Origin and views of the concept of Karma

Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म Pali: kamma) in Indian religions is the concept of “action” or “deed”, understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect (i.e., the cycle called samsāra). Originating in ancient India, Karma is part of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh philosophies.

The concept of karma (along with samsara and moksha) may have originated in the shramana tradition of which Buddhism and Jainism are continuations. This tradition influenced the Brahmanic religion in the early Vedantic (Upanishadic) movement of the 1st millennium BC. This worldview was adopted from this religious culture by Brahmin orthodoxy, and Brahmins wrote the earliest recorded scriptures containing these ideas in the early Upanishads. Until recently, the scholarly consensus was that reincarnation is absent from the earliest strata of Brahminical literature. However, a new translation of two stanzas of the Rig Veda indicate that the Brahmins may have had the idea, common among small-scale societies around the world, that an individual cycles back and forth between the earth and a heavenly realm of ancestors. In this worldview, moral behavior has no influence on rebirth. The idea that the moral quality of one’s actions influences one’s rebirth is absent from India until the period of the shramana religions, and the Brahmins appear to have adopted this idea from other religious groups.

Some traditions (i.e., the Vedanta), believe that a supreme being plays some kind of role, for example, as the dispenser of the ‘fruits’ of karma or as exercising the option to change one’s karma in rare instances. In general, followers of Buddhism and many followers of Hinduism consider the natural laws of causation sufficient to explain the effects of karma.
Another view holds that a Sadguru, acting on a god’s behalf, can mitigate or work out some of the karma of the disciple. And according to the Jainism perspective, neither a god nor a guru have any role in a person’s karma—the individual is considered to be the sole doer and enjoyer of his karmas and their ‘fruits’. Laws of karma are codified in some books.

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