Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म), or Kamma (Pali: कम्म) is a Sanskrit word and a concept of eastern religions meaning 'action, effect, destiny.' In Hinduism and, later, in Buddhism and Sikhism, it is the sum of a person's actions, regarded as determining that person's future states of existence. The effects of those deeds actively create all that is to happen and determine every present and future experience, thus completely excluding random chance.
The law of Karma originated in the Vedic system of religion, otherwise known as Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma (perennial faith). As a term, it can at the latest be traced back to the early Upanishads, around 1500 BC.
The Sikh Scriptures explain karma in these terms:
The body is the field of karma in this age; whatever you plant, you shall harvest. (SGGS p78) and By the karma of past actions, the robe of this physical body is obtained. By His Grace, the Gate of Liberation is found. (SGGS p2)
It is due to our commendable past actions and deeds that we have obtained this prized human birth, which is regarded in Sikhism as the highest possible on Earth. And only by continued good actions and the Grace of the Almighty can one obtain Liberation from the continuous cycle of births and deaths in various bodily forms that our soul has been undergoing since the creation of the universe.
In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, no one is interested in good karma, or Dharmic faith. (SGGS p161) and
They alone are good, who are judged good at the Lord's Door. Those with bad karma can only sit and weep. (SGGS p15) and
Burnt by desire, and bound by the karma of their past actions, they go round and round, like the ox at the mill press. ((2)) (SGGS p800) and
The self-willed manmukhs create karma, and in the Court of the Lord, they receive their punishment. ((1)) (SGGS p33)
Without doing good deeds the mortal will have to suffer and face the consequences of their actions. This is a clear warning of the law of Karma. For every negative action performed by a person, they will have an equal and opposite reaction against them at some stage in the life of their soul.
You unite me with Yourself, O True God. Through perfect good karma You are obtained. ((6)) (SGGS p112) and
The many religious rituals, good deeds of karma and Dharmic worship - above all of these is the Naam, the Name of the Lord. ((2)) (SGGS p405) and
In the field of actions and karma, plant the Lord's Name; this opportunity is so difficult to obtain! ((2)) (SGGS p812) and
The Word of the Guru's Shabad eradicates the karma of millions of past actions. ((3)(1)) (SGGS p1195)
Only by the meditation upon the Lord's Name, good deeds and noble action can one eliminate the consequences of past bad karmas.
KARMA, THE DOCTRINE OF closely connected with the theory of rebirth and transmigration, is basic to the religious traditions of Indian origin such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The term karam, as it is spelt in Punjabi and as it occurs in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, has three connotations. As an inflection of Sanskrit karman from root kri (to do, perform, accomplish, make, cause or effect) it means an act, action, deed. It also stands for fate, destiny, predestination inasmuch as these result from one's actions or deeds. Also, karam as a word of Arabic origin is synonymous with nadar or Divine grace or clemency. It is with the first two connotations that the doctrine of karma is mainly concerned, although karam as God's grace is also relevant to the ultimate eradication of karma bringing moksa or liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
According to the law of karma, every action, physical or mental, has its own consequence which must be faced either in this life or in the lives to come. In the Indian religious traditions, the doctrine of karma, for this reason, is linked with the doctrines and processes of reincarnation and transmigration. Some western philosophers of yore also believed in transmigration, but for them it was associated with the concept of immortality of the soul. In Indian religious thought, on the other hand, transmigration is an essential concomitant of karma. It is to reap the consequence of his previous karma that an individual self (jiva) takes his next birth, but, in the very process of acting out this consequence, the jiva creates further chains of actions thus setting in motion an endless cycle of birth-action-death-rebirth. This has been described as the "karmic wheel" of alternating birth and death with fresh karma keeping the wheel in endless motion until the chain is broken through the annihilation of karma, and the jiva attains moksa (liberation or release from transmigration). Different traditions within the Indian religious system recommend different means to break the karmic cycle ranging from austerities, renunciation and non-action to ritualism, philosophic knowledge, devotion and fruitful action.
