Let's say I end up stealing for which I am punished upto 6 months in prison. Is it safe to assume that I won't be building any negative karma because I have suffered for my actions ?

Or should I go with this understanding - It was in my Prarabdha karma to be in prison for 6 months this life. My act of stealing (kriyamana karma) is added to my sanchit karma.

Would be helpful to get references from scriptures

  • I think the answers there convincingly answer your query. If you're looking for something else then let me know in comments. I have voted to close your Q.
    – Rickross
    Nov 13, 2019 at 7:05
  • @Rickross - Just wondering as Swami Vishwananda's answer contradicts the other answers. How does one resolve the impasse as he too has cited scriptures. Do we say that examples from epics take higher weightage than Brahma Sutras ? Nov 13, 2019 at 9:02
  • Well there is no contradiction in this case. All scriptures like Manu Smriti, Ramayana etc mention the same that one who has been duly punished by the law on earth is purified of that guilt. Brahma Sutra is a philosophical text with limited applications. One can't answer a whole lot of Qs using that as a reference.
    – Rickross
    Nov 14, 2019 at 5:55

3 Answers 3



The question is formulated in the vocabulary of Puranic and Vedantic literature. However, the answer below will be based on the merely on the original Vedas and Vedāṅgas.

The Vedas and the ancillary Dharmaśhāstras distinguish between the tort and sin. The former is designated as aparādha (अपराध), whereas the latter is called pāpa (पाप).

Further, in Vedas broadly two types of injunctions mandated for the subjects: dhārmic and naitika can be gleaned.

Disobeying dhārmic injunctions was considered as sin whereas infringing the naitika that is the social injunctions was considered aparādha. Some acts were considered both pāpa and aparādha. The ambit of the dhārma is far greater than the scope of tort. The sins are categorized at the level of mind, speech and acts. For instance, if someone contemplates harming another person but just changes his intention before doing the very act, it will be categorized under the pāpa but not aparādha. For instance, Rg Veda speaks about presenting the defendants in front of the King who orders tattooing of the skin of the thieves as a punishment daṇḍa (दण्ड) for their sins pāpa. See RV 1.24.12 – 15, RV 5.19.9, RV 7.86.5.

The aparādha can be atoned in very this life but the scope of punishment for disobeying dhārmic injunctions extend beyond this life.

The word sin occurs in different contexts and form in the Ṛg Veda. For example, the word vṛjinā has been used as a synonym for sin which means something which is forbidden (see RV 5.3.11). In another place, the word aśivā is used as a synonym for vṛjināni (RV 5.12.5).

Sins committed on a personal level are encountered frequently in Vedas. Human thoughts are always known to Varuṇa (see Sauṇka Samhita 4.16.2). In the Vedas the acts of lying, breaking the vow, the false oath has been considered as heavy sins. For example, in the Madhyandina Saṃhitā (39.4) besides praying for food, animal, and fame, the supplicant makes a sincere prayer for obtaining truth in his speech.

Similarly, in the context of a false oath, the prayer of त्रिशिरास्त्वाष्ट्रः Triṣrāstvāstra (RV 10.9.8) is noteworthy.

इदमापः प्र वहत यत्किं च दुरितं मयि ।

यद्वाहमभिदुद्रोह यद्वा शेप उतानृतम्

Vasiṣṭha provides a list of different sins in his prayer in (RV 7.86.6), wherein he says that it is not our determination rather his seduction, recklessness, alcohol, gambling, or anger has cheated on him and even in his sleep he commits such sins.

न स स्वो दक्षो वरुण ध्रुतिः सा सुरा मन्युर्विभीदको अचित्तिः ।

अस्ति ज्यायान्कनीयस उपारे स्वप्नश्चनेदनृतस्य प्रयोता ॥६॥

Madhyandina Saṃhitā (40.3) alludes to the fact that those who act ignoring the inner voice are committing heavy sins.

असुर्या नाम ते लोका ऽअन्धेन तमसावृताः ।

ताम्स् ते प्रेत्यापि गच्छन्ति ये के चात्महनो जनाः

Interestingly, in the context of familial sins, the feelings of resentment against the enemies are not considered as sin, however, the feelings of resentment against one’s own family members is a sin (Sauṇka Saṃhitā 3.30.3). Similarly, those who harm their friends are doomed (Sauṇka Samhita 20.128.2). Another interesting aspect is that the marriage of a younger brother before the marriage of the elder brother is considered equivalent to the sin of abortion (Sauṇka Saṃhitā 6.112.3). Similarly, it is stated that in the household where guests do not partake the meal, the sins of that household are not reduced (Sauṇka Saṃhitā 9.6.26-27).

