The majority of people understand karma as the process of complex cause-and-effect relations. The term “karma” originates from the Hinduism culture. The performance of definite actions composes the basis of karma. There are some differences in the perception of karma as a concept in Hinduism and Buddhism. However, they represent conceptual peculiarities of the practice implementation. Karma is the “process-formation-result” of the continuous lifecycle, which is unique for each person, taking into account the combination of the conducted deeds. In this context, a person possesses free will and can independently decide what they should or should not do and bear responsibility for this. At the same time, the ignorance of the law of karma does not mean liberation from it. Similar to physics, karma acts in any case, irrespective of whether people know about it or not. Hinduism and Buddhism similarly consider the concept of karma because they originate from the common religion, while, at the same time, there are differences in karmic consequences for people in both religions.


Karma in Buddhism

Buddhism states that life represents the infinite series of transformations occurring by means of change of corporal bodies. According to the law of karma in Buddhism, if a person wants to be a human being in the subsequent transformations, they should go good deeds in their current life (Lin and Yen 2). The reason is that any deeds of a person, their thoughts or feelings leave the karmic trace. Thus, only in such a way it is possible to be exempted from karma and to leave the circle of transformations after achieving “nirvana”.

Buddhism calls the intended action, namely the act made with a certain motive, as “karma.” Karma is the basis for the cause-and-effect law according to which, everything people do returns to them, determining their future in the current or the following lives. However, karma is not a punishment or remuneration. It is only a set of all actions one takes in their life, their general energy. Buddhist teachers perceive karma as an intention, a good or bad one (Lin and Yen 2). Importantly, karma does not only act but even determine the thought of any action. Thus, even a thought to do harm to the living being will leave a trace in karma. The effect of it will not be as strong as the trace of the conducted evil, but its destructive impulse will surely return.

Reincarnation is the consequence of karma. When a person dies and the moment of the new birth comes, karma waits for the possibility to be revealed. Karma is an intentional action and results as well as the law according to which, one follows another one (Lin and Yen 4). Therefore, Buddhism states that karma is not one’s fate, and all events occurring in life are not the result of karma.

Karma in Hinduism

The concept of karma neither means any destiny nor plays any role. Hinduism complies with the idea that a person has freedom of choice, as there would be no opportunity to find the highest freedom (Atkinson 30). What is more, there is no order in karmic actions. Consequently, it means that acting in this or that way, a person does not program oneself to face a definite event.

Hindus consider that the criminal will be the victim of the crime he committed in the following life. Many Hindus believe that God gives karma, while the others see it as a natural law of deeds and their consequences (Atkinson 32). Karma is not the punishment but the natural consequence of human activities. Nallusamy states that “the law of karma is a divine, self-governing system of justice that automatically creates the appropriate future experience in response to the current action. Karma punishes misdeeds and rewards good deeds whether they are known or not” (405). The destiny of a person can always be changed since it is not a stable karmic consequence. Atkinson identifies three types of karma in Hinduism:

  • The saved-up karma, which saves all good and bad deeds from the antecedents and transfers them to the following generations;
  • The past karma is past actions of the antecedents that make a person bear the responsibility for them at the moment and influence their destiny at present. It does not change and cannot be avoided. However, it can be eliminated after the payment of all old debts;
  • The present karma which is created by the person at present and its fruits will be comprehended in the future (Atkinson 38).

Karma can be described as “the law of action and requital.” The saved information acts as the prism through which a person looks at the world. The concept of general, neutral and faultless law of karma is directly connected with reincarnation and the identity of the individual, their qualities, and family. Karma in Hinduism weaves the concepts of a free will and destiny together. Thus, the concepts of reincarnation and karma form the cornerstone of Hinduism and various directions in its philosophy and beliefs.

