Hinduism Karma
by
Herman Tull
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0029

Introduction

Karma is a central element of South Asian thought, and, as such, it has deeply influenced South Asian religious and social practices. Although at its base karma means simply “act” or “action” (and in some contexts it continues to mean nothing more than this), for at least the past two thousand years, the term generally has been used to refer to acts or actions that necessarily produce broadly predictable future results: good acts produce good results, while bad acts produce bad results. Moreover, because the results of one’s acts may remain unrealized in a single lifetime, karma is tied inextricably to the notion of future births (punar-janman or “rebirth”). Given karma’s deep history in India, and the many contexts in which it occurs (for example, religious, social, philosophical), its implications frequently extend beyond this basic meaning. Accordingly, the study of karma requires a careful sifting of the Indian texts (generally studied in terms of specific textual epochs: Vedic, epic, and puranic, to name the best known strata). However, it must also be remembered that karma is not merely a textual relic, for it also occurs as a category of everyday experience, used in particular to explain an individual’s existential circumstances. On this level of the “lived-in” world, karma is frequently intermixed with other existential notions, such as fate and the will of the gods. Here, too, depending on any number of contextual factors, the implications of karma may vary considerably in meaning. Through Buddhism, karma became a foundational element in Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese religious thought. In the late 19th century, the theosophical movement brought karma to the West, though in a highly idiosyncratic fashion.

General Overviews

Until the 1970s, analytic studies of karma were essentially nonexistent. However, nonanalytic (and decidedly idiosyncratic) studies from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were abundant, though these were nearly always terribly misguided. Farqhar 1921 is a good example of this (see also the entries under Theosophy). A series of conferences held in the United States beginning in 1976 led to the publication of two important volumes of collected studies: Doniger O’Flaherty 1980, which emphasizes the study of karma through textual sources, and Keyes and Daniel 1983, which emphasizes the anthropological dimension. Another volume of collected essays, Neufeldt 1986, builds on Doniger O’Flaherty 1980 but moves outside “classical” Indian textual categories and even places some emphasis on the employment of the concept of karma in the West. Pappu 1987, an uneven collection, brings together essays that explore the philosophical side of karma (see The Indian Philosophical Traditions). Chapple 1986 treads lightly through a number of texts and contexts, focusing on notions of how karma and its apparent polar opposite, liberation, are ultimately conjoined at some of the deepest levels of Indian thought. Krishan 1997 emphasizes the textual appearances of the karma doctrine and presents the only full scholarly treatment of the doctrine by a single author. Obeyesekere 2002, in a wide-ranging exploration of karma, boldly looks at the appearance of karmalike conceptualizations in the afterlife beliefs in non-Indic societies and elicits a developmental model for the Indian karma doctrine. Tull 2004 presents a brief yet comprehensive overview of karma as it appears in a number of different milieus, both textual and nontextual.

  • Chapple, Christopher. Karma and Creativity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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    In this brief yet comprehensive study, Chapple considers a range of texts but centers on a careful analysis two short texts from the Mahābhārata and the Yogavāsiṣṭha (included in two appendices). Chapple explains these texts with great clarity and puts forward a compelling argument that ultimately the Indian tradition posits a world in which action is not dissonant with liberation.

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  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy, ed. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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    Sets the standard for scholarship on this subject. Brings together a series of in-depth examinations of karma in India’s best-known textual milieus. Contains contributions from many of the most influential scholars working in Indian studies in the latter part of the 20th century.

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  • Farqhar, J. N. “Karma: Its Value as a Doctrine of Life.” Hibbert Journal XX (1921): 20–34.

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    Writing in this popular, liberal Christian journal, Farqhar praised the karma doctrine for maintaining moral boundaries among the Indian people, but derided the doctrine for providing Hindus with a justification for not treating their fellow men with compassion. Farqhar believed that karma, similar to the other fundamental doctrines of Hinduism, would disappear in the face of India’s encounter with the “evolved” morality of Christianity.

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    • Keyes, Charles F., and E. Valentine Daniel, eds. Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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      A follow-up to Doniger O’Flaherty 1980 that moves outside textual representations of karma to seek the doctrine in practice. Similar to Doniger O’Flaherty, the authors reach a high academic standard, with contributions by a number of influential contemporary scholars of India (in this case, nearly all anthropologists). They examine karma not only as an independent doctrine but also as one idea among a complex of ideas (fate, witchcraft, etc.) that serve to explain the human condition.

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    • Krishan, Yuvraj. The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997.

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      Reprising a series of articles published over a twenty-year period, Krishan’s study presents a largely historical overview of karma in nearly all the major Indian textual milieus. Contains a number of key passages from Indian texts and presupposes a firm grasp of the Indian tradition.

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    • Neufeldt, Ronald W., ed. Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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      Examines modernist notions of karma in India and in West, and includes several studies that look broadly at the way in which karma was transformed in its adoption in China, Japan, and Tibet. Contributors to this volume are nearly all scholars in religious studies.

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    • Obeyesekere, Gananath. Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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      An ambitious work that examines karma as a fundamental category of thought, thereby locating it (or karmalike doctrines) in both Indic and non-Indic cultures. This is a work of superb scholarship; as Obeyesekere moves nimbly through a range of contexts and tackles a number of difficult theoretical issues. Obeyesekere formulates the critically important notion for karma studies that the karma doctrine arises through the “ethicization” of action.

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    • Pappu, S. S. Rama Rao, ed. Dimensions of Karma. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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      Explores karma in Indian thought through the lens of traditional Western philosophic categories (for example, religion, metaphysics, and morality). Additionally, several of the essays in this volume view karma through a comparativist lens. Unfortunately, the value of this volume is compromised by a number of weak essays.

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    • Tull, Herman. “Karma.” In The Hindu World. Edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, 309–331. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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      A brief essay, but comprehensive in scope. Examines karma’s origins but also considers the representation of karma in the epics, Hindu lawbooks, and puranas, as well as the intersection of karma with other fundamental elements of Indian thought, such as duty, fate, and divine intervention.

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    Defining Karma

    Despite its widespread use, there is no single authoritative definition of karma found in the Indian texts. The word karma (from the Sanskrit karman, a neuter noun) occurs frequently in the early Indian (Vedic) texts, where it often means the “work” or “action” of the Vedic rites, a connotation it retains in later texts. In what appears to be its first formulation in the Upanishads (c. 600 BCE), karma is defined through the simple statement that an individual “becomes good by good acts, bad by bad” (Bṛhādāraṇyaka 3.2.13, phrasing that is explored in detail in Tull 1989), and this idea of the “ripening” of karma, as discussed in Krishan 1983, becomes an essential element of the karma doctrine. Later texts tie good and bad deeds to specific spheres of existence (heavens, hells) or statuses (Brahmin, Kshatriya, etc.) that an individual might attain in a future life (see, for example, Mānava Dharmaśāstra 12). However, as Hopkins 1906 shows, following the Upanishads, ideas about karma become increasingly complex, and invariably questions arise: Could acts performed by one individual affect another actor? How precisely do acts relate to their supposed results? Might the results of acts be passed through the generations? In part, as Arya 1972 shows, these questions reflect the existence of a range of Indian beliefs and practices that seem to coexist in dynamic tension with karma. That the doctrine can be opaque is seen in a famed statement from the Bhagavad Gita: “What is action (karma) and what is inaction (akarma)? Even the sages are confused in this matter” (4.16).” Doniger O’Flaherty 1980 reports on two separate scholarly attempts to create a comprehensive definition of karma and includes elements such as causality, ethicization, an orientation of present actions to future existences, and rebirth. Keyes 1983 notes that in popular usage in South Asia, karma does not necessarily occur as a neatly defined, fully rational complex, but rather as one that in protean fashion may change to meet the demands of particular situations. Gerow 1982 points out that scholars generally fail to fully investigate the indigenous lexicon in seeking to define karma. Potter 2001 shows that the seemingly simple idea underlying karma, that acts breed results in future lives, belies a complex of theories seething with seemingly contradictory elements.

    • Arya, Usharbudh. “Hindu Contradictions of the Doctrine of Karma.” East and West 22.1–2 (1972): 93–100.

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      Provides a brief but penetrating look at a range of doctrines and practices that seem to abrogate karma; Arya cites a wide range of representative texts.

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      • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. “Introduction.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, ix–xxv. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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        Presents two related scholarly definitions of karma devised by a group of senior scholars at the first “Karma conference.” Following these definitions, Doniger O’Flaherty delineates important structural oppositions in the use of karma in a range of Indian contexts. This is an invaluable starting point for understanding the breadth of karma’s applications in South Asian thought, though the structuralist methodology does appear dated.

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      • Gerow, Edwin. “What Is Karma (Kiṃ Karmeti)? An Exercise in Philosophical Semantics.” Indologica Taurinensia 10 (1982): 87–116.

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        Gerow seeks out karma by looking to indigenous concepts, with an emphasis on the Sanskrit grammatical tradition that embeds karma in terms of syntactic processes. Gerow’s essay presupposes familiarity with Sanskrit philological terminology as well as an understanding of the Sanskrit philosophical tradition. Though rarely cited, this is a work of stunning erudition and unique perspective.

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        • Hopkins, E. Washburn. “Modifications of the Karma Doctrine.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (July 1906): 581–593.

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          Hopkins’s comprehensive discussion of karma focuses on exposing the karma theory’s supposed inconsistencies. As scholars have become more comfortable in recent decades with the notion of contextuality, Hopkins’s approach appears dated; nonetheless, his thorough command of the sources makes this an invaluable contribution.

