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Karma in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism

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The Nature of Karma in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism People of all religions partake in traditional ceremonies, have special symbols to represent what they worship, peruse different sacred writings and hold diverse theological beliefs. One tradition that is very common among Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, is the law of karma. The religious tradition is defined as the “universal causal law by which good or bad actions determine the future modes of an individual’s existence (Olivelle). This tradition has inimitable meaning in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, with slight differences. Hindus believe that people are reborn into another life after this one and that the law of karma suggests that a person’s mental and physical actions are binding to the cycle of birth and death. The idea of karma states that actions in one’s present life will determine the condition of the next life. When people begin their current life, karma accumulates because of their actions. And when they die, they will be reborn into another life, as either a human again or in another form, depending on the quality of the former life. The ultimate goal of Hindus is to attain liberation by escaping what is known as samsara, through a process called moksha (Frisch). In Hinduism, “a man becomes pure through pure deeds, impure through impure deeds (Fisher 77). Like the Hindus, the Jain believe that one’s behaviors and motives entice karma. A person's karma from past lives determines the quality of present life and thus Jains place heavy emphasis on pure thoughts in an effort to self-correct and reach perfection. Unlike karma in Hinduism and Buddhism, in Jainism, it is a real substance that is present throughout the universe that attaches itself to people because of their behaviors. The soul carries these karma particles around from one life to the next until people erase them, or until they expire after they have caused the anticipated harm (BBC). Rightly so, for the Jains who now have particles of bad karma particles clinging to them, they aim to “purify themselves as quickly as possible to eliminate within themselves any false mental impression, negative tendencies…to develop pure thoughts and actions (Fisher 125). Like the Jain and Hindu precepts, Buddhists also believe karma can affect this life, and can carry over into the next. Actions from past lives affect the state of one’s current life, and the actions that people take now will affect future lives. However, karma is different in Buddhism than it is in the other two traditions—“there is no eternal, independently existing soul to be reborn” (Fisher 145). Karma is a natural order of things; it is not a punishment or reward from a god. Those with negative karma may be reborn as animals or into a hell, while those with positive karma will be reborn into a heaven. Even if Buddhists are born into a heaven, they attempt to escape the death and rebirth cycle, since they believe that nothing is forever. Some Buddhist writings hold that not every action is a result of karma, and some events naturally occur, but modern Buddhist thought diverges from that concept (Kabat-Zinn). The foundation of the law of karma in all three traditions is the perception of cause and effect—that one’s actions have consequences. Regardless of how one interprets the meaning of karma, happiness or unhappiness in life befalls a direct result of one’s motives, choices, and actions.

Works Cited
BBC. Karma. 10 September 2010. Web. 2 September 2014.
Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc, 2014.
Frisch, von Karl. Karma. 4 June 2014. Web. 2 September 2014.
Olivelle, Patrick. Encyclopedia Britannica. 21 February 2014. Web. 10 September 2014.

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