What Is Karma and How Does It Work [The Complete Guide] (2023)

When we mention the term karma, the main thing that pops into mind is the phrase “What goes around comes back around”. However, karma’s purpose and explanation goes far beyond rough patches and causing misery. So, what is karma when stripped back from all of its pop-culture-related misconceptions? We will break down what it is, how it works, what types of karma there are as well as how you can change them, and go over the 12 laws of karma.

What Is Karma?

In Indian religion and philosophy, karma, Sanskrit karman (“act”), is the fundamental causal law by which good or bad acts decide the future modes of an individual’s life. Karma denotes the ethical aspect of the rebirth (samsara) method, which is widely accepted throughout India’s religious traditions. In its most basic form, karma applies to all deeds and their consequences and is used to advance the soul and cause enlightenment.

How Does Karma Work?

The most common misconception is that “fate” acts in the same way as karma. However, this is not the case. If you do something bad, it does not mean that something negative will happen to you in order for it to “balance out.” Karma is a force inside us that we can use for good or bad and not here to bring up unresolved issues.

Just like gravity governs the physical world, karma governs the divine realm. How karma works is through holding us accountable for our actions and, more specifically, for our intentions. The karmic process is nothing more than energy. It’s the product of our deliberate thoughts and behaviour. We will be affected by the energy we produce now and in the future. It has nothing to do with rewarding or punishing people. Karma is impartial, and we have power over it.

Did you know: Karma is actually scientifically proven. We also know that our thoughts and feelings literally construct our reality (and lifetimes). And, when we think positive thoughts or do good deeds, our brain reaps significant benefits. This can only have beneficial consequences and events in our lives.

Good and Bad Karma

A popular misconception is that the karmic structure is black and white, and that it is either good or evil. There are occasions when you may believe you’ve generated bad karma by doing an action that was performed with the best of intentions. The purpose of an action determines whether it has good or bad karma, and how it manifests.

Good Karma

So, what is good karma? Good karma is the result of your actions and past impressions, whether it’s a deed, a feeling, or an expression. Your purpose directs the outcome of your action to be positive. Good deeds are rewarded either in this life or the next and they can also determine your karmic relationships.

Bad Karma

And what is bad karma? Bad karma is the polar opposite of good karma, and it is earned by negative actions, emotions, and/or words. Bad motives lead to bad behaviour, which leads to bad outcomes. Bad karma, like good karma, may be received in this lifetime or as a result of a past existence. If you find yourself on a bad spiritual path, first try to understand the karmic body, and if that leaves you with no answers, try out online psychic readings.

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What Is Instant Karma?

If there is an immediate retribution for a bad deed or a reward for a good deed, it is referred to as instant karma. An example of good instant karma would be you helping an old lady cross the street and her giving you a freshly baked cookie afterwards. Instant bad karma is an instant retaliation for a negative thought or deed; for example, a person makes fun of something you’ve done and shortly after does something embarrassing themself.

How Do Good and Bad Karma Work?

All karma manifests in a positive or a negative form at some point in your life, or what we might call ups and downs. As an example of bad karma, we could explain this through a general example: Someone cheats on their partner without any remorse. Later on, they get divorced and that person develops some type of health issue that presents a lot of problems in their life from that point on. Although bad karma is what most people refer to as “what goes around comes back around”, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the only form that the karmic body takes shape in. In addition, karma’s main purpose is not to make “bad people” suffer, but to be a guide as to how people should lead their life in order to reap good karma either in this life or the next one.

However, there are occasions when you must make a bad decision while having a positive intention. For example, to spare your friend’s feelings, you may decide to lie to them. Although telling a lie goes against how karma works, your motivation for telling your friend the lie was positive and motivated by compassion and love, so there is a sort of karmic matchup. This proposes the question: Will your positive intentions outweigh the negative karma of lying?

Did you know: In Buddhism karma isn’t defined as a good or bad thing. Karma is simply the product of decisions made in this and previous lifetimes. Meanwhile, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism do believe in this distinction.

Difference Between Karma and Dharma

In this section, you’ll learn about dharma and how it’s different from karma.