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          • Keyes, Charles F. “Introduction: The Study of Popular Ideas of Karma.” In Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, 1–24. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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            Although primarily an introduction to an edited volume, this essay contains valuable insights into the relationship between popular and textual religions. The author explores how karma, despite its supposed rigidity as a largely textual doctrine, may be revealed as fairly supple in its employment in popular religion.

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          • Krishan, Y. “Karma Vipāka.” Numen 30 (1983): 199–214.

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            Discusses the critically important relationship between acts and results as presented in various elements of Buddhist, Jain, and Brahmanical literature. Contains a wealth of textual references but lacks an in-depth analytical framework in comparing these different representations.

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            • Potter, Karl H. “How Many Karma Theories Are There? Journal of Indian Philosophy 29.1–2 (2001): 231–239.

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              A brief but extraordinarily lucid discussion of the karma theory, moving from the generally simple presentation of its formulation to show with remarkable precision the permutations that underlie karma theory.

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              • Tull, Herman. The Vedic Origins of Karma: Cosmos as Man in Ancient Indian Myth and Ritual. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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                A revision of the author’s dissertation, providing a brief yet comprehensive study that explores how models of action found in the early Vedic texts persist in the later Upanishadic formulation of the karma doctrine.

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              Historical Context

              In general, Indian history—and, in particular, the history of its religious ideas and practices—is demarcated not by events, but by several broad and often overlapping periods of textual activity: Vedic, epic, and puranic, to name just a few of the major categories. The earliest of these textual epochs is known as the Vedic period, named for the texts that were composed and compiled during a period of ten centuries or more (c. 1500 BCE–500 BCE). Given the length of this period, it is not surprising that the Vedic texts contain widely divergent material. Nonetheless, at the center of Vedic religion is a concern with the rites of sacrifice as a means to attain communion with the world of the gods, an activity that becomes foundational in the later karma doctrine. While it seems clear that other beliefs and practices flourished in India alongside those found in the Vedic religion, there is no extant record of them. Nonetheless, these elements can be inferred from the discordant practices and beliefs that may be glimpsed in some of the later Vedic texts (the Upanishads, in particular) and in the heterodox sects of Buddhism and Jainism. Similar to many of the other key elements of Hindu religion, the chief components of the karma doctrine suggest multiple sources, both Vedic and non-Vedic.

              Non-Vedic Sources

              Obeyesekere 1980 and Obeyesekere 2002 both raise the possibility that the non-Vedic ascetic (also known as the śrāmana) traditions in the mid–1st millennium BCE India may have been the primary movers in the rise of the karma doctrine. Since no direct historical evidence exists to support this supposition, Obeyesekere 2002 looks in detail at general theories of rebirth in small societies and suggests, by analogy, that karma arose out of such a milieu in India. Fundamental to Obeyesekere’s argument is that karma grows out of the general type of rebirth eschatology (that is, the dead are reborn) that occurs commonly in small societies. In India, this eschatology matured into the karma doctrine with the added notion that actions are systematically seen as “ethicized,” meaning that an inherent moral quality (“good” or “bad”) is ascribed to actions. Jaini 1980 also suggests the possibility of a Jain origin for karma and looks to the Jain tradition largely due to its intense interest in karma. Hart 1980 examines Tamil beliefs regarding reincarnation that seem to suggest karma did not exist among India’s Dravidian population, thus ruling out a significant element of India’s non-Vedic culture as a possible source of the karma doctrine.

              • Hart, George L., III. “The Theory of Reincarnation among the Tamils.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 116–136. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                This study does not address karma per se but focuses on afterlife and reincarnation beliefs as presented in ancient Tamil sources, suggesting that karma was unknown to the ancient Dravidians and was only later imported from North Indian sources.

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              • Jaini, Padmanabh. “Karma and the Problem of Rebirth in Jainism.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 217–241. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                Though not concerned with the origins of karma per se, Jaini makes the intriguing assertion that early Jain ideas about karma are so distinctive within the context of ancient India that they may, in fact, represent a separate karma complex from that which eventually arises in Hinduism.

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              • Obeyesekere, Gananath. “The Rebirth Eschatology and Its Transformations: A Contribution to the Sociology of Early Buddhism.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 137–164. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                Less detailed precursor to Obeyesekere 2002. Although it lacks the breadth of the later study, it contains the main threads of Obeyesekere’s argument as presented in Obeyesekere 2002.

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              • Obeyesekere, Gananath. Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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                Argues persuasively for karma’s non-Vedic origin based on the lack of a notion of ethicized action in Vedic thought. Finds the first full flowering of ethicized action in early Buddhism, which Obeyesekere argues posits the earliest set of universalized values in ancient India. Overall, a highly sophisticated work that draws on a wealth of evidence, both Indic and non-Indic.

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              Early Vedic Texts

              The term karma occurs in the early Vedic texts (the Saṃhitas and the Brāhmaṇas), to indicate acts in general or ritual activities in particular. There is no firm evidence in the early Vedic texts to suggest that karma has its later meaning of an act that leads to a definite result; nonetheless, Tull 1989 and Krishan 1997 argue that karma’s origins lie in the relationship between the action of the Vedic sacrificial rituals and the rewards that arise (often in the next world) for the sacrificer as a consequence of these acts. Furthermore, Tull 1989 sees an incipient ethicization in the Vedic concern with and understanding of the correct and incorrect performances of the sacrificial rites—correct being equated with “good” (and thereby leading to a “good” result). Tull’s view is criticized in Bodewitz 1993a and Bodewitz 1993b, with Bodewitz arguing that Vedic ritual action is not in any sense ethical, and that the Vedic ritualists, though willing to discuss the possible “good” results of the properly performed Vedic rites, seem not to have been inclined to discuss the poorly performed sacrifice. Bodewitz suggests that there existed a parallel nonritual Vedic structure out of which ideas of ethicized action arose. The idea that the Vedic ritual sphere is essentially nonmoral (and perhaps even immoral) hearkens back to Keith 1925. Knipe 2008 looks to the early Vedic notions of the specific realms of the afterlife, and the rituals associated with their attainment, and suggests that the movement of the deceased through different planes of the afterlife is a precursor to the notion of transmigration that later becomes an important element of the karma doctrine. Butzenberger 1996 presents a detailed analysis of these Rig Vedic eschatologies, looking to the varied rites of disposing of the dead, and concludes that, though they seem unrelated, the Vedic tradition melds them into a consistent naturalistic philosophy that over time attracted other eschatological elements, such as the karma doctrine. Whereas Butzenberger 1996 sees only incipient elements of transmigration in the Rig Vedic background, Jurewicz 2008, using innovative translations, argues that certain Rig Vedic passages clearly indicate a developed rebirth eschatology was in place during the early Vedic period; Jurewicz does not, however, see a karma doctrine as part of the Rig Vedic notions of transmigration.

              • Bodewitz, H. W. “Non-Ritual Karman in the Veda.” In Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office Centenary Commemoration Volume (1892–1992). Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series 105. Edited by Sudhakar Malaviya, 221–230. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1993a.

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                Useful chiefly for its rich array of textual citations to the word karma and related terminology in the Vedic texts. Bodewitz argues against (though with some equivocation) a clear relationship between the use of the term karma to denote ritual action and its later use as a theory of morally retributive action.

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                • Bodewitz, H. W. “Sukṛta and Sacrifice.” In Studies in Indology and Musicology. Edited by Sushima Kulshreshtha and J. P. Sinha, 69–76. Delhi: Pratibha Prakashan, 1993b.

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                  Largely philological in nature, this work tracks the occurrence of possible precursors to the term karma in Vedic usage, and concludes they are not connected.

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                  • Butzenberger, Klaus. “Ancient Indian Conceptions on Man’s Destiny after Death: The Beginnings and the Early Development of the Doctrine of Transmigration I.” Berliner Indologische Studien 9 (1996): 55–118.

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                    A highly detailed study of the Rig Vedic representation of the individual’s passage to the other world after death. Butzenberger draws heavily on contemporary Greek and Iranian notions of this movement from this world to the next in constructing his analysis. An extremely well-crafted piece of scholarship.

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                    • Jurewicz, Joanna. “Rebirth Eschatology in the Ṛg Veda: In Search for Roots of Transmigration.” Indologica Taurinensia 34 (2008) 183–210.

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                      Employing a somewhat idiosyncratic, but not at all unreasonable frame for translating Rig Vedic passages (viewing meaning as an open structure that reveals itself only in context), Jurewicz pushes far beyond the limits of previous scholars in examining the Rig Vedic understanding of the afterlife. In pushing the limits of the art of the translator in looking at this difficult text, Jurewicz opens important avenues for continued research in this area. Available online.

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                      • Keith, Arthur B. The Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and Upanishads. 2 vols. Harvard Oriental Series 31–32. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925.

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                        Classic work on Vedic religion, and an invaluable resource due to its broad exposition of Vedic ritual and belief. Dated by its 19th-century bias against “priesthood” and its suggestion that Vedic religion evolved into a certain anti-Brahmanism in the philosophy of the Upanishads. Still, Keith’s work remains largely unsurpassed in its breadth.

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                        • Knipe, David. “Hindu Eschatology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology. Edited by Jerry Walls, 170–190. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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                          Presents a brief, but thorough, conspectus of Hindu notions of the afterlife, beginning with the early Vedic mythological and ritual complex that depicts specific realms and divisions through which the deceased moves after life. A unique and highly valuable study.

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                        • Krishan, Yuvraj. The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997.

