The idea of karma may be compared to the notion of a person's "character", as both are an assessment of the person and determined by that person's habitual thinking and acting. The second theme common to karma theories is ethicization. This begins with the premise that every action has a consequence,  which will come to fruition in either this or a future life; thus, morally good acts will have positive consequences, whereas bad acts will produce negative results.
An individual's present situation is thereby explained by reference to actions in his present or in previous lifetimes. Karma is not itself "reward and punishment", but the law that produces consequence.
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Reichenbach suggests that the theories of karma are an ethical theory. A theory without ethical premise would be a pure causal relation; the merit or reward or demerit or punishment would be same regardless of the actor's intent. In ethics, one's intentions, attitudes and desires matter in the evaluation of one's action. Where the outcome is unintended, the moral responsibility for it is less on the actor, even though causal responsibility may be the same regardless. The karma concept thus encourages each person to seek and live a moral life, as well as avoid an immoral life.
Breaking the Karmic Cycle
The meaning and significance of karma is thus as a building block of an ethical theory. The rebirths and consequent life may be in different realm, condition or form. The karma theories suggest that the realm, condition and form depends on the quality and quantity of karma. Those who break the cycle reach the realm of gods, those who don't continue in the cycle.
The theory of "karma and rebirth" raises numerous questions—such as how, when, and why did the cycle start in the first place, what is the relative Karmic merit of one karma versus another and why, and what evidence is there that rebirth actually happens, among others. Various schools of Hinduism realized these difficulties, debated their own formulations, some reaching what they considered as internally consistent theories, while other schools modified and de-emphasized it, while a few schools in Hinduism such as Charvakas , Lokayatana abandoned "karma and rebirth" theory altogether.
The earliest clear discussion of the karma doctrine is in the Upanishads. Some authors  state that the samsara transmigration and karma doctrine may be non-Vedic, and the ideas may have developed in the " shramana " traditions that preceded Buddhism and Jainism. Others   state that some of the complex ideas of the ancient emerging theory of karma flowed from Vedic thinkers to Buddhist and Jain thinkers. The mutual influences between the traditions is unclear, and likely co-developed.
Many philosophical debates surrounding the concept are shared by the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, and the early developments in each tradition incorporated different novel ideas. The concept of karma in Hinduism developed and evolved over centuries. The earliest Upanishads began with the questions about how and why man is born, and what happens after death.
As answers to the latter, the early theories in these ancient Sanskrit documents include pancagni vidya the five fire doctrine , pitryana the cyclic path of fathers and devayana the cycle-transcending, path of the gods. It is these who break the cycle and are not reborn. 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. In the thirteenth book of the Mahabharata, also called the Teaching Book Anushasana Parva , sixth chapter opens with Yudhishthira asking Bhishma: "Is the course of a person's life already destined, or can human effort shape one's life?
That is: intent and action karma has consequences; karma lingers and doesn't disappear; and, all positive or negative experiences in life require effort and intent. Happiness comes due to good actions, suffering results from evil actions, by actions, all things are obtained, by inaction, nothing whatsoever is enjoyed. If one's action bore no fruit, then everything would be of no avail, if the world worked from fate alone, it would be neutralized. Over time, various schools of Hinduism developed many different definitions of karma, some making karma appear quite deterministic, while others make room for free will and moral agency.
According to Halbfass, . The above six schools illustrate the diversity of views, but are not exhaustive. Each school has sub-schools in Hinduism, such as Vedanta school's nondualism and dualism sub-schools. Furthermore, there are other schools of Hinduism such as Charvaka, Lokayata the materialists who denied the theory of karma-rebirth as well as the existence of God; to this school of Hindus, the properties of things come from the nature of things.
Causality emerges from the interaction, actions and nature of things and people, determinative principles such as karma or God are unnecessary. Karma and karmaphala are fundamental concepts in Buddhism. A similar term is karmavipaka , the "maturation"  or "cooking"  of karma.
Intention cetana I tell you, is kamma. How these intentional actions lead to rebirth, and how the idea of rebirth is to be reconciled with the doctrines of impermanence and no-self ,  [note 5] is a matter of philosophical inquiry in the Buddhist traditions, for which several solutions have been proposed. Rather, karmaphala is the outcome of a natural process of cause and effect. In Jainism , "karma" conveys a totally different meaning from that commonly understood in Hindu philosophy and western civilization.
Hence the karmas are the subtle matter surrounding the consciousness of a soul. When these two components consciousness and karma interact, we experience the life we know at present. Jain texts expound that seven tattvas truths or fundamentals constitute reality.
These are: . This emphasis on reaping the fruits only of one's own karma was not restricted to the Jainas; both Hindus and Buddhist writers have produced doctrinal materials stressing the same point. Each of the latter traditions, however, developed practices in basic contradiction to such belief. In addition to shrardha the ritual Hindu offerings by the son of deceased , we find among Hindus widespread adherence to the notion of divine intervention in ones fate, while Buddhists eventually came to propound such theories like boon-granting bodhisattvas, transfer of merit and like.
