• Who defines 'good' or 'bad' karma - like this is bad and this is good?
  • It depends on time or generation?
  • Is there any book, Veda or any other holy book, where it's defined?

9 Answers 9


The only absolute is Brahman, there are no absolutes in this world. An action which may be good karma for you may be bad karma for another, and vice versa. As an example, killing a human normally leads to bad karma. However, as seen by the example of Arjuna in the Gita, a warrior's duty in a war is to kill - and for Arjuna to avoid killing will only lead to bad karma for him.

The 3 gunas - sattwa, rajas, and tamas, and what types of actions are associated with each guna are defined at length in the Gita, especially Chapters 2, 3, 14, and 16.

  • @swamiji : chanting god's name has 3 aspects: 1. Just doing uchhara by mouth (shriram-shriram-shriram) 2. Just remembering god's name in mind. 3. Uchhara with his rememberance.. Does all 3 aspects gives good karma to human?
    – C Sharper
    Nov 20, 2015 at 3:02
  • 1
    @Sagar The highest is chanting the name of God or the mantra in the mind alone. Next is chanting by moving the lips but no sound. The last is chanting His name with sound. But all three give good karma, there is no bad way to chant His name. Even chanting His name and the mind wandering off to bad thoughts is still good karma. As Krishna says in the Gita (6.40): "O Partha, there is no destruction for him either in this world or the next; no evil, My son, befalls a man who does good." Nov 20, 2015 at 16:05

Who or What defines which karmas are good and which are bad?

Its mostly the holy scriptures that determine the nature of karmas. Our own inner conscience also should be able to judge in many situations if not in all situations. Further, our elders also help us in determining what's good and what's not. The advices of our parents and elders are nothing but the knowledge which were brought down from one generation to the next and finally to us.

What are the bad karmas & what are the good ones?

Manu Smriti 12.3. Action, which springs from the mind, from speech, and from the body, produces either good or evil results; by action are caused the (various) conditions of men, the highest, the middling, and the lowest.

12.5. Coveting the property of others, thinking in one’s heart of doing harm to others , and adherence to false (doctrines), are the three kinds of (sinful) mental action.

12.6. Abusing (others, speaking) untruth, detracting from the merits of all men, and talking idly, shall be the four kinds of (evil) verbal action

12.7. Taking what has not been given, injuring (creatures) without the sanction of the law, and holding criminal intercourse with another man’s wife, are declared to be the three kinds of (wicked) bodily

The Daksha Smriti (chapter 3) also lists the following 9 virtuous deeds and 9 evil deeds:

Good deeds: Sandhya adorations, bathing, recitation of the Homa, Vedic study, adorations of the Deities, adoration of the Viswadevas, hospitable treatment extended to the guests, according to one's own might, proper allotment of food for the departed Manes, Deities, human beings, the poor, the helpless, the ascetics, the father, the mother and the preceptor, these are the nine [sacred] works.


Bad deeds: Iniquitous deeds are, again, [the following : ] Falsehood, knowing another's wife, taking forbidden food, knowing a woman who should not be known, drinking what should not be drunk, theft, committing injury, doing works not sanctioned in the S'ruti, transgression of a friend's duty, these are nine improper deeds. One should avoid them all.


Does the definition change with Yugas?

Mostly NO. But there is a thing called Yuga-Dharma. So sometimes small alterations take place according to the nature of the age we live in.

As, an example, i quote the following verse from Parashara Smriti's chapter 1:

  1. " In the Krita sin is incurred by one who converses (with a sinner) ; in the Treta by one who touches (the sinful man) ; in the Dvapara by taking the sinner's food ; in the Kali by a (sinful) act (alone).

So, while talking to a sinner is considered as an evil act in the Satya Yuga it is not so in the Kali Yuga. So, some rules do change like that with time but most of them don't.

  • This is THE answer. I do not know why this OP did not accept any answer!! The Dharma-Sasras ARE the highest authority in determing such things and are above the other scriptures exceppt the Vedas
    – user17294
    Feb 24, 2019 at 5:44
  • @Partha Thanks and Yes, most people are not aware of the PURPOSE of different scriptures
    – Rickross
    Feb 24, 2019 at 6:21

Many Hindu scriptures discuss morality. I am posting some excerpts from Mahabharata where Vidura speaks about it.