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                          Citing copious textual references, Krishan argues that karma has definite roots in the early Vedic notion of storing merit through the sacrifice. Krishan’s arguments are compelling, though his point of view tends to be conventional.

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                        • Tull, Herman. The Vedic Origins of Karma: Cosmos as Man in Ancient Indian Myth and Ritual. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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                          A revision of the author’s dissertation, providing a brief exploration of how models of action found in the early Vedic texts persist in the later Vedic formulation of the karma doctrine. Tull looks, in particular, to the symbolic dimensions of building worlds of existences in the afterlife as a link between the activity of the sacrifice and the later articulation of the karma doctrine.

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                        Late Vedic Texts

                        Although the large group of texts known as the Upanishads cannot be dated with certainty, they presuppose the other Vedic texts (the Saṃhitas and the Brāhmaṇas) and seem to predate Buddhism, thus dating the earliest of these texts at around the 6th century BCE. The first known formulation of the karma doctrine occurs in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, which is considered to be the earliest of the Upanishads (see Olivelle 1998, The Early Upaniṣads, p. 30). The doctrine is presented here at the end of a long discourse that features the great sage Yājñavalkya answering questions posed to him concerning a man’s fate after death. Asked what happens after the dissolution of the body, Yājñavalkya suddenly declares such a thing cannot be discussed in public, and so he takes the questioner aside. The narration then indicates they discussed “action” (karma), with the sage Yājñavalkya stating, “[A man] becomes good by good action (karman), bad by bad” (Bṛhadāraṇyaka 3.2.13). Other formulations of karma in these texts relate the deeds performed in one life to the conditions of the afterlife; that is, good deeds lead to rebirth in a “good” womb such as that of a Brahmin, and bad leading to rebirth in a “bad” womb such as that of a dog or an outcaste (Bṛhadāraṇyaka 4.4.5; Chandogya 5.10.7; Kauṣītaki 1.2). The ancient Indian thinkers invariably contrasted karma and its burdensome consequence of an unending stream of rebirths with a path leading to a final liberation, or a realm from which there is no rebirth (Bṛhādāraṇyaka 6.2.15; Chandogya 5.10.1). This latter path, as discussed by Kaelber 1989, leads the individual into the ascetic life. Despite the fact that these early formulations of karma prefigure later expressions of the doctrine found in the epics, lawbooks, and puranas, these passages long remained relatively unstudied. Keith 1925 presents the standard interpretation found in works of his era. Tull 1989 ties these passages closely to their Vedic antecedents, revealed particularly in the realm of the Vedic sacrifice, and presents a careful analysis of how acts performed in the sacrifice represent the basis for the understanding of ethicized acts in the Upanishads. Reat 1977 presents a cautious but uneventful analysis of these passages along with a discussion of early Buddhist texts believed to be roughly contemporary with them. Butzenberger 1998 largely accepts the thesis that the emergence of the karma doctrine builds on deeply embedded patterns of Vedic thought, particularly those associated with the workings of the sacrifice, and the author systematically reconstructs a Vedic natural philosophy that makes great strides in explicating ideas about self and cosmos in the late Vedic expressions of rebirth. Bronkhorst 2007 argues that the karma doctrine originated in a unique non-Vedic culture of ancient Magadha, suggesting that the early presentations of the doctrine in the Upanishads show only a begrudging acceptance of the doctrine.

                        • Bronkhorst, Johannes. Greater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early India. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2007.

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                          A provocative work that seeks to show that ideas about karma and rebirth (among a few select other ideas) originated in the culture of ancient Magadha, and not within Vedic or even heterodox circles. Bronkhorst has an extraordinary command of the literary sources, but his allegiance to his thesis leads him to ignore some obvious weaknesses in his argument.

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                        • Butzenberger, Klaus. “Ancient Indian Conceptions on Man’s Destiny after Death: The Beginnings and the Early Development of the Doctrine of Transmigration II.” Berliner Indologische Studien 11/12 (1998): 1–84.

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                          Beginning with a detailed analysis of ideas of self and cosmos as presented in the Upanishads, Butzenberger builds a highly detailed portrayal of the natural philosophy that underlies the key ideas of rebirth in the later Vedic texts. In so doing, he moves far beyond previous works on this topic, and exposes the deep logic underlying these ideas.

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                          • Kaelber, Walter. Tapta Mārga: Asceticism and Initiation in Vedic India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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                            Discusses the two paths—the one leading to rebirth, and the other to final liberation—within the broader context of asceticism in ancient India. Kaelber’s work is the most comprehensive on the subject and is a model of careful scholarship throughout.

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                          • Keith, Arthur B. The Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and Upanishads. 2 vols. Harvard Oriental Series 31–32. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925.

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                            Classic work on Vedic religion and an invaluable resource due to its broad exposition of Vedic ritual and belief. While dated by its 19th-century bias against “priesthood” and its suggestion that Vedic religion evolved into a certain anti-Brahmanism in the philosophy of the Upanishads, Keith’s work remains largely unsurpassed in its breadth.

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                            • Olivelle, Patrick, ed and trans. The Early Upaniṣads: Annotated Text and Translation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                              A highly readable and accurate translation of the early Upanishads. Contains Sanskrit text with an English translation on the facing pages.

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                            • Reat, Noble Ross. “Karma and Rebirth in the Upaniṣads and Buddhism.” Numen 24.3 (1977): 163–185.

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                              Provides a careful analysis of karma and rebirth passages from the Upanishads and Pali Buddhist texts. Reat does an excellent job of unpacking these dense early karma texts but does not discuss the larger meaning of these passages within the Indian tradition.

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                              • Tull, Herman. The Vedic Origins of Karma: Cosmos as Man in Ancient Indian Myth and Ritual. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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                                Provides a thorough discussion of early appearances of karma in the Upanishads within the larger context of Vedic thought. Tull sees the expression of the karma doctrine in the early Upanishads, though inextricably linked to the Vedic ritual background, as emerging for the first time in a nonritual application in a broader application of ethics in the Indian context.

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                              The Lawbooks

                              Among the foundational texts of the Indian tradition are a set of loosely connected works known as the “lawbooks” (dharma-sūtra and dharma-śāstra, c. 300 BCE–300 CE). The overarching concern of these texts is a notion of right conduct (dharma), which is generally defined in them as behavior appropriate to an individual’s societal status as defined by birth (Brahmin, Kshatriya, etc.) and stage of life (student, householder, etc.). Underlying this concern with right conduct is the notion of karma, which posits that acts in accord with dharma lead to good results, while those that violate dharma bear evil results. Unlike later discussions of karma, the authors of the lawbooks seem to suggest that acts have quite predictable results. Understanding the relationship between act and result is described as a paramount concern for the man who seeks to live in accord with the dharma (Mānava Dharmaśāstra 7.179). The Lawbook of Manu, an exceptional translation of which may be found in Manu’s Code of Law (Olivelle 2005), is the best known and widely considered to be the most authoritative of all the Indian lawbooks. It devotes a distinct section (Mānava Dharmaśāstra 12) to a detailed description of the future existences that may be garnered by present actions; that is, the conditions that will accrue in future lifetimes to those who follow or violate the dharma. Rocher 1980 presents a careful analysis of this text, showing that the authors appear to draw from a number of different sources in constructing their model of karma. Glucklich 1982 relates certain ideas about karma found in this text to the contemporary scene, in particular, those related to the role of the king as the one who metes out justice.

                              • Glucklich, Ariel. “Karma and Social Justice in the Criminal Code of Manu.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 16 (1982): 59–78.

                                DOI: 10.1177/006996678201600103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Analyzes uses of karma in Mānava Dharmaśāstra 12 and sets them in the context of ancient Indian ideas regarding the legal responsibilities of the king, particularly the king’s responsibility for meting out justice. Glucklich proposes that ideas found in this law code also draw heavily on certain Buddhist ideas regarding karma. A complex though highly rewarding study.

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                                • Olivelle, Patrick, ed and trans. Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Mānava Dharmaśāstra. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.

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                                  A highly readable and highly accurate translation of the Mānava Dharmaśāstra. Includes full Sanskrit text with extensive notes. Olivelle argues persuasively that this law code, though undoubtedly closely related to other law codes, largely represents a unitary work and was likely composed by a single author.

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                                • Rocher, Ludo. “Karma and Rebirth in the Dharmaśāstras.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 61–89. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                                  Presents a detailed conspectus of the doctrine of karma as presented in the Lawbook of Manu (Mānava Dharmaśāstra 12). As Rocher shows, the authors seem to draw on several models but do not actually synthesize them in the text, allowing them instead to stand side by side. This section of the Lawbook of Manu is highly detailed, and Rocher’s work presents an extraordinarily lucid roadmap through its intricate discussions.

