Karma Meaning and Origin

        The commonly perceived karma meaning is ‘activity performed with own initiative’. Every activity that a man performs is included in the word karma. The collective effect of different reactions to a single task is known as karma.

1. Origin

        The word karma has originated from the root ‘kru’ which means ‘performing an activity or a movement’.

2. Motion-oriented karma is one that involves movement

A. The ultimate goal of Karmayoga is reaching a state of Absoluteness

        From atoms to the planets and stars, all are constantly in motion in the galaxy. The purpose of this entire struggle is to blend with the Universe that evolved from Brahman. Brahman is imperishable, stable, complete, ever blissful form, eternal and without an origin; whereas, the Universe and all of its Contents are destructible, unstable, incomplete, ignorant and full of sorrow. The struggle of all atoms and jivas is to move from instability to stability, from lesser progress to higher progress, from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from sorrow to happiness and from perishability to immortality.

        Lack of proper guidance during this struggle increases the instability further, and human beings begin to consider these changed circumstances as stability. For example, with the desire of leading a happy life, man goes after wealth and begins to find happiness in earning and accumulation of wealth; however, due to lack of guidance that, true happiness lies not in accumulation but in donation of wealth, he becomes increasingly unhappy. Therefore, by continuously monitoring our karma, seeking Moksha through Karmayoga is the ultimate achievement.

B. Functioning and movement

        Shrimadbhagwadgeeta defines karma as, every type of movement including breathing. The Holy text also carries statements such as, ‘human life cannot be sustained even for a moment without karma’, ‘without karma even day-to-day functioning of the physical body will not be possible’.

C. Karma meaning in relation to well-wishers

        An activity performed to attain spiritual progress by following definite rules pertaining to achar (Code of conduct) and behaviour as advised by well-wishers is termed as karma.

D. Definition of karma depending on the spiritual level

        Karma are well-defined statements (set of rules) about attaining spiritual progress by following a definite set of rules pertaining to achar-vichar (Code of conduct and thought), ahar-vihar (Diet and pleasure-pastime) and behaviour

E. Alternative words for karma depending on the specific meanings

        Our Sages perceived knowledge about specific meanings of karma. It is because of the specific meanings that many alternative words for karma came into existence. These words along with analytical explanation are provided in the table ahead.

Meaning Of Karma Analysis of the meaning Source of the meaning
1. Anusuchi (Schedule) Karma of the Universe means the schedule of birth-death Rugveda
2. Samay Samay is the Karma that is caught in the cycles of birth-death. Rugveda
3. Kal The Unit of measurement of kal is Karma. Disappearance of the Universe after dissolution marks the end of kal. Rugveda
4. Prakriya An activity that is performed distinctly and regularly is Karma, for example sun and earth move continuously. That is their karma. Krushnarjurveda
5. Dnyanamrut Dnyan (knowledge) is understanding the principal of karma Perform Karmas which will impart knowledge on how to get liberated from the cycles of birth and death, and thereby attain moksha. Atharvaveda
6. Yatna Seeing could be deceiving ! The deliberately developed thought process to understand that which is seen and the underlying truth, together with the complimentary effort is yatna. Nyayashastra
7. Parinam The process of transformation of an object into another is called parinam. For example transformation of milk into curd. According to Sankhya philosophy, it is through the process of parinam that the world was created from Prakruti. Sankhya Darshan
8. Chittavrutti Chitta is the mind. Vrutti is waves of thoughts. Chittavrutti Is the conflict of different thoughts in the mind? The thoughts in the chitta provoke one to perform kruti / karma Yoga Darshan
9. Harmony between the Intellect and the organs. Various organs obeying the orders of the intellect. Yoga Darshan
10. Karya The Law of Karyakaran–bhav (cause and effect relationship) is applicable to everything that takes place in this world. The relation between karya and karan is karma. Occurrence of karma is because of Karan and karya takes place because of karma. Karma itself is god. Mimansa Darshan
11. Birth-death Birth and death mean the beginning and end of karma. The word karma is made of’ ka’ and ‘arma’. Ka indicates the Pruthvi –tattva (Absolute earth principle) and ‘arma’ is the tej (Radiance). At the time of birth, a jiva imbibes the Tej from the Earth and at death leaves its Tej in the earth. Vedant Darshan
12. Agitation of the mind Agitation of the mind is the agitation of wishes, desires emotions and thoughts. Nirukta Granth ( Holy Text)
13. Maturity of thoughts Analytical study is karma of the intellect. Holy Text by Panini
14. Jivika Process of earning a living and obtaining food. Amarkosh
15. Desire Having desire is Karma of the mind. Increase in the pitta and the body heat gives rise to desire to have cold drink and experience cool weather. Natural tendency is to wish for good health. Which means a balance in the three humours of the body, namely vata (Wind), Pitta (Bile) and Kapha (Phlegm). Desires that make one sick are vikrut (Tainted) wishes. Ayurved

3. Meanings according to the Holy texts Mimansa and Vedant Darshans

        In these Holy texts, the karma meaning is more in the religious context and has been explained in different ways. In the Holy texts ‘Sarvadarshansangraha’, karma has been defined as –

क्रियते फलार्थिभिरिति कर्म धर्माधर्मात्मकं

बीजाङ्कुरवत् वाहरूपेणानादि ।

Meaning : That, which is performed by those who have an expectation of an outcome, is karma. Such karma pertains to Dharma (Righteousness) and Adharma (Unrighteousness) and is as ancient as a sprout erupting from a seed.

A. That nitya-naimittik karma which is within one’s capability is karma

        Daily ritualistic worship, bath and sandhya, observance of vrats (Vowed religious observances) are the karmas that fall in the category of nitya-naimittik (Nitya is daily and naimittik is occasional).

B. Karma is Yadnya

        In the era of the Rugved, karma existed in Yadnya-yag (Sacrificial fires) form. Appeasing the Deities through the medium of Yadnya was the Dharma in those times. In the era of the Brahmans, this practice got expanded and became complex as well. ‘यज्ञो वै श्रेष्ठतमं कर्म ।’, meaning ‘Yadnya is the superior-most karma’, is the belief that got established firmly during the era of the Brahmans. The belief that everything in life should be performed with Yadnya-karma as the focal point and that nothing can be gained without a Yadnya, started gaining prominence. Followers of Vedas began to believe that heaven or Moksha could be achieved only by karma and that the status accorded to Deities was also because of karma.

C. All the Yadnyas have originated from karma

एवं बहुविधा यज्ञा वितता ब्रह्मणो मुखे ।

कर्मजान्विद्धि तान्सर्वान् एवं ज्ञात्वा विमोक्ष्यसे ॥ – Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, Adhyaya 4, Shloka 32

Meaning : Various Yadnyas, like the above, have evolved from the mouth of Brahma (so says Vedant, and therefore the Truth). Know them all to be born of karma; and thus knowing these karmas, you shall be free.

Explanation : Having an emotion that ‘I am not the doer’ while performing karma will enable us to attain sakshittva (Being unaffected by the outcome). Only then will the karmas not result in bondage.

Reference : Sanatan Sanstha’s Holy text ‘Importance, Characteristics and Types of Karma