Concept of karma

Karma is what we do/ something we perform. ‘Paap Punya rupa karma’. Shastras orders us- do this, don’t do this. Acting as per the instructions of shastra is Punya and not acting as per the instructions of  Shastras is paapa.

यः शास्त्रविधिमुत्सृज्य वर्तते कामकारतः।

न स सिद्धिमवाप्नोति न सुखं न परां गतिम्।। Gita 16.23।।


He who, abandoning the injunctions of the Sastras, acts under the influence of desire, attains neither perfection nor pleasure, nor the supreme state.

तस्माच्छास्त्रं प्रमाणं ते कार्याकार्यव्यवस्थितौ।

ज्ञात्वा शास्त्रविधानोक्तं कर्म कर्तुमिहार्हसि।।16.24।।

इसलिए तुम्हारे लिए कर्तव्य और अकर्तव्य की व्यवस्था (निर्णय) में शास्त्र ही प्रमाण है शास्त्रोक्त विधान को जानकर तुम्हें अपने कर्म करने चाहिए।।

Therefore, let the Sastra be your authority for determining what should be done and what should not be done. Knowing what is enjoined in the injunctions of the Sastra, you should perform work here.

Srimad Bhagwatam (6.1.40) says:

veda-praṇihito dharmo, hy adharmas tad-viparyayaḥ
vedo nārāyaṇaḥ sākṣāt, svayambhūr iti śuśruma

hat which is prescribed in the Vedas constitutes dharma, the religious principles, and the opposite of that is irreligion. The Vedas are directly the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa, and are self-born. This we have heard from Yamarāja.

Another definition of ‘karma’ may be; “Something pleasurable to God is Punyam and something unpleasant to God is Paapam“.

Two things are here

1) for every effect, there must be a cause

2) cause and effect must be with same same system

If I overate, someone else won’t get fat. So, my deeds affects only me only. Other’s karma can’t affect me. At the first day of our birth, why were we born to this place, to this parent, to this form and color? Why with birth we get some diseases?

These question can’t be answered if don’t accept the concept of karma and reincarnation. If we do some good and other do some bad and both remains unrewarded; then, there would chaos.

Supreme controller Brahman can’t allow this. He created a system called ‘birth’.

for punya you get sukham

for paapam you get dukham

But not directly…the process to give this is called JANMA/BIRTH

Good deeds — Birth — Sukham.

Bad deeds —- Birth — Dukham.

Thus, the reason for our birth is karma, to experience our karma. Once, the store of our karma turns nill, we are mukta.

Is karma a tattva?

No, karma is not a tattva and is not included in tattva-traya. It’s just a account of what we do. It’s stored in the memory of Narayana and other concerning devatas.

Sanchita Karma: We have been baddha since time immemorial and the store of all the karmas is ‘Sanchita Karma’.

Prarbdha Karma: Out of sanchita, a part of karma that we have to experiance in this birth is called Prarbdha Karma. In common language, we call it ‘bhagya’. Thus, what we call as ‘bhagya’ is our previous karma only.

Who decides our fate? Is everything predetermined?

Common saying is that, “God proposes, man disposes”. But the truth is that God proposes and man denies. Another truth is that man proposes, God acts.

lets discuss this.

Ques: Does time decide our fate?

Ans: No because, time don’t have knowledge

Ques: Does prakriti decide?

Ans: No. Since prakriti too don’t have knowledge. It’s non-sentient.

Ques: So does God decide?

Ans: No, since shastras say, “do this, don’t do this”. So, if fate is pre-decided; why does shastras direct us?

It’s a big misunderstanding among people that everything is pre-determined.

Let’s build some premises

1) God decides, we act


Since, shastras says us do this; don’t do this. (कर्ता शास्त्रार्थत्वात). If everything is decided by God then God would become responsible for our pains and pleasures.

2) I decide; I act


since, vedas says, “we are dependent on him.” Vedant sutra says, ” पराः तु तत श्रुते:”

So, If I decide independently, how can we say everything is controlled by him?