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                                The Epics and the Bhagavad Gita

                                At the center of the great epic of India, the Mahābhārata, are questions of “right” (dharmic) action, both what it is and how it is enacted in a world of competing concerns. Consequently, there is also a marked preoccupation with the results of action, best exemplified in “The Book of the Forest,” translated in Buitenen 1975, which places the notion of action against that of the law (dharma) through the use of narratives such as the stories of Nala and of Rama, which show how actions continually trigger other actions. This concern is also clearly represented in “The Book of Peace,” translated in Fitzgerald 2004, which takes on the question of how acts can be understood as “good” in extreme situations, such as war. Long 1980 points out that central to the epic notion of karma is its lack of predictability; that is, that underlying karma in the epic view, there is no moral calculus that reveals how or even when an act will garner a particular result. Attached to this view is an understanding of karma as being in some sense “unfair”—seen, for example, in the occurrence of results that appear entirely out of line with the acts which led to them—but this is also attributable to the other elements, as Long 1980 and Goldman 1985 point out, such as fate and the will of the gods, that along with karma are seen by the epic authors as determinants of the conditions of an individual’s life. Woods 2001 presents a highly refined view of the notions of destiny and of human striving as the deep background to the epic discourse on action. Despite a sometimes despairing attitude toward karma, the epic discourse generally eschews the idea that one can abandon action in favor of inaction (or follow the path of asceticism). In the Bhagavad Gita, a culminating point for the epic, this despair over the inevitably negative consequences of human actions in war is raised to a high degree, yet action (karma) remains elevated above asceticism and inaction, as argued in Edgerton 1972. Here, however, the element of devotionalism looms large, as the activity devoted to the gods—that is, activity that is in essence “selfless”—is shown to be liberating, rather than an entrapment, as discussed by De Smet 1977. Upadhyaya 1987 adds to this discussion, showing that the coalescence between karma and liberation under the aegis of devotionalism in the Bhagavad Gita engages a host of religio-philosophical issues.

                                • Buitenen, J. A. B. van, ed. and trans. The Mahābhārata. Vol. 2: Book 2, The Book of the Assembly Hall; Book 3, The Book of the Forest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

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                                  A highly accurate and highly readable translation of the second and third of the Mahābhārata’s eighteen sections. Book 3 contains the stories of Nala and of Rama, both of which exemplify the delicate intertwining of acts (karma) and law (dharma).

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                                • De Smet, Richard. 1977. “A Copernican Reversal: The Gītākāra’s Reformulation of Karma.” Philosophy East and West 27.1 (1977): 53–63.

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                                  De Smet argues that the Gita’s monotheist leanings “recenter” karma from an orientation on man’s activity (and results that accrue to man, as found in the pre-Gita tradition) to a god-centered model in which the results of actions adhere to the deity. De Smet uses sources (including Vedic, Buddhist, and Jain) with great intelligence and constructs a compelling, though perhaps overly theological, argument.

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                                  • Edgerton, Franklin. “Action and Rebirth.” In The Bhagavad Gītā. Edited and translated by Franklin Edgerton, 156–163. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.

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                                    Classic discussion of the Bhagavad Gita’s unique position that action stands above inaction. Requires that those who seek the highest rewards abjure any attachment to the results of actions, thereby synthesizing the well-known opposition in Indian thought between the way of action (karma) and the path of inaction (asceticism).

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                                  • Fitzgerald, James, ed. and trans. The Mahābhārata. Vol. 7: Book 11, The Book of the Women; Book 12, The Book of Peace, Part 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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                                    A continuation of van Buitenen’s translation of the Mahābhārata that maintains the high standard of scholarship attained in the van Buitenen volumes. Fitzgerald’s introduction to Book 12 provides an insightful analysis of the ideas found in the Mahābhārata concerning the relationship of law (dharma) and actions (karma).

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                                  • Goldman, Robert P. “Karma, Guilt, and Buried Memories: Public Fantasy and Private Reality in Traditional India.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 105.3. Indological Studies Dedicated to Daniel H. H. Ingalls (1985): 413–425.

                                    DOI: 10.2307/601518Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    A fascinating study that explores the representation of results that seem utterly disproportionate to the acts that preceded them. Goldman’s line of reasoning leads him to raise questions of fundamental importance regarding the basis for qualifying an action as “right” in Indian thought.

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                                    • Long, J. Bruce. “The Concepts of Human Action and Rebirth in the Mahābhārata.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 38–60. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                                      Presents an excellent conspectus of the epic view of karma. Long has superb command of the Mahābhārata and supports his argument with an array of well-chosen textual citations.

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                                    • Upadhyaya, K. N. “Karma in Hindu Thought II: The Bhagavad Gῑtā.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 37–65. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                      Less a discussion of karma per se than it is a discussion of the Bhagavad Gita within the context of Indian philosophical thought. As Upadhyaya correctly notes, the Bhagavad Gita brings together ideas from the Upanishads and the Sankhya (Sāṃkhya) school of philosophy in its representation of karma.

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                                    • Woods, Julian F. Destiny and Human Initiative in the Mahābhārata. Albany: State University Press of New York Press. 2001.

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                                      A brief but penetrating analysis of how ideas about human effort and fate intertwine in the Mahābhārata. Although not a work about karma per se, Woods’s analysis has important implications for understanding the epic discourse regarding karma. He successfully employs a Western philosophical approach while showing great sensitivity to the larger Indian context of the epic.

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                                    The Puranas

                                    The puranas (literally, “[stories that] went before”) are an extensive group of literary works that reflect the emergence of Hinduism as it was constituted in its dominant form during the 1st millennium CE. These texts are host to a vast amount of material, synthesized from already existent popular as well as textual sources; at their center, however, stands an extensive collection of myths and quasi-philosophical discourses. A discussion of karma—particularly the notion of the ripening of karma (karma-vipāka) in the conditions of the afterlife—is a favored topic of the purana authors. These discussions often feature vivid descriptions of the punishments of hell and the acts that lead to them. As Doniger O’Flaherty 1980 notes, “These passages simply use karma as a club with which to beat the listener into a suitably contrite frame of mind; they tell us nothing about karma other than the fact that one’s deeds in life pursue one after death” (pp. 14–15). Gaeffke 1985 focuses on the relationship of karma to the post-puranic devotional (bhakti) movements, in which a key element is the notion that God’s grace may abrogate the causal chain (already indicated in the Bhagavad Gita). Gaeffke contextualizes his study by looking to the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, a text in which devotionalism already looms large. Doniger O’Flaherty 1980 presents an extremely brief but valuable overview of the notion of karma in the puranas. More extensive in terms of analyzing specific myths from these texts is Doniger O’Flaherty 1976, which examines karma as one of several notions used in the Indian texts to contend with the problem of evil—albeit one that appears somewhat diminished in this context. Despite the rich detail of the puranic imagination regarding the karma doctrine, this topic remains without any major studies (the puranas in general have not been fully studied or translated with great accuracy).

                                    • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1976.

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                                      Doniger O’Flaherty’s penetrating analysis looks to a wide range of narratives and myths drawn largely, but not exclusively, from the puranas that illustrate the problem of suffering and evil in India. As with many of this author’s works, there is a wealth of otherwise inaccessible textual material cited.

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                                    • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. “Karma and Rebirth in the Vedas and Purāṇas.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 3–37. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                                      Despite its title, relatively little space is devoted to the representation of karma in the puranas. Nonetheless, the work contains an extensive set of references to puranic descriptions of the various afterlife worlds in which the individual can end up as a result of specific deeds.

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                                    • Gaeffke, Peter. “Karma in North Indian Bhakti Traditions.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 105.2 (1985): 265–275.

                                      DOI: 10.2307/601706Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Provides some detail regarding the well-known notion that for the devotee, God may abrogate karma’s inexorable chain of causation. Contains some peculiar and seemingly misplaced criticisms of Doniger O’Flaherty 1980.

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                                      The Indian Philosophical Traditions

                                      Halbfass 1991 observes that in the classical Indian philosophical systems, karma stands as an unquestioned presupposition. Here, too, however, as in its other manifestations in the Indian tradition, karma must be understood as a complex phenomenon. Potter 1964, Potter 1980, and Potter 1987 argue persuasively that in the Indian philosophical systems karma is utilized much in the manner of a “scientific theory”; that is, as a fundamental hypothesis that allows individuals to understand and interpret observable phenomena. Although there has been a great deal of discussion of what karma means in general philosophical discourse—as a theory of causation, as a way of understanding the existence of suffering, and as an ethical system—relatively few scholars have engaged karma in the terms of the indigenous classical systems of Indian philosophy. Among the handful of studies in this area, the majority consider the implications of karma in Śankara’s Advaita Vedanta, which long ago emerged as India’s predominant philosophical system. Halbfass 1980 and Halbfass 1991 look at the representation of karma in a number of systems (including Advaita Vedanta), but they focus on karma in the Mīmāṃsā system, and in particular on the highly important concept of apūrva (and the related Vaiśeṣika concept of adṛṣṭa), which seeks to understand how acts, which disappear over time, produce results to which they have no apparent connection. Gerow 1982, in a fascinating study that seeks to elicit how karma is understood in indigenous theory, also looks to Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, but the author places considerable emphasis on Indian language theory. Potter 1980 and Potter 1987 focus primarily on karma in the yoga system, but Potter also raises larger questions about karma in the Indian philosophical systems, particularly as a doctrine that Indian philosophers have utilized toward multifarious ends. Of the several studies that explore karma in the Advaita Vedanta system, Clooney 1989 attends carefully to the texts, while also developing some broad questions regarding karma’s function in this system as a justification for evil; Matesz 1987 looks to the role of karma in the Advaita Vedanta’s understanding of the issues of ego and final liberation; and Deutsch 1965 develops a more general model, exploring how the Advaita Vedanta school utilizes the karma doctrine largely for its expedient quality in expressing the nature of human existence as bondage, against which an ultimate goal of liberation may be posited.

                                      • Clooney, Francis X. “Evil, Divine Omnipotence, and Human Freedom: Vedānta’s Theology of Karma.” The Journal of Religion 69.4 (1989): 530–548.

                                        DOI: 10.1086/488203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Clooney attends carefully to the scriptural bias of the two related traditions of Mīmāṃsā and Advaita Vedanta and presents an in-depth analysis of how some of the great thinkers in this tradition interpreted the karma doctrine. Though not overly detailed, Clooney’s work presupposes some familiarity with issues such as the problem of evil and the nature of free will, in Indian as well as in Western theology.

