From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Karma literally means ‘that which is done’.

It is one of the most widely used words in religion. It is derived from the root-verb ‘kṛ’,[1] its general meaning is anything that is done. In this sense, it means:

  • Work
  • Profession
  • Duty

In technical sense, it sometimes means an action that binds one to sansāra or trans-migratory existence. This type of karma can be accomplished either by the body, speech or mind. They are:

  1. Kāyika - actions by body
  2. Vācika - actions by speech
  3. Mānasa - actions by mind

Occasionally the word ‘karma’ is also used to indicate the sanskāra or sacraments.

Nature of Karma

Sometimes, karma or actions are classified according to their nature, good or bad. They are:

  • Sāttvika[2] - actions done without being tainted by the selfish motives but with noble intent
  • Rājasika[3] - actions done with the selfish motive but without ill intentions
  • Tāmasika[4] - actions performed with the evil designs to harm others

Results of Karma

Karma has the potential to produce its fruits. It can be classified as:

  1. Sañcita - accumulated over several lives
  2. Prārabdha - begun to bear fruit in this life
  3. Āgāmī - being performed now and in future

Karma, As per Philosophy

All the darśanas or philosophies that accept this theory of karma also concede that:

  1. The effects of karma done in one life do not necessarily exhaust in the same life. Hence punarjanma or rebirth has to be accepted.
  2. Jñāna or spiritual wisdom from the realization of one’s nature as the immortal soul destroys sañcitakarma completely.
  3. Self realization makes āgāmi incapable of producing its results just as the burnt seed cannot sprout.
  4. Prārabdhkarma starts giving results in the same life. It exhausts only through experiences.

Karma, as per Other Viewpoint

  • From another standpoint, karma is of two types:
  1. Niṣiddhakarma - prohibited or sinful actions
  2. Vihitakarma - actions ordained by the scriptures as duty to be performed

  • Vihitakarma is further of three types:
  1. Kāmyakarma - desire-motivated actions
  2. Nityakarma - daily duties
  3. Naimittikakarma - occasional duties

Kāmyakarma : It is performed to fulfill a desire that otherwise cannot be fulfilled by normal human efforts. For instance, the Putrakāmeṣṭi rite is said to have been performed by the king Daśaratha to get worthy sons. This vrata belongs to this category. Several vratas[5] like the Satyanārāyaṇa vrata are common even now.

Nityakarma : Nityakarma include the daily rites prescribed by the scriptures. These karmas include:

  • Sandhyā-vandana
  • Repetition of the Gāyatri mantra
  • Repetition of Agnihotra

Naimittikakarma : Naimittikakarmas have to be performed due to certain nimittas or the presence of special causes. For instance, during an eclipse, śrāddha[6] have to be done.


  1. Kṛ means to do.
  2. Sāttvika means good.
  3. Rājasika means mixed.
  4. Tāmasika means dark or evil.
  5. Vratas are the religious vows and rites.
  6. Śrāddhas are the obsequial rites.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore