According to wikipedia ref here

...The philosophy of karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in many schools of Indian religions (particularly Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism[5])..

The idea Karma has received criticising on the western world because it seems to be a flawed theory from a religious and philosophical point of view because it collides with concepts such us existential justice, psychology and free will. It is said it's just a purely religious concept just like "original sin" in the Christian religion with no basis on reality created to justify the socio-political status quo in some countries.

Examples of key questions:

  • How ethical would be to pay for something you don't remember doing based on hypothetical non-provable past-life experiences? Is it justified for an slave to be born a slave under the pretext of bad karma?

  • Why would existence be so cruel to remove all my knowledge lifetime after lifetime and make me need to learn to talk, walk, behave, etc. and make suffer to gain more knowledge reincarnation after reincarnation?

  • If my parents give me a cruel upbringing or I am raised to be a criminal how would that affect my karma? If i'm bipolar or with anger management issues how will I be punished by karma?

  • Could it be that Karma is just an illusory concept created by an evil demon that wants your freewill to reincarnate over and over again? If gods can create illusory worlds (Maya) and can remove your knowledge life after life why do I have to trust them when they tell me that I did cruel things in previous lives? Is not that a paradox?

Some monks and yogis state that the human mind is not capable of fully understanding Karma because it operates in multiple dimensions and in different layers of space/time. In the Yoga sutras just like and time and ego and other tattvas are creations of the mind or illusory in nature therefore you must eventually detach from them to discover your true self.

I'm looking for references to authors who critique on Karma or give a better understanding of it.

BG 14.6: Amongst these, sattva guṇa, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating and full of well-being. O sinless one, it binds the soul by creating attachment for a sense of happiness and knowledge.

  • 'Examples of key questions' - are these your own questions or are you quoting someone? If they are your own, no need of blockquotes... Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 20:29
  • All these questions are answered in the Brahma Sutras. Please read Ramanujacharya's commentary on it to understand more: sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe48/index.htm
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 21:52

2 Answers 2


Rig veda III.20.3 says

अग्ने भूरीणि तव जातवेदो देव सवधावो.अम्र्तस्य नाम | याश्च माया मायिनां विश्वमिन्व तवे पूर्वीः सन्दधुःप्र्ष्टबन्धो ||

Agni was praised as jataveda - knower of births

So it was mentioned in Rig veda itself about rebirth.

Be it the people with materialistic outlook or fence sitters from religious world, their perception of Karma, has its own flaws:

Coming to the points raised as to whether one remembers the sins that one committed or forgetting about past life, etc., my opinion is as follows:

ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for "ignorance of the law excuses not" and "ignorance of law excuses no one" respectively) is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content.

When the law created by humans is so harsh, are the human beings questioning and trying to make it so soft that actions done out of ignorance can be excluded from the purview of Law of the land?

Law of Karma is the Divine Law. So the creator, the God, has its own ways of executing the law.

Whether we the humans are aware of it or try to circumvent it or something else, results will be according to the dictum of that Divine Law.

Sri Ramana Maharshi stated on one occasion, on this subject, as follows:

The Asramites once asked Sri Bhagavan, “How were we all in our previous births? Why do we not know our own past?”

Maharshi.: God in His mercy has withheld this knowledge from people. If they knew that they were virtuous, they will grow proud; contrariwise they will be depressed. Both are bad. It is enough that one knows the Self.

  • So that God can be potentially a cruel and evil one that fakes past lifes and wants you to suffer? in Samkhya there is no god at all The laws are written by man how can we know that the law of karma is authentically written by God and not a demon? Is it all in the end is all a matter or religious faith?
    – PbxMan
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 13:13
  • @PbxMan: In some cases, we have to believe the wise and their experience and in some cases we can gain knowledge out of our experience. If our parents say don't touch the fire, as it burns, we can experience it by touching it as the it causes minor problem. However, when someone says don't stand on railway line, as it will be fatal if running train hits you, can we do experiment there? No, because after being hit by a running train, there can remain nothing to tell about its experience. So in some issues we have to believe the wise and elders. Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 13:19
  • @PbxMan: God can never be cruel. The God will be witness to all and will not extend help unasked for. Asking for help should come from deepest levels. Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 13:20
  • 1
    This conversation is turning bhakti. Thanks for the effort. Namasté
    – PbxMan
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 13:22

This is similar to another question. Brahma Sutras 3.2.38-3.2.41 (here listed as Chapter III, Section II, Adhikarana VIII - https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc74952.html) says:

Adhikarana summary: Iswara the giver of the fruits of actions

Brahma-Sutra 3.2.38: Sanskrit text and English translation.