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                                        • Deutsch, Eliot S. “Karma as a ‘Convenient Fiction’ in the Advaita Vedānta.” Philosophy East and West 15.1 (1965): 3–12.

                                          DOI: 10.2307/1397404Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          Highly accessible inquiry into the use of karma in the Advaita Vedanta school as a means of defining a world of experience that ultimately must give way to the goal of freedom from rebirth.

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                                          • Gerow, Edwin. “What Is Karma (Kim Karmeti)? An Exercise in Philosophical Semantics.” Indologica Taurinensia 10 (1982): 87–116.

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                                            Engages the karma theory directly on the grounds of a range of Indian philosophical theories. This is a highly detailed and highly nuanced investigation, and the author presupposes a solid foundation in Indian philosophical terminology. It is highly rewarding for those willing to engage Gerow’s detailed analysis.

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                                            • Halbfass, Wilhelm. “Karma, Apūrva, and Natural Causes: Observations on the Growth and Limits of the Theory of Saṃsāra.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 268–302. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                                              Focuses on ideas of unseen potency and the nature of connectedness between act and result as expressed in the Indian philosophical system (with an emphasis on Mīmāṃsā). Although Halbfass presupposes some understanding of Indian philosophical terminology, he makes some of the most intractable texts found in the Indian tradition accessible to the general reader.

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                                            • Halbfass, Wilhelm. Tradition and Reflection: Explorations in Indian Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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                                              Chapter 9, “Competing, Causalities: Karma, Vedic Rituals, and the Natural World,” is a slightly extended version of Halbfass 1980. For remarks, see Halbfass 1980.

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                                            • Matesz, Donald. “Karma and Mokṣa in Vedanta: Reality Versus Appearance.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 188–220. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                              Explores the distinction between karma and liberation that is fundamental to Advaita Vedanta. Matesz employs a limited number of textual citations, yet he largely constructs models based on his own readings of the Vedanta texts. Overall, he deals with mostly fundamental concepts and represents a reasonable starting point for scholarship on this topic.

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                                            • Potter, Karl H. “The Naturalistic Principle of Karma.” Philosophy East and West 14.1 (1964): 39–49.

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                                              Potter’s first study of karma focuses on how it stands as a moral principle within Indian philosophical systems. This work anticipates Potter’s later works on karma theory (Potter 1980, Potter 1987).

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                                              • Potter, Karl H. “The Karma Theory and Its Interpretation in Some Indian Philosophical Systems.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 241–267. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                                                Following a brief discussion of how karma may be understood as a “theory” (and defining, in general philosophical terms, what a theory is), Potter draws on evidence from a number of Indian philosophical systems to show how karma functions as a theory within them. Follows on Potter 1964 and anticipates Potter 1987.

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                                              • Potter, Karl H. “Karma and Rebirth: Traditional Indian Arguments.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 139–165. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                The most free-ranging of Potter’s several articles on the karma theory (see also Potter 1980, Potter 1964). Potter is one of the premier Indologists working in the United States and one of a very small number to work in philosophy. Additionally, he was one of the original organizers of the influential “Karma conferences.”

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                                              Buddhism

                                              Buddhism emerged in India in the mid–1st millennium BCE as one of several traditions that emphasized ascetic behavior in place of Vedic ritualism. Buddhism represents the collected teachings of its historical founder, Prince Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha, or “enlightened one”), based on his keen insight into the nature of existence. A critical element of Gautama’s enlightenment experience was the realization that humans live in a state of dissatisfaction that is continually fed by their unfulfilled desires. Buddhism accepts the role of karma as fundamental to this state of affairs, as the unmet desires in one lifetime carry the individual through a stream of rebirths. At the same time, Buddhism radically rejected notions of an underlying self—a sometimes troubling notion, as McDermott 1980 and Mitchell 1987 show—proposing instead that the force of karma alone is sufficient to propel persons through birth after birth. As discussed by Rahula 1974, the Buddhist way out of the trap of karmic existence is the eradication of desire. However, as Bronkhorst 1998 argues, since Buddhism proposes that the stream of karma is built on desire and intention, its eradication entails complex psychological processes. The demands of this path to liberation led Buddhism to split into monastic and lay communities, which Spiro 1970 famously differentiated into Nibbanic Buddhism (nibbāna, the Pali term for “liberation, and equivalent to the Sanskrit term, nirvāṇa), a largely ascetic, and hence non-karmic path achievable only by a select few, and Kammatic Buddhism (from the Pali kamma, the equivalent of the Sanskrit karman), which promotes the performance of activities deemed morally “right” as a means of improving future births without leaving the world of everyday activity. However, certain prevalent Buddhist practices, such as transferring “merit” (that is, the “good” results of acts) through gift-giving to the monks, suggest that the lay path of worldly action runs counter to the Buddhist doctrine of karma, which is oriented to the individual. Whereas Gombrich 1971 argues that the practice of merit transfer can be seen in the early Buddhist texts, McDermott 1974 maintains that the early Buddhists sought to expunge the practice as a violation of the karma doctrine. Egge 2002, however, has ably shown that there appears to be a significant measure of the ideology of the old Vedic rituals of sacrifice and transfer of merit to the gods and the ancestors underlying these ideas. Such “anti-karmic” ideas further manifest themselves in the general Buddhist understanding of “shared” karma, as analyzed by McDermott 1976.

                                              • Bronkhorst, Johannes. “Did the Buddha Believe in Karma and Rebirth?” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 21.1 (1998): 1–19.

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                                                Published version of a lecture delivered at Ryukoku University. After presenting lengthy criticism of previous scholarship on early Buddhism, Bronkhorst argues that the Buddha’s understanding of karma differed radically from that of his contemporaries, focusing on the psychological. Oddly, and perhaps nonsensically, Bronkhorst notes that the source of the Buddha’s unique convictions may reflect an intellectual inheritance from his parents.

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                                                • Egge, James. Religious Giving and the Invention of Karma in Theravāda Buddhism. Curzon Studies in Asian Religions 5. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2002.

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                                                  Revision of author’s dissertation. Presents a compelling argument that the Buddhist practice of giving may be traced to deeply embedded Vedic practices surrounding the rituals of sacrifice. Egge suggests that it is this background that effectively counters the strong bias against action as a soteriological paradigm in early Buddhism. He provides a rich and highly detailed textual study of the early Buddhist discourse regarding karma.

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                                                • Gombrich, Richard. “‘Merit Transference’ in Sinhalese Buddhism: A Case Study of the Interaction between Doctrine and Practice.” History of Religions 11.2 (1971): 203–219.

                                                  DOI: 10.1086/462651Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Gombrich argues that, although merit transference per se is not described in the early Buddhist texts, the practice as it exists in contemporary Sri Lanka draws on Buddhist texts in such a way that the practice has been interpreted as to appear “canonical.” Gombrich, a premier Sanskrit scholar and Buddhologist, ably combines text and context in this study.

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                                                  • McDermott, James P. “Sādhīna Jātaka: A Case against the Transfer of Merit.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 94.3 (1974): 385–387.

                                                    DOI: 10.2307/600073Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Brief study of a text that shows, contra Gombrich 1971, that the idea of merit transference was seen as problematic, at best, in early Buddhist tradition.

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                                                    • McDermott, James P. “Is There Group Karma in Theravāda Buddhism.” Numen 23 (1976): 67–80.

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                                                      Intelligent discussion of the prevalent notion seen in contemporary Buddhist countries that the good deeds and merit earned by one individual seem necessarily to affect the merit available to any collective (kingdom, family, etc.). McDermott argues, perhaps too simplistically, that such a notion is not to be found in the early Buddhist texts.

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                                                      • McDermott, James P. “Karma and Rebirth in Early Buddhism.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 165–192. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                                                        Discusses a number of notions of karma as found in the early Buddhist texts and reprises some of the early Buddhist controversies regarding the relationship of karma to rebirth in light of the Buddha’s position that there is no underlying self.

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                                                      • Mitchell, Donald W. “Karma in Buddhist Thought.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 66–93. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                        Broad, nonpolemical discussion of the karma doctrine as it is understood in Buddhism, starting with the Buddha’s preaching and extending to some of the well-known Mahayana schools.

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                                                      • Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. 2d rev. ed. New York: Grove, 1974.

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                                                        There are innumerable introductory books that describe the basic tenets of Buddhism. Although Rahula, who was a scholar, practicing monk, and committed educator, perhaps paints an overly rational image of early Buddhism, his insight and deep understanding of the tradition add immeasurably to this brief book. Includes references to and some brief translations of a number of primary texts significant in early Buddhism.

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                                                      • Spiro, Melford E. Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

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                                                        Sharply criticized for its dependence on Freudian theory and the limited utility of the author’s field data, Spiro’s work is now largely remembered for his division of Buddhism into the two streams of Nibbanic (monastic) and Kammatic (lay).