3) I decide he acts


4) He decides he acts


all 4 premises failed. let’s sove this


Take an example

Mom is holding hands of kid and dad is calling him. Kid is walking with the help of mother, then mother leaves her hand and allows child to go to father.

Does in this state child not in control of mother?

yes. Child is trying to walk on its own. If he falls, it’s his mistake.

Is child under control of mother?

Yes, Since child is under control of mother. Under her control, he is trying on his own. If he would fall, mother would come help and again go.

Thus, we are dependently independent. We have free will and we do karma and get fruits, but under his control.

Everything acts under the control of Bhagwaan only, but he gives us freedom to act. Thus we act and accumulate karma. Bhagwan fulfills whatever desire we have. If we desire to go away from him, he fulfills even that desire.

There are 3 modes:

  1. First state (Aadya pravritti): In the first state, Bhagwaan is ‘udaasin’ i.e. He turns blind eye to our wishes.
  2. 2nd State: Bhagwaan being the antaryaami, accepts the will/wish of the person and allows him to act as per his wish.
  3. 3rd State: Bhagwaan accelerates the wish of the person. Either, he wishes to remain devoted to Parmatma or remaining away from him and enjoy worldly pleasures; he propels both.
Now, let’s move on to a burning Question.

Q: The World is full of sorrows and imperfections. If God is the creator of the world, is he not responsible for our sorrows?

Let’s discuss Brahma-Sutra 2.1.32 (प्रयोजनवत्त्वात् अधिकरणम). Whatever possible doubts can evolve in our mind has already been answered in the Shastras, only thing is that we don’t read.
The style of Brahma sutra is that first topic is established in a adhikaran (Group of sutras). First the question or Purva-paksha is raised then it’s answered. Again the questioner further contests and he is further answered in Uttar paksha. Later, In Siddhant, conclusion is put forward.

2.1.32:  na prayojanatvaat



Here, the question is raised that Brahman can’t be creator of the universe as there is no any motive for him to do it. Brahman is self-satisfied. So, why would it create the universe?
The answer is given in next sutra:


2.1.33: lokvattu leela kaivalyam

Sri Bhasyakaara says in the very beginning of Sri Bhasya in his mangala shloka:

अखिल भुवन जन्म स्थेम भङ्गादि लीले 

The Supreme Brahman, as a matter of play /recreation / fun is involved in the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the all Universes.

Since Brahman has all desires fulfilled, the purpose of creation can’t be his enjoyment born out of sense pleasure. Thus, the creation, substenance and dissolution is mere play/लीला for Brahman. There can’t be any other purpose.

For example, a king of whole earth, having majestic power, heroism and intelligence is seen playing with balls for the purpose of attending to what is a mere play. Thus, creation, preservation is mere play for Brahman and he remains unattached to the whole process.

प्रकृतिं स्वामवष्टभ्य विसृजामि पुनः पुनः।

भूतग्राममिमं कृत्स्नमवशं प्रकृतेर्वशात्।।9.8।।

Controlling the Prakrti, which is My own, I send forth again and again all this multitude of beings, helpless under the sway of Prakrti.

न च मां तानि कर्माणि निबध्नन्ति धनञ्जय।

उदासीनवदासीनमसक्तं तेषु कर्मसु।।9.9।।

But these actions do not bind Me, O Arjuna, for I remain detached from them like one unconcerned.
The Brahman has nothing to gain or loose; but the creation and destruction is just a play
(Krida) for the Brahman. In his divine plane, we get a chance to clear off our karma and
get liberated. Just as an organizer organises a Cricket match for his enjoyment but
players there get a chance to score hundred.
Q: Is the creation sport by itself or outcome of a sport?
Ans: The commentator on Sri Bhasya, Sri Sudarshan Suri explains (in Sruta-prakaasika) that creation is sport by itself. he creates, penetrates and preserve by controlling from within and then destroys as mere sport.