Vidura on Gates of hell

Great fear springeth from these three crimes, viz, theft of other’s property, outrage on other’s wives, and breach with friends. These three, besides, being destructive of one’s self, are the gates of hell, viz, lust, anger, and covetousness. Therefore, everyone should renounce them. [Udyoga Parva, Section 33]

Vidura’s advice on how to act

Do not, O Bharata, set the heart upon means of success that are unjust and improper. A man of intelligence must not grieve if any purpose of his doth not succeed, notwithstanding the application of fair and proper means. Before one engageth in an act one should consider the competence of the agent, the nature of the act itself, and its purpose, for all acts are dependent on these. Considering these one should begin an act, and not take it up on a sudden impulse. He that is wise should either do an act or desists from it fully considering his own ability, the nature of the act, and the consequence also of success. [Udyoga Parva, Section 34]

Vidura on forgiveness

There is one only defect in forgiving persons, and not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect , however, should not be taken into consideration, for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdueth (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carrieth the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on a grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defileth himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness. [Udyoga Parva, Section 33]

Vidura on the importance of controlling one’s speech

To control speech, O king, is said to be most difficult. It is not easy to hold a long conversation uttering words full of meaning and delightful to hearers. Well-spoken speech is productive of many beneficial results; and ill-spoken speech, O king, is the cause of evils. A forest pierced by arrows, or cut down by hatchets may again grow, but one’s heart wounded and censured by ill-spoken words never recovereth. Weapons, such as arrows, bullets, and bearded darts, can be easily extracted from the body, but a wordy dagger plunged deep into the heart is incapable of being taken out. Wordy arrows are shot from the mouth; smitten by them one grieveth day or night. A learned man should not discharge such arrows, for they do not touch the very vitals of others. [Udyoga Parva, Section 34]

Vidura on Kindness

Ablution in all the holy places and kindness to all creatures – these two are equal. Perhaps, kindness to all creatures surpasseth the former. [Udyoga Parva, Section 35]

Vidura on how to treat others

That which is antagonistic to one’s own self, should never be applied in respect of another. [Udyoga Parva, Section 39]


According to Sri Krishna, Karma is neither a sin nor virtue.The Karma depends on the purpose behind it.If the purpose is for the benefit of the society or to uphold Dharma then it is good.If the purpose behind karma is to cheat others then it is bad. For Example:If knife is stabbed to stomach to kill is adharma,whereas when the doctors cut the stomach is dharma because purpose of doctor is to save a person from death,but in 1st case,the purpose was to kill a person.

  • 2
    Welcome to Hinduism SE. Answers on this site should be detailed enough to solve the questioner's doubts and also should be backed up by proofs from Hindu scriptures like Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, etc. So, please edit your answer to provide more details and proof from scriptures in order to make it more reliable.
    – Aby
    Apr 12, 2019 at 0:40

In Sanatana Dharma, we usually speak of five karmas - Nitya Karma, Naimittika Karma, Kamya Karma and Nishiddha Karma and prayaschitta karma. Nitya Karma includes Sandhyavandanam, Agni Karyam, Deva yagnam etc which are compulsory activities. Naimittika Karma are those which depends on Time (Kaalam) and Space (Desa) like festivals etc. Kamya Karma is one which is performed desiring something like yagnas, daanas etc. Nishiddha Karma are those which are prohibited like sleeping at sun rise and sunset, etc. Prayaschitta Karma are those prescribed as compensatory.

If we talk of Paapa and Punya, we can define many ways, but simply stating Punya is one which takes you towards God and Paapam is one which takes you far from God.

As far as who decides which is to be done and not to be done, Veda is the only authority to determine. This is said by Bhagvan himself in Bhagavad Gita Chapter 16 Verse 24 as "Let the Sastras be your authority in ascertaing what ought to be done and what not to be done (Sastra here means Veda)".

Dharma is living according to Vedas. Dharma has no Kaala Dosham i.e it does not change with time. Do not take this in wrong sense. Being obedient to parents is one's duty irrespective of which time you live in. Speaking truth is dharma all the time, where as karma depends on time - Sleep is to be done at night, Aswamedha yagna is prohibited in Kaliyuga etc. Doing proper Karma (through body, mind and speech) at proper time can be roughly stated as Dharma.


