Theory of Karma in Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita

Karma is a spiritual law.  It is equivalent to Newton’s Third Law of Physics, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In Sanskrit the word karma means “actions” or “deeds.”  Good karma brings good result and bad karma brings bad result. That is the basic karma theory. Everything that you think, feel and do is recorded in the cosmic hard-drive. As time progress the data are retrieved and result of those data are calculated and gradually manifested in life.

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 Scripture says “This vast universe is a wheel. Upon it are all creatures that are subject to birth, death, and rebirth. Round and round it turns, and never stops. It is the wheel of cosmic consciousness. As long as the individual self thinks it is separate from cosmic consciousness, it revolves upon the wheel in bondage to the laws of birth, death, and rebirth. But when through the grace of cosmic consciousness it realizes its identity with him, it revolves upon the wheel no longer. It achieves immortality.” – Svetasvatara Upanishad.

Basic Karma Theory:

The sage Yajnavalkya, was one the first philosophers of human history. He first introduced the concept of karma theory  in the ancient book Brihadaranyaka Upanishads. The karma principle affirms that the universe will respond to your actions, thoughts and desires, in this life and or the next.  Yajnavalkya said to king Janaka,

“Now a person is like this or like that. As it does, so it becomes; by doing good it becomes good, and by doing evil it becomes evil, it becomes pure by pure acts and bad by bad acts. And others, however, say that a person consists of desires. And as is his desire, so is his will; and as is his will, so is his deed; and whatever deed he does, that he will reap.” – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – 4.4.5

“And here there is this verse: “To whatever object a man’s own mind is attached, to that he goes strenuously together with his deed; and having obtained the end (the last results) of whatever deed he does here on earth, he returns again from that world (which is the temporary reward of his deed) to this world of action. So much for the man who desires.” – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – 4.4.6

“Karmas are not part of your soul. They are inert material  like dust or subtle energies. Therefore, you can clean it, clear it or transform it with proper techniques.” – Amit Ray

Four Types of Karma

Karma Cycle
Karma Cycle

The concept of karma or “law of karma” is the philosophy that all of life is governed by a system of cause and effect, action and reaction. In Hinduism there are primarily of four kinds of karma.

Sanchita karma arrow in quiver

1. Sanchita Karma (Accumulated actions – Arrows in quiver):

Sanchita Karma is the result of all karma accumulated in this life and in all other previous lives.  It is the accumulation of bad karma and good karma. At this level good karma does not cancel the effect of bad karma. These karmas are yet to be resolved. This is like arrows in quiver.

2. Aagami Karma (Future Karma – Arrow is about to discharge)

Aagami karma arrow in bow

Aagami Karma is the portion of sanchita karma that are just taken for sprouting. It is like an arrow that is ready for discharging. Gradually, if the conditions and the environment is suitable aagami karma will be converted into prarabdha Karmas. These karmas are like arrow in the bow.

3. Praarabdha Karma (Karma is about to act – Arrow is discharged and on the fly)

Prarabdha Karma are the part of sanchita karma, that are in the process of manifestationarrow-on-sky and to be experienced through this life. Prarabdha Karmas is like an arrow which has already left the bow. Which are on the sky and about to hit the target.

4. Kriyamana Karma (Current Active Karma – Arrows hit the target )

arrow-hit-targetKriyamana Karma is the current active karma. Arrows just hit the target. Target is feeling the pain or pleasure. The degree of doership is the degree of experience. The reaction to these experience creates new karma.

Ways to Clean Up Your Karma

Sanchita Karma can be burnout by proper meditation techniques like 114 chakra meditations. Hindu saints have developed many meditation techniques to kill or dissolve the effect of aagami Karma. A good meditator can know the details of aagami karma and can take appropriate action to dissolve it or use it for some other purpose. Through dream awareness one can know the subconscious mind. Subconscious mind is the store house of the aagami karma. Life provides hundreds of opportunities and challenges. It is up to us how we react to them. If our response is peaceful, and humble, the burden of aagami karma reduces.  Our aware choices play an important role to guide the aagami karmas. Positive thoughts, determination and will-power can overcome many aagami karmas.