फलमतः, उपपत्तेः ॥ ३८ ॥

phalamataḥ, upapatteḥ || 38 ||

phalam—Fruits of actions; ataḥ—from Him; upapatteḥ—for that is reasonable.

  1. From Him (the Lord) are the fruits of actions ; for that is reasonable.

Having described the nature of Brahman, the author proceeds now to discuss the view of the Mimamsakas, who say that Karma (work) and not Īswara gives the fruits of one’s actions. According to them(?) it is useless to set up an Iswara for this purpose, since Karma itself can give that result at a future time.

This Sutra refutes it and says that from Iswara alone come the fruits cf one’s work. Karma is insentient and short-lived, and cannot therefore be expected to bestow the fruits of actions at a future time according to one’s deserts. We do not see any insentient thing bestow fruits on those who worship it. Therefore it is only from the Lord, who is worshipped through actions, that their results proceed.

Brahma-Sutra 3.2.39: Sanskrit text and English translation.

श्रुतत्वाच्च ॥ ३९ ॥

śrutatvācca || 39 ||

śrutatvāt—Because the scripture so teaches; ca—and.

  1. And because the scripture so teaches.

The scripture declares that the fruits of actions come from the Lord. “That great, birthless Self is the eater of food and the giver of wealth (the fruit of one’s work)” (Brih. 4. 4. 24).

Brahma-Sutra 3.2.40: Sanskrit text and English translation.

धर्मं जैमिनिः, अत एव ॥ ४० ॥

dharmaṃ jaiminiḥ, ata eva || 40 ||

dharmaṃ—Religious merits; jaiminiḥ—(sage) Jaimini; ata eva—for the same reasons.

  1. Jaimini (thinks) for the same reasons (viz. scriptural authority and reasoning) that religious merit (is what brings about the fruits of actions).

The view of the previous Sutra is being criticized.

The scripture enjoins, “He who is desirous of the heavenly world is to sacrifice” (Tandya). Since every scriptural injunction has an object, it is reasonable to think that the sacrifice itself produces the fruit. But it may be objected that since the deed is destroyed, it cannot produce a result at a future time. This is met by the positing of an Apurva or extraordinary principle, which is produced by the Karma before it is destroyed, and through the intervention of which the result is produced in the distant future. Again, if the deed itself did not produce the result, it would be useless to perform it; and moreover it is not reasonable to imagine one cause (the Lord) for a great variety of effects.

Brahma-Sutra 3.2.41: Sanskrit text and English translation.

पूर्वं तु बादरायणः, हेतुव्यपदेशात् ॥ ४१ ॥

pūrvaṃ tu bādarāyaṇaḥ, hetuvyapadeśāt || 41 ||

pūrvam—The former (i.e. the Lord); tu—but; bādarāyaṇaḥ—Badarayana; hetu-vyapadeśāt—on account of His being declared to be the cause (of the actions even).

  1. But Badarayana (thinks) the former (the Lord, as the bestower of the fruits of actions) on account of His being declared to be the cause (of the actions even).

‘But’ refutes the view of Sutra 40. Both Karma and Apurva are insentient, and as such incapable of producing results without the intervention of an intelligent principle. For such a phenomenon is not experienced in the world. No one gets anything by worshipping stocks and stones. So the fruits of actions come only from the Lord, and this is all the more established, as the Lord Himself causes people to act one wa) or the other; and since the Jiva acts as directed by Him, He Himself is the bestcwer of the fruits of his actions according to his deserts. “He makes him whom He wishes to lead up from these worlds do a good deed” etc. (Kau. 3. 8); “Whichever divine form a devolee wishes to worship . . . and obtains from it the results he desires, as ordained by Me” (Gita 7. 21-22). Since the Lord has regard for the merit and demerit of the souls, the objection that a uniform cause is incapable of producing various effects does not stand.

In the last four topics the entity ‘That’ has been explained. Firstly, Brahman has been shown to be formless, self-effulgent, and without difference; secondly, by the denial of manifoldness in It it has been established that It is one without a second; and lastly, t has been proved to be the giver of the fruits of people’s actions in the relative world. Thus the two entities ‘thou’ and ‘That’ have been explained in these two sections.

To summarize this we need only refer to the Gita 18.61 (Swami Nikhilananda translator):

The Lord dwells in the heart of all beings, O Arjuna, and by His maya causes them to revolve as though mounted on a machine.

The giver of karma is Iswara (Saguna Brahman). All is Brahman. Who punishes Who? Who rewards Who?

  • Gita 18.61 reminds me of the movie the Matrix. I guess in the end all it takes is a bit of "good faith". Namasté
    – PbxMan
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 13:44

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