What Is Karma And Is It Real? 3 Types Of Karma And How It Works

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What is karma? We’ve all heard “what goes around comes around,” but how true is this? And is karma real?

Karma was originally found in the religious teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, but the reality of karma has been long debated.

According to the Oxford dictionary, in those regions, Karma is the sum of someone's good and bad actions in one of their lives, believed to decide what will happen to them in the next life

Is karma real?

Karma seems to be real when something good or bad happens. Karma is real when it explains why certain people reap rewards and to justify extreme punishment or reward by fate as a result of decisions taking place.

Believing that karma is real can help to keep society in line. Karma is real in that it ensures that we are putting good into the world.

Outside of religious belief, it's hard to prove whether or not karma is or isn't real. Some ancient religions teach that karma is what you practice. Rather, it is simply a belief in practice.

In Buddhism, karma primarily means intentional actions in thought, word, and deed, as stated by Tricycle.

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What is the story behind Karma?

Karma is a belief that comes from the Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism traditions. 

The idea of karma first appeared in the Rigveda (before c. 1500 BCE), which is the oldest Hindu text, and then was extended in the Upanishads (c. 800-300 BCE). Karma is achieved by having both good actions and good intentions or well-wishes for others, therefore, karma inspires people to follow good deeds to avoid bad repercussions and follow a spiritual action to neutralize the effects of karma.

Karma is also practiced to follow steps to end karma and karmic consequences to release one from the cycle of birth and death, which called is mokṣa or nirvāṇa. 

In Hinduism, Karma is a part of the Hindu's purpose of life. According to the World History Encyclopedia, the purpose of Hinduism is to recognize the essential oneness of existence and Atman, which is the higher aspect of the individual self and a part of everyone else's self as well as the Over-Soul/Mind.

Through a commitment to dharma, one's duty in life, and to karma, which is performing proper action, one can slip the bonds of physical existence and escape from samsara, which is the cycle of rebirth and death, and reunite with Brahman, or the Supreme Over-Soul (God). 

In Buddhism, karma is a law of cause and effect, and the things one chooses to do, say or think set karma into motion. Karma determines where and what a person will be reborn as well as their status in their next life.

If a person has good karma then they can rebirth in one of the heavenly realms and if they have bad karma they will rebirth as an animal, or be tormented in a hell realm. Buddhists believe in karmic 'conditioning', which is a process where a person's nature is shaped by their moral actions, and every action molds your character for the future.

Positive and negative habits can form over time and reincarnation as well, which causes people to have either good or bad karma. In order to achieve nirvana, Buddhists have to follow the eightfold path, which is suggested by the founder, Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha, which is a set of eight righteous ways of thinking and acting. 

Lastly, in Jainism, karma is conceived in the form of particles pervading into the universe. The subtle particles cling onto a soul which obscures its inherent and perfect form. Karma is otherwise known as a contamination of the soul that taints it with various colors and karmic matter that embodies the soul and is a material force.

In order to achieve salvation from the karmic material force and attain salvation, one has to follow a strict spiritual and ethical code of behavior based on the Five Vows, (Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (speaking the truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity or faithfulness to a spouse), Aparigraha (non-attachment)). 

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What does Karma really mean?

Belief in karma is that “skillful intentions tend toward pleasant results and unskillful intentions toward painful results.” However, this is a little different than the modern outlook of karma.

Buddhist guidance explains that these intentions must “be free of greed, aversion, and delusion.” This seems to be the part where we get a little lost when it comes to karma. Even I fall victim to making a decision that I believe will benefit me, in the long run, using karma as an excuse. Nonetheless, karma is real when it is rooted in selflessness because it compels the person to take any action to promote cause and effect.

There also comes the importance of wisdom within our intentions. When we make decisions that are well thought out, it’s more likely that we will gain positive results, and it can be referred to as "karma" or good karma. Buddhism accepts the inevitability of suffering which implies that bad karma or negative results will continue to present themselves.

This is why the Buddha urged against working out all the implications of karma. Tricycle describes, “actions yield results, but nobody deserves to suffer.” Unfortunately, there is no way to outlast the effects of karma.

Similar to many, my first introduction to the idea of karma came from my mom who used it as a way to assure me that those who wronged me will get what’s coming.

It was comforting to know that with time, they will be punished for hurting me. From here, the decisions I made came with a desire to never receive that same punishment.

I felt that by intentionally hurting someone, bad karma would come my way. Nevertheless, I’m human and I make mistakes. So, I wouldn’t always settle on the right choice. Did something bad happen to me? If so, was it overlooked as a coincidence? Or did I see it as the natural course of life?

This cycle has continued for what feels like my whole life — wanting to believe that others might be punished and hoping that it’ll skip over me. Karma has pushed us all to believe in a powerful cosmic working and maybe this is the only truth we need.

We will all suffer and get back up, just like we will all receive blessings and give to others. American Theravada Buddhist monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, clarifies that “the only happiness that’s truly reliable — and genuinely harmless all around — is the happiness of nirvana, which isn’t dependent on karma at all.”

The hope in Buddhism is that we relinquish the strain of karma and find enlightenment.

How does Karma help or hurt you?

Simply put, the way we perceive karma is not real. However, karma is a real social, psychological reaction to events. We all find our own unique ways to be the best person we can be. If karma is how you find your motivation, there’s nothing wrong with it, and believing in it can help you if you cultivate good karma, and hurt you if you don't avoid bad karma.

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Radford University professor, Ian Barland, explains that “it’s not some mystical force of the universe that restores balance, punishes evil-doers, and rewards the meek.”

Always remember that karmic action is based on selfless love. Karma can help you if you do good for the joy of doing good, accept that things can’t always be perfect, and celebrate the small things that come your way every day.

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What is an example of Karma? And how does it work?

Barland gave two examples of the way karma works within our society.

The first comes from some simple neighborhood friendliness. He tells how his neighbors once took out his trash for him. He appreciated this gesture and will repay the favor every now and then if they haven’t already rolled out their trash can. So, their good karma is being repaid and vice versa.

The second example involves a friend of his who had financial troubles in college. This friend was lucky enough to receive financial aid from an anonymous donor. Once she graduated and became more financially stable, she began to make frequent donations to the same scholarship fund. The ebb and flow of karma in this scenario shows that her giving is a result of her receiving.

Positive signs of others’ generosity will most likely influence you to do the same. This is the way karma typically plays out. The reverse can also be seen clearly. If you feel that your call for help is never heard, you may be less willing to help others.

Barland believes that karma only needs a small amount of energy to keep moving. He says, “If I take the initiative to be kind in small ways, without expectation of returned favors, only then do I help karma flow around my community, returning to me unexpectedly.” There is no way to guarantee that you will receive rewards for your good acts.

Instead, you must hope that your kindness and generosity will help others and inspire their decision-making. You shouldn’t have a hidden agenda for the karma you put out into the world, just like you shouldn’t expect to be recognized for your goodness.

What are the 3 types of Karma?

1. Sanchita

Sanchitta karma is the accumulation of all your actions and works you completed in a past life. This karma then compromises your past and future actions and is responsible for the situations you may find yourself in.

2. Prarabdha

Prarabdha karma is your past karma that is responsible for your current karma and is a karmic template that can't be avoided or changed.

3. Agami

Agami karma is the karma that you create for yourself in the present day in order to be counted in the future. Your thoughts and actions will be known and as you try and resolve past karma, you will create new karma you can or can't resolve in your next life. 

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Isabella Pacinelli is a writer who covers relationship, self-love, spirituality, and entertainment topics.