What Is Dharma?

You might be wondering, what is the difference between karma and dharma? Dharma refers to one’s responsibilities in this life. Your dharma varies depending on your social status, family, and life stage. Dharma’s understanding can be both soothing and disturbing. On the one hand, you may believe that by adhering to your family’s and community’s customs, you will be fulfilling your dharma. That is, as long as the status quo is maintained, you are a moral individual. Some people, on the other hand, can doubt their personal dharma and seek true meaning outside of their community.

Difference Between Karma and Dharma

To help you further differentiate what is dharma and karma, think of karma as the product of one’s conduct in relation to one’s dharma. In certain ways, dharma can be viewed as the task of one of your lifetimes, and karma as the steps necessary to complete the task. Your dharma decides the type of karmic experiences you will receive as a result of your deeds. For example, going to war to protect one’s country may fulfill one man’s dharma, but it may result in bad karma and misery for another who was supposed to stay at home and care for his children.

Did you know: Dharma is something that takes multiple lifetimes to achieve, while karma is something that varies from moment to moment.

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What Is the Karmic Cycle?

The karmic cycle describes how karma operates in people’s lives through various circumstances and karmic experiences that we must go through in order to learn a soul lesson. One karmic cycle is said to last 12 years, with different stages of our lives divided into karmic cycles. The karmic patterns are divided into 5 stages:

  • Childhood Cycle: 0 – 12 years

Individuals will intentionally construct environments that will assist them in their spiritual path.

  • Youth Cycle: 13 – 24 years

This is when the majority of the signs from your past life begin to appear, and you begin to pay off your debts in a meaningful way.

  • Adult Creation: 25 – 36 years

As soon as a person enters the adult stage of their karmic cycle, their karmic patterns are thought to be complete. What manifests are all of the mental, emotional, and physical health issues that have been aligned for that person in a previous lifetime.

  • Adult Expansion: 37 – 48 years

At this point, the karmic patterns take hold. The karmic life tests have been increased in difficulty. This is due to the fact that either the individual is resisting or hasn’t fully absorbed the information that these tests require.

  • Adult Contraction: 49 – 60 years

From this point forward, the cycle’s power begins to wane. This is the worst karmically of all the phases. Individuals have either fixed or postponed issues for the next lifetime.

  • Breaking the Karmic Cycle

So, how do you break a karmic cycle? One approach is to gradually get there by doing the right things over a number of lifetimes. However, if you’d like to get out of a cycle during the lifetime you’re in at the moment, another option is to stay in your current situation, do your best, stay open and concentrated, and make yourself available to the process.

Key Takeaways

What is karma? Karma is the fundamental causal law by which good or bad acts decide the future modes of an individual’s life.
Karma is a force inside us that we can use for good or bad.
A common misconception is that karma is actually fate and that the main purpose of it is to punish people for doing bad deeds.
Good karma is the positive result of your action, whether it’s a deed, a feeling, or an expression.
Bad karma is earned by negative actions, emotions, and/or words.
Karma is the product of one’s conduct in relation to one’s dharma. Dharma refers to one’s responsibilities in this life.
You might find yourself in a karmic cycle, but there are ways on how you can break out of it.

What Are the 12 Laws of Karma in Buddhism?

Chances are, you’ve been aware of the 12 laws of karma all along and haven’t had the faintest clue they belonged under the realm of Buddhist karma. Understanding them will aid you in creating your own karma-busting motto or affirmation and explain the karmic process.

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The Great Law or the Law of Cause & Effect

You might have heard the saying “You reap what you sow”. This is the first of the 12 laws of karma in Buddhism and is also one of the Laws of the Universe. It states that whatever thoughts or energy you put out, you will receive, no matter if it’s good or bad. You must represent and be deserving of what you desire in order to obtain it. Whatever one sends out into the Universe returns to them.

The Law of Creation

The law of creation emphasizes the significance of life not being just something that happens to us. Instead of waiting for anything to happen by itself, you must take steps to make things happen in your life. Surround yourself with the things you want in life and be true to yourself.

