Thursday, February 24, 2011

Karma in Hinduism, Fate & Destiny

Karma is a concept in Hinduism which explains causality through a system where beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions and harmful effects from past harmful actions, creating a system of actions and reactions throughout a soul's reincarnated lives forming a cycle of rebirth. The causality is said to be applicable not only to the material world but also to our thoughts, words, actions and actions that others do under our instructions. When the cycle of rebirth comes to an end, a person is said to have attained moksha, or salvation from samsara. Not all incarnations are human. The cycle of birth and death on earth is said to be formed from 8.4 million forms of life, but only in human life an exit from this cycle is possible.The doctrine of transmigration of the soul, with respect to fateful retribution for acts committed, does not appear in the Rig Veda. The concept of karma first appears strongly in the Bhagavad Gita. Topic of karma is mentioned in the Puranas. The Puranas are said to have been written by saint Vyasa towards the end of Dwapara Yuga to preserve the knowledge during the time of Kali Yuga.  That same knowledge is said to have been kept memorized by monks before and transferred only orally. According to Sri Yukteswar, the last Kali Yuga began 700 B.C.

"Karma" literally means "deed" or "act", and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, which Hindus believe governs all consciousness. Karma is not fate, for man acts with free will creating his own destiny. According to the Vedas, if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determine our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate reaction. Not all karmas rebound immediately. Some accumulate and return unexpectedly in this or other births. We produce Karma in four ways:
  • through thoughts
  • through words
  • through actions that we perform ourselves
  • through actions others do under our instructions
Everything that we have ever thought, spoken, done or caused is Karma; as is also that which we think, speak or do this very moment. Hindu scriptures divide karma into three kinds:
  • Sanchita is the accumulated karma. It would be impossible to experience and endure all Karmas in one life. From this stock of sanchita karma, a handful is taken out to serve one lifetime and this handful of actions, which has begun to bear fruit and which will be exhausted only on their fruit being enjoyed and not otherwise, is known as prarabdha karma.
  • Prarabdha Fruit-bearing karma is the portion of accumulated karma that has "ripened" and appears as a particular problem in the present life.
  • Kriyamana is everything that we produce in current life. All kriyamana karmas flow in to sanchita karma and consequently shape our future. Only in human life we can change our future destiny. After death we loose Kriya Shakti (ability to act) and do (kriyamana) karma until we are born again in human body.
Actions performed consciously are weighted more heavily than those done unconsciously. But just as poison affects us if taken unknowingly, suffering caused unintentionally will also give appropriate karmic effect. Only human beings that can distinguish right from wrong can do (kriyamana) Karma. Animals and young children are not creating new Karma (and thus can not affect their future destiny) as they are incapable of discriminating between right and wrong. However, all sentient beings can feel the effects of Karma, which are experienced as pleasure and pain.

Tulsidas, a Hindu saint, said: "Our destiny was shaped long before the body came into being."  As long as the stock of sanchita karma lasts, a part of it continues to be taken out as prarabdha karma for being enjoyed in one lifetime, leading to the cycle of birth and death. A Jiva cannot attain moksha (liberation) from the cycle of birth and death, until the accumulated sanchita karmas are completely exhausted.

The cycle of birth and death on earth is formed from 8.4 millions forms of life and only one of them is human. Only as humans, are we in position to do something about our destiny by doing the right thing at the right time. Through positive actions, pure thoughts, prayer, mantra and meditation, we can resolve the influence of the karma in present life and turn the destiny for the better. A spiritual master knowing the sequence in which our Karma will bear fruit, can help us. As humans we have the opportunity to speed up our spiritual progress with practice of good Karma. We produce negative karma because we lack knowledge and clarity.
Unkindness yields spoiled fruits, called paap, and good deeds bring forth sweet fruits, called punya. As one acts, so does he become: one becomes virtuous by virtuous action, and evil by evil action.

The role of divine forces

Several different views exist in Hinduism, some extant today and some historical in nature, regarding the role of divine beings in controlling the effects of karma or the lack thereof.

Vedanta view

Followers of Vedanta, a leading practicing school of Hinduism in existence today, consider Ishvara, a personal supreme God, as playing that role. According to the Vedanta view, a Supreme God is ultimately the enforcer of karma but humans have the free will to choose good or evil.

In these theistic schools, karma is not seen merely as a law of cause and effect, a view espoused by Buddhism or Jainism, for example, but dependent on the will of a personal supreme God. Examples of a personal supreme God include Shiva in Shaivism or Vishnu in Vaishnavism. A good summary of this theistic view of karma is expressed by the following: "God does not make one suffer for no reason nor does He make one happy for no reason. God is very fair and gives you exactly what you deserve."  Thus, the theistic schools emphasize that karma is one explanation for the problem of human suffering; a soul reincarnates into an appropriate body, which is dependent on karma and this is said to explain why some persons never get to see the fruits of their action in their life time and why some children die when they have committed no sin.Thus, a person has to reap the fruits of one's personal karma and may need to undergo multiple births from plants, animals to humans and such fruits of karma may be analogized to a bank (i.e., God) not letting a person be released from karma's effects until the bank account is settled.

Samkhya view

In some earlier historical traditions of Hinduism, followers of an atheistic division of the Samkhya school, do not accept the idea of a supreme God. According to the Samkya school, a supreme God does not exist but lesser highly evolved beings assist in delivering the fruits of karma; thus,they consider devas or spirits as playing some kind of role. These beings can help to deliver well-being in the temporal world and the after cycles of birth and death, and salvation as well.

Mimamsa view

Earlier historical traditions of Hinduism such as Mimamsakas, reject any such notions of divinity being responsible and see karma as acting independently, considering the natural laws of causation sufficient to explain the effects of karma. According to their view, neither supreme God nor does lesser divinities exist; rituals alone yield the fruits of karma; thus, they believe that the karmas (rituals) themselves yield the results, and there is no Supreme God or Ishvara or even lesser divinities dispensing the results.

Vedanta's refutations

These differing views are explicitly noted in a series of passes in the Brahma Sutras (III.2.38-40), an important text in Vedanta, the major school of Hinduism, which endorses the concept of Ishvara i.e., a personal supreme God, as the source of fruits of karma, but note opposing views in order to refute them. For example, Swami Sivananda's commentary on verse III.2.38 from the Brahma Sutras refers to the role of Ishvara (the Lord) as the dispenser of the fruits of karma. A commentary by Swami Vireswarananda on the same verse says that the purpose of this verse is specifically to refute the views of the Mimamsakas, who say that karma (work) and not Ishvara, gives the fruits of one's actions. According to the Mimamsakas it is useless to set up an Ishvara for that purpose, since Karma itself can give the result at a future time.

Gita interpretations and role of Guru

Some interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita  suggest an intermediate view, that karma is a law of cause and effect yet God can mitigate karma for His devotees. However, another interpretation of verses in the Bhagavad Gita suggest that God alone is the ultimate enforcer of karma.
Another view holds that a Sadguru, acting on God's behalf, can mitigate or work out some of the karma of the disciple.

Views of the theistic Hindu traditions believing in a supreme God


Theistic schools of Hinduism such as Vedanta disagree with the Buddhist views, Jain views and other Hindu views that karma is merely a law of cause and effect but instead additionally hold that karma is mediated by the will of a personal supreme God.

Sankara (Advaita)

In a commentary to Brahma Sutras (III, 2, 38, and 41)), a Vedantic text, Adi Sankara,an Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta,argues that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can super sensuous, non-intelligent qualities like adrsta—an unseen force being the metaphysical link between work and its result—by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, according to him, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, a supreme being (Ishvara).

A human's karmic acts result in merits and demerits. Since unconscious things generally do not move except when caused by an agent (for example, the ax moves only when swung by an agent), and since the law of karma is an unintelligent and unconscious law, Sankara argues there must be a conscious God who knows the merits and demerits which persons have earned by their actions, and who functions as an instrumental cause in helping individuals reap their appropriate fruits. Thus, God affects the person's environment, even to its atoms, and for those souls who reincarnate, produces the appropriate rebirth body, all in order that the person might have the karmically appropriate experiences. Thus, there must be a theistic administrator or supervisor for karma, i.e., God.

Swami Sivananda, an Advaita scholar, reiterates the same views in his commentary synthesising Vedanta views on the Brahma Sutras. In his commentary on Chapter 3 of the Brahma Sutras, Sivananda notes that karma is insentient and short-lived, and ceases to exist as soon as a deed is executed. Hence, karma cannot bestow the fruits of actions at a future date according to one's merit. Furthermore, one cannot argue that karma generates apurva or punya, which gives fruit. Since apurva is non-sentient, it cannot act unless moved by an intelligent being such as God. It cannot independently bestow reward or punishment.

There is a passage from Swami Sivananda's translation of the Svetasvatara Upanishad (4:6) illustrating this concept:
Two birds of beautiful plumage — inseparable friends — live on the same tree. Of these two one eats the sweet fruit while the other looks on without eating.
In his commentary, the first bird represents the individual soul, while the second represents Brahman or God. The soul is essentially a reflection of Brahman. The tree represents the body. The soul identifies itself with the body, reaps the fruits of its actions, and undergoes rebirth. The Lord alone stands as an eternal witness, ever contented, and does not eat, for he is the director of both the eater and the eaten.
Swami Sivananda also notes that God is free from charges of partiality and cruelty which are brought against him because of social inequality, fate, and universal suffering in the world. According to the Brahma Sutras, individual souls are responsible for their own fate; God is merely the dispenser and witness with reference to the merit and demerit of souls.

