Karma generally means the cause and effect of our thoughts and actions. But the word karma has several connotations. It can mean an action, its reaction, or the whole system of action-reaction known as the law of karma.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “what goes around, comes around” are common ways of talking about karma. Basically, our good or bad actions determine our good or bad future. Our quality of life, in terms of such things as health, wealth, intelligence, and physical appearance, is the result of our previous karma, actions.
We can change our karma from good to bad (or bad to good) by changing our activities. But any karma is bad from the spiritual point of view. In our natural, free condition, the spirit self, atma, isn’t meant to live under strict karmic laws. Good and bad karma is what forces us to endure repeated birth and death. This upsetting process forces us into a succession of “good” or “bad” temporary bodies, in an environment characterized by constant upheaval—the material world—that’s alien to our eternal spiritual nature. But karma is not something we have to be stuck with forever.
As parts of the supreme whole, we’re meant to act in accord with the supreme will, like a finger is meant to act in harmony with the body as a whole. As long as we think we’re separate from God and act independently, with our own benefit in mind, laws of karma dictate whether we enjoy or suffer as a result.
But if we practice acting in service to the Supreme Person, Krishna—and we’re guided by genuine spiritual authority—we can consistently enjoy the same kind of freedom from karma that Krishna Himself enjoys, without any negative consequences to our actions. Krishna is the supreme enjoyer; He can do as He likes, and everything He does is free from adverse reactions. When we act in harmony with His will, we get spiritual happiness rather than material reactions.
Krishna says, (Bg. 3.9), “Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu (God) has to be performed; otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore . . . perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.”
We like to quote our sources. This page is based on the following:
- Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Introduction: “We are suffering or enjoying the results of our activities from time immemorial, but we can change the results of our karma, or our activity, and this change depends on the perfection of our knowledge. We are engaged in various activities. Undoubtedly we do not know what sort of activities we should adopt to gain relief from the actions and reactions of all these activities, but this is also explained in the Bhagavad-gita.”
- Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 18.66, Purport: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” Thus the Lord takes all responsibility for one who surrenders unto Him, and He indemnifies such a person against all reactions of sins.”
- Bhagavad-gita, 3.9: “Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed; otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.”
- Journey of Self-Discovery, 2.7: “The word karma means, ‘work with some fruitive (personally motivated) result.” If we want to practice pure bhakti, we should work in Krishna consciousness selflessly – not just to get some profit out of it.”
- Bhagavad-gita, 2.51: “By thus engaging in devotional service to the Lord, great sages or devotees free themselves from the results of work in the material world. In this way they become free from the cycle of birth and death and attain the state beyond all miseries [by going back to Godhead].”
- Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 4.20, Purport: “. . . freedom from the bondage of actions is possible only in Krishna consciousness, when one is doing everything for Krishna. A Krishna conscious person acts out of pure love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore he has no attraction for the results of the action. . . He does his duty to the best of his ability and leaves everything to Krishna. Such an unattached person is always free from the resultant reactions of good and bad; it is as though he were not doing anything. This is the sign of akarma, or actions without fruitive reactions. Any other action, therefore, devoid of Krishna consciousness, is binding upon the worker, and that is the real aspect of vikarma . . .”