The Buddhist Doctrine of Karma (666 Words)

Read this article to learn about the Buddhist doctrine of karma!

The doctrine of karma in Buddhist philosophy is based upon the doctrine of dependent origination.

According to both these doctrines the present life of man is the result of his past life and the future depends upon the present.

According to the Buddhist philosophy, “Because of their karmas, men are not similar, but some are long-living, some short-living, some healthy and some unhealthy, etc.”

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When a disciple with broken head and blood flowing from it came to him, the Buddha said, “Oh Arhat, bear it as it is … you are bearing the fruits of your karmas for which you would have suffered in hell for centuries.” According to the doctrine of karma, every man is responsible for his actions. The actions must bear fruit. The future of every individual depends on his present actions.

According to the doctrine of karma, the fruits of the action arc according to the character of the actor. If a bad man commits a sin, he will have to suffer for it in hell. But if a good man by chance commits the same, he will get rid of it after suffering a little in this very life. “It is like this; that if a man puts some salt in a small cup of water, the water will become salty and not worthy of drinking; but if the same amount of salt is thrown in the water of the Ganges, it will have no marked effects.”

When the doctrine of karma becomes all powerful, human freedom disappears. If everything is predetermined according to karmas, how can an individual effect any change in it? Gautama human freedom the Buddha has not given any clear anwers to the question of vis-a-vis the doctrine of karma. But he has accepted the possibility of overcoming the entire law of karma and the actuality of free actions. According to the Buddha, the doctrine of karma is not mechanical.


Though the present is determined by the past, the future is free and depends on our will. “O priests, if any one says that the man must bear the fruits of his karmas, there is no religious life in that condition, nor is there any opportunity of the absolute destruction of suffering. But if someone says that the reward which a man gets is according to his actions then, priests in that condition there is religious life and the opportunity of the destruction of all sufferings.”

As a matter of fact, if the doctrine of karma is mechanical then there is hardly any place for religion and ethics in human life. The doctrine of karma shows an order in the field of spiritual development as well as in that of terrestrial process. It does hot lessen the importance of effort and responsibility. The philosophy of the Buddha is against absolute determinism as well as against absolute indeterminism.

In Buddhist philosophy, succession in the world has been called Bhava-Cakra. In this cycle, the chain of cause and effect is always operating. In this effect which has been emphasized in the doctrine of dependent origination, both birth and death are two links in the same chain. As the old is destroyed, the new takes birth. Not only human beings, but all living beings are caught in this cycle.

But escape is possible from this worldly cycle. According to the Buddhist philosophy, karma ceases to have any effect on the ultimate spiritual status. In that stage, the karmas and their effects are destroyed forever and the man rises above both merits and demerits. After attaining liberation, his actions cease but this does not mean inactivity. Really speaking, it is not all actions which lead to bondage, but only those which are prompted by the passions originating in ignorance. After the attainment of liberation, karmas remain but they bear not fruit as burnt seeds do not sprout in plants.

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