In his commentary on Chapter 2 of the Brahma Sutras, Sivananda further notes that the position of God with respect to karma can be explained through the analogy of rain. Although rain can be said to bring about the growth of rice, barley and other plants, the differences in various species is due to the diverse potentalities lying hidden in the respective seeds. Thus, Sivananda explains that differences between classes of beings are due to different merits belonging to individual souls. He concludes that God metes rewards and punishments only in consideration of the specific actions of beings.

Other schools of Vedanta

Treatment of karma in other schools of Vedanta are discussed in the section on Vaishnavism.
Shaivism -   Thirugnana Sambanthar
Karma as action and reaction: if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness.
Thirugnana Sambanthar of the Shaiva Siddhanta school, in the 7th century C.E., writes about karma in his outline of Saivism. He explains the concept of karma in Hinduism by distinguishing it from that of Buddhism and Jainism, which do not require the existence of an external being like God. In their beliefs, just as a calf among a large number of cows can find its mother at suckling time, so also does karma find the specific individual it needs to attach to and come to fruition. However, theistic Hindus posit that karma, unlike the calf, is an unintelligent entity.
Hence, karma cannot locate the appropriate person by itself. Shri Sambantha concludes that an intelligent Supreme Being with perfect wisdom and power (Shiva, for example) is necessary to make karma attach to the appropriate individual. In such sense, God is the Divine Accountant.

Appaya Dikshita

Appaya Dikshita, a Saivite theologian and proponent of Siva Advaita, states that Siva (God) only awards happiness and misery in accordance with the law of karma. Thus persons themselves perform good or evil actions according to their own inclinations as acquired in past creations, and in accordance with those deeds, a new creation is made for the fulfilment of the law of karma. Shaivas believe that there are cycles of creations in which souls gravitate to specific bodies in accordance with karma, which as an unintelligent object depends on the will of Siva alone. Thus, many interpret the caste system in accordance with karma, as those with good deeds are born into a highly spiritual family (probably the brahmana caste).


Srikantha, another Saivite theologian and proponent of Siva Advaita, believes that individual souls themselves do things which may be regarded as the cause of their particular actions, or desisting from particular actions, in accordance with the nature of the fruition of their past deeds. Srikantha further believes that Siva only helps a person when he wishes to act in a particular way or to desist from a particular action. Regarding the view that karma produce their own effects directly, Srikantha holds that karma being without any intelligence cannot be expected to produce manifold effects through various births and various bodies; rather fruits of one's karma can be performed only by the will of God operating in consonance with man's free will, or as determined in later stages by man's own karma so the prints of all karma are distributed in the proper order by the grace of God Shiva) In this way, God is ultimately responsible on one hand for our actions, and on the other for enjoyment and suffering in accordance with our karmas, without any prejudice to humans' moral responsibility as expressed through free will or as determined later by our own deeds. A good summary of his view is that "man is responsible, free to act as he wills to, for Siva only fulfills needs according to the soul's karma."


Sacred Texts  -   Bhagavata Purana

In Chapter 1 of 10th book of the Bhagavata Purana, Vasudeva, the father of Krishna, exhorts Kamsa to refrain from killing his wife, Devaki, the mother of Krishna, by stating that death is certain for those who are born and when the body returns to the five elements, the soul leaves the body and helplessly obtains another form in accordance with the laws of karma, citing passages from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV:4:3. Moreover, he adds and states that the soul materializes into an appropriate body whatever the state of the mind one remembers at the time of death; i.e., at the time of the death, the soul and its subtle body of mind, intelligence and ego, is projected into the womb of a creature, human or non-human that can provide a gross body that is most suitable for the dominant state of the mind of the particular person at the time of death; note that this passage is similar in meaning as Bhagavad Gita, VIII, verse 6 Such commentaries were provided by Edwin Bryant, Associate Professor of religion at Rutgers University, New Jersey.
Vishnu Sahasranama
Many names in the Vishnu Sahasranama, the thousand names of Vishnu allude to the power of God in controlling karma. For example, the 135th name of Vishnu, Dharmadhyaksha, in the Advaita philosopher Sankara's interpretation means, "One who directly sees the merits (Dharma) and demerits (Adharma), of beings by bestowing their due rewards on them."
Other names of Vishnu alluding to this nature of God are Bhavanah, the 32nd name, Vidhata, the 44th name, Apramattah, the 325th name, Sthanadah, the 387th name and Srivibhavanah, the 609th name. Bhavanah, according to Sankara's interpretation, means "One who generates the fruits of Karmas of all Jivas (souls) for them to enjoy." The Brahma Sutra (3.2.28) "Phalmatah upapatteh" speaks of the Lord's function as the bestower of the fruits of all actions of the jivas.[

Ramanuja (Vishishtadvaita)

Ramanuja of the Vishishtadvaita school, another sub-school of Vedanta, addresses the problem of evil by attributing all evil things in life to the accumulation of evil karma of jivas (human souls) and maintains that God is amala, or without any stain of evil. In Sri Bhasya, Ramanuja's interpretation of the Brahma sutras from a Vaishnavite theistic view, Brahman, whom he conceives as Vishnu, arranges the diversity of creation in accordance with the different karma of individual souls.