Accepted that Brahman created the world as his pleasure but something coming out of perfect should be perfect only. Why is that the world is full of imperfections? Isn’t the source of pains and pleasures of jeavas becomes Bhagwaan only, since he created this world. It brings dosha into Brahman, thus Brahman can’t be the creator of this world full of sorrow.
Morever, the evil of partiality would fall on Brahman as he created some as human, some as god and some as rishis.


2.4.34: vaishmyenaighrinye na, saapekshatvaat, tatha hi darshyati

The enequality in the creation is due to the karma of the indivisual aatmans. Creation is actually the transformation of the body of the Brahman from subtle state state to gross state. Parmatma didn’t create the aatmans. Parmatma didn’t create the universe. ‘tattva traya anaaditvam’. Creation means transformation of subtle form of universe during deluge, which exist without name and form (almost like achit); to gross form, having name and form.
Brihadaranyak 4.4.5
साधुकारी साधु भवति, पापकारी पापो भवति| पुण्यः पुण्येन कर्मणा भवति, पापः पापेन|

yathākārī yathācārī tathā bhavati, sādhukārī sādhur bhavati, pāpakārī pāpo bhavati; puṇyaḥ puṇyena karmaṇā bhavati, pāpaḥ pāpena

Meaning: Accordingly as one behaves so does he become. The doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous actions. Others become bad by bad actions.”

Parashara too in his Vishnu Puran 1.4.51-52:

‘He (the Lord) is the operative cause only in the creation of new beings; the material cause is constituted by the potentialities of the beings to be created. The being to be embodied requires nothing but an operative cause; it is its own potentiality which leads its being into that condition of being (which it is to occupy in the new creation).’ Potentiality here means karman.

Example 2:

Sudarshan Suri explains the concept with an example. Water falls same in a field having different quality of seeds. Seeds sprout and grow into different plants or even same plants of different yields.

Here, water i.e. God is common/general cause. Seeds i.e. Jeevatma’s karma being the particular cause. Thus, Bhagwat-kripa falls equally on all but we get results of sukham and dukham or bodies of devata or nara or gandharva as per our KARMA.


कर्म प्रधान विश्व रचि राखा । जो जस करहि सो तस फल चाखा ॥

सकल पदारथ हैं जग मांही। कर्महीन नर पावत नाहीं ॥




Ok, you argue that imperfections in the universe are due to indivisual karma. But, who provided that karma to the aatman?  In the beginning of aatman, who gave karma and made is bound in samsaram? Thus, Brahman can’t be creator of the universe.


2.1.35 :- na karmavibhaaditi chenna, anaaditvaadupapadyate chapyupalabhyate|


Both the Indivisual selves and karma are beginning-less. If we accept beginning of karma at some time, we would have to accept the creation of aatman too.

Let’s build some premises:

  1. atmans were created and given karma as sport of God.
  2. atmans are eternal, karma were given to them.
  3. atmans were mukta and fell down due to their karma.
  4. Both aatman and karma are anaadi i.e. beginningless.

1st Premise doesn’t hold good since aatmans can’t be created.

BG 13. 19:

प्रकृतिं पुरुषं चैव विद्ध्यनादी उभावपि।

विकारांश्च गुणांश्चैव विद्धि प्रकृतिसंभवान्।।13.20।।

प्रकृति और पुरुष — दोनोंको ही तुम अनादि समझो और विकारों तथा गुणोंको भी प्रकृतिसे ही उत्पन्न समझो। कार्य और करणके द्वारा होनेवाली क्रियाओंको उत्पन्न करनेमें प्रकृति हेतु कही जाती है और सुखदुःखोंके भोक्तापनमें पुरुष हेतु कहा जाता है।

Know that both Prakrti and the self (Purusa) are without beginning; know that all modifications and the attributes are born of Prakrti.

Swetaswar Upanishad 6.13 and  Kathopanishad. 5.13:

नित्यो नित्यानां चेतनश्चेतनानामेको बहूनां यो विदधाति कामान् ।

He is the eternal among the eternal and the intelligent among all that are intelligent. Though one, He grants the desires of the many.

aatman is eternal and Brahman is eternal.