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                                                        Jainism

                                                        Jainism emerged in India in the mid–1st millennium BCE as one of several traditions characterized by a rejection of Vedic ritualism. In its place, these traditions emphasized ascetic behavior and were thus collectively referred to as the śramaṇa traditions, a term that literally means “those who exert.” Jainism—the only one of these traditions to survive into modern-day India with a significant number of adherents—takes its name from the term jina (conquerer), a title bestowed on twenty-four ancient teachers, each of whom were believed to have realized the highest truth of existence and whose lives came to symbolize the ideals of the Jain tradition. As Vallely 2006 and Dundas 2002 show in their general overviews of this tradition, at the center of Jainism lies the belief that this world of material existence is nothing more than a snare, part of and prelude to a ceaseless and burdensome series of births that holds the individual’s soul from attaining the highest states of existence. The Jain doctrine of karma looms large in this ideology. According to the Jain view, acts (karma) are believed to physically bind the soul in the material world; that is, karma, in Jainism, is understood to be a physical substance—one that can be removed from the soul only through engaging in progressively more severe ascetic behaviors. Through asceticism, the individual literally removes, layer by layer, the physical karma that encases the soul and dooms it to rebirth after rebirth in the material world. Jaini 1980 observes that the Jain scriptures are preoccupied with this problem of karma and offer detailed analyses of the nature of different sorts of karma, its relationship to the soul, and its effect in binding individuals into this world of ignorance and suffering. In two separate studies, T. G. Kalghatgi summarizes several of these analyses as they are presented in the Jain texts; thus, Kalghatgi 1965 enumerates and discusses the Jain notion of eight types of karma and the subprocesses underlying them, and Kalghatgi 1987 discusses Jain ideas regarding the karmic processes, enumerating and describing eleven states of karmic operation.

                                                        • Dundas, Paul. The Jains. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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                                                          Dundas presents a highly readable, comprehensive guide to the Jain tradition: accessible to the general reader yet not lacking in detail. He briefly discusses the main elements of Jain theory of eight types of karma without being overwhelmed by some of its more arcane philosophical elements.

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                                                        • Jaini, Padmanabh. “Karma and the Problem of Rebirth in Jainism.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 217–241. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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                                                          Jaini intelligently discusses the distinctiveness of the Jain theories of karma and rebirth vis-à-vis Hindu notions. He provides detailed information on both the Jain understanding of the process of rebirth and, essential to this process, the effect of karma on the soul.

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                                                        • Kalghatgi, T. G. “The Doctrine of Karma in Jaina Philosophy.” Philosophy East and West 15.3–4 (1965): 229–242.

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                                                          Beginning with a detailed description of Jain ideas about karma (including the Jain enumerations of eight types of karma and the subprocesses underlying them), Kalghagti intelligently defends karma against charges (leveled by Western scholars) that it represents a defective explanation of moral justice, especially when compared to predominant Western theologies.

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                                                          • Kalghatgi, T. G. “Karma in Jaina Thought.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 94–120. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                            Building on his earlier work on karma, Kalghatgi 1965, this study draws directly on a wealth of Jain texts to present a highly detailed conspectus of Jain ideas of karma and the karmic processes, including the eight main types of karma and the eleven processes (which are then discussed in their various subdivisions) associated with the operation of karma.

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                                                          • Vallely, Anne. “Jaina Dharma.” In Religions of South Asia: An Introduction. Edited by Gene Thursby and Sushil Mittal, 87–102. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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                                                            Presents a brief but broad overview of the Jain tradition, from its emergence in the mid–1st millennium BCE to the constitution of the modern community. Discusses karma briefly and points out its centrality in Jainism.

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                                                          Popular Religion in India

                                                          The subject of karma in popular Indian religion was little studied prior to Kolenda 1964. Kolenda found that while Indians from all walks of life seemed cognizant of the central elements of the “classical” karma doctrine (that is, as it is represented in texts such as the Mānava Dharmaśāstra), on the level of everyday practice, they often deployed it in quite different terms, mixing the traditional notion of an individual becoming “good by good action, bad by bad” with notions of shared karma (the idea that one person’s activities may have karmic consequences in the conditions of another person’s life), fate, and the will and “play” of the gods. Kolenda’s work set the tone for a number of studies that followed it, such as Sharma 1973, all of which emphasize the idea that in application karma becomes one of a number of strategies Hindus employ to explain their existential circumstances—in particular, those related to misfortune. Though Sharma suggests that the doctrine of karma has a certain priority over other explanations (fate, the will of the gods, etc.), Lawrence Babb (in Babb 1983) is less willing to assign precedence to karma, suggesting that both karmic and non-karmic explanations coexist in separate, albeit complementary, functional spaces. Kent 2009 argues with great clarity that these other doctrines are often utilized in popular Indian literature to circumvent the karma doctrine, though in no sense do they abrogate it; additionally, Kent cites a number of studies that strongly assert that karma, though acknowledged among lower-caste Hindus, is often seen as either ineffective or at work only for members of the higher castes. In exploring karma and the doctrines associated with it on the level of popular religion, Daniel 1983 and Beck 1983 both look at the South Indian notion of fate (“headwriting”); however, whereas Daniel examines how villagers in their daily lives understand the relationship of fate to karma, Beck looks to its expression in a local epic tradition. Hiebert 1983, also drawing on South Indian materials, sets out to establish a taxonomy of karma, fate, and experience. Pugh 1983 and Wadley 1983 focus on North India: Pugh looks at how astrology serves as a counterweight to karma (the former being understood as knowable, and the latter as unknowable and therefore unpredictable) in North Indian village life, while Wadley focuses on the concept of the taking of vows as a means of changing one’s life path (as established by previous karma) as it is presented in a number of popular texts.

                                                          • Babb, Lawrence. “Destiny and Responsibility: Karma in Popular Hinduism.” In Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, 163–184. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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                                                            A brief study that reprises trends in the study of karma in popular Indian religion. Summarizes findings from several essays found in this same volume.

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                                                          • Beck, Brenda. “Fate, Karma, and Cursing in a Local Epic Milieu.” In Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, 63–82. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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                                                            Explores the themes of karma and fate and through an analysis of a local epic tale popular in Tamilnadu, showing how the occurrence of these themes on the folk level reiterates the complex nature of Indian ideas about suffering, human destiny, the nature of moral action, and the roles of the gods that are also found in the Sanskrit epic tradition.

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                                                          • Daniel, Sheryl B. “The Tool Box Approach of the Tamil to the Issues of Moral Responsibility and Human Destiny.” In Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, 27–62. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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                                                            Explores the complex of fate, karma (and transfer of karma), free will, moral responsibility, and the play of the gods based on fieldwork in a South Indian village. Promotes the idea of a “toolbox” approach, which emphasizes context in understanding how these several seemingly contradictory notions can harmoniously coexist.

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                                                          • Hiebert, Paul G. “Karma and Other Explanation Traditions in a South Indian Village.” In Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, 119–130. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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                                                            Shows how villagers in the South Indian village of Konduru use karma and fate not so much as a means of explaining the immediate world around them but as a way of imbuing life itself with meaning. After first establishing a taxonomy among these coexisting concepts, the primary focus of the article is the role of karma in these villagers’ worldview.

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                                                          • Kent, Eliza F. “‘What’s Written on the Forehead Will Never Fail’: Karma, Fate, and Headwriting in Indian Folktales.” Asian Ethnology 68.1 (2009): 1–26.

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                                                            A highly interesting and clearly argued analysis that develops the thesis that notions about fate may be utilized to counter the karma doctrine (yet, oddly, only through an acknowledgment of karma). Kent’s analysis is highly accessible, summarizing and extending much previous scholarship, and she suggests a number of important avenues for further research.

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                                                            • Kolenda, Pauline Mahar. “Religious Anxiety and Hindu Fate.” Journal of Asian Studies 23 (1964): 71–81.

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                                                              Though now dated, this article set the trend for studies of karma that look to the way in which everyday practitioners (who are often from India’s lower socioeconomic rungs) acknowledge the “classical” formulations of this doctrine, though in practice they tend to deploy it in association with other, seemingly contrary, notions.

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                                                              • Pugh, Judy F. “Astrology and Fate: The Hindu and Muslim Experiences.” In Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, 131–146. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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                                                                Discusses the village view of astrology as something tangible, in contrast to the unknowable ways of karma in a North Indian setting. Shows the interpenetration of Muslim ideas regarding fate (qismet) into North Indian Hindu astrological beliefs and practices. Though karma is not the primary emphasis of this study, Pugh’s positioning of the doctrine against the background of astrology is thought provoking.

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                                                              • Sharma, Ursula. “Theodicy and the Doctrine of Karma.” Man, n.s. 8.3 (1973): 347–364.

                                                                DOI: 10.2307/2800314Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                A study of the roles that karma and witchcraft play in attitudes toward misfortune, based on fieldwork in a North Indian village. Sharma attends to both upper- and lower-caste attitudes in this study. Includes a thoughtful review of scholarship regarding the problem of suffering in Hinduism.

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                                                                • Wadley, Susan. “Vrats: Transformers of Destiny.” In Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry. Edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, 147–162. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

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                                                                  Shows how the common North Indian practice of vow-taking (vrat) functions within the framework of the karma doctrine. Based on an analysis of a set of Hindu texts that are not generally known outside North India. As Wadley ably shows, vow-taking provides an important antidote to the inexorable nature of karma, allowing vow-takers some measure of control over the future effects of their actions.

