I can't understand the role intent has to play when it comes to Karma.

Let's just say I am giving to charity (in line with the norms laid down). But I know at the back of my mind that I am doing good karma, so I will reap benefits - maybe in this lifetime or next one. So does the fact that I am armed with this knowledge negate the act of charity?

In my humble opinion intent should not if it were the above scenario. But then where does one draw the line ? I mean how does the expectation that I will get benefits in this life or next one any different than a quid pro quo arrangement with the said charity's chairman ?

As always will be most helpful to get scripture references.

  • I would beg to differ. Let's say as a man of limited resources I put efforts in helping the most needy people in Africa. However noble my intentions are, and even if I were to assume god as the doer, I would have made a limited impact on people's life in Africa. And in the process I end up neglecting my duties towards parents , spouse and children. So yes, I have got the right intentions but i have not build any good karma or for that matter negate bad karma Oct 17, 2019 at 16:34

1 Answer 1


Does intent matter when it comes to Karma?


So does the fact that I am armed with this knowledge negate the act of charity?

No, it does not negate the act of charity. In fact, doing a good action with the intent of reaping good karma is one of the reasons for knowing what is Dharma and Adharma and following the scriptures which talk about them.

People want to know how to achieve happiness, and the scriptures provide the means. The scriptures say things like, "One who desires heaven should offer charity." So, the person armed with this knowledge will offer charity so that he can reap the positive karmic fruits. Likewise, the scriptures say things like, "One who murders another goes to hell." And so a person armed with this knowledge who wants to avoid hell will choose not to commit murder.

So because the scripture is telling you to do good actions because you want a particular fruit, it follows that the intent does not negate the fruit acquired.

But then where does intent matter regarding actions?

It matters when you commit sins: actions prohibited by scripture.

When you do a sin intentionally, the punishment is much more severe than if the sin was done unintentionally. Likewise, the penance for a sin committed intentionally is much more taxing than the penance for a sin committed unintentionally.


  1. (All) sages prescribe a penance for a sin unintentionally committed; some declare, on the evidence of the revealed texts, (that it may be performed) even for an intentional (offence).

  2. A sin unintentionally committed is expiated by the recitation of Vedic texts, but that which (men) in their folly commit intentionally, by various (special) penances.

Now, knowledge of whether an action is sinful or not is different from whether you committed the sin intentionally or not.

For example, suppose a person knows meat-eating is sinful. He then ate a dish that had some meat in it, but he didn't know that it had meat in it. This person acquired the sin of unintentional consumption of meat.

On the other hand, suppose a person does not know that meat-eating is sinful. He then decides to eat cow flesh. This person acquired the sin of intentional consumption of meat.

However, if you know an action is sinful, and you do it, the karmic punishment is much more severe than doing the action without knowing it is sinful.

However, if you refuse to read scriptures thinking that the punishment of sins will be less severe because you are ignorant of what is sinful or not, then the punishment for doing all those sinful actions will be much, much more severe than even doing actions intentionally and having knowledge that those actions are sinful.

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    @Ikshavku - Thank you. Am now clear on intentional sin vs unintentional sin.Is there a difference between unintentional good deed and intentional good deed? Ajamil story seems to point out there is no difference Oct 17, 2019 at 1:09
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    @Carmensandiego Good question. As far as I'm aware, the scriptures don't seem to mention anything about intentional good deeds versus unintentional good deeds. It merely talks about good deeds and their fruits. So, it is correct to think that there is no difference.
    – Ikshvaku
    Oct 17, 2019 at 1:31
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    After your answer, I am afraid to ask this question thinking that I might be doing bad deed,. if it is said that eating non-veg is a sin, and most of the other country people don't know this and they will eat non-veg, so that means they are less sinful than those who eat intentionally Oct 17, 2019 at 1:55
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    @user2225190 - I believe you have it slightly wrong. What ishvaku is saying is that eating beef is a sin. It is an intentional sin even if you have not read the scriptures because ignorance is no excuse. Yes, if someone who is poor, uneducated etc eats beef then he is doing unintentional sin Oct 17, 2019 at 3:14
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    @Ikshvaku - Noted. Any explanation on why such skewness? Need not be scripture (though always helpful), even your own view would help. I always thought that it would be a normal distribution because that for me paves approach to understand Nirguna Brahman. Oct 17, 2019 at 4:31

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