However, stopping the effect of praarabdha karma requires real understanding of subtler aspects of yoga, spiritual power and will power. Effect of all karma can be eliminated only by Self knowledge and Om meditation. The Svetasvatara Upanishad (38,39) said “The fearful currents are the currents of attachment, likes, dislikes, desires, subtle desires and craving which hurl down people into the ocean of births and deaths. The raft of Brahman is Om. Silent Japa of Om with meditation on its meaning will help one to cross the ocean of Samsara, i.e., to free oneself from the rounds of births, deaths and karmas.”

Good karma:

Hindu texts prescribed a number of activities, such as service to cow, service to wise person, service to the humanity, service for environment protection ( particularly rivers and trees), giving donation,  giving foods and clothes to people, giving foods to animals, pilgrimages to holy places, taking bath at river Ganges,  doing charity, and acts of devotion to God, that can reduce the effects of bad karma. Such positive actions are sometimes referred to as “good karma.”  Radiating positive vibration and thinking good about others are the acts of good karma. Doing good karma not necessarily immediately erase the effect of old bad karmas. However, good karma will help you in long run to erase the effect of bad karma.  Good karma always act as a protection and do not allow bad-vibration to enter.

Meditation, fasting, caloric restriction, yoga postures, yoga breathing, om chanting, regular exercise, diet control, keeping clean environment,  helping others are the normal practice for karma clearing.

Karma knots:

Karmas develop three knots in the body and mind they are known as Brahma-granthi, Vishnu-granthi and Rudra-ganthi. Here, granthi means knots, networks or obstacles. These knots, are the link between matter and spirit. Knots enhances the sense of ego. The knots are directly related to our habits, desires and thoughts. Three knots together constitute the ignorance, and act as an wall for spiritual progress.

Brahma Granthi is related to the physical body, to the world of survival, and physical pleasures. Vishnu Granthi is related to the astral body and to the world of attachment and emotional bondage.  Rudra Granthi is related to the causal body and to the world of pride, ideas, visions and intuition.  These knots can be released by daily meditation and by the knowledge of Self. Regarding Self knowledge, Yajnavalkya said

“O, Maitreyi, it is the Self that is to be beheld; it is the Self that is to be known; it is the Self that is to be searched for; it is the Self which is to be heard about; it is the Self which is to be thought in the mind; it is the Self which is to be meditated upon. There is nothing else worthwhile thinking, nothing else worthwhile possessing, because nothing worthwhile exists, other than This.” – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.6

Karma and Bhagavad-Gita

In Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna said “Perform work that will give benefit of all (divine sacrifice), otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for the happiness of all, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.” – Bhagavad-Gita (3.9)

All men are forced to act helplessly according to their impulses; therefore no one can refrain from doing something,  not even for a moment. — Bhagavad-Gita (3.5)

Established in yoga ( harmony and tranquility)  and perform action (karma) –Bhagavad-Gita (2.48)

The subject of karma is very complex and very hard to understand.  — Bhagavad-Gita (4.17)

One who is, however, taking pleasure in the self, who is illuminated in the self, who rejoices in and is satisfied with the self only, fully satiated–for him there is no karma or duty. — Bhagavad-Gita (3.17)

Even if one is the most sinful of all sinners, yet one shall cross over the ocean of sin by the raft of  Self knowledge alone. –Bhagavad-Gita  (4.36)

The enlightened person sees inaction in action, action in inaction –Bhagavad-Gita  (4.18)

Read more about karma …  The Art of Karma Clearing


1. Bhagavad Gita
2. Meditation: Insights and Inspirations by Dr. Amit Ray
3. Tattvabodha By Sri Adi Sankaracarya