The Law of Humility

The theory behind the law of humility is that you must be patient enough to understand that your present reality is the product of your previous behavior. If what one sees is an adverse or negative personality trait, they cannot concentrate on a higher plane of life.

The Law of Growth

One of the 12 laws of karma that will change your life is the law of growth. You must begin with yourself in order to positively shape the world. That’s because true growth or improvement starts with what you can handle, which is yourself. If we want to develop spiritually, we must change ourselves, not the people, places, or things around us. When we change who and what we are within our souls, our lives change as well.

The Law of Responsibility

The law of responsibility entails taking responsibility for all that occurs in our lives, including the bad. It’s a perfect reminder that all that happens to you is due to your actions. We reflect our surroundings, and our surroundings reflect us – this is a universal truth. It is important to accept responsibility for one’s life.

The Law of Connection

The 6th law of the 12 laws of karma is the law of connection. It states that since everything in the Universe is linked, even the smallest or seemingly insignificant tasks must be completed. Neither the first nor the last steps are more important. Both are needed to complete whatever you’ve set your mind to do. The past, the present, and the future are all intertwined.

The Law of Focus

Trying to focus on so many things at once can cause irritation and negativity. That’s why the law of focus advises you to focus on only one thing at a time. It is impossible for us to have thoughts like greed or rage if our attention is on spiritual values like love and peace.

The Law of Giving & Hospitality

Selflessness, giving to others, and doing what you preach are all part of this law. It’s about making sure that you’re not only saying and thinking positive things, but that you’re actually putting your values into motion.

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The Law of Here & Now

The 9th from the laws of karma is the law of here and now. You can’t be in the moment if you’re looking back to reflect on the past, or forward to be concerned about the future. We can’t have new ideas, patterns of action, or dreams when we still hold onto the old ones. To gain karmic experiences of true peace of mind, you must try to embrace the present.

The Law of Change

History will continue to repeat itself until we learn the lessons we need to change our course. Change provides you with a new direction to follow in order to build a new future and a better version of yourself that is free of the habits of the past.

The Law of Patience & Reward

Long-term rewards necessitate patience and perseverance. What this law entails is that true happiness comes from understanding that as long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing – the reward will come in its own time.

The Law of Significance & Inspiration

We all have a role to play in this world and something to contribute. What we share can seem insignificant to us at times, but it can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. According to this law, every individual contribution is a contribution to the greater whole. This law wraps up the 12 laws of karma that will change your life.

Did you know: The purpose of karma is to teach us virtues such as self-reflection, inspiration, commitment, and ambition. And if you break any of the laws in one way or another, it does not result in a set-in-stone punishment.

How Can I Change My Own Karma?

Here are some suggestions on what you can do:

Acceptance, Forgiveness, and Presence

If you’d like to settle a karmic debt, start by being present. It can be difficult to be present without forgiveness and acceptance of the past, because the past will certainly haunt you, with those past traumas projecting itself into the present. You will become more present by healing past emotional wounds and unresolved issues that have been projected into the present moment. And this is a procedure that will last as long as it is needed.

Call to Action

The easiest and most undervalued way to repay all karmic debts and produce good karma is to act on principle and upon the laws of karma. Do good even though it isn’t expected of you. When in doubt, behave in the manner in which you would like people to treat you.

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Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness plays a big part in changing your own karma. The main target of mindfulness is to be present and hush all the impulses you might be inclined to do or say. Instead of feeding or responding to impulses, you learn to recognize them for what they are: emotions. As a result, mindfulness has the potential to reshape the ties in the chain of acts and consequences. One way to practice mindfulness is by writing affirmations which further manifests a higher sense of presence.

Wrap Up

A common misconception is that karma is actually fate and that the main purpose of it is to punish people for doing bad deeds. Karma is the fundamental causal law by which good or bad acts decide the future modes of an individual’s life. There is good and bad karma; however, all depend on the actions and thoughts we have in this life, or from a previous lifetime. There are also 12 rules which encompass the main purpose behind karma and what manifests from it.


