Karma & Reincarnation in Vedic Hinduism


The twin beliefs of karma and reincarnation are among Hinduism’s many jewels of knowledge. Others include dharma or our pattern of religious/spiritual conduct, and enlightenment through personal realization of our identity in and with God. As per Hinduism, the life on earth is not a discrete one time event. It is just one episode in multiple appearances (births) before the soul finally takes leave from the cycle. The birth is not just limited to being born as human; it also includes the births as the animals and even as the divines who rule the parts of nature! After-all, all these things have a life and the appearance of the soul in any of such forms is called reincarnation. After many births when the soul is freed of any more reincarnation, it is in the state of mukti or Moksha or liberation, and as such every Hindu expects to seek and attain Moksha. But he or she does not expect that it will necessarily come in this present life. Hindus know this from the teachings of Hinduism and do not delude themselves that this life is the last. Thus, seeking and attaining profound spiritual realizations, Hindus nevertheless know that there is much to be accomplished on earth and that only mature, God-Realized souls attain Moksha. This is the ultimate state, and these are not mere assumptions of probing, brilliant minds.


Karma literally means “deed or act,” but more broadly describes the principle of cause and effect. Simply stated, karma is the law of action and reaction, which governs consciousness. In physics, which is simply the study of energy and matter, Sir Isaac Newton postulated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In metaphysics, karma is the law that states that every mental, emotional, and physical act, no matter how insignificant, is projected out into the psychic mind substance, and eventually returns to the individual with equal impact. Many people are very curious about their past lives and expend great time, effort, and money to explore them. The fact is that our existence now is a sum total of all our past lives in karmic sense, and in our present life our mind and body state is the cumulative result of the entire spectrum of our past lives. So, no matter how great we intellectually know of these two key principles, it is how we currently live that positively shapes karma and unfolds us spiritually.

Let us now look at the basic aspect of the karmic memory (the global account). The akashic memory in our higher chakras faithfully records the soul’s impressions during its series of earthly lives, and the lives in the astral/mental world’s in-between earthly existences. Ancient yogis, in psychically studying the time line of cause/effect, assigned three categories to karma. The first is sanchitam, the sum total of past karma yet to be resolved. The second category is prarabdham, that portion of sanchita karma being experienced/resolved in the present life. Kriyamanam, the third type, is karma you are presently creating. However, it must be understood that your past negative karma can be altered into a smoother, easier state through the loving heart-chakra nature, through dharma and through sadhana. That is the key of karmic wisdom. Live a positive life and you will create positive karma for the future and soften negative karma of the past.

In our conscious mind we think and feel ourselves to be a physical body with some intangible spirit within it. Yet, right now our real identity is the soul that is sensing physical, emotional and mental experience through its multiple bodies. Recognizing this as reality, we know that life doesn’t end with the death of the biological body. The soul continues to occupy the astral body which is a subtle, luminous duplicate of the physical body. This subtle body is made of higher-energy astral matter and dwells in a dimension called the astral plane. If the soul body itself is highly evolved, it will occupy the astral/mental bodies on a very refined higher plane of the astral known as the Devaloka, “the world of light-shining beings.” (This maybe true in the case of a well read intellectual person!).

As the soul moves from one body to another, it carries forward something along with it, which is nothing but what it has accumulated performing various deeds. This can be thought of as a global account that each soul is associated with, irrespective of the place it is in currently (as you are in any place in this world in this life!). This account would have both the logs of good and bad deeds it (your soul) performed similar to the credit and liabilities on a balance sheet of a company. This account is what is called karma.

This karma is explained further in today’s life model. For example, let us assume that the person moves on to a new place and gets a new local account into which initially some of the credits and liabilities from the global account get transferred to get started. Subsequently once the person settles in that location, the day to day transactions occur into that local account. Similarly from the global account of karma, which is known as sanchitham, some portion is transferred to the new local account when the soul reincarnates into a new body and this portion of karma is called prarabdham. In the day-to-day affairs the soul enjoys the fruits of the good deeds from the karma bank and suffers the fruits of bad deeds. In the process, due to the deeds it performs the soul accumulates new good and bad karma to add to its account of global account of karma. This newly earned karma is called kriyamanam. When the soul leaves that body the balance gets transferred back into the global account. The journey goes on.

Why is it so?

The Hinduism’s teachings tell the Hindu that the maturing of the soul takes many lives and that if the soul is immature in the present birth, then there is hope, for there will be many opportunities for learning and growing in future lives. In the life we see in this world, we work to get the results. The work is the action and the result is the fruit of it. However, the fruit may come to you in a minute, in a day, in a week, in a year or sometimes so much later that the delay may make one forget the action that actually triggered the fruit he(she) has gotten! The reincarnation (in conjunction with karma) explains why some people never get to see the fruits of their action in their life time and why some children die when they have committed no sin. This is because the karma transcends many lives, sometimes one would have to go through multiple births in multiple forms – plants, animals to enjoy the fruits of its karma. If there is no correlation between the action and the fruit, won’t the world be in a mess? This theory would also explain why unexpected things happen – either good or bad- as the result of events happening due to the function of various past deeds.