Similarities of Karma Identification in Buddhism and Hinduism

Karma is the Sanskrit word, meaning the action or activity, and is often used towards the results of this action. It is frequently applied as the term for the designation of the whole cycle of the cause-and-effect as it is described in the philosophies of a number of cosmologies, including those of Buddhism and Hinduism (Atkinson 40). Karma is the central part of the Buddhist doctrine, which interprets some aspects of karma, having refused the idea of the perfect moral balance which is present in some kinds of exercises (Burley 971). At the same time, some aspects of the Buddhist doctrine relating to karma such as the “transfer of karma” were borrowed directly from the early Hindu doctrines, despite obvious discrepancies between the Buddhist and Hindu doctrines of karma.

Human ignorance explains the similarities in the concept of karma in Buddhism and Hinduism. The reason is that people are discharged from the spiritual development and become isolated and focused on the physical body and material world (Atkinson 41). As a result, such actions simply trap the soul into the sansara cycle. Therefore, the understanding of karma by both religions is rather close, but still there are some differences.

Differences of Karma Identification in Buddhism and Hinduism

Similar to Hinduism, Buddhism has the dogmas relating to karma, but the idea of karma is absolutely different. In classical Hinduism, the idea of karma is similar to the debt of a person. People are born in various vital and social conditions taking into account the membership in different castes (the caste of soldiers, governors, servants, and others), or they are born women. Their karma or a debt lies in the observance of classical examples of behavior in specific life situations described in “Mahabharata” and “Ramayana” that are great epic works of Hinduism (Nandan and Jangubhai 29). If a person behaves good, their position in the future lives will be better than in the current life.

The Buddhist idea of karma is absolutely different from the one of Hinduism. In Buddhism, karma means the so-called “impulses,” which induce people to act or think. Importantly, these impulses arise as a result of the previous habitual actions or behavioral models (Lin and Yen 5; Nandan and Jangubhai 30). However, due to the fact that there is no need to follow each impulse, the human behavior is not strictly determined.
Traditionally, Buddhism sees three aspects in a person, namely a body, a speech, and a mind. It becomes evident that not only physical actions or actions at the level of the person’s speech have karmic consequences. Brain actions, including the thoughts and feelings, also have outcomes.

However, any action will have karmic consequences only if it is purposeful. If a person made something unintentionally or if their words were misunderstood, such actions will have no karmic consequences (Nandan and Jangubhai 30). However, Buddhism and Hinduism have different views on this issue. In Hinduism, on the contrary, even unintentional actions with taken precautionary measures will have the karmic impact in the future. In other words, the Hindu system of ethics is grounded on complex rules, while the Buddhist one is premised on psychology (Burley 973).

Therefore, according to Hinduism, karma is the inviolable law so that all deeds, good or bad ones, will have karmic consequences in any case. Contrariwise, according to Buddhism, karma may be nullified during life. In other words, it can be counterbalanced by the opposite karma or simply canceled. Thus, there is no firm law of karma, and it does not have any consequences.

Arguments in Favor of the Persuasive Perspective and Its Explanation

The concept of karma in Buddhism is close to my understanding of karma, as it does not presuppose any strict rules and regulations. The meditations practiced by Buddha give the direct feeling of karma, the chance of vision and understanding that good does not always lead to good, and vice versa. The achievement of the state of nirvana presupposes the release from “karmic consequences.” The absence of strict karmic regulations and possibilities to reduce or eliminate karma proves the consistence of the Buddhist perspective of karma, as compared to the Hindu one. This difference of karma in Buddhism from the one in Hinduism is close to me, as I am sure that good does not always lead to good or the other way round. Therefore, karma, being the resulting effect of one’s acts and thoughts with no strict karmic rules, composes the basis of Buddhism as a world religion.


Being the basic principle of the eastern philosophies, karma is represented in Buddhism and Hinduism. Despite similarities in the general essence of karma in Buddhism and Hinduism, there are small differences in the understanding of this concept by two religions. Therefore, Hindus consider that the human destiny is defined by any actions, both intended and unintended, while in Buddhism, only conscious acts have karmic consequences. Moreover, the Buddhist concept of karma states that it is possible to nullify karma without any negative karmic consequences whereas Hinduism rejects this idea.

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