This is part of an ongoing series of posts regarding specific concepts related to theosophy.

Other Resources: Evolution, Reincarnation, Souls

The intention of these posts are to create a resource for inquiring students, so we'll approach it a little differently than we would a normal discussion.

Here's how we'll do this:

  • Members are invited and encouraged to post their favorite quotes along with links to websites for further reading. If the quote is long (i.e. an entire chapter of a book), please select a couple sentences that stand out and then provide a link to the full chapter online (or if the book is not available online, please provide the title and author name). Anonymous quotes will be deleted, so be sure to source your info...
  • Members are also invited and encouraged to share their own thoughts/interpretations on the concept. However, no rebuttals or counter arguments are to be made in regards to any member posts. As this will be a resource for students interested in learning about a topic, we're not looking for debates on its validity, but instead are looking for sincere attempts at interpretation of its meaning (whether by Plato, Buddha, Blavatsky or Mr. Average Joe Smith!).
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The main idea here is that when you come across something while reading and think to yourself: "wow, what a beautiful description of such and such!", you can come here and post the quote and/or link so that we may all share in the discovery! As this resource builds, when we say to ourselves: "Oh, now where did I hear that quote again? I know it was somewhere!?", we can come to Theosophy.Net, run a quick search, and viola! find the quote/link we were looking for!


Here we will post quotes, thoughts and links on the much popularized concept of Karma.

I hope everyone will feel free to add to this ongoing resource. Don't be shy... share away! This is a "no debate zone". :)

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I have no problems with 28. I am with you on that.  It seems to deal with the perennial misconception of "good" and "bad" karma. Not judging others by externals.....check.  What is good for the immortal soul may not be pleasing to the personality.....check. Difficult circumstances are not necessarily bad or the return of 'bad' karma.....check.  Must be a Seer to really know (read the Astral Light accurately)...check. What's there not to agree with here?  


I think all theosophical statements can be viewed as lens through which, if given a chance, can reveal more than conceal.  But to view them as the last word is dogmatize them which theosophically is walking backwards.

The teaching of karma, what it is and how it works, is not the same in all the Eastern traditions. It is very different in the Jaina tradition. There, karma is material particles that inhere in the soul, and must be shed. For Theosophists, this recalls the article, "The Elixir of Life" (reprinted in Five Years of Theosophy). On the unique approach to karma found in the Jaina tradition, two books may be mentioned.
The teachings on karma from Svetambara Jaina texts are given in:
The Doctrine of Karman in Jain Philosophy, by Helmuth von Glasenapp (Bombay, 1942).
The teachings on karma from a classic Digambara Jaina commentary are given in: 
Jaina Karmology: English Translation with Notes on Chapter Eight of Tattvartha-raja-vartika of Akalanka, by N. L. Jain (Varanasi, 1998).
Several articles on this have been published in various journals and books, of which the following have been collected by us and will be posted here.
"The Jain Theory of Karma," by Gulal Chand. The Theosophist, vol. 17, November 1895, pp. 112-114; December 1895, pp. 143-147.
"The Jain Theory of Karma," by Champat Rai Jain. The Indian Philosophical Review, vol. 3, 1919-1920, pp. 149-164.
"The Jain and the Bhagvad-gita Theories of Karman: A Comparative Study," by B. S. Agnihotri. Bharatiya Vidya, vol. 18, nos. 3 & 4, 1958, pp. 44-53.
"The Doctrine of Karma in Jaina Philosophy," by T. G. Kalghati. Philosophy East and West, vol. 15, 1965, pp. 229-242.
"The Concept of Karma in Jainism and Buddhism," by N. Veezhinathan. Bulletin of the Institute of Traditional Cultures, Madras, January to June 1974, pp. 95-105.
"Jain Doctrine of Karma," by Ramesh M. Dave. Journal of the University of Bombay, Arts: Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 46, no. 82, October 1977, pp. 45-50.
"The Jaina Concept of Karma," by J. C. Sikdar. Jain Journal, vol. 15, nos. 1-3, 1980-1981, pp. 29-33, 74-78, 107-113.
"Karma and the Problem of Rebirth in Jainism," by Padmanabh S. Jaini. In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, pp. 217-238 (University of California Press, 1980). 
These are attached here in two files, so that they will (or should) upload

Here is the second file, with the remaining articles.


Thank You David for making available the articles on Jaina theory of Karma. Only you can explain the Vaishesika theory of Karma as Motion. Whenever you have time, kindly post your views on that too.