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                                                                Modern Perspectives

                                                                Among modern thinkers, the doctrine of karma continues to be a lively subject of inquiry in a surprisingly large number of areas, from analyses of its application in modern discourse on society and religion in India to its employment in the West following its highly favorable reception by the Theosophical movement. (However, part of the Theosophical movement’s legacy is that karma is nearly always misconstrued in the West.) Among the most fertile grounds of inquiry in modern scholarship is the relationship of the karma doctrine to the problem of evil. Although the problem of evil chiefly arises as an area of concern in Western theology, the implications of the karma doctrine—that an individual reaps the rewards or punishments of his or her own actions—add a new dimension to these discussions. Here, the supposed rationality of the doctrine has been carefully questioned; for if the doctrine is indeed fully rational, then it would seem the problem of evil is vitiated. But such a view invariably shows itself to be far too simplistic, and studies in this area have not been entirely successful. For despite its underlying logic, the karma doctrine rarely occurs in isolation, but must instead contend with questions of fate, the will, and the role of the gods in the cosmos that when taken together often generate contradictions. And while such contradictions may exist comfortably in the lived-in world of religion, they invariably confound philosophers when they attempt to generate neat analyses.

                                                                Theosophy

                                                                The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875; initially, under the direction of Helena Blavatsky, the society focused on mediumistic inquiry. By the early 1880s, the founders moved the organization to India and concentrated on integrating Eastern and Western thought. Eventually, the organization splintered into numerous subgroups, with locations throughout the world. As Neufeldt 1986 points out, the Theosophical movement saw itself not as a vehicle for the promotion of Eastern wisdom, but as a universalist movement, melding East and West. The Indian doctrine of karma came to play a significant role in this project. In particular, in works by Annie Besant, one of the early leaders of the Theosophists, and later Rudolf Steiner (who came to lead the German splinter group known as the Anthroposophical Society), karma, in the sense of universal causation, was promulgated as a fundamental law of the cosmos, said by Besant to be not unlike gravity (see Besant 1895). As Neufeldt 1986 points out, the Theosophists extended their definition of karma to include a sense of interdependence, so that one could speak of a collective karma, a national karma, and so forth. Although the underlying elements of Theosophy appear today to be outlandish at best, ideas of group karma and the notion that karma represents a fundamental law have recurred outside Theosophist circles (see Buddhism and The Indian Philosophical Traditions).

                                                                • Besant, Annie. Karma. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1895.

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                                                                  One of Besant’s manifestos regarding the karma doctrine; beyond her observation that karma must be viewed as a fundamental law, this booklet is filled with balderdash, such as references to “the Lords of Karma, the mighty Angels of Judgement, the Recorders of the Past” and so forth.

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                                                                  • Neufeldt, Ronald W. “In Search of Utopia: Karma and Rebirth in the Theosophical Movement.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 233–256. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                    Lucid discussion of Madame Blavatsky’s views of karma, drawing on a wide range of her writings. Relates Blavatsky’s views of karma to the Theosophist’s underlying utopian agenda that saw a causal effect in man’s spiritual striving, which was believed to lead eventually to the betterment of all mankind.

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                                                                  • Steiner, Rudolf. Reincarnation and Karma. Rudolf Steiner Archive.

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                                                                    Steiner’s works concerning karma are numerous, and they exist in various print and Internet sources. Though Steiner’s ideas eventually diverged from the mainline of Theosophy, he maintained the idea that karma represents a fundamental law of existence.

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                                                                    Contemporary Indian Religious Movements

                                                                    Among the dominant contemporary religious movements in India are those that center themselves on the figure of a guru, a religious leader who fills the dual roles of teacher and devotional exemplar. A small number of studies collected in Neufeldt 1986 have examined the way in which these guru traditions utilize and interpret the doctrine of karma. In general, these traditions are at once deeply rooted in traditional Indian religiosity, yet they do not allow themselves to be overly constrained by literal interpretations of the ancient texts. Nearly all of them, following the teachings established in the Bhagavad Gita, emphasize what has come to be termed “devotional service,” a type of action that is selfless, and thus believed to allow the performer of the act to separate himself or herself from the possibly deleterious effects that, according to the law of karma, all actions necessarily engender. Thus, Miller 1986 shows how the gurus, who have largely renounced the world, place themselves outside the system of karma, as defined in the traditional texts, and yet put an emphasis on service. There are a number of venues these gurus have used to popularize their messages, from commentaries on traditional texts, such as Swami Bhaktivedanta on the Bhagavad Gita, as discussed in Baird 1986, and Rajneesh’s extensive commentary on the Yoga Sūtra, as discussed in Gussner 1986, to popular, vernacular publications (often in the form of mass-produced pamphlets) that incorporate a mass of information—from traditional interpretations to the quasi-scientific ones—in an easily digestible, if often confused, presentation, as discussed in Klostermaier 1986. It is worth noting that nearly all the guru figures discussed in Neufeldt 1986 have achieved some level of recognition outside India; perhaps best known among them is the figure of Vivekananda, who, as Williams 1986 points out, tailored his presentation of the karma doctrine to fit the interests of his audience—whether Indian or non-Indian, believers or nonbelievers.

                                                                    • Baird, Robert D. “Swami Bhaktivedanta: Karma, Rebirth, and the Personal God.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 277–300. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Bhaktivedanta, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), is best known for his ubiquitous translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Baird’s study shows how Bhaktivedanta’s views of karma are found throughout this text, and he finds that Bhaktivedanta’s interpretations of karma, while neither entirely logical or comprehensive, are not dissimilar to other contemporary presentations of the doctrine.

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                                                                    • Gussner, Robert E. “Teachings on Karma and Rebirth: Social and Spiritual Role in the Rajneesh Neo Samnyāsin Movement.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 301–324. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Gussner examines Rajneesh’s commentary on the Yoga Sūtra to gain an understanding of his position on karma. As Gussner shows, Rajneesh, who was actually born into a Jain family, was not averse to drawing on notions regarding karma that seem more typically Jain, or even Buddhist.

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                                                                    • Klostermaier, Klaus K. “Contemporary Conceptions of Karma and Rebirth among North Indian Vaiṣṇavas.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 83–108. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Summarizes and analyzes a volume of contemporary Hindu writings that appeared under the title The Beyond and Rebirth (published in Hindi, and thus otherwise inaccessible to Western scholars). Despite the variety of writings in the volume (which contains 280 articles), Klostermaier finds a significant degree of consistency in the presentation of the karma doctrine. Fascinating in Klostermaier’s study is his discussion of the quasi-“scientific” proofs often used to explain karma.

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                                                                    • Miller, David. “Karma, Rebirth and the Contemporary Guru.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 61–82. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Miller looks to the teachings of a number of guru-figures and elicits several themes typical of their understanding of karma, including notions of “selfless” service and the salvific role of the deity as an antidote to the inexorable nature of karma.

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                                                                    • Neufeldt, Ronald W., ed. Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Brings together a group of essays that examine the modernist notions of karma in India (and in the West). Contributors to this volume are nearly all scholars in religious studies, and the essays are of a uniformly high standard.

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                                                                    • Williams, George M. “Swami Vivekananda’s Conception of Karma and Rebirth.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 41–60. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Explores the often confused and inconsistent formulations regarding the karma doctrine made by Swami Vivekananda. Though certainly conversant with his devotional tradition, Vivekananda was often caught up in other forces (such as those leading to his well-known appearance at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions), and, as Williams shows, these other concerns sometimes overwhelm his interpretations of Hindu religious doctrine.

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                                                                    Modern Philosophy

                                                                    A small number of scholarly articles and one full-length book (Reichenbach 1990) have appeared that seek to examine karma not on the specific grounds of the Indian tradition but as a general philosophical notion. Creel 1986 summarizes a number of these works, primarily by Indian scholars, and finds that the doctrine, though often not deeply examined, is extolled for its utility and occasionally extended to include the problem of group karma. Minor 1986 shows how two of the best-known contemporary Indian philosophers, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (b. 1888–d. 1975) and Sri Aurobindo (b. 1872–d. 1950), saw karma as a critical part of a dynamic process of spiritual growth. Some scholars have sought to use a variety of contemporary methodological tools to elucidate karma: Sinha 1987 draws on Husserlian phenomenology, while Puligandla 1987 and Bowes 1987 look at karma from the standpoint of empirical verification. Reichenbach 1990 takes a different approach, considering karma as a metaphysical doctrine, though Reichenbach, too, falls into the trap of framing his inquiry in terms of testing its logical consistency vis-à-vis some of the classical positions found in Indian religio-philosophical thought (with which he does not show great familiarity). These studies that employ the tools of modern Western philosophy, with their rational bias, demand what might be termed a “scientific” validation of karma; yet, given that this doctrine is perhaps best understood in terms of indigenous Indian religiosity, this line of inquiry seems misplaced, if not misguided. One of the few truly successful attempts to elucidate karma in terms of modern theory is that of Perrett 1998. Perrett attends to the traditional Indian philosophical understanding of karma while subjecting it to some modern categories of inquiry, such as consequentialist ethics.

                                                                    • Bowes, Pratima. “Karma and Rebirth: A Philosophical Consideration.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 166–187. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                                      A rather free-ranging contemplation of karma and rebirth, discussed within the framework of general Indian notions of the self, and leading into an inconclusive discussion of the possible empiric verifiability of rebirth.

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                                                                    • Creel, Austin. “Contemporary Philosophical Treatments of Karma and Rebirth.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 1–14. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Summarizes the work of a number of contemporary Indian philosophers on karma, including the well-known figures of S. Radhakrishnan and M. Hiriyanna, along with a host of lesser-known scholars.

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                                                                    • Minor, Robert N. “In Defense of Karma and Rebirth: Evolutionary Karma.” In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 15–40. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Summarizes the writings on karma of two influential modern Indian thinkers, S. Radhakrishnan and Sri Aurobindo, and shows how their understanding of karma, though framed in elements of modern discourse, extends from a strong grounding in absolutist Vedanta philosophy.