Ramanuja, in Sri Bhasya 1.1.1., reiterates that inequality and diversity in the world are due to the fruits of karma of different souls and the omnipresent energy of the soul suffers pain or pleasure due to its karma.  The distinction between the fruits of karma, i.e., good and evil karma, are due to Vishnu as the supreme Enforcer of karma yet souls alone have the freedom and responsibility for their acts.

Furthermore, Ramanuja believes that Vishnu wishing to do a favour to those who are resolved on acting so as fully to please Him, engenders in their minds a tendency towards highly virtuous actions, such as means to attain to Him; while on the other hand, in order to punish those who are resolved on lines of action altogether displeasing to Him, He engenders in their minds a delight in such actions as have a downward tendency and are obstacles in the way of the attainment of God.

Madhva (Dvaita)

Madhva, the founder of the Dvaita school, another sub-school of Vedanta,on the other hand, believes that there must be a root cause for variations in karma even if karma is accepted as having no beginning and being the cause of the problem of evil. Since jivas have different kinds of karma, from good to bad, all must not have started with same type of karma from the beginning of time. Thus, Madhva concludes that the jivas (souls) are not God's creation as in the Christian doctrine, but are rather entities co-existent with Vishnu, although under His absolute control. Souls are thus dependent on Him in their pristine nature and in all transformations that they may undergo.

According to Madhva, God, although He has control, does not interfere with Man's free will; although He is omnipotent, that does not mean that He engages in extraordinary feats. Rather, God enforces a rule of law and, in accordance with the just deserts of jivas, gives them freedom to follow their own nature. Thus, God functions as the sanctioner or as the divine accountant, and accordingly jivas are free to work according to their innate nature and their accumulated karma, good and bad. Since God acts as the sanctioner, the ultimate power for everything comes from God and the jiva only utilizes that power, according to his/her innate nature. However, like Shankara's interpretation of the Brahma Sutras as mentioned earlier, Madhva, agrees that the rewards and punishments bestowed by God are regulated by Him in accordance with the good and sinful deeds performed by them, and He does so of out of His own will to keep himself firm in justice and he cannot be controlled in His actions by karma of human beings nor can He be accused of partiality or cruelty to anyone.
Swami Tapasyananda further explains the Madhva view by illustrating the doctrine with this analogy: the power in a factory comes from the powerhouse (God), but the various cogs (jivas) move in a direction in which they are set. Thus he concludes that no charge of partiality and cruelty can be brought against God. The jiva is the actor and also the enjoyer of the fruits of his/her own actions.

Madhva differed significantly from traditional Hindu beliefs, owing to his concept of eternal damnation. For example, he divides souls into three classes: one class of souls which qualify for liberation (Mukti-yogyas), another subject to eternal rebirth or eternal transmigration (Nitya-samsarins), and a third class that is eventually condemned to eternal hell or Andhatamas (Tamo-yogyas).  No other Hindu philosopher or school of Hinduism holds such beliefs. In contrast, most Hindus believe in universal salvation: that all souls will eventually obtain moksha, even if it is after millions of rebirths.

Gaudiya Vaishnavism view

"According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service." (C.C.Madhya 19-151-164)

"Jnanis, yogis and karmis devoid of devotional service are called offenders. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, mayavadi krishne aparadhi: one who thinks that everything is maya instead of thinking that everything is Krishna is called an aparadhi, or offender."

"Karma refers in the broadest sense to any activity, but it often means activities performed within the bounds of Vedic injunctions with the intention of enjoying the results. (Another term, vikarma, is used for activity forbidden by the Vedas.) So karma, although having religious stature, is still material. The karmi is interested in rewards like money, sense pleasure, and fame in this life, and he also seeks promotion to higher planets in the next life. The great defect of karma is that it always results in reactions, which force the karmi to take another material birth by the process of transmigration of the soul.

Therefore, whether "good" or "bad," pious or impious, all karma keeps one bound within the cycle of birth and death."

