Article

Karma

Herman Tull

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0029
Karma

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Karma is a central element of South Asian thought, and, as such, it has deeply influenced South Asian religious and social practices. Although at its base karma means simply “act” or “action” (and in some contexts it continues to mean nothing more than this), for at least the past two thousand years, the term generally has been used to refer to acts or actions that necessarily produce broadly predictable future results: good acts produce good results, while bad acts produce bad results. Moreover, because the results of one’s acts may remain unrealized in a single lifetime, karma is tied inextricably to the notion of future births (punar-janman or “rebirth”). Given karma’s deep history in India, and the many contexts in which it occurs (for example, religious, social, philosophical), its implications frequently extend beyond this basic meaning. Accordingly, the study of karma requires a careful sifting of the Indian texts (generally studied in terms of specific textual epochs: Vedic, epic, and puranic, to name the best known strata). However, it must also be remembered that karma is not merely a textual relic, for it also occurs as a category of everyday experience, used in particular to explain an individual’s existential circumstances. On this level of the “lived-in” world, karma is frequently intermixed with other existential notions, such as fate and the will of the gods. Here, too, depending on any number of contextual factors, the implications of karma may vary considerably in meaning. Through Buddhism, karma became a foundational element in Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese religious thought. In the late 19th century, the theosophical movement brought karma to the West, though in a highly idiosyncratic fashion.

Article.  14276 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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