What is karma and how it works? ›

Hinduism identifies karma as the relationship between a person's mental or physical action and the consequences following that action. It also signifies the consequences of all the actions of a person in their current and previous lives and the chain of cause and effect in morality.

What is karma in your own words? ›

kar·​ma ˈkär-mə also ˈkər- often capitalized : the force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person's next existence.

What is karma and how does it work in Hinduism? ›

Karma is a concept of Hinduism which describes a system in which beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions and harmful effects from past harmful actions, creating a system of actions and reactions throughout a soul's (jivatman's) reincarnated lives, forming a cycle of rebirth.

What are the 3 types of karma? ›

The 3 Types of Karma
  • The action that is latent (suksma), which is going to become an action. This is called Sanchita Karma.
  • The action itself (sthula). This is called Prarabdha Karma.
  • The consequence of the present action (in the form of an impression) on the future. This is called Agami Karma.

What is an example of karma? ›

For example: As a man himself sows, so he himself reaps; no man inherits the good or evil act of another man. The fruit is of the same quality as the action.

Why is karma so important? ›

Karma affects our lives by making us accountable for any action or reaction, in addition to our intention while taking that action. It is said to be guiding energy which is the end product of deliberate action and intention. Our lives will be affected by the energy we give off right now and in the future.

What is a good quote about karma? ›

Karma quotes are all around you: “What goes around comes around.” “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” “You get back the same energy you put out.” “You reap what you sow.” Over the millennia, people have come up with many different ways to talk about the type of cosmic justice that says people are fated ...

What triggers karma? ›

You constantly create Karma from your actions, thoughts, words, from the actions of others under your control, from your attitudes, expectations, and lifestyle. You create Karma from the intended actions you perform consciously and also from actions done unconsciously from ignorance.

What are the 5 types of karma? ›

What are the different types of Karma?
  • Collective karma.
  • Karma of the time.
  • Karma of a place.
  • Karma of a family.
  • Karma of an individual.

What is karma in the Bible? ›

Karma is defined as the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. This relates to the judgment of God in scripture and the tenant of Christianity that we ultimately reap what we have sown.

Is karma negative or positive? ›

Good deeds create positive karma, and bad ones create negative karma. Positive karma will lead to good fortune and a blessed life; negative karma will lead to misfortune and suffering. Yet, people are usually not aware of the influence of karma on their life.

What is the golden rule in karma? ›

According to the 'golden rule', we are not only supposed to do good because we are afraid that Karma will catch up with us but we must do good because it is the right thing to do. Serve others exactly the same way you would like to be served.

Which is the most important factor in karma? ›

In its ultimate sense Karma means all moral and immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically deeds, do not constitute Karma, because volition, the most important factor in determining Karma, is absent.

How do I get rid of my past karma? ›

7 Strategies To Get Rid Of Your Bad Karma
  1. Identify your karma.
  2. Sever ties to toxic people.
  3. Learn from (and take responsibility for) your mistakes.
  4. Perform actions that nourish your spirit and invoke well-being on every level.
  5. Defy your weaknesses.
  6. Take a new action.
  7. Forgive everyone.

Is karma a real thing? ›

Simply put, the way we perceive karma is not real. However, karma is a real social, psychological reaction to events. We all find our own unique ways to be the best person we can be.

How do you know your karma? ›

Signs you have karmic debt:
  1. You experience seemingly inexplicable behaviors and patterns.
  2. Opportunities for mastery present themselves.
  3. You've had one or more karmic relationships.
  4. You're aware of one or more themes repeating in your life.
  5. You have karmic debt numbers.
  6. Personality number.
  7. Life path number.
May 19, 2021

How do you treat people karma? ›

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours. With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose."

What is good karma examples? ›

10 Selfless Ways to Build Good Karma and Generate Happiness
  • Offer a compliment.
  • Make a good recommendation. A friend and co-worker of mine had this happened once. ...
  • Just start working. ...
  • Find someone a job. ...
  • Offer thanks. ...
  • Give away something valuable. ...
  • Teach someone to do something. ...
  • Listen.
Mar 11, 2015

What gives negative karma? ›

Intentionally hurting another person is a cause of negative karma. The intentions of your actions are what matters when it comes to karma. This could be something extreme, like hurting an animal, or something minor, like shoving past someone while walking on the street.