Swaminarayan view

In the Swaminarayan sect followed by many in the Indian state of Gujarat, their spiritual leader, Swaminarayan stated that karma is not to be confused as the giver of the fruits of our actions. In His Vachanamrut, a foundational scripture of the Swaminarayan faith, Swãminãrayan says, “Just as when seeds which are planted in the earth sprout upwards after coming into contact with rainwater, similarly, during the period of creation, the jivas which had resided within maya together with their kãran sharir (causal body), attain various types of bodies according to their individual karmas by the will of God, the giver of the fruits of karmas.” (Vartãl 6)

So, thus, just as in other theistic schools of Hinduism, followers of the Swaminaryan faith believe that God is the giver of the fruits of our actions. Although people may think that God is cruel when He dispenses the fruits of bad actions, this is not the case. God, in fact, is impartial towards all. The Brahma Sutras by Veda Vyasa say, “God is not biased in giving happiness and misery to anyone but gives the fruits of one’s karmas.” (2-1-34) However, unlike general schools of Hinduism, the Swaminarayan followers believe in Swaminarayan as the supreme God, which is not believed by followers of Hinduism.[

Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj

Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj, a swami, suggests that karma is generally fixed and humans reap the fruits of their actions; he notes that not even God violates the law of karma; the swami cites two prime examples: the Pandavas suffered immensely, even though they were great devotees of Lord Krishna; even though Vishnu's avatar Rama was the child of Dasharatha and Kausalya, Kausalya became a widow upon 

Dasharatha's death, yet He did not interfere to remove their miseries.[53]
However, Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj also notes that the results of one's karma is dependent on many factors: 1) prarabdha karma, or fixed karma that is to be experienced in this life; 2) kriyamana karma, which are actions that we can perform in this life, 3) God's will; 4) karma of other people present in a particular situation; and 5) chance (i.e., events in which we happen to be present by chance). But he notes that many things in karma are mysteries in creation and humans should leave this question to God until they become God-realized.

Other Vaishnavite thoughts

Kulashekhara Alwar, a Vaishnava devotee, says in his "Mukundamala Stotra": 'yad yad bhavyam bhavatu bhagavan purva-karma-anurupam'. And purva-karma or bhaagya or daiva is unseen adrsta by us, and is known only to God as Vidhaataa. God created the law of karma, and God will not violate it. God does, however, give courage and strength if asked.

Other viewpoints

Like Hindu followers, the Spiritual Science Research Foundation believes that "every positive deed generates a ‘merit’ while every negative deed generates a ‘demerit’ or a sin and thus one has to reap the results of one’s actions according to the law of karma." Notably, these followers believe that 65% of one's life is ruled by destiny per the laws of karma and the other 35% by willful action, e.g., free will. Thus, they neither believe in the Western view that everything is under our control nor in the extreme Eastern view that everything is preordained. Such similar views on life not being preordained by karma were also held by Swami Vivekananda, discussed later.
However, some predestined events due to destiny, depending on the type, may be overcome by intensity of spiritual practice. But certain events such as untimely death, can only be overcome through the grace of an enlightened guru or God alone as individual spiritual practice is insufficient.

Swami Vivekananda, a Vedantist, offers a good example of the worry about free will in the Hindu tradition.

Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here.

However, the preceding quote has often been misinterpreted as Vivekananda implying that everything is predetermined. What Vivekananda actually meant by lack of free will was that the will was not "free" because it was heavily influenced by the law of cause and effect—"The will is not free, it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free. Vivekananda never said that things were absolutely determined and placed emphasis on the power of conscious choice to alter one's past karma: "It is the coward and the fool who says this is his fate. But it is the strong man who stands up and says I will make my own fate."

Similarly, Vivekananda's teacher Ramakrishna Paramahansa, using an analogy said that man is like a cow tied to a pole with a rope—the karmic debts and human nature bind him and the amount of free will he has is analogous to the amount of freedom the rope allows; as one progresses spiritually, the rope becomes longer.


The Nyaya school, one of six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, states that one of the proofs of the existence of God is karma; It is seen that some people in this world are happy, some are in misery. Some are rich and some poor. The Naiyanikas explain this by the concept of karma and reincarnation. The fruit of an individual's actions does not always lie within the reach of the individual who is the agent; there ought to be, therefore, a dispenser of the fruits of actions, and this supreme dispenser is God. This belief of Nyaya, accordingly, is the same as that of Vedanta.


In Hinduism, more particularly the Dharmaśāstras, Karma is a principle in which “cause and effect are as inseparably linked in the moral sphere as assumed in the physical sphere by science. A good action has its reward and a bad action leads to retribution. If the bad actions do not yield their consequences in this life, the soul begins another existence and in the new environment undergoes suffering for its past deeds”. Thus it is important to understand that karma does not go away, one must either reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of his past actions. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states, “According as a man acts and according as he believes so will he be; a man of meritorious acts will be meritorious, a man of evil deeds sinful. He becomes pure by pure deeds and evil by evil deeds. And here they say that person consists of desires. An as is his desire so is his will; and as is his will, so is his deed; and whatever deeds he does that he will reap”. The doctrine of karma dates from ancient times and besides the above author is mentioned in the Gautama dharma-sutra, Shatapatha Brahmana, Kathaaka-grhya-sutra, Chandogya Upanishad, Markandeya Purana and many others.