2nd Premise  says that only aatman which is identical to Brahman existed in the beginning. Brahman taking upaadhi of maya got transformed into world of differences which is nothing but mithya. Thus, karma didn’t exist in the beginning.

सदेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम् । (Chhandogya Up. 6.2.1)

In the beginning, O Somya (who is fit to drink the Soma juice (prepared in Soma yagnya), this universe was Being (Sat) alone, one only without a second. 

The theory of mithya has been criticized and refuted in detail by Sri Bhasyakaar in the very beginning using ‘Sapt-Vidha-anupapatti‘.  Brahman desired and created the universe out of his will.

सोऽकामयत। बहु स्यां प्रजायेयेति। (Tattriya 2.6.1)

He (the Self) wished, ‘ Let me be many, let me be born.’

So, if one says one part of all-powerful Brahman is under illusion, it brings dosha into Brahman. Moreover, if it got baddha on its will, it should be able to get released of sansaram on it will whenever it want.

In the beginning, the universe existed in subtle form devoid of name and form, incapable of being separately spoken.

So, when upanishads proclaims;

eko ha vai Narayano Aasit

It means brahman was present with it body i.e. chit and achit in unmanifest form.

Q: So, why don’t Upanishads says Brahman was present with chit and achit?

Ans: There is no need to say Flower is present with fragrance or Sun is present with rays. There is no need to say Devdatta has arrived with his shirt and jeans. It’s understood that Devadatta is associated with shirt and jeans.

Now, chit and achita are inseparable attributes of Brahman.

Brahma Sutra 1.1.2 (Creation of Universe)

3rd premise too doesn’t hold good. There can’t be any fall down of mukta-jeevatma as they are free of 3 gunas of Prakriti and resides in Suddha-sattva. They have their dharma-bhoot gyanam as infinity. Fall of jaya and vijaya is to be taken as just part of leela of Lord where some of his parshad becomes friends, some beccomes enemy, some parents etc.

Chhandogya describes mukta jeevatmas as ‘vijaro vimrityuh .. satyakaamah satyasankalpah’. i.e. devoid of old age, devoid of death, having all desires and will fulfilled.

So, falldown is not at all possible.

4th premise has to be accepted. as the above premises have failed. if we don’t accept both aatman and karma to be anaadi then it will give rise to rewards for what is not done and no rewards for what is done. why someone is born blind, someone rich, someone orphan; we would never be able to answer such questions. It would lead to conclusion that Brahman gave blindness, birth to rich family and thus would bring partiality dosha in brahman. Hence, it can’t be accepted.

सूर्याचन्द्रमसौधाता यथापूर्वमकल्पयत् । (MahaNarayanopanishad 5.7 0r 1.62)

Meaning: The creator creator created sun and moon as before (i.e. as per prior creation).


तद् ध इदम् तर्हि अव्याकृतम् आसीत् तन्नामरूपाभ्यामेव व्याक्रियतासौ नामाऽयमिदꣳरूप इति । (Brihadaranyak Upanishad 1.4.7)

Indeed it was undifferentiated. It has now differentiated by means of names and forms.

Katha Upanishad 2.18

न जायते म्रियते वा विपश्चिन्नायं कुतश्चिन्न बभूव कश्चित् ।

अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ।। 1.2.18 ।।

The intelligent Self is neither born nor does It die. It did not originate from anything, nor did anything originate form It. It is birthless, eternal, undecaying, and ancient. It is not injured even when the body is killed.

The idea is this: Creation has no first beginning. It is an eternal cyclic process of creation and dissolution of the universe. So the differentiation of Karma, Jiva and Isvara even before creation has to be accepted. Only in the creative cycle the differentiation becomes patent, and in the dissolved condition it remains latent.

Ramanuja concludes the argument by saying,

‘athah sarvavilakshaNathvA th sarvasakthithvAth leelaika prayOjanathvAth

kshEthrajnakarmAnug uNyEna vichithrasrshtiyOgA th brahmaiva jagathkAraNam.’