Only Jainas have been absolutely unwilling to allow such ideas to penetrate their community, despite the fact that there must have been tremendous amount of social pressure on them to do so. In Sikhism , all living beings are described as being under the influence of maya 's three qualities. Always present together in varying mix and degrees, these three qualities of maya bind the soul to the body and to the earth plane.
Above these three qualities is the eternal time. Due to the influence of three modes of Maya's nature, jivas individual beings perform activities under the control and purview of the eternal time. These activities are called "karma". The underlying principle is that karma is the law that brings back the results of actions to the person performing them. This life is likened to a field in which our karma is the seed. We harvest exactly what we sow; no less, no more.
This infallible law of karma holds everyone responsible for what the person is or is going to be.
Based on the total sum of past karma, some feel close to the Pure Being in this life and others feel separated. Like other Indian and oriental schools of thought, the Gurbani also accepts the doctrines of karma and reincarnation as the facts of nature. Interpreted as Musubi , a view of karma is recognized in Shintoism as a means of enriching, empowering and life affirming.
Karma is an important concept in Taoism. Every deed is tracked by deities and spirits.
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Appropriate rewards or retribution follow karma, just like a shadow follows a person. The karma doctrine of Taoism developed in three stages. In the second phase, transferability of karma ideas from Chinese Buddhism were expanded, and a transfer or inheritance of Karmic fate from ancestors to one's current life was introduced. In the third stage of karma doctrine development, ideas of rebirth based on karma were added.
One could be reborn either as another human being or another animal, according to this belief. In the third stage, additional ideas were introduced; for example, rituals, repentance and offerings at Taoist temples were encouraged as it could alleviate Karmic burden. David Ownby, a scholar of Chinese history at the University of Montreal,  asserts that Falun Gong differs from Buddhism in its definition of the term "karma" in that it is taken not as a process of award and punishment, but as an exclusively negative term.
The Chinese term " de " or "virtue" is reserved for what might otherwise be termed "good karma" in Buddhism. Karma is understood as the source of all suffering - what Buddhism might refer to as "bad karma". Li says, "A person has done bad things over his many lifetimes, and for people this results in misfortune, or for cultivators it's karmic obstacles, so there's birth, aging, sickness, and death. This is ordinary karma. Falun Gong teaches that the spirit is locked in the cycle of rebirth, also known as samsara  due to the accumulation of karma.
Falun Gong states that karma is the reason for suffering, and what ultimately blocks people from the truth of the universe and attaining enlightenment. At the same time, karma is also the cause of one's continued rebirth and suffering.
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Ownby regards the concept of karma as a cornerstone to individual moral behaviour in Falun Gong, and also readily traceable to the Christian doctrine of "one reaps what one sows". Others say Matthew means no unbeliever will not fully reap what they sow until they are Judged by God after death in Hell. Ownby says Falun Gong is differentiated by a "system of transmigration", though, "in which each organism is the reincarnation of a previous life form, its current form having been determined by karmic calculation of the moral qualities of the previous lives lived.
Li says that "Human beings all fell here from the many dimensions of the universe. They no longer met the requirements of the Fa at their given levels in the universe, and thus had to drop down.
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Just as we have said before, the heavier one's mortal attachments, the further down one drops, with the descent continuing until one arrives at the state of ordinary human beings. Those who fail to return will have no choice but to reincarnate , with this continuing until they amass a huge amount of karma and are destroyed.
Ownby regards this as the basis for Falun Gong's apparent "opposition to practitioners' taking medicine when ill; they are missing an opportunity to work off karma by allowing an illness to run its course suffering depletes karma or to fight the illness through cultivation. Since Li believes that "karma is the primary factor that causes sickness in people", Penny asks: "if disease comes from karma and karma can be eradicated through cultivation of xinxing , then what good will medicine do? Li also states that "An everyday person needs to take medicine when he gets sick.
One of the significant controversies with the karma doctrine is whether it always implies destiny, and its implications on free will. This controversy is also referred to as the moral agency problem;  the controversy is not unique to karma doctrine, but also found in some form in monotheistic religions. The free will controversy can be outlined in three parts:  1 A person who kills, rapes or commits any other unjust act, can claim all his bad actions were a product of his karma: he is devoid of free will, he can not make a choice, he is an agent of karma, and he merely delivers necessary punishments his "wicked" victims deserved for their own karma in past lives.
Are crimes and unjust actions due to free will, or because of forces of karma? Or, should one blame oneself for bad karma over past lives, and assume that the unjust suffering is fate? The explanations and replies to the above free will problem vary by the specific school of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The schools of Hinduism, such as Yoga and Advaita Vedanta, that have emphasized current life over the dynamics of karma residue moving across past lives, allow free will. Not only is one affected by past karma, one creates new karma whenever one acts with intent - good or bad.
If intent and act can be proven beyond reasonable doubt, new karma can be proven, and the process of justice can proceed against this new karma.
The actor who kills, rapes or commits any other unjust act, must be considered as the moral agent for this new karma, and tried.