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Revisiting the concept of Karm

By Vishal Kale

Contributing Author for Spark Igniting Minds

Karm {Karma} is one of the most famous Indian words to get absorbed into the English Language; it is also probably the most incompletely understood words, even by Indians. This incomplete understanding has now permeated into the language as well as its usage by nearly everyone, thus propagating a meaning which does not fully do justice with this word. What does this word actually mean, and does it mean in common parlance?

With regard to common usage, a simple dictionary search gives the result: “the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences / good or bad luck, viewed as resulting from one's actions.”


There are two aspects to this: first, karm isn’t good or bad; karm just "is", as it were. It just exists; that is it – without any adjectives to quality it. It is the effect of Karm –what is called karmphal in the scriptures, that is good or bad, depending on whether the original karm was done in Transcendental, Saatvik {purity, goodness}, Raajasik {passion, ambition, desire, anger etc} or Taamasik {ignorance, laziness etc} mode; and what were the desires/causative factors driving the said karm. As an example - Killing is bad; yet when a soldier kills in the protection of his country, it is considered good.


Second, Karm is frequently, in fact almost always is confused with action. That is perhaps the most erroneous misunderstanding; karm is most certainly not action. The synonym for action is kaarya, not karm; karm is a much wider, far more detailed concept. Action is but a small, tiny part of Karm. It is the externally visible aspect of karm, that is - Kaarya, not karm. Kaarya is simple the middle point of karm; karm is far deeper as a concept, encompasses aspects such as Kaarya and Kaaran as well as the instrument of action, etc.


Stated in English, Karm can be stated simply as: Action + Instrument of action + Objective of action + Means of Action {path} + steps taken during action + driving force behind action {reason why you are acting}.

However, karm does not end there; a fuller understanding of karm also has to include its reaction – the attendant result of the undertaken kaarya {action} plus the internal driving forces, like ego desire ambition anger, etc. Thus, we have to include the karmphal as well in the understanding of karm; the result of your action cannot be separated from your action till you attain Akarm status, or, in very simplistic terms, nirvaana. {Not exact, but this conveys the gist}. Further, your karmphal leads to a new chain, with a new reaction to the reaction starting…

Thus, Karm can be stated as Action + Instrument of action + Objective of action + Means of Action {path} + steps taken during action + driving force behind action + result of the action + its reaction. And Akarm is the state where Karm does not result in a reaction…

Let me illustrate with an example; you keep the objective of becoming the head of your department. This by itself is fine- but what is the driving force? If you keep only personal ambition – then there is a misalignment; the head of the department is responsible for collective performance. This will also lead to a lack of focus on skill development, as your driving ambition is personal glory. You may yet make it as the HoD, but this will set off a series of reactions from varied vested interests/requirements/connections, etc which you may have ignored on the way up. In other words, a wider, more inclusive driving ideal, if employed, will be in alignment.

Akarm is a situation wherein the yogi has reached a position where his karm does not create a fresh chain; that state is Unity, and all actions carried out in that state are Akarm. For now, this should suffice; Akarm is a subject for another day and another article. For Karm to reach Akarm–all of the components of Karm have to be transcendental; for any Karm to be Saatvik, all of these have to be sattvic. Just doing good, but adopting means or instruments or whatever that isn't pure degrades the entire Karm into Raajasik or worse. All the components have to be aligned for the resultant reaction to being the one desired by the person doing the karm. The fact that usually, the results differ from planned is in part due to the misalignment in the action, its kaaran, its method, its objective, etc.

About Vishal V Kale

Mr. Vishal V Kale

Vishal V Kale is a self-taught student of Vedant and avid reader books related to Spirituality, Economics, Business, and Trade.

Vishal is a Corporate Manager in Marketing & Operations, as well as an active blogger.

He blogs mostly on Business & Economics in addition to Spirituality and has two Blogs: ReflectionsVVK and Upanishadgyan

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