The shastras written about karma go into some detail about possible consequences of karma. There is often talk about coming back as a variety of different object when it comes to reincarnation and pasts lives. In this case, it holds true, or at least insofar as the texts state. The Kathaaka-grhya-sutra states, “some human beings enter the womb in order to have an embodied existence; others go into inorganic matter (the stump of a tree and the like) according to their deeds and according to their knowledge”.
More extensively discussed is the consequences of karma in relation to sin. 

“Karmavipaka means the ripening (or fruition) of evil actions or sins. This fruition takes three forms, as stated in the Yogasutra II. 3, i.e., jati(birth as a worm or animal), ayuh (life i.e. living for a short period such as five or ten years) and bhoga (experiencing the torments of Hell”.

There are long lists of birth of lower animals and the diseases and deformities from which sinners suffer. Some authors offer specific ramifications for specific sins. For example, in “the Haritasamhita it is said the killer of a brahmana suffers from white leprosy and the killer of a cow from black leprosy.” While the list is extensive for ways of reducing sin and therefore reducing bad karma, some authors, such as Mitākarā, a commentator on the Yājñavalkya Smti, believe karma is, “not to be taken literally, but is meant to induce sinner to undergo such prāyaścittas or penance as Prajapatya which entail great worry and trouble and which no one might willingly undertake.”
Further the Karmavipaka states, “that no soul need be without hope provided it is prepared to wait and undergo torments for its misdeeds, that it need not be appalled by the numerous existences foreshadowed in those works and that the soul,may in its long passage and evolution, ultimately be able to discover its true greatness and realize eternal peace and perfection.”

Mitigation of bad karma

According to a theistic view, the effects of one's bad karma may be mitigated. Examples of how bad karma can be mitigated include following dharma, or living virtuously; performing good deeds, such as helping others; bhakti yoga, or worshiping God in order to receive grace; and conducting pilgrimages to sacred places, such as Chidambaram Temple or Rameswaram to get grace of God. In another example, Ganesha can unweave his devotees from their karma, simplifying and purifying their lives, but this only happens after they have established a personal relationship with Him.
Examples of getting God's grace are further illustrated below.


The story of Markandeya, who was saved from death by Siva, illustrates that God's grace can overcome Karma and death for His beloved devotee.
In another similar story, Krishna resurrected his teacher Sandipani's son from the world of Yama, the lord of death, by noting that his teacher's son was brought there due to his personal karma, but due to His power and lordship over Yama, brought him back to life. Sandipani was Krishna's teacher during his boyhood days.

The story of Ajamila in the Bhagavata Purana also illustrates the same point. Ajamila had committed many evil deeds during his life such as stealing, abandoning his wife and children, and marrying a prostitute. But at the moment of death, he involuntarily chanted the name of Narayana and therefore received Moksha or union with God, and was saved from the messengers of Yama. Ajamila was actually thinking of his youngest son, whose name was also Narayana. But the name of God has powerful effects, and Ajamila was forgiven for his great sins and attained salvation, despite his bad Karma.


Shvetashvatara Upanishad 7 and 12 aver that the doer of the deeds wanders about and obtains rebirth according to his deeds but postulates an omnipotent creater, i.e., Isvara and the doctrine of grace. Isvara is the great refuge of all and a person attains immortality when blessed by Isvara or at Isvara's pleasure.

A person can be free from sorrow through the grace of Isvara. Therefore, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad postulates a supreme Being whose grace to devotees provides a way of escape from the law of karma.[  As Adi Sankara stated in his commentary on Shvetashvatara Upanishad VI:4, "If we dedicate all our works to Ishvara, we will not be subject to the law of karma."


The Dharmaśāstras turn to means of reducing sin, some of which are hard to reconcile with the doctrines of karma. For example, one such practice, Śrāddha, or as the Brahma Purana states, “whatever is given with faith to brahmanas intending it to be for the benefit of pitrs (ancestors) at a proper time, in a proper place, to deserving persons and in accordance with the prescribed procedure  is meant to honor ancestors; however, by contrast, a believer of karma would agree that when the body dies, the soul automatically enters into another body, regardless of whether one performs srāddha for his or her ancestors.

Therefore, in contrast with karma, Kane states that Śrāddha, “the doctrine of offering balls of rice to three ancestors requires that the spirits of the three ancestors, even after the lapse of 50 or 100 years, are still capable of enjoying in an ethereal body the flavor or essence of rice balls wafted by the wind. Of course, the two differing views can be reconciled if we take into account the belief of the sastras which state that karma is not to be taken literally. However, as evidenced by the variety of opinions written on this subject, the consistency between differing views on karma will not hold elsewhere.

Relation between birth in a particular body to karma

Theistic schools believe in cycles of creations where souls gravitate to specific bodies in accordance with karma, which as an unintelligent object depends on the will of God alone. For example, Kaushitaki Upanishad 1.2 asserts that birth in different forms of existence as a worm, insect, fish, bird, lion, boar, snake or a human, is determined by a person's deeds and knowledge.  Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.7 distinguishes between good birth such as birth in a spiritual family, i.e., (brahmin caste) or an evil birth, such as birth as a dog or hog.) Thus, the doctrine of karma comes to explain why different life forms manifest, into widely various levels of biological development such as characterization into different species from plants to various types of animals, and to even differences between members of the same species, such as humans.

