A key concept in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism, karma refers to the principle of cause and effect, of action and reaction. It refers to all that an individual has done in the past, is presently doing, and will do in the future. All deeds done by an individual in the past create experiences for the present and the future, thus, the individual is held responsible for his or her own actions in life, as well as for the pain he or she causes to others. In religions that believe in reincarnation, karma covers not just the individual's past lives but also the present and future ones.
Karma in Hinduism and Buddhism
In Hinduism, God plays an active role in dispensing karma. It is a law and cycle that no one can escape from but in which God can intervene. In Hinduism, karma is not thought of as punishment or retribution but as a natural consequence of acts. Karmic effects can be lessened by actions, as well as by divine intervention.
In Buddhism, karma is one component in the cycle of cause and effect and is distinct from the concept of vipaka (fruit or result). Any action is thought to produce "seeds" in the mind that grow and bear fruit (i.e., produce the appropriate result) when the right conditions are present. Buddhists believe that some types of karma, regardless of result, imprison living beings within the cycle of life and death (samsara), while other types of karma will enable living beings to break free from that cycle.
The Buddha teaches three basic things about karma:
- Action is not illusory; it is really happening.
- The individual is really held accountable for his or her actions. No external influence (e.g., the stars or some good or evil being) can sway an individual's actions. The sole agent and determinant of action is the individual himself or herself when the individual is conscious.
- Actions always produce results which can be either positive or negative depending on the motivation behind the act.