu was thrown into distress in the depths of the ten avataras, which made Rudra beg for alms with a skull in his hand, and which makes the sun ever go round and round in the sky.[10] Karma is vested with the Karta, as explained in Vyakarana sutras. Niralamba Upanishad describes the concept of karma in these words -

कर्मेति च क्रियमाणेन्द्रियैः कर्माण्यहं करोमीत्यध्यात्मनिष्ठतया कृतं कर्मैव कर्म । (Nira. Upan. 11-12)[11]

All deeds/actions performed by the organs of action of the body, with a sense of "I am the doer of this act", where the "I" is applied to the Atman (incorrectly) is termed as "Karma".[4]

This Atma does not actually and physically do anything, but for all practical purposes it is deemed to be morally responsible and accountable for all the deeds done by the body because it is the leader of the whole setup.[4]

The famous quote from Garuda Purana explains that all the past karmas are associated with the Karta, the doer.

भूतपूर्वं कृतं कर्म कर्तारमनुतिष्ठति । यथा धेनुसहस्रेषु वत्सो विन्दन्ति मातरम् ॥ १,११३.५४ ॥ (Garu. Pura. 1.113.54)[12]

Deeds performed in the past always follow the karta (doer) just like a calf can recognize its mother in the midst of a thousand cows.[10]

Most schools of Indian thought agree with the perspective that the agent of Karma is Jiva or the embodied Atma (the Karta). As per Advaita Vedanta, Jiva or the individual Atma along with the Buddhi (mind) are the agents of Karma.

Sankhya school, however, states that Jiva is only the enjoyer (bhokta), agency lies with buddhi present in the Jiva. Owing to non-discrimination between Jiva and intellect, Jiva is mistaken to be the agent. Hence, there does not exist agency in the Jiva.[13]

Essential conditions to accomplish work

The philosophy of Karma advocates that there are five conditions necessary for the accomplishment of all mental or physical labour.[14]

  1. A physical body for it is the energy bank on the finite physical plane. A fit body is required to perform the right work.
  2. A doer or the sense of "I" who feels the impulse to work and motivates the body to work.
  3. Instruments of Karma, many are included here such as the jnana-indriyas - the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin; the internal instrument brain and manas along with its faculties; the Five Faculties of Action (Karmendriyas) are: वाक्पाणिपादपायूपस्थानि कर्मेन्द्रियाण्याहु: ॥ २६ ॥ (Sank. Kari. 26)
    1. vak: speech (voice)
    2. pani: grasping (hands)
    3. pada: walking (feet)
    4. payu: excretion (anus)
    5. upastha: procreation (genitals)
  4. Desire to work - sankalpa or intent to perform action
  5. Environment for work to take place, for example presence of air is required for the sound to travel and reach the ears, so also to see there should be the environment with light.

The results of actions performed under these five conditions are of three kinds; those that are desirable because they help us to fulfil our aims in life, and bring us comfort and pleasure; second, those which are not desirable; and third, those which are partly desirable and partly undesirable.[14]

It is not possible to escape some one of these results at every moment of our existence; since, as has already been said, the activity of our organism never ceases. Nowhere is there rest. One thing, however, moves not; is at rest, and does not perform any karma. That something which is beyond all activity is the Atman, the Knower in all of us. It is that consciousness which experiences all the childhood activities as well as of what we do now. That which knows the object of sight or the object of the sound are same; it does not change, does not have desire nor passion.[14]

Karmaphala or Result of Karma

A few important concepts from Garuda Purana about karmaphala may be summarized as follows[12][10]

  • Karma transcends place - gives its karmaphala at the specified place

Just as wind blows away a boat, Karma drags a man irrespective of his wish, even from far away country, to the place where he has to reap the fruits (Garu. Pura. 1.113.31).

  • Karma transcends time - gives its karmaphala irrespective of the time and age

बालो युवा च वृद्धश्च यः करोति शुभाशुभम् । तस्यान्तस्यामवस्थायां भुङ्क्ते जन्मनिजन्मनि ॥ १,११३.३० ॥ (Garu. Pura. 1.113.30) स्वकालं नातिवर्तन्ते तथा कर्म पुराकृतम् ॥ १,११३.५१ ॥ (Garu. Pura. 1.113.51)

Birth after birth, a man reaps (eats) the fruits of his deeds, whether auspicious or inauspicious, in the respective ages of infancy, youth or old age at which the actions had been performed.

Just as flowers and fruits do not transgress their stipulated time (they do not come out earlier or later), so also is the case with karma of the previous births.

  • Karmaphala cannot be interchanged - one gets what he deserves

लब्धव्यान्येव लभते गन्तव्यान्येव गच्छति । प्राप्तव्यान्येव प्राप्नाति दुः खानि च सुखानि च ॥ १,११३.५० ॥ तत्तत्प्राप्नोति पुरुषः कि प्रलापैः करिष्यति । (Garu. Pura. 1.113.50).

