The Mahābhārata narrates the story of King Somaka and his chief priest who conduct a human sacrifice but only the priest is seen spending time in hell for his actions. And as the conversation between the king and Yama Dharmarāja shows, fruits of one's actions cannot be transferred to another.

The saintly king thus spake to the god who meteth out punishments to departed souls,

I shall enter here. Set free my officiating priest; this revered man is being grilled by hell-fire on my account only.

[Yama] Dharmaraja thereat answered thus,

One cannot enjoy or suffer for another person's acts.

But do śruti texts (Vedas, Upaniṣads, etc.) agree with this notion?

  • 1
    It is 2-fold. Yes - you cannot transfer karma. But you can transfer karma with permission from Bhagavan. Proof for this is that Bhagavan himself does this - when a soul gets moksha, his Sanchita Karma is divided into good & bad and distributed among his well-wishers and enemies. I don't have scriptural reference handy, but someone else can pull it up.
    – mar
    Jul 3 '20 at 3:41
  • @ram Right! A competent Guru can do that as well. Lahiri Mahasaya was one of the example. But it has consequences too. taking bad karma may damage the receiver's body or mind.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Jul 3 '20 at 5:21
  • According to Smriti (Dharmashastra) it is transferable.
    – Rickross
    Jul 3 '20 at 6:28
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Can sins be transferred?
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Jul 5 '20 at 3:56
  • 1
    As per Mahabharat, King Yayati fell down from heaven and went back after taking fruits of good actions of his daughter's sons..You want answers only from Vedas, Upaniṣads or answers from Itihasha, Purana also okay for you..
    – YDS
    Jul 7 '20 at 4:26

There is no mention of any process or technique by which anything is transferable from one person to another.

In fact, to the contrary, everything about a person completely sticks to that individual alone.

For example, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.2:

तं विद्याकर्मणी समन्वारभेते पूर्वप्रज्ञा च

His deeds, his knowledge and his past impressions follow him.

Note that Shankaracharya comments on "पूर्वप्रज्ञा" as follows:

पूर्वानुभूतविषया प्रज्ञा, अतीतकर्मफलानुभववासना इत्यर्थः । सा च अपूर्वकर्मारम्भे कर्मविपाके च अङ्गं भवति ।

The knowledge of past experiences, i.e. the impression or "scent" from experiences of results of past deeds. This forms an integral part of performing new deeds as well as the results of deeds.

As you can see, the deeds and their results are inextricably mixed up with the individual. An apparently identical deed done by two individuals do not accumulate in the individuals in identical ways. So there is no logical or metaphysical method to "transfer" any subtle or gross effects of deeds.

You can visualize the effects of deeds as a long-running "cumulative average".

The Vedas are highly practical and realistic scriptures. They do not advocate any "magical" effects. If there were any method to "transfer" the effects of one's deeds to someone else, it would create chaos.

Just as one person cannot earn Moksha and transfer it to another person, similarly actions and their results belong solely to the individual who is the agent (kartā - कर्ता).

  • How do you interpret Indra transferring his sins to women (menstruation) and trees (sap) in Taittirīya Saṃhitā of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. Mythology? Interpolation? Jan 6 '21 at 5:20
  • @sv. It doesn't have to be an interpolation. It is a symbolic story (arthavAda). It is evident from the start. Vishvarupa has 3 heads, one used to drink Soma, another for liquor and another for food. This itself is heavily symbolic. Sayana says the 3 heads are sattva, rajas and tamas. Indra exchanging his sin with trees, women, and earth is a way of explaining the natural phenomena with a mythological story. There are many such arthavAda stories in the Vedas. For example, the gavAmayana sattra in Tandya Brahmana is said to be performed by cows to grow their horns. It is an arthvAda story
    – RamAbloh
    Jan 7 '21 at 0:35
  • @sv. Similar stories are present even in Mahabharata. In the story of Garuda, the split tongue of snakes is explained in a colorful way by saying that when Garuda carried the pot of nectar, a few drops spilled onto the darbha grass, and the snakes eagerly tried to lick the drops of nectar, and the sharp edges of the grass split their tongues.
    – RamAbloh
    Jan 7 '21 at 0:38
  • @sv. So the actual observation of split tongues in snakes is given a mythical explanation. Likewise, sap from a tree cut and regrowth at the cut, menstruation and fertility in women, and the natural soil movement and deposition on the earth's surface, are all everyday observations. They are given a mythical explanation to create a sense of interconnectedness of all life, at all levels, from the divine to the human to the natural world.
    – RamAbloh
    Jan 7 '21 at 0:44

Actually, scripture says it is transferable. Brahma Sutras 3.3.26-28 (https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc78297.html):

Chapter III, Section III, Adhikarana XV

Adhikarana summary: The good and evil deeds of a person

Adhikarana XV - The statement made in one of the texts that the good and evil deeds of a person who has attained Knowledge go to his friends and enemies respectively, is valid for all texts where discarding of good and, evil Karma by such a person is meant.

Brahma-Sutra 3.3.26: Sanskrit text and English translation.

हानौ तु, उपायनशब्दशेषत्वात् कुशाच्छन्दःस्तुत्युपगानवत्, तदुक्तम् ॥ २६ ॥

hānau tu, upāyanaśabdaśeṣatvāt kuśācchandaḥstutyupagānavat, taduktam || 26 ||

hānau–Where (only) the discarding (of good and evil) is mentioned; tu—but; upāyana-śabdaśeṣatvāt—on account of the word ‘receiving’ being supplementary (to the word ‘discarding’); kuśā-cchandaḥ-stuti-upagānavat—as in the case of Kusas (sticks for keeping count of hymns) metres, praise, and recitation; tat—that; uktam—has been stated (by Jaimini).