Thus, many, such as the Upanishadic readings suggest that birth in a particular caste is in accordance with karma, as those with good deeds are said to be born into a spiritual family, which is synonymous with the brahmana caste. Good deeds will lead one to be born into a spiritual family where his future destiny will be determined by his behaviour and deeds in the current life. In the Gita, Krishna said that characteristics of a brahmin are determined by behavior, not by birth. A verse from the Gita illustrates this point: "The duties of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas as also of Sudras, O scorcher of foes, are distributed according to the gunas (behavior) born of their own nature." (Bhagavad Gita 18.41)

Further elaborating on this view as recited in the Gita, Madhvacharya interprets the concept of Varna (Hinduism), a term designating the division of Hindu society into four social classes based on guna (attributes) and karma (activity) as not being defined by birth, but rather by the nature of a soul. For example, a soul having the nature of a Brahmin could be born as a Sudra and vice versa. The caste system decided by birth, according to him, is actually Jati, which is a term designating a particular community, and not Varna. The varnas simply define the disposition of the soul; for example,a soul classified as Brahmin varna is disposed towards learning; a Kshatriya soul is disposed towards administration and a Sudra soul is disposed towards performing service. 

Thus, he gave a new interpretation to the caste system as he believed that the caste was related to one's nature than to his or her birth; birth, according to Madhva, was not determinative of varna; a spiritually enlightened chandala (outcaste) was better than an ignorant Brahmin.

Relation between astrology and karma

Charles Keyes, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and E. Valentine Daniel, professor of anthropology at Columbia University state that many Hindus believe that heavenly bodies, including the planets, have an influence throughout the life of a human being, and these planetary influences are the "fruit of karma.
The Navagraha, planetary deities, including Shani (Saturn), are considered subordinate to Ishvara (i.e., the Supreme Being) and are believed by many to assist in the administration of justice. Thus, these planets can influence earthly life. Such planetary influences are believed by many to be measurable using astrological methods including Jyotia, the Hindu system of astrology.

Other uses in Hinduism

Besides narrow meaning of karma as the reaction or suffering being due to karma of their past lives and that one would have to transmigrate to another body in their next life, it is often used in the broader sense as action or reaction.
Thus, karma in Hinduism may mean an activity, an action or a materialistic activity. Often with the specific combination it takes specific meanings, such as karma-yoga or karma-kanda means "yoga or actions" and "path of materialistic activity" respectively. Yet another example is Nitya karma, which describes rituals which have to be performed daily by Hindus, such as the Sandhyavandanam which involves chanting of the Gayatri Mantra.

Other uses include such expressions such as "ugra-karma", meaning bitter, unwholesome labor.

Fate  means:-
  • the ultimate agency that predetermines the course of events
  • the inevitable fortune that befalls a person or thing; destiny
  • the end or final result
  • a calamitous or unfavourable outcome or result; death, destruction, or downfall
  • something that unavoidably befalls a person; fortune; lot: It is always his fate to be left behind.
  • the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed; the decreed cause of events; time: Fate decreed that they would never meet again.
  • that which is inevitably predetermined; destiny: Death is our ineluctable fate.
  • a prophetic declaration of what must be: The oracle pronounced their fate.
  • death, destruction, or ruin.
  • the Fates, Classical Mythology . the three goddesses of destiny, known to the Greeks as the Moerae and to the Romans as the Parcae.

Fate may refer to:
  • Destiny, an inevitable course of events
  • one of the Fates or Moirae
  • any other Fate deity
Destiny refers to a predetermined course of events.[1] It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual. It is a concept based on the belief that there is a fixed natural order to the cosmos.

karma, kismet; chance, luck. Fate, destiny, doom  refer to the idea of a fortune, usually adverse, that is predetermined and inescapable. The three words are frequently interchangeable. Fate  stresses the irrationality and impersonal character of events: It was Napoleon's fate to be exiled.  The word is often lightly used, however: It was my fate to meet her that very afternoon. Destiny  emphasizes the idea of an unalterable course of events, and is often used of a propitious fortune: It was his destiny to save his nation. Doom  especially applies to the final ending, always unhappy or terrible, brought about by destiny or fate: He met his doom bravely. foreordain, preordain.

Different concepts of destiny and fate
Destiny is seen as a sequence of events that is inevitable and unchangeable.
There is the often confusing argument that individuals can choose their own destiny by selecting different "paths" throughout their life, even though the different courses of action the individuals take nonetheless lead to a predetermined destiny. To escape the contradiction (the incompatibility of philosophical terminology) of this argument and fully support the concept of destiny, it would be necessary to declare and accept this notion of choice (free will) as illusion.