One gets only those things he is supposed to get, he goes only to those places where he has to go (driven by Karma) and whether misery or pleasure he gets only what he deserves. A man attains only those things from his karma, why lament? The results of the various causes of nature can be classified as good, evil and mixed. That which fulfils our interest and is beneficial to us under certain conditions is called good or Punya (पुण्यम्); and that which injures us in any way, is called evil or Papa (पापम्). The mixed results are those which are partly beneficial or helpful and partly injurious. These three kinds of results determine the nature of actions or causes. “ If the result is good or, in other words, if we see any action producing an effect which is either beneficial to oneself or to one’s neighbour's physically, morally spiritually without injuring any living creature mentally or physically or in any other manner, it is called good; while that action is evil which destroys the interest of oneself or of one’s neighbours and brings suffering, sorrow,' misery, to the individual worker or to other members of the society.[15]

The mixed results are those which serve the interest of some, bringing happiness to one or many, but at the same time they produce evil in some other quarters. In short, action which produce good at the expense of the interest or rights of others, are called the causes of mixed results.[15]

Karma and Bondage

One can never dust off the Karma done by him, it remains bound and gives far reaching consequences even across life times. According to Garuda Purana,

न चान्तरिक्षे न समुद्रमध्ये न पर्वतानां विवरप्रवेशे । न मातृमूर्ध्नि प्रधृतस्तथाङ्के त्यक्तुं क्षमः कर्म कृतं नरो हि ॥ १,११३.२० ॥ (Garu. Pura. 1.113.20)[12]

A man can never forsake the action done by him far into the sky, or deep into the ocean or high on a mountain; whether held by the mother on her head or in her lap.[10] Karma neither comes to us as a hereditary possession nor does it leave us after death. It's effects can be reduced but never completely removed.

न पितुः कर्मणा पुत्रः पिता वा पुत्रकर्मणा । स्वयं कृतेन गच्छन्ति स्वयं बद्धाः स्वकर्मणा ॥ १,११३.२७ ॥ कर्मजन्यशरीरेषु रोगाः शरीरमानसाः । शरा इव पतन्तीह विमुक्ता दृढधन्विभिः ॥ १,११३.२८ ॥ (Garu. Pura. 1.113.27-28)[12]

Meaning: Neither the son (through Shraddha and other rites) nor the father with various rites for the welfare of the son, can ward off the effects of Karma. It's consequences invariably follow one who performs the deeds and one is bound by his own karma (not by other's). In the physical body born as a result of Karma, different kinds of illnesses, physical or mental fall in quick succession like the arrows discharged by a skillful archer.[10] In such a case a man should act in such a way that action does not become binding and he has to undergo cycles of birth and death. As Prof. Hiriyanna says:

"The Gita-teaching stands not for renunciation of action, but for renunciation in action."

Karma and Dharma

Karma performed in the framework of Dharmik guidelines secures the welfare and happiness of the individual and the society. The propounders of Dharma did appreciate the importance of Karma in this creation and its role in the fulfilment of the desires of the human being. It was recognized that Kama that drives Karma if was left unregulated by law, it would bring about undesirable results for everyone. Therefore, every propounder of Dharma unanimously declared that for the existence of an orderly society and peace in all corners, desires (Kama) for material enjoyment and pleasure (Artha) should always conform to Dharma (code of right conduct) and be never inconsistent with it.

तस्माच्छास्त्रं प्रमाणं ते कार्याकार्यव्यवस्थितौ । ज्ञात्वा शास्त्रविधानोक्तं कर्म कर्तुमिहार्हसि ॥१६- २४॥ (Bhag. Gita. 16.24)

Meaning: Let the shastras be your authority in deciding what you should do and what you should desist from doing.[16]

Every act or conduct which was in disobedience to rules of Dharma was called Adharma and was declared to be injurious to society and the individual.

Giving up Karma

It is emphatically stated that Sanyasa does not mean the renunciation of action itself, but of interest, desire and attachment; it means giving up of the fruit of all work. Bhagavan Shrikrishna says,

काम्यानां कर्मणां न्यासं संन्यासं कवयो विदुः । सर्वकर्मफलत्यागं प्राहुस्त्यागं विचक्षणाः ॥१८- २॥ (Bhag. Gita. 18.2)

They continue to do the nitya karma (daily works for the maintenance of the body), but they renounce kāmya karma (works related to acquisition of wealth, progeny, prestige, status, power, etc). Giving up actions cannot be possible. But internally giving up the attachment to the action is called Tyaga. This implies not relinquishing the prescribed Vedic duties, rather renouncing the desires for enjoying their fruits (nishkama karma). Therefore, the attitude of giving up attachment to the rewards of actions is Tyaga, while the attitude of giving up works is sanyasa.