The specific teaching of karma in the Vaisesika system of Hinduism is also quite different from what we usually think of karma as. There, karma or action or motion is one of the six (or seven) overall categories (padartha), along with substance or matter (dravya) and four (or five) others. This system has been compared to a system of physics, because some of its nine substances are taught as consisting of paramanus, loosely translated as "atoms." But as we have seen, these are defined as being without extension, so would be more like mathematical points. In any case, these substances or matter have karma or action or motion.
What we usually think of as karma, the results of past actions, is also accepted in Vaisesika. The Vaisesika system teaches adrsta, literally "unseen," as the aggregate of merit (dharma) and demerit (adharma) that brings about future results, including the manifestation of the universe itself. We note that dharma and adharma, as merit and demerit, is understood like in other systems of Hinduism, but unlike in Jainism, where dharma is the medium of motion and adharma is the medium of rest.
The specific Vaisesika teaching of karma as the action or motion of substance or matter has been described at length in a 1936 book by Umesha Mishra, titled, Conception of Matter according to Nyaya-Vaisesika. Its chapter titled "Matter and Motion" is here attached. He uses "motion" to translate karma rather than "action," in this context. Also included is a four-page sub-section found later in the book on "The Law of Karman and Its Functioning," which pertains to karma as we usually think of it.

We are forcibly reincarnated into new lives on earth by our own hands, bound indissolubly with tendencies and potentials from past lives.

We are reborn possessed with a character, compounded of lessons learned, intertwined with many talents and potentials.

The cause of our painful and pleasant karmic luggage, can be understood in the Buddha’s teaching that all the varieties of personality and character are the result of the formative power of ‘thoughts.’

The brain should not be confused with the mind, Judge also says, it is merely “an instrument for the mind.” We have to use another power — our spiritual will, a soul power — to subdue the mind, and make it a servant of the heart.

“The mind, therefore, is not the supreme or highest power—it is only a function, an instrument with which the soul works, senses and experiences.”

“…the particular conditions of life in which each person finds himself, are nothing more than the retributive Karma which the individual generated in a previous life.”

Karma — with its army of Skandhas [traits, habits, debts, unlearned lessons] — waits at the threshold of Devachan [a Tibetan word meaning blissful state after death] — whence the Ego re-emerges to assume a new incarnation.” ... “It is in this rebirth which is ready for it, a rebirth selected and prepared by this mysterious, inexorable, but in the equity and wisdom of its decrees infallible LAW, that the sins of the previous life of the Ego are punished.

Sri Aurobindo point of view on Karma - a must-read from The Life Divine - Chapter XXII.


" It is not conceivable that the Spirit within is an automaton in the hands of Karma, a slave in this life of its past actions; the truth must be less rigid and more plastic. If a certain amount of results of past Karma is formulated in the present life, it must be with the consent of the psychic being which presides over the new formation of its earth-experience and assents not merely to an outward compulsory process, but to a secret Will and Guidance. that secret Will is not mechanical, but spiritual; the guidance comes from  an Intelligence which may use mechanical process but is not their subject....

Karma, then, - or at least any mechanical law of Karma, - cannot be accepted as the sole determinant of circumstances and the whole machinery of rebirth and of our future evolution...

Human beings have erected the rule of reward and punishment as a social necessity in order to restrain the doing of things harmful to the community and encourage what is helpful to it; but to erect this human device into a general law of cosmic Nature or a law of the supreme Being or the supreme law of existence is a procedure of doubtful value...

The action of the cosmic Energy is complex and the same Forces may act in different ways according to circumstances, to the need of the being, to the intention of the cosmic Power in its action; our life is affected not only by its own energies but by the energies of others and by universal Forces, and all this vast interplay cannot be determined in its results solely by the one factor of an all-governing moral law and its exclusive attention to the merits and demerits, the sins and virtues of individual human beings."


This is enlarging the scope of the uderstanding of Karma.

Thank You Jacques, for this beautiful quote from Sri Aurobindo. The mechanical law of Karma has dominated the human thought for far too long. Kindly help me in pointing out the errors in the graphical representation of the idea as below:

My own actions will be the result of countless actions of the others and my action will influence the countless action of others. If there was an algorithm to calculate that, one would assume Sri Krishna would not have denied it to his favorite disciple Arjuna in verse 2.47 of Bhagvad-Gita. Instead, he instructs Arjuna to not to aspire for results, precisely because within the limits of finite existence, it is not feasible to calculate the resultant of such infinite influences. Good and Bad Karma may therefore be understood only as social necessity.