I don't know whether I'm eligible for answering this question. But I've been boggled by this question for long time. Reading BG and various answers on this forum, I narrowed down to following simple things:

  1. Good karma is remembering God. This is absolute. This will always be good karma.

  2. A good karma is doing the RIGHT thing given a particular situation in the name of God, without expectation of results. This RIGHT thing is not absolute. It changes with the situation. Killing a person for selfish desires is bad karma. But as we see in BG, Arjuna to avoid killing his brothers will only lead to bad karma for him. So in this particular situation, killing was actually a good karma.

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    'Reading BG and various answers on this forum' - You need to cite specific verses from BG and some of those other answers in support of your answer. Jun 7, 2017 at 15:34

Who defines 'good' or 'bad' karma - like this is bad and this is good? It depends on time or generation?

You have very good answers about moral, good and bad.

Is there any book, Veda or any other holy book, where it's defined?

There is a group of texts called dharmaśāstra which are vedic and speak about this, but more prominent are Dharmasutras. You can read about that on here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma%C5%9B%C4%81stra

But I will give a complement answer, as Patañjala Yogasutras says about karmas

PYS IV.7 karmāśuklākṛṣṇaṃ yoginas-trividhamitareṣām

karmas are not white nor dark (meaning good nor bad) for yogi, but for everyone else are of 3 kinds (meaning good, bad or mixed)

and to understand better, after that he says

PYS IV.8 tatas-tad-vipākānuguṇānām-evābhivyaktirvāsanānām

from those (samskaras) only get manifested those tendencies which are necessary and suitable for the fructification of those karmas

All these are in a context where karma just means action, that action make an impression on mind and are stored in karmashaya as samskaras.

So if you behave in some way believing you are the doer, you are impress, you get impressions (samskaras) and then you will have result of karma (result of your actions) good or bad or mixed according to what you did, and how you felt about it

But yogis do (should do) actions with the actitud "I'm not doing" (as karma yoga of Bhagavad Gita) or Sri Ramakrishna speaking "I am the machine You are the operator". So there is not impression on his minds, that is why it is said: "karmas are not white nor dark"

The world is neither good nor bad. The mind creates good and evil - Swami Sivananda, Riddle of Evil



As per Sadhguru,

1. Who defines 'good' or 'bad' karma - like this is bad and this is good?

As discussed here, Karma is neither good nor bad. It is the accumulation of paths one took in their life's journey till now which affects their future.

2. Does it depend on time or generation?

No, it affects every individual based on the way one handles the situations they face in their life. As Sadhguru stated, one can't get rid of it but can divert the stream of it by acting differently than their tendencies.

You have acquired certain tendencies over the years, depending on the impressions you have accumulated. These can be transformed entirely. If you do a certain amount of inner work if you implement certain inner technologies— irrespective of your current tendencies, your past experience of life, your genetics, your environment—you can completely rewire yourself in a short span of time!

Sadhguru. Inner Engineering (p. 42).

3. Is there any book, Veda, or any other holy book, where it's defined?

If not Vedas or any holy book, one can consider reading the upcoming book Karma by Sadhguru.


What I actually think is
There actually doesn't exist anything like good Karma or bad Karma.
Karma is just an action which you knowingly or unknowingly set in to motion. Nothing is good or bad.
Example :
Suppose you have a bucket ,and there are 2 well or say some small water bodies.
Well A has fresh clean water,
opposite to that Well B has dirty and smelly water.
Its your whole decision from which well you want to draw water from. If you decide to draw water from well A you will get fresh water. But on the other hand if you decide to take it from the well B you will get dirty water.
Deciding and drawing water from well is your karma and you will get water according to your decision. You know which water is good for you and which is not.
All you needs clam mind to figure it out.
Anything that you do is your responsibility.

There was a beautiful example I have heard :
There is was a boy whose father was on the verge of death and his fathers wish was that his son should pour water in his mouth spoon by spoon. So the son decides to full fill his fathers wish,giving him water spoon by spoon.
Unfortunately some bandit attack their village , and they start kidnapping the young girls, so all the men start trying to save those girls. NOW its the decision of the boy to complete his fathers wish or to save those girls.
He will face the consequences according to his decision. No one but the boy himself is responsible for deciding his Karma.

What you have set in action you have to face the consequences its the law of nature,if you think its good/bad that's your earthly perspective nature doesn't care about your perspective. Its as simple as.
As you sow so shall you reap.


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