Can you be free from karma? ›

Selfless actions ultimately lead to freedom from karma and worldly attachment. The capacity to perform truly selfless actions—actions that benefit all beings—is called karma yoga. Karma yoga is selfless service, or service to others without expectation of any outcome.

What are the rules of karma? ›

When most people talk about karma, they're likely referring to the great law of cause and effect, Patel says. According to this law, whatever thoughts or energy you put out, you get back — good or bad. In order to get what you want, you have to embody and be worthy of those things.

What is the fastest way to dissolve karma? ›

Awareness, alertness, knowledge and meditation will help erase past impressions. It has the strength to dissolve and destroy any karma and bring freedom to you.

How do I turn my karma around? ›

8 Strategies To Turn Your Bad Karma Around
  1. Think positive thoughts. The more positive you are, the happier you'll be. ...
  2. Rethink failure. Failure is universal to all humans. ...
  3. Continue learning. ...
  4. Be patient. ...
  5. Be intrinsically motivated. ...
  6. Challenge yourself. ...
  7. Turn the other cheek. ...
  8. Spread the love.

Is karma the same thing as God? ›

But unlike God, karma is not obviously personified in religious texts or in the thoughts and actions of believers. Instead, karma is often depicted as an impersonal force or if-then law that summarizes the causal connection between actions and experiences (Bronkhorst, 2011; Daniel, 1983; Wadley, 1983).

Is karma thought or action? ›

It's a Sanskrit word that means “action,” “work,” or “deed,” and it really speaks of the spiritual cycle of cause and effect. The good intentions and deeds you perform result in an addition of good karma, while the bad ones add to the bad karma.

Should we believe in karma? ›

It makes sense to surround yourself with people who believe that good acts will — at least on average — lead to more good acts and come back to you. Karma is a number's game and I choose to believe in it. You don't even need Math for this to make sense. You could also just use common sense.

What is the opposite of karma? ›

Karma means action and that the future depends on you and your actions. The opposite of karma is inaction and a belief that destiny has predetermined your present and future with no way of changing it.

What are the four types of karma? ›

Four types of Karma
  • Meritful action. Karma that gives you merits. ...
  • Demeritful action. Action which gives you demerits. ...
  • Mixed action which gives mixed results. There are certain karmas which are a mixture of merit and demerit.
  • Action which gives neutral results. It is devoid of both, merit and demerit.

How many levels of karma are there? ›

According to Jain karma theory, there are eight main types of karma (Prikriti) which are categorized as either 'harming' or 'non-harming', with each category further divided into four types.

How do you know when a karmic cycle is done? ›

Karmic relationships naturally end when the debt is resolved, the lesson is learned, the pattern understood, or when Spirit determines it's time for you to move on, and perhaps readdress a certain challenge sometime in the future!

How do karmic relationships end? ›

Most karmic relationships take a toxic turn and end up in separation. It is hardly ever seen that these relationships work. A karmic relationship is characterized by deep love and affection. Yet, they usually don't last and often leave the karmic partners emotionally exhausted and in deep pain.

Does karma expire? ›

Karma has no expiration date.

Without even knowing it, you may be experiencing karma that originated several lifetimes ago. But when you do dig through your karmic suitcase, then finally, you can confront your outstanding karma and lighten your energetic load.

How do I know my karma? ›

Signs you have karmic debt:
  1. You experience seemingly inexplicable behaviors and patterns.
  2. Opportunities for mastery present themselves.
  3. You've had one or more karmic relationships.
  4. You're aware of one or more themes repeating in your life.
  5. You have karmic debt numbers.
  6. Personality number.
  7. Life path number.
May 19, 2021

How do we perform karma? ›

Practicing Karma Yoga means doing your duty without attachment. Whether you like your duty or not, you still do it your best. You do your duty without any attachment for example if you are a teacher you don't teach one student better than because you like him more.


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