यज्ञार्थात्कर्मणोऽन्यत्र लोकोऽयं कर्मबन्धनः। तदर्थं कर्म कौन्तेय मुक्तसंगः समाचर।।3.9।। (Bhag. Gita. 3.9)[9]

In the world one is bound by actions other than those performed for Yajnas; therefore, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), perform actions free from attachment.

How to stop Karma chakra even while living in this world?

This can be achieved through obtaining Jnana and performing Nishkama karma. Atman is the true Self which is independent of the body which actually and physically performs the deeds. Once a sadhaka understands the required tenets and doctrines of karma, he endeavors to distance himself from the deeds done by the mind and body. Once freed from the fetters of ignorance while he is alive, he realizes that it is the body that is doing a deed, not his Atma. Annihilating the chitta, they go about the worldly affairs and conduct deeds without any attachment to the karmaphala. He goes through the prarabdha karma observing the body suffering the consequences of past deeds, and since the wise man has understood that the body is not ‘he’, he remains stoic and calm and watches the sufferance like a neutral observer, setting him free from bondage to samsara. Such a person is said to have attained "Jivan Mukti" , i.e., the state of spiritual mukti (freedom) even while he is alive in the world and has a physical body. He is called a Jivanmukta (जीवन्मुक्तः). The chitta is tamed and controlled but has a Saarupa or form, and does not have to take repeated births anymore as the vasanas are totally eliminated.[4] In the next step, a person is freed from the limitations of his body upon death, his Atma sets itself free and merges with the vast cosmos which is present outside the body, totally freeing itself from the gross body. It is a neutral and inert state of existence. There is neither light nor darkness in it. It has a mysterious element of truth in it that cannot be described, and which has no name or attributes, qualifications or qualities that can define or delineate it. It is called "Videha Mukti.". The best example of a person having both these forms of Muktis, simultaneously is the legendary Janaka Maharaja (father of Sita and father-in-law of Shri Rama). Here the word Videha means "without a body". It has two implications - it refers to the higher state of Jivanamukta, when the sadhaka totally looses the awareness of his own body and does not respond even if he is bodily harmed; second - it refers to the actual shedding of the body at death. Although Janaka was a Maharaja taking care of the mundane work as a ruler, internally he was completely detached from the world, to the extent that bodily harm is not noticed by him. He is considered the most enlightened and wise king that ever existed, hence he was called ‘Videha’ and his daughter Sita Devi was called Vaidehi. There are other versions where the whole lineage is said to have such a disposition and hence the lineage was called Videha.[4]

What Happens to the Jivanmukta’s Karma?

Because of prarabdhakarma, a Jivanmukta continues to have this body, because this is Ishvara-srshti. A jivanmukta is liberated from doer-ship and with the Jnana his sanchita karma is wiped out. But there is a result for this new karma that was done by the Jnani, - Jnanina kritam karma. And that result cannot go to him because he has no sense of agency, kartritva. If this jnani has done some good karma, like teaching, which is considered to be a punya-karma, to whom will that punya go? Whoever worships that jnani, to that person it will go. And if there is any papa-karma, like inadvertently stepping on an insect, which according to the law of karma is himsa and creates papa, it will not touch him. He has no punya or papa; neither are there for him. Therefore where will that papa go? There is always somebody who is going to say something against that jnani, and he will get the papa. Someone will get the papa, and someone will get the punya, so the jnani is free.[17]

Karma and Punarjanma

Under the sway of this all-pervading law of Karma, there is no room left for a chance or accident. What we call happening by chance or accident is in reality the product of some definite causes which we may not know or cannot trace on account of our limited knowledge. The causes might be on the moral or spiritual planes, but we seek results only on the physical plane. So these so-called chance-events are just as much governed by the law of causation or Karma just as any ordinary result of some known cause in the present life.[15]

A careful study of nature reveals to us that the phenomena of the world are linked together in the universal chain of cause and effect. No event can occur without having a definite cause behind it. Whatever we see, hear or perceive with our senses is but the effect of some cause whether known or unknown. The Law of Causation, Karma, is one law that governs all phenomenon, however gross or subtle they may be. All the forces of nature whether physical or mental obey this law and can never transcend it. From the vibrations of electrons to the revolution of the earth around the sun, from the falling of an apple on the ground to the raising of an arm by the will-power, every event is the effect of some invisible force working in harmony with the law of causation. Every action of our body or mind is the result of some force or power which is its cause, but at the same time the effect that comes out of this Karma, is in turn the cause of a new set of events.[15] According to Garuda Purana