Jon, you posted

When Buddhism teaches that “Karma is that moral kernel (of any being) which alone survives death and continues in transmigration ‘ or reincarnation, it simply means that there remains nought after each Personality but the causes produced by it ; causes which are undying, i.e., which cannot be eliminated from the Universe until replaced by their legitimate effects


that is it, it is hard to simplify it in words any better.

In one sense it is considered by many to be a moral law of cause and effect, by others, including many Buddhists, karmas are elements of action, an important ingredient in the doctrine of dependent origination. 

People use the term law of cause and effect, but I think it is more accurately, the Law of Action and Reaction. A cause is an act or the result of an action and an effect is simply the reaction to it. But it is for the most part, and certainly for the layman, a distinction without much of a difference.... at least in my humble opinion.


Karma as we know it from Theosophical sources comes primarily from Hindu sources. Among these, some of the clearest information on it is given in the Yoga system; that is, in the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali and the commentaries thereon. This system is paired with the Samkhya system, and both have the same teachings on karma. Here are three articles on these teachings.
First is an article by Samkhya researcher Anima Sen Gupta, titled "Re-birth and Karma," from her collection of articles published as Essays on Samkhya and Other Systems of Indian Philosophy (second revised and enlarged edition, 1977). In India, karma and its twin teaching of rebirth have always been taken as self-evident truths. The fact of karma and rebirth was not questioned, so we do not have classical treatises seeking to prove them. They were questioned by the British who came to India. So articles were then written to give their rationale, and to do so taking account of modern Western and Christian objections to these ideas. This is one such article, and it forms a kind of introduction to karma and rebirth.
Second is the chapter titled "The Theory of Karma," from the 1924 book, Yoga as Philosophy and Religion, by Surendranath Dasgupta. He was widely regarded as one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century, well-known for his five-volume work, History of Indian Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1922-1955). This is a somewhat technical account, requiring some knowledge of Sanskrit terms.
Third is the essay titled, "The Doctrine of Karma," from the book, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali, by Swami Hariharananda Aranya. This book and this essay were originally written in Bengali, and translated from that into English. Aranya, 1869-1947, was regarded as perhaps the sole living Samkhya-yogi of modern times. While Samkhya teachings are taken for granted throughout Indian thought, Samkhya as an independent school had long since died out. Aranya revived it in an important way. This essay is based on the Yoga-sutras, and was included in later editions of his translation of these with Vyasa's commentary. It is not an easy article, but it will repay one's time in studying it.
Besides the Yoga texts, another important source of the Hindu teachings on karma are the Vedanta texts. Here are four articles on this. They draw specifically on the Advaita or non-dual school of Vedanta.
"The Nature and Significance of Karma according to Advaita," by T. P. Ramachandran. The Voice of Sankara, vol. 11, no. 3, Nov. 1986, pp. 238-249.
"Significance of Karma in Advaitism," by Veeramani Prasad Upadhyaya. Proceedings and Transactions of the All-India Oriental Conference, Twentieth Session, Bhubaneshwar, October 1959, vol. 2, part 1, pp. 333-341, Poona: 1961.
"The Annihilation of Karman," by Umesha Mishra. Proceedings and Transactions of the Seventh All-India Oriental Conference, Baroda, December 1933, pp. 467-480, Baroda: 1935.
(based on the Vijnana-dipika, an Advaita Vedanta text by Sankara's disciple Padmapada)
"Sankara and Vyasa on the Theory of Karma," by H. G. Narahari. Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute, vol. 17, no. 1, June 1955, pp. 20-26.
(compares Sankara's Advaita Vedanta teachings on karma to Vyasa's Yoga teachings on karma)
Sources on karma from the Hindu (Raja) Yoga system and from the Hindu (Advaita) Vedanta system are now available here. These seem to be the two main sources of the formulated teachings on karma within Hinduism. Bhagavan Das has a long footnote on this in his summarized English translation of the Pranava-vada, starting on vol. 2, p. 148. A searchable version of this text is now available on this website.
On the question of the origins of the karma teachings, there is a book, The Vedic Origins of Karma: Cosmos as Man in Ancient Indian Myth (State University of New York Press, 1989). Some earlier Western scholars had proposed that the teaching of karma found in the Indian religions was an un-Aryan idea that was adopted from the Dravidians. But other Western scholars, and the great majority of Indian scholars, regard it as having always been there. Indeed, the teaching of karma is a central idea in all three ancient Indian religions, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and is taken for granted as a basis of their other teachings.


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