That is, Brahman alone is the cause of the world, because of being different from all, being all powerful, having sport as the sole purpose and created the world in accordance with the karma of the individual souls.


Since all the attributes essential for being the cause of the world are proved in Brahman which are shown as being absent in praDHAna or atoms, Brahman is the cause of the world of the sentient and the insentient. 

Some FAQ

Q 1. If God is an ocean of compassion, why does he expect his worship from us in lieu of giving us liberation?

Ans: That’s misconception that God orders us to worship him, nor does he expect anything from us to provide us liberation. All he is expect is our desire to get him. Desire itself is sufficient pre-requisite to get him. 

Dwelling always within, he strengthen  our faith and knowledge and thus we worship him as our aanandam. It’s not COMPULSION but rather for our own PLEASURE. No amount of worship can grant us liberation but only strong desire to get him can.

Q 2. Why does he wait for our desire too at all? Why can’t he provide moksham to one and all? Thus it’s concluded that Brahman is not merciful at all.

Ans: Had Brahman not been merciful, there would have been no creation. Out of his compassion only he creates again and again. Gives us body, senses, mind, intelligence; so that we perform for liberation. He has been doing it since time immemorial. There is nothing to gain or loose for him but just out of compassion he creates the universe as his sport.

No, He can’t provide moksham to us till we desire. Why so? Since we have knowledge. We are not insentient like table and Bricks. We have knowledge and have intelligence to pick a path. If we desire to enjoy worldly pleasures, he even allows. If we desire to get out of this, he propels us in this path from being within us as our antaryaami. 

In Varaha charama shloka, Bhagwaan assures that for saranagata jeevatmas, even last remebrance at the time of death is not required. As he remembers his Bhakta at the time of his death. He embraces the aatman as antaryaami aatman and leads it to ‘archiraagi maarg’ i.e. from 101th naadi to Sri vaikuntham.

In Ram charam shloka of Ramayana, Sri Ram proclaims that, “one who even for once approaches me and says I am yours, You are mine. I provide the final destination to that jeevatma”. Clearly, just desire is enough credential.

In Krishna Charam shloka, he explains the process of saranagati/Prapatti. Be free of the ego that we can reach him by power of our own bhakti, gyaan and karma. Accept his Kripa as only means to reach him. perform karma, Gyaan and Bhakti till death for pleasure of God and passing our time in good way. After the body perishes, he provides us final destination. Till death arrives, live with ‘Maha-Vishwas’ or complete faith that Krishna would definitely provide himself to me after the body ends. Till the body ends, I have to spend time in Good way.

Q 3: If Bhagwaan  is extremely loving to us, why are even his bhaktas suffering? Why can’t he remove all the karma of his devotees?

Ans: To a sarnagata, Bhagwaan removes all the Sanchit karma. But, we have to suffer the Prarbdh karma (the portion of sanchit karma given to us in this birth). One may ask why can’t he remove even that? First of all asking so is to ‘kritaghna’. He has removed all the sanchita karma, is providing liberation at the end of this birth without our eligibility. 

Secondly, if he removes even ‘prarbdha karma’ and provides liberation; he would be called partial to some set of people. Acharyas says that if Sarnagati is  perfect, even Prarbdha karma vanishes.

Bhagwaan gives some dukham to propel us further in path of his loving devotion and enjoy us even more and more. thus, when we start getting away from him and towards samsaram, he kicks us so that we realize and return to him.

Q 4: Why are even his bhaktas sometimes not able to reach him and get reborn?

Ans: This happens to those who are relying own his own i.e. practicing some upayam to reach him. That’s ahamkaram.

For Prapanna Jeevatmas, who have accepted God as means to reach God, there is no second birth.

प्रपत्ति (शरणागति)

Author: ramanujramprapnna

studying Ramanuj school of Vishishtadvait vedant

2 thoughts on “Concept of karma”

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