येनयेन यथा यद्वत्पुरा कर्म सुनिश्चितम् । तत्तदेवान्तरा भुङ्क्ते स्वयमाहितमात्मना ॥ १,११३.१८ ॥ (Garu. Pura. 1.113.18)[12]

Meaning: Man enjoys only the fruits of his previous actions; whatever he has done in the previous births has its reaction.[10]

Karma carries the belief that differences in the fortunes and the misfortunes of individual lives, to the extent they are not adequately explicable by known circumstances in this life, must be due to unknown (adrsta) causes which can only be actions done in their former lives. These two concepts of karma and rebirth are thus interlinked and together form a complex structure.[1]

Karma Siddhantas

All Bharatiya siddhantas (except Charvaka) advocate a belief in Karma unquestionably. Karmas are many and varied. Therefore experiences are not the same, they are always different. And because the karmas are different, the physical bodies assumed, and their incarnations, are also going to be different. What can be accomplished by a human Sharira (human body), can only be accomplished by a human Sharira. Then too, only at a given place and time.[18]

Shruti points that good actions alone leads to all that man aspires. However, it should not be believed that only through good actions one can attain Moksha. For karma and its results are confined to the manifested universe of name and form. By performing Karma one can never gain access to Moksha which is not an effect, is eternal and unmanifested, beyond name and form.[19] There is no Moksha as a result of performing karma, a kartr (a doer) is the one who attains the Highest by actually letting go of the karmaphala.

As seen in the previous sections, Karma according to the Vaiseshika darshana can be categorized as activities governed by physical laws of nature. Primarily described as "motion" or "movement", characteristics about Karma in Vaiseshika differ from those proposed in other Darshana shastras. According to general notion, the word ‘Karma’ refers to deeds done by a man, the actions he has taken. The word ‘Kriti’ in the spiritual context with its various connotations refers to, righteous deeds and actions involving self restraint, observance of strict codes of conduct and morality, and the ability to focus and concentrate the mind upon the supreme Truth and absolute Reality or Brahman while doing all the deeds or taking all the worldly action in a detached and dispassionate manner. Karma is based on the single principle that no cause goes without producing its effects, and there is no effect that does not have an appropriate cause. Since many of our actions seem to go unrewarded in the present life, and many evil actions go unpunished, it seems reasonable to suppose that such consequences, if they do not arise in this life, must arise in the next.[1]

Relationship between Karma and Karmaphala (results of action) are well explained in the Upanishads. Karma is finite; it is done in time. An action, including japa or stuti, is done in time and therefore, it and it's results are finite. Karma travels through lifetimes in the form of vasanas (samskaras or impressions) that make a person good or bad.

In this section we will observe how karma is treated in various texts.

Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Karma Chakra and Embodiment of Atma

The karma chakra or the giant wheel of karma and their consequences are described in the Shvetashvara Upanishad. According to this text, it is to be known that the through "karma of creation" various forms of Panchamahabhutas (prthvi, aapas, tejas, vayu, akasha) originate by the command of the all-pervading, all-knowing entity, who is the master of the Gunas, and the creator of time. After setting the creation in motion and withdrawing Himself from it (विनिवर्त्य), he unites the Atman with the Panchamahabhutas and other tattvas.[20]

येनावृतं नित्यमिदं हि सर्वं ज्ञः कालकारो गुणी सर्वविद्यः । तेनेशितं कर्म विवर्तते ह पृथिव्यप्तेजोनिलखानि चिन्त्यम् ॥ २ ॥ तत्कर्म कृत्वा विनिवर्त्य भूयस्तत्त्वस्य तत्त्वेन समेत्य योगम् । एकेन द्वाभ्यां त्रिभिरष्टभिर्वा कालेन चैवात्मगुणैश्च सूक्ष्मैः ॥ ३ ॥ (Shvet. Upan. 6.2-3)[21]

We may note here that Karma or action started with the act of creation of the universe. Regarding why do Jivas take a form, why does Atma become embodied the Shvetashvatara Upanishad explains as follows

सङ्कल्पनस्पर्शनदृष्टिमोहैर्ग्रासांबुवृष्ट्यात्मविवृद्धिजन्म । कर्मानुगान्यनुक्रमेण देही स्थानेषु रूपाण्यभिसम्प्रपद्यते ॥ ११ ॥ (Shve. Upan. 5.11)[21]

According to his karma, the embodied Atman (Jiva) successively assumes different forms in different places in accordance with actions through thought, touch, vision and delusion.[13]

First comes sankalpa (thought); from that follows sparsha (touch), the action of the organ of touch; from that follows the application of drsthi (vision); from that arises moha (delusion). Through these processes सङ्कल्पन-स्पर्शन-दृष्टि-मोहै, thought, touch, vision and delusion are undertaken actions good or bad. From that, in accordance with the actions, the embodied mortal assumes different forms (upadhis, male, female etc) in succession in various places (among devatas, animals, men etc).[13]

Brhdaranyaka Upanishad

पुण्यपापाख्यं कर्म ॥ Good and Bad Karma
शुभाशुभकर्मक्षये एव मोक्षसम्भवः ॥ Exhausting Karma is the means to Moksha
अविद्यायाश्च न कर्मणा नाश ॥ Ignorance is not destroyed by Karma

Yajnavalkya's answers to different questions in the court of Janaka form the essence of Brhdaranyaka Upanishad. Shankaracharyas commentary for the Bhujya Brahmana explains the scope and role of Karma in attaining Moksha.