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                                                                    • Perrett, Roy. Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

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                                                                      Perrett devotes chapter 4 of this brief study to the law of karma, examining the doctrine as it is presented in the Indian philosophical systems while bringing it into the context of contemporary philosophical discourse. Though brief, Perrett’s work is rigorous and stands out among contemporary treatments of the subject.

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                                                                    • Puligandla, R. “Karma, Operational Definitions and Freedom.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 121–138. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                                      Puligandla seeks to uncover the nature of karma as theory, asking a number of questions about empirical verifiability that, in the end, do not lead to firm conclusions.

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                                                                    • Reichenbach, Bruce R. The Law of Karma: A Philosophical Study. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990.

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                                                                      In this work of cross-cultural philosophy, Reichenbach seeks the underlying metaphysics of the karma doctrine. Yet, because Reichenbach employs largely Western-based notions of metaphysics in his inquiry, his depiction of karma is at odds with its representation in the Indian texts (which are infrequently cited and seemed to be not well understood by the author).

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                                                                    • Sinha, Debabrata. “Karma: A Phenomenological Approach.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 346–364. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                                      Taking karma as a “universal statement of the human condition,” rather than as a metaphysical doctrine, Sinha looks at karma through the lens of Husserlian phenomenology. In so doing, Sinha successfully elucidates some of the most complex ideas surrounding karma, such as those regarding the subtle or even unseen elements that link act to result and serve to carry a self from birth to birth.

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                                                                    Theodicy and Indian Ideas about Evil

                                                                    Max Weber contended that the karma doctrine provided a rational approach to the problem of suffering and evil, and so largely vitiated the problem of theodicy in India (see Weber 1958). In the same vein, Wadia 1965 argues that the karma doctrine is indeed rational (though not necessarily provable), and that its rational basis is what makes it an important contribution to the problem of evil. Kaufman 2005 questions Weber’s contention yet analyzes the karma doctrine in terms of a rational theodicy, an undertaking for which Kaufman is criticized in Chadha and Trakakis 2007. Doniger O’Flaherty 1976, however, observes that despite Weber’s contention, the problem of evil in India hardly disappears, that the doctrine of karma—which at times delivers disproportionate results to the acts performed (see The Epics and the Bhagavad Gita)—may be as much part of the problem as its supposed solution. Herman 1987 argues that the utility of karma in the Indian theodicy must be understood in terms of Indian conceptions of the nature of the gods, for they too must be subject to karma if the system is to be effective. The theological question receives greater analysis in Organ 1987, an investigation of the relationship of karma to sin and divine grace. In the view of Chadha and Trakakis 2007, discussions of theodicy (literally “defending God’s goodness”) are entirely unsuited to Indian ideas about the god’s position. This, too, as Bilimoria 2004 shows, is not entirely correct, as certain schools of Indian philosophy did indeed question why an omnipotent god would create suffering (duḥkha) for humans. Bilimoria delves deeply into these questions with great clarity and insight but observes that often the problems of god’s benevolence, human suffering, and the existence of the karma doctrine lead only to an impasse. Bilimoria further warns that while the karma doctrine certainly establishes a determinative link between past actions and future conditions, a strict determinism may very well misrepresent the core of the doctrine (contra Chadha and Trakakis 2007). This, however, returns the investigator to the centrally important fact that has arisen in so many studies of the karma doctrine—namely, that despite karma’s apparent simplicity, a great number of complex permutations seethe beneath its surface (see Defining Karma and The Indian Philosophical Traditions).

                                                                    • Bilimoria, Purushottama. “Karma’s Suffering: A Mīmāṃsā Solution to the Problem of Evil.” In Indian Ethics: Classical Traditions and Contemporary Challenges. Edited by Purushottama Bilimoria, Joseph Prabhu, and Renuka Sharma, 171–190. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

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                                                                      A stunningly lucid discussion of the intertwined problems of karma, suffering, and God’s omnipotence and benevolence. Bilimoria moves seamlessly between explicating elements of Indian and Western theology and philosophy. Among the many highlights of this article is the suggestion that consequentialism may be seen underlying karma, and so may very well have been an invention of the ancient Indian thinkers.

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                                                                    • Chadha, Monima, and Nick Trakakis. “Karma and the Problem of Evil: A Response to Kaufman.”Philosophy East and West 57.4 (2007): 533–556.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1353/pew.2007.0043Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      An extended criticism of Kaufman 2005 (in fact, the criticism is longer than Kaufman’s original article). Chadha and Trakakis systematically reject each of the six points Kaufman establishes in his essay, showing in particular how Kaufman’s ahistorical and noncontextual stance damages his analyses.

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                                                                      • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1976.

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                                                                        A penetrating analysis that draws on neither philosophy nor theology but instead looks to narratives and myths to illustrate the problem of suffering and evil in India. As a matter of method, Doniger O’Flaherty favors revealing the complexity and contradictions that lie beneath the surface of so many of the Indian tales.

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                                                                      • Organ, Troy. “Karma and Sin.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 317–345. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                                        A highly competent analysis that warns of the dangers of treading the line between theology and philosophy as well as between practice and belief. Yet with this caveat in place, Organ proceeds to elucidate the relationship between sin, as found in Hinduism, and karma. Though the two appear incompatible in many systems of thought, Organ shows them to be reconciled in the theology of the Viśiṣṭādvaitins.

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                                                                      • Herman, A. L. “Karmadicy: Karma and Evil in Indian Thought.” In Dimensions of Karma. Edited by S. S. Rama Rau Pappu, 198–220. Delhi: Chanakya, 1987.

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                                                                        This highly detailed discussion presumes significant understanding of analytic philosophy and fundamental notions of Western theories of theodicy.

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                                                                      • Kaufman, Whitley R. P. “Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil.” Philosophy East and West 55.1 (2005): 15–32.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1353/pew.2004.0044Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        Kaufman’s study seeks to evaluate karma as a complete and systematic theory that accounts for the origins and ongoing fact of human suffering. Yet Kaufman’s assumption that the doctrine is wholly rational leads to some misunderstanding of karma. As Chadha and Trakakis 2007 correctly point out, Kaufman’s largely noncontextual and ahistorical view diminishes the overall value of his argument.

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                                                                        • Wadia, A. R. “Philosophical Implications of the Doctrine of Karma.” Philosophy East and West 15.2 (1965): 145–152.

                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/1397335Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Wadia’s discussion seeks to wrest karma from those who would see it as untenable or mystical and put the karma doctrine on an acceptable philosophic basis. This otherwise thoughtful study is marred slightly by the author’s occasional apologetic tone.

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                                                                          • Weber, Max. The Religion of India. Translated and edited by Hans Gerth and Don Martindale. New York: Free Press, 1958.

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                                                                            Though now something of an “old chestnut,” Weber summarizes the work of many fine 19th-century Indologists, bringing their findings under a larger theoretical umbrella. Many of his positions no longer hold—in particular, his contention that India was, under the force of doctrines such as karma and rebirth, a stagnant culture; nonetheless, his theoretical framework still bears some influence on current scholarship.

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                                                                            Contemporary Life in India

                                                                            A small number of studies seek to understand the karma doctrine in terms of contemporary South Asian behavior. Omprakash 1989 examines economic and sociological data and strongly suggests that the karma doctrine serves chiefly to perpetuate the caste system, and he roundly condemns the doctrine as a counterweight to economic development and social progress in modern India. Indradeva 1987 explores the karma doctrine’s historical roots and concludes that the doctrine was developed and employed by the upper echelon of society to legitimize the oppression of the lower rungs of society, a situation Indradeva suggests has not changed at all in contemporary India. Bhattacharya 2001 presents a number of “case studies” that the author suggests prove the validity of the karma doctrine. Bharati 1981 proposes that karma is seen quite differently in different strata of Hindu society and suggests that villagers do not know the doctrine at all, while for upper-caste Hindus the doctrine may have been acquired as a result of the Western preoccupation with it.

                                                                            • Bharati, Agehananda. “Karma: Cognition and Behavior in Contemporary South Asian Religion.” International Journal of Asian Studies 1 (1981): 9–20.

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                                                                              A fascinating study that suggests a fair degree of dissonance exists between the approach of Western scholars to karma and its application in the lives of everyday Indians. Bharati argues that there are wide segments of society that seem to not use the doctrine at all, while among those who do use it, it is not employed as dogma.

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                                                                              • Bhattacharya, Pradip. “Karma: Electable, Immutable and Inexorable.” Journal of Human Values 7.2 (2001): 117–130.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1177/097168580100700203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                Bhattacharya asks, “Is the karma doctrine real?” He follows this question by citing a number of anecdotes that he suggests show how individuals’ lives are determined by their past deeds.

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                                                                                • Indradeva, Shrirama. “The Doctrine of Karma: Towards a Sociological Perspective.” Diogenes 35 (1987): 141–154.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/039219218703514007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Though Indradeva cites older texts in eliciting how karma serves as a means of social control, it seems clear that his argument is oriented toward contemporary India. Throughout the work there is an implicit criticism of the higher castes for using karma to maintain their position in society to the detriment of the lower castes.

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                                                                                  • Omprakash, S. “The Doctrine of Karma: Its Psychosocial Consequences.” American Journal of Community Psychology 17.1 (1989): 133–145.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1007/BF00931209Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Omprakash isolates the karma doctrine as an underlying cause of social and economic repression among scheduled caste Hindus. Omprakash describes a “three-dimensional model” of karma that takes into account predestination, societal impact, and personal attributes. Much of this discussion is opaque, but the author concludes with a strongly worded condemnation of karma as a source of social and economic inequity in India.

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