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A philosophical question about karma

My question is based on two common assumptions:

  1. Karma is the cause of one’s suffering
  2. Any bad karma can be reduced to basically causing harm (In any possible way) to another sentient being

Now if person P1 causes person P2 some kind of harm (physical, mental or whatever). This can be considered as bad karma of person P1 for which he/she might suffer later on.

But why did person P2 suffer from those actions? Is that due to previous bad karma of P2?

If we consider it to be caused by previous karma of P2, won’t it make a chain of events? Where P2 must have had bad karma against some person P3, who must have again have wronged some person P4 and so on.

Now this chain must have started somewhere, say from person Pn who was wronged by P(n-1). What was the cause of Pn’s suffering?

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  • Btw, that origin or endless chain of Karma is very difficult to trace and catch however it doesn't mean that one should not bother about involving in harmful actions. What all we can do is not to harm anyone and explaining/requesting others to do the same.
    – Pandya
    May 18, 2023 at 5:25
  • @Pandya That doesn’t answer my question.
    – Aether
    May 19, 2023 at 6:33
  • I answer this exact question in detail example here. you can vote to reopen that question cos it keeps coming up again and again. the fallacy is assuming the chain 'starts' somewhere. karma/creation/birth/universe/atma is a never-ending cyclical thing. don't try to see everything in terms of start and end. some things simply do not have a start/end.
    – ram
    May 30, 2023 at 9:16

3 Answers 3

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I humbly believe that my answer here might be partially or completely wrong.

There are three types of Karma - Sanchita karma, Prarabdha karma and Kriyamana karma. Sanchita karma is karma accumulated over numerous lives of the aatman. Prarabdha karma is a portion of the collected Sanchita karmas which will be experienced by a living entity during its lifetime. Kriyamaana karma is the karma which an individual can create during their lifetime.

Citing from Wikipedia (although I do not believe Wikipedia is a great source in such scenarios)

"In Vedantic literature, there is an analogy. The bowman has already sent an arrow and it has left his hands. He cannot recall it. He is about to shoot another arrow. The bundle of arrows in the quiver on his back is the sanchita; the arrow he has shot is prarabdha; and the arrow which he is about to shoot from his bow is agami. Of these, he has perfect control over the sanchita and the agami/Kriyamana, but he must surely work out his prarabdha. The past which has begun to take effect he has to experience."

To answer your question,

  1. Karma is the cause of one’s suffering

I believe that you might have misunderstood Karma. In the scenario of Pn wronging Pn-1 :

  1. Say Pn was wronged by Pn-1 and Pn is suffering because Pn-1 had done something wrong against Pn in his past life.
    So Pn who had done something adharmic in a previous life against Pn-1 accumulated certain paapa(bad) karmas which became Sanchita, and later became Prarabdha karma and experienced suffering in his lifetime from the reborn Pn-1.

Now, it is certainly possible in their previous lives where Pn-1 wronged Pn(hence Pn suffering in current life), Pn-1 might have done certain ill deeds as Kriyamana karma - that is, from his mind and judgement, and not because of Prarabdha karma. This is the origin of that karma, as it was Kriyamaana.

Karma is not simply a luggage carry over from one life to another, it is possible to add more such luggage to the aatman or remove luggage (either through burning of karmas by suffering, or innumerous other methods described over thousands of years)

That is why it is believed that in the Kali yuga, humans are less understanding of Dharma and Karma, and actively create more karmic luggage through their Kriyas (Kriyamana karma) which simply gets added on as Sanchita karma, and later experienced as Prarabdha karma.

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I just wanted to add that good karma or bad karma is your categorization. Also I would suggest that things happen because of Nidanas. The twelve Nidanas or causes of being. Each is the effect of its antecedent cause, and a cause, in its turn, to its successor; I hope you understand that each nidana can cause and result at the same time.

In your case person P2 suffering is because of his own actions or nidana.

Lastly Karma can be cause of your suffering or elevation to something higher. If depends on how much you allow your senses to be ruled by maya.

It's these nidanas that drive the world. The great causes of misery are these nidanas and maya.

Thanks

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  • I am not categorising karma, I am calling the karma that causes suffering as ‘bad’, just to refer to it. And is Nidana part of Hindu philosophy? I think it is a Buddhist concept.
    – Aether
    May 19, 2023 at 6:42
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Now this chain must have started somewhere, say from person Pn who was wronged by P(n-1). What was the cause of Pn’s suffering?

Ignorance (Avidya or Ajnana) is the primary cause of anyone's suffering. Bad Karma is the result of ignorance. Ignorance of what? Ignorance of Brahman or the oneness of existence. On account of this ignorance we perceive separate entities or the non-Self, when in fact all is the Self, or Brahman (Atman).

Unless there is a subject and an object, there can be no action. Action implies duality. So karma began with the idea of duality, which is same as Ignorance. So to discover the origin of karma means to discover the origin of Ignorance. To Know the origin of Ignorance means to overcome Ignorance.

Basically, we must become Jnani's by having a direct experience of Brahman (Aparokshanubhuti). Then the answer will be clear.

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