तत्‌ कर्म इत्यवधारितं विचारणापूर्वकम् । तत्क्षये च नामावशेषेण सर्वोत्सादो मोक्षः । (Comm. on Brhad. Upan. 3.1.1)

After karma is exhausted everything is destroyed save only the name and Moksha.[19]

Karma is either virtuous or evil in category. It has no scope in Moksha which is not an effect, is eternal, unmanifested, beyond name and form and devoid of the characteristics of Karma with its factors and results. It is well known that bondage to samsara is due to Avidya or ignorance. Destruction of ignorance is not the function of Karma because if functions only in the visible realm. Production, attainment, modification and purification are the functions of karma as stated below.

अविद्यायाश्च न कर्मणा नाश उपपद्यते दृष्ट विषयत्वाच्च कर्मसामर्थ्यस्य। उत्पत्त्याप्तिविकारसंस्कारा हि कर्मसामर्थ्यस्य विषयाः । (Comm. on Brhad. Upan. 3.1.1)

In other words, karma can produce, or bring within reach, or modify, or purify something in the visible world, it has no other functions other than these and Moksha is not one of these functions.[19]

In various ways we find an explanation of the concept that the destiny of a being wholly depends upon the deeds done by him as stated below

...कर्म हैव तत्प्रशशंसतुः । पुण्यो वै पुण्येन कर्मणा भवति पापः पापेनेति । (Brhd. Upan. 3.2.13)

While answering to Arthabhaga's question, Yajnavalkya replies that a person becomes virtuous by his virtuous deeds (punya) and an evil one by his evil deeds (papa). Evil deeds subjects a man to sufferings through repeated births and deaths, both in the bodies of Sthavara (stationary bodies) and Jangamas (moving bodies), including those of lower animals, bhuta and pisachas. Indeed! one becomes good through good karma and evil through evil karma. Relative existence and contrasting natures are developed from their karmas.[19] Association with karmaphala creates bondage with samsara. Dissociation from Karmaphala leads to breaking of the cycle of births and deaths and escaping the samsara.

Mimamsa Darshana

Kinds of karmas are explained

Mimamsa Sutras were the first attempt to systematize Vedic interpretation, specifically the Karma-kanda of the Vedas. Thus their primary concern was the Karma or Yajnas of the Vedic texts. Mimamsa school construes all Vedic texts to center around some or other course of action either to be performed or shunned. Mimamsakas believe that actions done with a desire to get fruits cause repeated births. The disinterested performance of actions, without any desire for the results, exhausts accumulated karmas.

A person free from karmas is not reborn; liberation thus stops punarjanmas by destroying all the accumulated karmas. Past karmas should be exhausted without any residue. Nitya and Naimittika (Obligatory and compulsory) karmas should be performed, and the non-performance of these acts would create demerit and result in suffering. Moksha is a state free from all kinds of Dukha (painful) experiences; it is a state in which Atman returns to its intrinsic nature, freedom from pain and suffering. Kumarilabhatta and his followers subscribe to jñana karma samuccaya, i.e., both knowledge and action lead to Moksha. Prabhakara school advocates actions as supreme and takes knowledge as the means to Moksha.

Vedanta Darshana

Karma does not destroy Avidya

Karma (action) and bhakti (devotion), at most can “bring about” the purification of the mind, but cannot “bring about” final Moksha jnana. Thus, devotion, leading an ethical life, or surrendering one’s actions to deities, while no doubt useful, cannot lead to the realization of the brahman, the ultimate goal of human endeavors. For Shankaracharya, the study of the Vedantic texts is necessary to destroy ignorance. However, prior to pursuing such a study, one should prepare one’s mind in order to comprehend the deeper meaning of these texts.[22]

According to Ramanujacharya, Karma (in the form of Yajnas and rites), Jnana and Bhakti are essential to get freedom from Avidya, Karma (actions of a Jiva) and even the embodied existence. Yajnas, the different rites and rituals prescribed in the Vedas i.e., karmakanda must be performed without any desire for the fruits. Such a performance destroys the accumulative effects of actions. The study of the Mimamsa texts (texts that explain how the rites and ceremonies should be performed) is necessary to ensure the right performance of duties. Accordingly, Acharya makes the study of Mimamsa a necessary prerequisite to the study of Vedanta.