The Gurus accepted the doctrine of karma not as an immutable law but as a system of Nature subject to hukam (Divine Order) and nadar (Divine grace)—two concepts which might be described as Guru Nanak's contribution to Indian religious thought. Hukam, a Persian term meaning command or decree, control or direction, sanction or permission, occurs in Guru Nanak's hymns in several different but related connotations such as Divine law, Divine will or Divine pleasure (bhana, raza); Divine fiat (amar, farman); Divine power or Divine creation (qudarat). Nadar, though justifiably translated as grace, is somewhat different from its usage in Christian theology where the stress is upon its universal nature and absolute sufficiency for salvation. In Sikhism, nadar is related to Divine pleasure (raza) and somewhat close to "election " of neo-Calvinist theology except that it leaves no scope for individual's free will.
The doctrine of karma, according to Sikh belief, is a part of the Divine law (hukam). "The whole universe," says Guru Arjan, Nanak V, "is bound by action, good or bad" (GG, 51). Guru Nanak declares in the Japji that "all forms, beings, greatness and lowliness, pain and pleasure, bounties and wanderings are subject to the indescribable hukam and there is nothing outside the realm of hukam," (GG, 1) and then adds that "karma determines the kapra, i.e. body or birth we receive and that it is through nadar (God's grace) that one secures the threshold of moksa" (GG, 2). Sikhism, moreover, distinguishes between karma and kirat. The latter term applies to the cumulative effect of actions performed during successive births and is somewhat akin to sanchit karma and prarabdh karma of Hindu theoreticians. But the operation of karma in Sikhism is not irresistible; its adverse effects can be obliterated by a proper understanding of hukam and proper conduct in accordance with that understanding as well as by God's grace.
While the actions of other species are mostly regulated by instinctive response to environmental stimuli, man, endowed with a superior brain, is capable of having a proper understanding of hukam and choosing a course of actions (karma) favourable to progressive spiritual growth deserving His nadar. Human birth, therefore, is a precious gift and a rare chance for the individual soul (jivatma). Guru Nanak says: "Listen, listen to my advice, O my mind! Only good deeds shall endure, and there may not be a second chance." Certain points in the Sikh view of karma are noticeable. Sikhism does not stipulate heaven or hell wherein good and bad actions of men are rewarded or punished. Moreover, according to Sikhism, human birth is the result of God's will as well as of past actions. Further, past actions do not determine the caste or status of the jiva taking birth. All human beings are born equal.
What are "good" deeds (sukrit) that help man's quest for moksa, his ultimate aim? The Gurus deprecated self-mortification and non-action and pronounced ritualism as useless. They recommended a householder's life of activity and responsibility lived with humility, devotion and service guided by proper knowledge of hukam and submission to God's will (raza). Here Sikhism synthesizes the three paths to union with the Supreme soul, viz. jnana marga, bhakti marga and karma marga. A Sikh is called upon to seek gian (jnana), knowledge spiritual as well as secular, mundane and moral, practise bhakti, loving devotion, while leading a normal life of a gurmukh or one whose face is turned towards the Guru. His actions (karma) guided by discernment that comes from gian and with the dedication and complete self-surrender of a bhakta, should be performed earnestly and honestly, doing full justice to his worldly duties. Yet he should not let himself be so much attached and entangled in the bonds of present life as to ignore the hereafter and to forget his ultimate goal which is reunion of his individual soul with its original source, the Supreme Spirit. Such disinterested actions help annihilate man's haumai (I-ness, ego) and, when blessed by God's nadar or mihar, he can overcome the effect of past karma and become jivan mukta, i.e. one liberated while still living.
Karma is the cause of birth in this world, But salvation can be obtained by His Grace.
Good actions win not only public approbation but also divine favour.God does not interfere with man's choice, though as the Ruler of the universe, he controls the over-all destiny of individuals.
- Important values of Sikhi
- Primary Beliefs and Principles
- Sikh Women
- Equality of women
- Sikh Beliefs
- Introduction to Sikhism
- 1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1964
- 2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Nirnaya. Lahore, 1932
- 3. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
- 4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
- 5. Shiv Kumar, Muni, The Doctrine of Liberation in Indian Religions. Panchkula, 1981
Above adapted from article By K. R. S. Iyenger