Categories Anthropology II

II. 3.1.3 Karma

Introduction

Basic concept of tradition indian philosophy and society.

Karma  means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and future suffering.

The philosophy of karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in many schools of Indian religions. In these schools, karma in the present affects one’s future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives – one’s samsara.

Karma as action and reaction: if we show goodness, we will reap goodness.

Karma is the executed “deed”, “work”, “action”, or “act”, and it is also the “object”, the “intent”. The word kriya is the activity along with the steps and effort in action, while karma is  the executed action as a consequence of that activity, as well as  the intention of the actor behind an executed action or a planned action (described by some scholars as metaphysical residue left in the actor). A good action creates good karma, as does good intent. A bad action creates bad karma, as does bad intent.

Karma, also refers to a conceptual principle that originated in India, often descriptively called the principle of karma, sometimes as the karma theory or the law of karma. In the context of theory, karma is complex and difficult to define.

Aspects of Karma

  1. Adhisthata- means cente of the action
  2. Karta- doer of the action
  3. Karm- the action
  4. Chesta- means the efforts
  5. Deva- means fate

Definition

Different schools of Indologists derive different definitions for the karma concept from ancient Indian texts; their definition is some combination of (1) causality that may be ethical or non-ethical; (2) ethicization, that is good or bad actions have consequences; and (3) rebirth. Other Indologists include in the definition of karma theory that which explains the present circumstances of an individual with reference to his or her actions in past. These actions may be those in a person’s current life, or, in some schools of Indian traditions, possibly actions in their past lives; furthermore, the consequences may result in current life, or a person’s future lives. The law of karma operates independent of any deity or any process of divine judgment.

Difficulty in arriving at a definition of karma arises because of the diversity of views among the schools of Hinduism; some, for example, consider karma and rebirth linked and simultaneously essential, some consider karma but not rebirth essential, and a few discuss and conclude karma and rebirth to be flawed fiction. Thus karma has not one, but multiple definitions and different meanings. There is an ongoing debate regarding whether karma is a theory, a model, a paradigm, a metaphor, or a metaphysical stance.

Themes in Karma doctrine

Karma theory as a concept, across different Indian religious traditions, shares certain common themes: causality, ethicization and rebirth.

Causality

A common theme to theories of karma is its principle of causality. One of the earliest association of karma to causality occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Hinduism. For example, it states:

Now as a man is like this or like that, according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be; a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad; he becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds; And here they say that a person consists of desires, and as is his desire, so is his will; and as is his will, so is his deed; and whatever deed he does, that he will reap. — Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,

Another causality characteristic, shared by Karmic theories, is that like deeds lead to like effects. Thus good karma produces good effect on the actor, while bad karma produces bad effect. This effect may be material, moral or emotional — that is, one’s karma affects one’s happiness and unhappiness.The effect of karma need not be immediate; the effect of karma can be later in one’s current life, and in some schools it extends to future lives.

The consequence or effects of one’s karma can be described in two forms: phalas and samskaras. A phala (literally, fruit or result) is the visible or invisible effect that is typically immediate or within the current life. In contrast, samskaras are invisible effects, produced inside the actor because of the karma, transforming the agent and affecting his or her ability to be happy or unhappy in this life and future ones. The theory of karma is often presented in the context of samskaras.

Karma and ethicization

The second theme common to karma theories is ethicization. This begins with the premise that every action has a consequence, which will come to fruition in either this or a future life; thus, morally good acts will have positive consequences, whereas bad acts will produce negative results. An individual’s present situation is thereby explained by reference to actions in his present or in previous lifetimes. Karma is not itself “reward and punishment”, but the law that produces consequence. Good karma is considered as dharma and leads to punya (merit), while bad karma is considered adharma and leads to pāp (demerit, sin).

The theories of karma are an ethical theory. This is so because the ancient scholars of India linked intent and actual action to the merit, reward, demerit and punishment.

Rebirth

The third common theme of karma theories is the concept of reincarnation or the cycle of rebirths (saṃsāra).  Karma is a basic concept, rebirth is a derivative concept. Karma is a fact,  while reincarnation is a hypothesis. Rebirth is a necessary corollary of karma.

Rebirth, or saṃsāra, is the concept that all life forms go through a cycle of reincarnation, that is a series of births and rebirths. The rebirths and consequent life may be in different realm, condition or form. The karma theories suggest that the realm, condition and form depends on the quality and quantity of karma.  This cycle continues indefinitely, except for those who consciously break this cycle by reaching moksa. Those who break the cycle reach the realm of gods, those who don’t continue in the cycle.

Among the six most studied schools of Hinduism, the theory of karma evolved in different ways, as their respective scholars reasoned and attempted to address the internal inconsistencies, implications and issues of the karma doctrine.

  • The Nyaya school of Hinduism considers karma and rebirth as central, with some Nyaya scholars such as Udayana suggesting that the Karma doctrine implies that God exists.
  • The Vaisesika school does not consider the karma from past lives doctrine very important.
  • The Samkhya school considers karma to be of secondary importance (prakrti is primary).
  • The Mimamsa school gives a negligible role to karma from past lives, disregards samsara and moksa.
  • The Yoga school considers karma from past lives to be secondary, one’s behavior and psychology in the current life is what has consequences and leads to entanglements.

Pollution in the concept of Karma- Karma and Caste

Conditions of lower caste and untouchables is explained in terms of Karma. The bad deeds of previous birth manifests itself which results into birth in lower caste and untouchables. Element of fatalism causes acceptance of ascribed status of caste. Thus karma theory reinforces and perpetuates the discrimination against the lower caste and untouchables.

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