According to Ramana Maharshi, Karma is inert (jadam) by itself. It becomes active only through the involvement of a Karta. According to Purva Mimamsa karma gives the yajamana some results based on the type of activity. For example, performing yajnas will result in reaching the svargaloka. However, Ramana Maharshi mentions in his Upadesha Saram as follows.

कर्तुराज्ञया प्राप्यते फलम् | कर्म किं परं कर्म तज्जडम् || १ || (Upad. Sara. 1)

Only with the conscious invocation does a karta obtain the fruits of karma. Without that karma by itself cannot give any results as karma is inert.

Shrimad Bhagavad Gita

Karma is the cause of the movement of the wheel of world
No one can remain inactive without doing karma
Perform karma without attachment to karmaphala

In Bhagavadgita, we find the karmashatkam or the six adhyayas mentioning various aspects about Karma specifically the Karma Yoga. There is a difference between mere karma (action) from karma yoga (action as a spiritual discipline). Karma is action, a deed. Activity is seen everywhere, both in physical nature and in man. The body cannot be kept alive if one remains inactive.

न हि कश्चित्क्षणमपि जातु तिष्ठत्यकर्मकृत् । कार्यते ह्यवशः कर्म सर्वः प्रकृतिजैर्गुणैः ॥३- ५॥ (Bhag. Gita. 3.5)[9]

No one can ever remain absolutely inactive even for a moment. Compelled by the gunas of nature, every one is forced to work. The constituent Gunas of Prakriti, - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. necessarily give rise to actions. Indeed! karma verily drives the wheels of the world.

अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि पर्जन्यादन्नसम्भवः । यज्ञाद्भवति पर्जन्यो यज्ञः कर्मसमुद्भवः ॥३- १४॥ (Bhag. Gita. 3.14)

तस्मादसक्तः सततं कार्यं कर्म समाचर । असक्तो ह्याचरन्कर्म परमाप्नोति पूरुषः ॥३- १९॥ (Bhag. Gita. 3.19)[9]

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन | मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 || (Bhag. Gita. 2.47)

Therefore, always remaining unattached, perform the obligatory duty, for such actions a person attains the paramam or Highest (through the purification of the mind). To perform work alone you have the right, and not to the fruits. Do not be impelled by the fruits of work. Nor have attachment to inaction.

The preservation of Rta, the social order, too, demands constant and vigilant action. Even spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, worship, and meditation, are forms of activity.

Purpose of Karmas

Based on the context different Karmas have various perspectives. In Vedanta, the subject of Karma has some special implications and they deal with the purpose of karma as follows.[8]

  1. Nitya and other (Naimittika and Prayaschitta) works mainly serve the primary purpose of purifying the mind; they destroy the papa of a person.
  2. The secondary purpose of the Nitya, Naimittika and Upasana karmas are the attainment of the Pitrloka and Satyaloka respectively. कर्मणा पितृलोको विद्यया देवलोकः। (Brhd. Upan. 1.5.16) By performing karmas the world of Pitrs is to be gained and by meditation the world of Devas is to be attained. Vidya here means knowledge gained through Upasana.
  3. Upasanas are austerity activities chiefly aimed at the concentration of the mind along with destruction of papa.

The following passage from the Naishkarmya-Siddhi by Sureshvaracharya (1.52) shows how the performance of the Nitya Karma leads to the highest Knowledge.[8]

“The performance of the daily obligatory rites leads to the acquisition of virtue ; this leads to the destruction of papa, which in turn results in the purification of the mind. This purification of the mind leads to the comprehension of the true nature of Samsara or relative existence ; from this results Vairagyam (renunciation), which arouses a desire for liberation; from this desire results a search for its means; from it comes the renunciation of all actions ; thence the practice of Yoga, which leads to an habitual tendency of the mind to settle in the Self, and this results in the knowledge of the meaning of such Sruti passages as "तत् त्वमसि" which destroys ignorance, thus leading to the establishment in one’s own Self.”