  1. But where (only) the discarding (of good and evil) is mentioned, (the receiving of this good and evil by others has to be included), on account of this word ‘receiving’ being supplementary (to the word ‘discarding’), as in the case of Kusas, metres, praise, and recitation. That (viz. that it should be so done) has been stated (by Jaimini in Purva Mimamsa).

Having dealt with the combination of particulars with respect to similar Vidyas, the author now proceeds to deal with the combination of the effects with respect to the Upasaka.

Jaimini has said that statements with respect to Kusas, metres, praise, and hymns have to be completed from other texts. In some places Kusas are simply mentioned, but another text specifies that they are to be made of fig wood. The first Sruti will have to be completed in the light of the other. Similarly with respect to metres, praise, and recitation. This principle is here applied to the effects of the Upasaka’s actions in connection with the Vidyas mentioned in the Upanishads. We find certain texts mention the discarding of good and evil by a person attaining Knowledge. Vide Chh. 8. 13. Another text not only mentions this, but also adds that the good and evil are obtained by his friends and enemies respectively. Vide Kau. 1. 4. This Sutra says that the obtaining of the good and evil by his friends and enemies has to be inserted in the Chhandogya text, according to Jaimini’s principle explained above.

This Sutra may also be explained in another way if the discussion on ‘discarding’ is different. It may be argued that the verb ‘Dim’ in the text of the Chhandogya and Kaushitaki may be interpreted as trembling and not as getting rid of, in which case it would mean that good and evil still cling to a person who attains Knowledge, though their effects are retarded owing to the Knowledge. This Sutra says that such a meaning is not correct, for the subsequent portion of the text in the Kaushitaki shows that others get this good and evil, and this is not possible unless the person who attains Knowledge discards them.

Chapter III, Section III, Adhikarana XVI

Adhikarana summary: The discarding of good and evil by the knower of Brahman takes place at the time of death and not on his way to Brahmaloka

Brahma-Sutra 3.3.27: Sanskrit text and English translation.

सांपराये तर्तव्याभावात्, तथा ह्यन्ये ॥ २७ ॥

sāṃparāye tartavyābhāvāt, tathā hyanye || 27 ||

sāṃparāye—At the time of death; tartavya-abhāvāt—there being nothing to be attained; tathā—so also; hi— for; anye—others.

27. (He who attains Knowledge gets rid of his good and evil works) at the time of death, there being nothing to be obtained (by him on the way to Brahmaloka through works); for other texts also say so.

The question is raised as to when the individual soul gets rid of the effects of its good and evil works. “He comes to the river Viraja and crosses it by the mind alone, and there he shakes off good and evil” (Kau. 1. 4). On the basis of this text the opponent holds that the effects are got rid of on the way to Brahmaloka and not at the time of death. This Sutra refutes it and says that the man of realization gets rid of them at the time of death. The Sanchita and Agami Karma, (work) is destroyed with Knowledge and the Prarabdiia is destroyed at death. So at the time of death he is rid of all effects of his good and evil deeds. The reasons for this conclusion are: On the way to Brahmaloka, the destination of the knower of Brahman, it is not possible to discard good and evil effects for then the soul has no gross body, and so cannot piactise any Sadhana that will destroy them. Nor does the soul experience anything on the way, for which one would have to admit the persistence of good and evil till then. Rather they are destroyed by the Vidya practised by the aspirant before he leaves the body. The scripture also says, “Having shaken off his evil as a horse shakes off his hairs” etc. (Chh. 8. 13. 1). Moreover, it is not possible to cross the river Viraja unless one is free from all good and evil. Therefore we have to take it that all the good and evil are discarded at the time of death and the Kaushitaki text has to be explained accordingly.

Brahma-Sutra 3.3.28: Sanskrit text and English translation.

छन्दतः, उभयाविरोधात् ॥ २८ ॥

chandataḥ, ubhayāvirodhāt || 28 ||

chandataḥ—According to his liking; ubhaya-avirodhāt—on account of there being harmony between the two.

28. (The interpretation that the individual soul practising Sadhana) according to his liking (gets rid of good and evil while living, is reasonable) on account of there being harmony (in that case) between the two (viz. cause and effect as well as between the Chhandogya and another Sruti).

Since the individual soul attains Brahman after death as a result of the Vidya, why not understand that the getting rid of good and evil, the result of the Vidya, is also attained after death? Not so, for it is possible to practise Sadhana to one’s liking only during one’s life time, and from Sadhana alone results the destruction of good and evil. And it is not reasonable to say that the cause being there, the effect is delayed till some time after death. Therefore there is harmony between the texts quoted above. The attainment of Brahmaloka is not possible so long as there is a body, but there is no such difficulty about the shaking off of good and evil.

  • Something doesn't add up. By virtue of obtaining "Knowledge" a person ceases to have friends or enemies or in other words he stops perceiving others as friends or enemies . So how will transfer work Jul 4 '20 at 12:16
  • Question was, Is Karma transferable from one person to another? I.e., human to human. Which part of your blockquote addresses this? Jul 5 '20 at 3:07

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