Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Karma Mean?

Karma is a Sanskrit word which means “action” or “work.” It derives from the root verb kri, which means “to act.” As a concept, therefore, karma can refer to all the actions a person makes, both with their body and in their mind. All activity creates karma.

Karma can also refer to the spiritual concept of cause and effect, whereby the actions of an individual create their own future. The idea here, of course, is that positive actions create good karma, leading to future happiness, while negative ones create bad karma, which leads to suffering.

Karma is an important idea in many religions originating in ancient India, as well as in yogic philosophy. It is first referenced in the Upanishads as a concept related to causality.


Yogapedia Explains Karma

A popular way of explaining karma is through the idea that every action has a reaction and no action can be disconnected from its result. Thus, a person’s actions cannot be escaped – their consequences must be realized.

This is closely linked in many schools of religion and philosophy to the concept of rebirth or reincarnation. It is believed that karma can be carried over from one life into the next. Thus, actions can affect not only an individual’s current life, but their future lives, too. It is also said that the character and personality of an individual is the combined result of the karma of their previous lives and actions.

Although all actions create karma, it is believed that the intention behind the action affects the karma. Thus, actions which are unintentional, or without bad intent, do not have the same karmic influence and may be considered karmically neutral.

Yoga is seen as one way to free oneself from the cycle of karma, and to find freedom and liberation. The branch of yoga which uses work and action to do this is called Karma yoga. Karma yoga teaches students to look within themselves to find the source of their suffering and to use their own actions to find true happiness.

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