Psychospiritual Significance of Karma

Character of a person

The character of an individual is the subject to the law of Karma, as it is an aggregate of a large number of minute activities of the mind and body. Each character or personality is the grand total result of previous mental actions, and is also the cause of future changes in the character. The law of Karma inculcates this grand truth of nature, that cause lies in the effect and effect is also latent in the cause. For instance, a seed contains the whole tree potentially and produces the tree, and the tree produces the seed again. With the help of this great truth we can easily explain why a character is good or bad, why one individual behaves in this way or why one suffers and is miserable, while another enjoys his life and is happy. We do not have to blame our parents for our misery and sufferings, nor anyone else. So also neither are the divine nor the demonic forces a reason for our pleasure and pain.[15]

It is found that the desire (kama) of human beings could also be influenced by the other impulses inherent in human beings such as anger (krodha), passion (moha), greed (lobha), infatuation (mada), and enmity (matsarya). These six natural impulses were considered as six internal enemies of man (arishadvarga), which if allowed to act uncontrolled could instigate him to entertain evil thoughts in the mind for fulfilling his own selfish desires and for that purpose cause injury to others. Manu, on this basis, explained the causes of all civil and criminal injuries inflicted by the action of one against the other. Such factors influence the character of a person leading to good or bad thoughts and actions. The source of all evil actions of human beings was traced to the desire for material pleasure which in turn gave rise to conflict of interests among individuals. [16]

Karma refutes theory of predestination and grace

In the face of Karma, there is no room for the hypothesis of predestination and grace which is accepted by the majority of orthodox Christians. The hypothesis of predestination and grace teaches that God, the Creator of all, set the destiny of man before his birth. The whim of the Creator makes one sinful or virtuous, before the time of one’s birth. But this hypothesis destroys humanity's moral responsibility and personal freedom. If we are all predestined by God to be sinful or virtuous, to be happy or unhappy, we can neither undo our destiny nor act against the Divine decree. It makes us absolute automata bound hand and foot by the chain of of slavery. Furthermore, it makes God partial and unjust. If God be merciful to all creatures why should he not make all equally good and virtuous, moral and spiritual? These questions remain unanswered by the theory of predestination and grace.[15]

But they do not rise in the doctrine of Karma. If we can once understand that each individual soul reaps the results of its previous acts and deeds then we can never advocate the theory of predestination and grace. Every effect is measured by its cause.[15]

A believer in the law of Karma is a free agent and is responsible for all the good and bad results of his own actions that attend to his life. He never blames another for the suffering and misery which come to him. Experience teaches him to distinguish between good and bad. He who obeys the law of Karma is more moral and virtuous than the one who obeys the Ten Commandments. He has strong reasoning and rational ground than one who fears the punishment of God. What we call reward or punishments of God are nothing but the reactions of our own mental and physical actions. The doctrine of Karma denies the arbitrary Ruler and teaches that God never rewards the virtuous nor punishes the wicked.[15]

नादत्ते कस्यचित् पापं न चैव सुकृतं विभुः । (Bhag. Gita. 5.15)

Karma and the Law of Compensation

We see people suffer although they might not (appear to) have done any wrong in this life, although they apparently seem not to deserve any kind of suffering.

So long as we look upon our individual lives as isolated events beginning with the birth, of the body and ending with its death, we shall not find correct explanation of anything but will see injustice and wrong at every step. But when we connect our present lives with our past, and our future, if we look at our present from this broad platform, we shall see justice and compensation at every step.[15]

Earthly life when compared with the eternal existence of Atma will appear to be a mere fragment as small as a life ending in twenty-four hours. The compensation for the apparent physical suffering and misery of a good and virtuous man or woman during his or her earthly career is to be found in the state of Jivatman. The blows on the body will by the law of compensation raise the jivatma of a truly spiritual person above the level of the ordinary mortals and as such will eventually command respect and honour of all nations in times to come. Conversely, the wicked and dishonest who apparently enjoy prosperity does so at the expense of their spiritual life and compensation will be given accordingly to the Jivatma. Reckoning from these standpoints we shall find satisfactory solution of all perplexing problems and most complicated affairs of human life.

Karma and the Law of Retribution

Those who believe in this noble doctrine are never disturbed in their minds at the sight of the inequalities of birth and fortune or of intellect and capacities around them. The knowledge of this universal truth prevents them from cursing life or human beings or from blaming their supposed Creator when they see fools and profligates are honoured in society, when they find their neighbours possessing neither intellect nor any of the noble virtues are prosperous and enjoying all the comforts and pleasures of life on account of their births in wealthy families.

The poor and suffering classes will find no consolation anywhere but in this one doctrine of Karma. It is for this reason, there is so much of contentment among the poverty-stricken people of India who can hardly earn enough to keep their body and soul together. If this noble doctrine be preached among the innumerable discontented and wretched people in Christendom, they would find a ray of hope for their future, they would try to live better lives, they would be more moral, more virtuous and more spiritual than they are today. They would be able to bear the burden of misery upon their shoulders with more calmness, with more patience, contentment and peace.[15]

Kama drives Karma

We have seen that all the causes of our actions are the motives or desires which lie within ourselves. Manu stated it earlier that

अकामस्य क्रिया काचिद्दृश्यते नेह कर्हिचित् । यद्यद्धि कुरुते किं चित्तत्तत्कामस्य चेष्टितम् । । २.४ (Manu. Smrti. 2.4)