A similar instruction can be found in the prayers of Áṅgiras (RV 10.117.6) Regarding the societal sins, we find prayers by Atri (RV 5.85.7), pleading that if he has committed any sin against any person to whom he loves or against his neighbor who always lives nearby or if he has hurt unknown person, Varuṇa should release him from those sins.

अर्यम्यं वरुण मित्र्यं वा सखायं वा सदमिद्भ्रातरं वा ।

वेशं वा नित्यं वरुणारणं वा यत्सीमागश्चकृमा शिश्रथस्तत् ॥७॥

In a similar vein, in the context of economical sins, Atharvingra is praying to Savita (Sauṇka Samhita 7.115. 3 – 4) that he has segregated the wealth earned through the pious mean from the impious means and Savita should just allow him to have wealth earned through pious means.

In the Ṛg Veda, there is a discussion about seven deference sapta maryādāḥ (RV 10.5.6) which has been explained by Sāyaṇa as the prohibition on drinking alcohol, gambling, enjoying another’s wife, hunting, blaspheming or defaming among others (कामजेभ्यः क्रोधजेभ्यश्चोद्धृताः पानमक्षाः स्त्रियो मृगया दण्डः पारुष्यमन्यदूषणमिति सप्त मर्यादाः). This has been further explained by Yāsaka in Nirukta (6.27) and corroborated by Manu in his Mānva Smriti (7.48 – 50)

सप्त मर्यादाः कवयस्ततक्षुस्तासामेकामिदभ्यंहुरो गात् ।

आयोर्ह स्कम्भ उपमस्य नीळे पथां विसर्गे धरुणेषु तस्थौ

Then there are sins which have been committed out of carelessness and ignorance. Pardon is sought from Varuṇa for such sins as well (RV 7.89.5). Infamous, violent and cunning people tend to commit sin (RV 8.18.14) and so does the people with a foolish brain (RV 10.63.12).


If you have been duly punished for your sins by the competent king (in today's sense, the law), you need not to suffer again. You will be purified.

There is a story of brothers Shankha and Likhita which was said to Yudhishtira by Vyasa. The purpose of telling this story is conveying the importance of rod of chastisement to Yudhishtira. Complete story is narrated in Who is the Rishi who cut off his own hands for stealing?.

From Chapter 23 Rajadharmanusasana Parva of Shanti Parva, English translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli:

Meeting him, the king addressed that foremost of all persons conversant with duties, saying, 'Tell me, O revered one, the reason of thy coming. Regard it as already accomplished.' Thus questioned, that regenerate sage said unto Sudyumna, 'Do thou promise first that thou wilt achieve it. It will then behove thee, after hearing me, to accomplish that promise. O bull among men, I ate some fruits that had not been given me by my elder brother. Do thou, O monarch, punish me for it without delay.' Sudyumna answered, 'If the king be regarded as competent to wield the rod of chastisement, he should be regarded, O bull among Brahmanas, as equally competent to pardon. Purified in respect of thy act, O thou of high vows, consider thyself as pardoned. Tell me now what other wishes thou hast. I shall certainly accomplish those commands of thine!'

"Vyasa continued, 'Thus honoured by the high-souled king, the regenerate sage Likhita, however, did not solicit him for any other favour. Then that ruler of the earth caused the two hands of the high-souled Likhita to be cut off, whereupon the latter, bearing the punishment, went away. Returning to his brother Sankha, Likhita, in great affection, said, 'It behoveth thee now to pardon this wretch that hath been duly punished (for what he did).

Shankha used his powers gained through penances to return the arms of his brother. His brother was surprised to see this.

' Likhita answered, 'O thou of great splendour, why didst thou not purify me at first, when, O best of regenerate ones, such was the energy of thy penances?' Sankha, said, 'I should not have acted otherwise. I am not thy chastiser. The ruler (who has punished thee) has been himself purified, as also thyself, along with the Pitris!

It's observed that Shankha has sent his younger brother to the king so that he will be duly punished for the act he has done. Therefore the punishment by a king wielding the rod of chastisement purifies the sinner.

  • only the Lord knows if it is 'payback'. Humans, including kings, do not make the rules for karma. Nov 13, 2019 at 6:39

Brahma Sutras says (Swami Vireswarananda translator, https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc74952.html):

Chapter III, Section II, Adhikarana VIII

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).

Only the Lord dispenses the good and bad fruits of karma. Only the Lord knows. No human can say if what has been dispensed 'repays' bad karmic action. For all anyone can know, perhaps the present prison time was for a previous bad karmic action in a previous lifetime, and the present bad karmic actions that simply led to imprisonment in this life are yet to be paid for.

  • so the only solution is to simply obey what Bhagavan says in shastras
    – ram
    Nov 13, 2019 at 7:14

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