What is karma? Hinduism – India

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Examples of karma: King Siva offers his body to save a dove from a hawk, and King Candraprabha is so generous that he gives away his own head (Mogao Caves, China, about 500 AD)

Jataka Tales about karma: King Siva offers his body to save a dove from a hawk, and King Candraprabha is so generous that he gives away his own head (Mogao Caves, China, about 500 AD)

Karma is the Sanskrit word for “action” or “doing something.” It comes from an earlier Indo-European word meaning “to make” or “to do”. Karma was a central idea in the Indian religion of Hinduism. People thought that whenever you did anything, it affected your future life, and especially your reincarnation. (Compare this to Taoist or Zen Buddhist ideas in China.)

According to Hindu ideas of karma, if you did something good for other living creatures, you got good karma. This would help you in the future. For instance, if you helped a friend to understand the assignment, you would pile up some good karma. That might make sure the teacher asked you only questions to which you knew the answers. On the other hand, if you did something bad, like killing a spider, you would get bad karma. Maybe when you fell down you would scrape your knee. Americans sometimes say, “What goes around comes around.”

In Hinduism, people saw your karma as something given to you by the gods. The gods decided everything that happened. In Buddhism, though, the gods were left out of it, and karma just happened naturally: good deeds lead to good results, just as apple seeds lead to apple trees. In fact, the whole idea of karma – that it matters whether you are good or bad – may not go back much before the beginnings of Buddhism, maybe about 500 BC. Karma may be an idea that came to India from other cultures. It might have come from Chinese Taoists or Buddhists. They were beginning to visit India at this time as the Silk Road got started.

The Bhagavad Gita, probably written sometime around 300 BC, is mostly a long discussion of dharma and karma between Krishna and the prince Arjuna.

More about Hinduism
Learn by Doing – a project on Hinduism

Bibliography and further reading about Hinduism:

   

Shiva
Vishnu
Krishna
Buddhism
More about India
Quatr.us

By | 2017-07-21T10:31:29+00:00 July 21st, 2017|India, Religion|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. What is karma? Hinduism – India. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 21, 2017. Web. December 12, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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