Hindu philosophy deals with karma and samsara at a practical level. The doctrine of karma is at the core of everyday living for a Hindu. Karma literally means deed or work. The cumulative effect of the deeds in this life has profound effects in the afterlife. Through Karma the body of next life is acquired; and on previous karma depended a man's character, fortune, and social class and his happiness or sorrow. One can exist divine, human, animal or hellish existence purely based on one's karmic history. The body cannot escape the law of karma. However, by judgment and forethought one can utilize karma to his advantage. The transmigration of the soul from one body to another does not occur in a state of nudity. The soul carries with it a sheath or a series of sheaths bearing both good and evil karma accumulated during a lifetime. It is the balance of this subtle sheath that determines the nature of the next birth. This continuous, ever rolling wheel of repeated transmigration from one form to another is the infinitely tedious samsara. There is a powerful desire to liberate from this wheel of samsara, in every practicing Hindu and thus end the endless cycle of rebirths (salvation or moksha). The study of the scriptures and following their guidelines help in achieving this goal.
Our karmic history is carried with us through all our births, like a cloth worn on our bodies. Karma is the sum total of our actions and consequences of our actions throughout repeated cycles of births and deaths. Karma is fashioned by three actions:
- Desire or feeling (Iccha),
- Knowing or recognition (Jnana),
- Willing or wanting to perform an action (Kriya).
Law of Karma is followed not only in Hindu religion but also in Buddhism and Jainism. It is a form of accountability for your actions that follow you through birth after birth.
There are three kinds of karma as consequences of actions:
- The first is Sanchita Karma that which has been accumulated through the previous births.
- Prarabdha Karma is that portion of previous karma that is responsible for the current birth. One's present birth is a reflection of his Prarabdha Karma and this cannot be changed but endured.
- Kriyamani or Agami Karma (also called Vartamana Karma) is that which is being accumulated now that will affect future births. It is like an insurance policy for the future and a good record during this birth will ensue in a better life in the next birth.
One can change his karma of past, future and present by good deeds in thought as well as actions. It is an incentive for a Hindu to lead a moral and ethical life not only with the hope of a better future life but it also gives him the strength to endure hardships in the present life. An analogy is that of a hunter with a gun, who has already shot a bullet that is traveling towards its target and has a loaded second bullet in his gun. The bullet that has already been fired is the Prarabdha Karma and it is too late to change its course and the hunter has to live by its consequences. The bullet not yet fired is the Kriyamani Karma that the hunter has full control of and may alter its course as he sees fit. The spent bullet cases at his feet from previous firings are theSanchita Karmas, accumulated through the past lives.
On a day-to-day basis in the life of a Hindu every action is karma. There is the Nitya Karma that one follows every day. It is the routine of one's daily duties. Naimittika Karma is the duty of a man for special occasion or any periodic occurrences. It is his duty to the community he lives in and his own family. Both the Nitya Karma and theNaimittika Karma are collectively called as Niyatam Karma. Niyatam Karma is one's bounden or obligatory karma that he is expected to perform as his duty. The third type of action is the Kamya Karma that is the result of specific desire attained by the invocation of necessary cosmic power and deity. Then there is the Nishiddha Karma of heinous acts (declared as immoral). Finally there is the Prayaschitha Karma when one repents for his actions.
The task of a Hindu philosopher lies in the systematic, rational and authoritative account of the inter-relation between three realities, namely: God, human being, and the world/nature. The most conspicuous feature of Hindu philosophy then seems to be an attempt to employ the tools of rationality to better gain a direct experience of the trans-rational or the metaphysical.