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Karma (devanāgarī: कर्म) is a Sanskrit term that "action" or "deed." In in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh religions karma refers to a law that regulates causes and effects.

In Theosophy

H. P. Blavatsky defined it as follows:

Karma (Sk.). Physically, action: metaphysically, the LAW OF RETRIBUTION, the Law of cause and effect or Ethical Causation. Nemesis, only in one sense, that of bad Karma. It is the eleventh Nidana in the concatenation of causes and effects in orthodox Buddhism; yet it is the power that controls all things, the resultant of moral action, the meta physical Samskâra, or the moral effect of an act committed for the attainment of something which gratifies a personal desire. There is the Karma of merit and the Karma of demerit. Karma neither punishes nor rewards, it is simply the one Universal LAW which guides unerringly, and, so to say, blindly, all other laws productive of certain effects along the grooves of their respective causations. When Buddhism teaches that "Karma is that moral kernel (of any being) which alone survives death and continues in transmigration" or reincarnation, it simply means that there remains nought after each Personality but the causes produced by it; causes which are undying, i.e., which cannot be eliminated from the Universe until replaced by their legitimate effects, and wiped out by them, so to speak, and such causes—unless compensated during the life of the person who produced them with adequate effects, will follow the reincarnated Ego, and reach it in its subsequent reincarnation until a harmony between effects and causes is fully reestablished. No “personality”—a mere bundle of material atoms and of instinctual and mental characteristics—can of course continue, as such, in the world of pure Spirit. Only that which is immortal in its very nature and divine in its essence, namely, the Ego, can exist for ever. And as it is that Ego which chooses the personality it will inform, after each Devachan, and which receives through these personalities the effects of the Karmic causes produced, it is therefore the Ego, that self which is the “moral kernel” referred to and embodied karma, “which alone survives death.”[1]

Karma being a universal law, its effects cannot be erased by rituals, meditations, or spiritual beings. Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

No Adept of the Right Path will interfere with the just workings of Karma. Not even the greatest of Yogis can divert the progress of Karma or arrest the natural results of actions for more than a short period, and even in that case, these results will only reassert themselves later with even tenfold force, for such is the occult law of Karma and the Nidânas.[2]

Its workings are not mechanistic, and are difficult to predict even by Initiates. In one of his letters, Mahatma K.H. wrote to Mr. Sinnett, "you know nothing of the ins and outs of the work of karma — of the "side-blows" of this terrible Law",[3] and later added, "have another look at Karma . . . and remember that it ever works in the most unexpected ways".[4]

Accumulation of merits

The idea of performing good actions to accumulate merits is not encouraged by Theosophy, since in this case the motive of the action is still self-centered. Mme. Blavatsky quotes "from letters written by the Masters":

Let not the fruit of good Karma be your motive; for your Karma, good or bad, being one and the common property of all mankind, nothing good or bad can happen to you that is not shared by many others. Hence your motive, being selfish, can only generate a double effect, good and bad, and will either nullify your good action, or turn it to another man’s profit.[5]

Collective karma

In one of his letters, Master K.H. wrote to A. P. Sinnett:

It is but a truism, yet I say it, that in adversity alone can we discover the real man. It is a true manhood when one boldly accepts one's share of the collective Karma of the group one works with, and does not permit oneself to be embittered, and to see others in blacker colours than reality, or to throw all blame upon some one "black sheep", a victim, specially selected. Such a true man as that we will ever protect and despite his shortcomings, assist to develop the good he has in him.[6]

No interference with Karma

A common question is, since all suffering comes from karma, whether a person should try to help others in the relief of it. Annie Besant wrote:

You need not be troubled about Karma any more than by the law of gravitation. You cannot interfere with it. That is a point that all who are beginning to read theosophical books ought to realize very clearly. Sometimes you find an ill-trained Theosophist who says, "I must not help so and so; it is his Karma to suffer." You might as well say you will not pick up a child that has fallen, because by the law of gravitation it has fallen and must be left under its law to take care of itself. Your duty is to do all you can to help others. If you cannot help them, their Karma will take you out of their road. Do not take Karma as an excuse for indolence, as I am sorry to say many people do.[7]

Lords of Karma

See Lipikas.

In Hinduism

In Hinduism there are three kinds of karma: Sanchita karma (accumulated past karma), Prarabdha karma (the one ready to be experienced through the present incarnation), and Kriyamana karma (the karma being created in the present incarnation, the fruits of which will be experienced in the future).

Online Resources

Articles and pamphlets




Additional resources


  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 173-174.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 160-161.
  3. Hao Chin, Vic., Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett No. 126 (Quezon City, Manila: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 423.
  4. Hao Chin, Vic., Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett No. 126 (Quezon City, Manila: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 425.
  5. See H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions
  6. Hao Chin, Vic., Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett No. 131 (Quezon City, Manila: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 437.
  7. Annie Besant, Theosophical Lectures, (Chicago: The Rajput Press, 1907), 136.