Meaning: There is no act of man which is free from desire; whatever a man does is the result of the impulse of desire.[16]

So long as these desires are there, we are forced to work and reap the fruit of our labours. In everyday life each individual is constantly performing some kind of work from some motive. Some work for money, some for name and fame; some work in the hope of attaining heavens, and others as a penance. Yet when their treasure houses are full, they still reach out for the peace and happiness which their wealth cannot bring them.[15]

All work done through selfish motives binds the Atma to the fruits of Karma generated thereof, and is in consequence a cause of bondage. By working for work’s sake and not to fulfil selfish desires the law of karma will be broken and we become limitless. A few who work without personal motive, without desire for return, and they are the salt of the earth. They work as if they were paying of a debt which they owe to society, to parents, to humanity. If we can labour with this idea, that we do is merely to cancel our debt to the universe, then we can work for work's sake. When we pay off a debt, do we think of getting something in return? No; we do our work, cancel our obligation, and think no more about it. Every individual, on account of his birth, owes something to state and country, to family and neighbours; to his spiritual teachers, and to his higher Self. By being a good member of society, by doing what he can to help all other members, and by making every effort to fulfil his obligation to the community and to mankind, he can repay his debt.[15]

Duty or Motive in Karma

Activity of mind and body is the condition of life; absolute inactivity means death. This activity finds expression variously in the ordinary work of our everyday existence; and this work can be divided into three classes according to the motive which inspires it.

  • The first class includes all that we do for the preservation of the body and for the gratification of the senses.
  • The second embraces all actions done from a sense of duty
  • The third, all that is done freely and with love.

The actions of the first class, performed to satisfy the cravings of the animal nature, are mainly guided by two motives—hunger and propagation of species.

The feeling which binds us to the special acts of body and mind is the sense of duty. Duty creates a kind of bondage between the individual and his environment. The mere fulfilment of duty in itself cannot be productive of permanently good results. The Bible declares: ‘Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.' The Quran says: 'Follow the teachings of Mohammed; this is the whole duty of man'. The answer comes ; 'Because if we do not, He will punish us.’ But why does He command in one way for one nation and in a different way for another? How, when the scriptures all vary, can each lay claim to supreme authority? Variation, indeed, is a salient feature of so called divine commands, and when a man has read all the scriptures of the world, he does not know which to follow. Those who do not follow the God's commands, do not fear His wrath and therefore such persons will have no duty.[15]

Any action that leads one from selfishness to unselfishness, that broadens and elevates the character, that brings freedom to the being and directs it towards the divine, is good, and therefore becomes the highest duty of every individual. On the other hand, that which shuts one within the narrow walls of one's limited lower nature is selfish and should be avoided. When a man has realized this, his idea of duty will no longer be confined to the sayings of any book or of any person, but will be founded upon the universal law of unselfishness.

The realization of unity of Atman is the highest ideal of life. It is the climax of unselfishness, and becomes identical with Divine love. This love, indeed, shines alike upon all, as does the light of the sun upon man and beast without distinction of kind. When this love or feeling of oneness awakens in the soul, we rise above all duty, and work, not through a sense of obligation, but through love. Duty puts us in bondage, makes us slaves; while love brings freedom and emancipation at the inner level. Divine love means expression of the feeling of oneness. He who has understood the one supreme duty and fulfilled that, has reached freedom and gained Divine love and Divine wisdom on this earth.[15]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Shabdakalpadhruma (See under कर्म्म)
  3. Vachaspatyam (See under कर्म्मन्)
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  7. Nyaya-Vaiseshika: The Indian Tradition of Physics by Roopa Hulikal Narayan
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  11. Niralamba Upanishad (See Text)
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  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Swami Abhedananda. (1947 Third Edition) Doctrine of Karma, A Study in the Philosophy and Practice of Work. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math. (Pages 47-49)
  15. 15.00 15.01 15.02 15.03 15.04 15.05 15.06 15.07 15.08 15.09 15.10 15.11 15.12 15.13 Swami Abhedananda. (1947 Third Edition) Doctrine of Karma, A Study in the Philosophy and Practice of Work. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Jois, Rama. DHARMA - The Global Ethic, Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. (Page 18-19)
  17. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati. Tattvabodha by Sankaracharya. Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust (Page 461-462)
  18. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati. Tattvabodha by Sankaracharya. Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust (Page 455)
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Swami Madhavananda. (1950 Third Edition) The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, With the Commentary of Sankaracharya. Almora: Advaita Ashrama (Pages 447-449)
  20. Shvetashvara Upanishad. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 233-234)
  21. 21.0 21.1 Shvetashvatara Upanishad (See Text)
  22. Gupta, Bina (2012) An Introduction to Indian Philosophy, Perspectives on Reality, Knowledge and Freedom. New York: Routledge. (Pages 237)