1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Karma

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KARMA, sometimes written Karman, a Sanskrit noun (from the root kṛi, to do), meaning deed or action. In addition to this simple meaning it has also, both in the philosophical and the colloquial speech of India a technical meaning, denoting “a person’s deeds as determining his future lot.” This is not merely in the vague sense that on the whole good will be rewarded and evil punished, but that every single act must work out to the uttermost its inevitable consequences, and receive its retribution, however many ages the process may require. Every part of the material universe—man, woman, insect, tree, stone, or whatever it be—is the dwelling of an eternal spirit that is working out its destiny, and while receiving reward and punishment for the past is laying up reward and punishment for the future. This view of existence as an endless and concomitant sowing and reaping is accepted by learned and unlearned alike as accounting for those inequalities in human life which might otherwise lead men to doubt the justice of God. Every act of every person has not only a moral value producing merit or demerit, but also an inherent power which works out its fitting reward or punishment. To the Hindu this does not make heaven and hell unnecessary. These two exist in many forms more or less grotesque, and after death the soul passes to one of them and there receives its due; but that existence too is marked by desire and action, and is therefore productive of merit or demerit, and as the soul is thus still entangled in the meshes of karma it must again assume an earthly garb and continue the strife. Salvation is to the Hindu simply deliverance from the power of karma, and each of the philosophic systems has its own method of obtaining it. The last book of the Laws of Manu deals with karmaphalam, “the fruit of karma,” and gives many curious details of the way in which sin is punished and merit rewarded. The origin of the doctrine cannot be traced with certainty, but there is little doubt that it is post-vedic, and that it was readily accepted by Buddha in the 6th century B.C. As he did not believe in the existence of soul he had to modify the doctrine (see Buddhism).