A sense of destiny in its oldest human sense still remains in a soldier's fatalistic image of the "bullet that has your name on it", or "the moment when your number comes up", or the flowering of a romance between lovers who are "meant to be" together. In Greek mythology, the human sense that there must be a hidden purpose in the random choices of the lottery governs the selection of Theseus to be among the youths to be sacrificed to the Minotaur.

Destiny in literature and popular culture
Many Greek legends and tales teach the futility of trying to outmaneuver an inexorable fate that has been correctly predicted. This form of irony is important in Greek tragedy, as it is in Oedipus Rex and in the Duque de Rivas' play that Verdi transformed into La Forza del Destino ("The Force of Destiny") or Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, or in Macbeth's uncannily-derived knowledge of his own destiny, which in spite of all his actions does not preclude a horrible fate.

This aspect is succinctly told by W. Somerset Maugham from an Arab tale:

Death speaks: There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?” “That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

Other notable examples include Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in which Tess is destined to the miserable death that she is confronted with at the end of the novel; Samuel Beckett's Endgame; the popular short story "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs.

Destiny is a recurring theme in the literature of Hermann Hesse (1877–1962), including Siddharta (1922) and his magnum opus, Das Glasperlenspiel, also published as The Glass Bead Game (1943). The common theme of these works involves a protagonist who cannot escape a destiny if their fate has been sealed, however hard they try. Destiny is also an important plot point in the hit TV shows Lost, Heroes and Supernatural, as well a common theme in the Roswell TV series.

Divination of destiny
Some believe that one's destiny may be ascertained by divination or proclaimed as the prophecy of a prophet or sibyl. In the belief systems of many cultures, one's destiny can only be learned about through a shaman, babalawo, saint or seer.
In the Shang dynasty, oracle bones and shells were consulted on questions of ritual and religion, leading to the earliest form

Destiny versus fate
Although the words are used interchangeably in many cases, fate and destiny can be distinguished. It depends on how narrow or broad the definitions are. Broadly speaking, fate is destiny. Narrowly and to be more accurate, traditional usage defines fate as a power or agency that predetermines and orders the course of events. Fate defines events as ordered or "inevitable". Fate is used with regard to the finality of events as they have worked themselves out; and that same sense of finality, projected into the future to become the inevitability of events as they will work themselves out, is Destiny. In other words, fate relates to events of the past and is proven to be true and unalterable, whereas destiny relates to the probable to almost certain future. Note that it is only almost certain and not absolutely certain, allowing for change to occur. This can be seen in our common language usage, e.g. "His calling, his destiny is to be a doctor." Will he definitely be a doctor? Well, it remains to be seen.

In classical and European mythology, there are three goddesses dispensing fate, the "Fates" known as Moirae in Greek mythology, as Parcae in Roman mythology, and Norns in Norse mythology; they determine the events of the world through the mystic spinning of threads that represent individual human destinies.
One word derivative of "fate" is "fatality", another "fatalism". Fate implies no choice, and ends fatally, with a death. Fate is an outcome determined by an outside agency acting upon a person or entity; but with destiny the entity is participating in achieving an outcome that is directly related to itself. Participation happens willfully.
Used in the past tense, "destiny" and "fate" are both more interchangeable, both imply "one's lot" or fortunes, and include the sum of events leading up to a currently achieved outcome (e.g. "it was her destiny to be leader" and "it was her fate to be leader").

Destiny and "fortune"
In Hellenistic civilization, the chaotic and unforeseeable turns of chance gave increasing prominence to a previously less notable goddess, Tyche, who embodied the good fortune of a city and all whose lives depended on its black and white security and prosperity, two good qualities of life that appeared to be out of human reach. The Roman image of Fortuna, with the wheel she blindly turned was retained by Christian writers, revived strongly in the Renaissance and survives in some forms today.

Destiny and kismet
Predestination in Islam
The word kismet derives from the Arabic word qismah, and entered the English language via the Turkish word kısmet, meaning either "the will of Allah" or "portion, lot or fate". In English, the word is synonymous with fate or destiny. The word is also part of mainstream Hindi and is spelled किस्मत and when written in English in the Indian sub-continent is spelled kismat.

Destiny and philosophy
In daily language destiny and fate are synonymous, but with regards to 20th century philosophy the words gained inherently different meanings.

For Arthur Schopenhauer destiny was just a manifestation of the Will to Live. Will to Live is for him the main aspect of the living. The animal cannot be aware of the Will, but men can at least see life through its perspective, though it is the primary and basic desire. But this fact is a pure irrationality and then, for Schopenhauer, human desire is equally futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so is all human action. Therefore, the Will to Live can be at the same time living fate and choice of overrunning the fate same, by means of the Art, of the Morality and of the Ascesis.

1 comment:

gopalan said...

dear Raman,
very enlightening indeed