jñānena tu tad ajñānam yeṣāṃ nāśitam ātmanaḥ | teṣām ādityavaj jñānaṃ prakāśayati tat param
“As the sun dispels darkness and illuminates everything, so divine knowledge destroys ignorance and reveals the transcendental Absolute Truth.” — Bhagavad-Gītā 5.16    

Karma and Reincarnation

Karma means action, activity, work. In general, actions produce certain reactions. (Pious and sinful) actions are like seeds. Just as every seed produces a certain fruit in due course, so actions produce certain reactions in due course (karmaphala). The fruits of some actions ripen quickly and one gets them immediately or later in life, others ripen slowly and one gets them later in the next life. Everything that emerges from us comes back to us in a similar way. For example, if I rob someone, I will be robbed myself at some point; the suffering I inflict on other living beings I will have to bear myself at some time. In the same way, I will eventually (in this life or the next) – and without having to make any extra effort – get back what I have willingly given. That is the law of karma. “What you sow is what you will reap”, “as it calls into the forest, so it resounds”, “whoever gives, will be given”; “he who steals shall be robbed”.

Someone may possess great riches today and tomorrow (i.e. later in this life or the next) he may be poverty-stricken. Someone may be a ruler today and a servant tomorrow. Someone may enjoy prestige and material pleasures today and tomorrow he may be despised and suffer. Foolish people like to blame other people, fate or “the dear God” for their difficulties and sufferings because they are ignorant and do not want to take responsibility themselves for their actions. To understand the law of karma, one has to accept rebirth in another body, transmigration of souls.

There are invisible witnesses to our actions. Good actions – bad actions, religious actions – irreligious actions, pious actions – sinful actions are all registered by the Supersoul in the heart, which then ensures that the doer receives its reactions at the appropriate time in the appropriate circumstances of life. If, for example, someone has to suffer physically or emotionally from the actions of cruel people, he may ultimately be the cause of these sufferings himself, but that does not mean that his tormentors are innocent. Sooner or later, they will have to suffer for their deeds just as much as their victims or even more.

What kind of actions one performs depends on the state of mind under the influence of the three modes of material nature: sattva, rajas and tamas.

The karmic seeds can be destroyed by certain penances, renunciations, pilgrimages, bathing in holy rivers and other religious acts. When they are destroyed, one does not have to taste their fruits. However, neutralising the karmic reactions of sinful actions again and again through corresponding religious actions is not a solution to the problem, because the wheel of actions is constantly revolving and thus cannot be stopped. Before one has repented sufficiently for one sinful act, one has already committed ten new sinful acts. Whether sinful actions or pious actions – through karma the spiritual soul is bound to the material world in any case and suffers the torments of birth, illness, old age and death.

One must take refuge in the Supreme Lord and engage in His devotional service. This is the only way to destroy the root of all entanglement in karma and karmic reactions – the tendency to enjoy independently of the Lord.


On the subject of karma see also: 5 topics of knowledge.

The following text is an excerpt of a chapter from AYURVEDA TEACHING BOOK – Caraka-Saṃhitā Compendium (Sūtrasthanam 4.3 “On 3 Aspirations”). This chapter discusses the three aspirations pranaisana (the aspiration to preserve life or health), dhanaiṣana (the aspiration for prosperity) and paralokaiṣana (the aspiration to be elevated to the heavenly planets or to attain a better birth after this life). According to the philosophy of the Vedas, this life is only one of many lives to be lived through, just as one day of a life is only one of many. And just as one strives today to be well tomorrow, or at least not worse than today, so one should strive in this life to be well in the next, or at least not worse. The next existence depends on the actions one takes in this life. If one lives irresponsibly and does not strive to overcome the influence of rajas and tamas, which is so strong in the kali-yuga, one may be reborn as a human being under miserable circumstances or even sink down in the evolutionary cycle and be reborn as an animal or even a plant. But if one lives sanely and follows the religious principles recorded in Bhagavad-gītā, Manu-Saṃhitā, Mahābhārata and other Vedic scriptures, one can be elevated to higher, celestial planets.


On dharma1 depends not only dhanam (prosperity, wealth) in this life, but also the next body, the next birth. Whether one is reborn as a human being, an animal or a demigod, whether one ascends or descends in the evolutionary cycle, depends on one's behaviour in this life, on one's respect or disrespect for dharma. Paralokaisana, the aspiration to be reborn on the heavenly planets, is also called svargakāma. Kāma denotes both desire for enjoyment and enjoyment itself. The highest enjoyment in this world is attained on svargaloka, the heavenly planets.

Is there actually life after death? Is reincarnation (punarjanman) not simply an idea? The doubts are justified, because one cannot perceive rebirth, hardly anyone can remember even a single past life, and the statements of those who claim this are not proof. Our sensory perception is limited, so when it comes to non-perceptible, metaphysical things, we have to abide by the statements of the revealed scriptures, logic and inference. Even material things cannot be perceived due to various factors like extreme nearness, extreme distance, covering, inability of the senses, restlessness of the mind, mingling with similar things, tininess etc., not to mention metaphysical things. The association of the material elements of the body, life, is dependent on the presence of the ātmān (the spiritual soul) in the body. If ātmān leaves the body, the elements separate again. The Śāstras declare that the impersonal view of life, that everything arose by chance, that there is no cause and no originator, no self, no Supreme Controller, no knower, no gods, no karman and no karmaphala (karmic reactions), is the greatest of sins. One should give up this impersonal, false view and see reality through the eyes of the Śāstras (śāstra-caksuh).2

Four methods of acquiring knowledge

All things can be twofold divided into existent (sat) and non-existent (asat). There are four methods for their examination: (1) authoritative statements (āptopadeśa), (2) perception (pratyakṣa), (3) inference (anumāna) and (4) reason or logic (yukti).

Definition of āpta

As āpta are those who are free from rajas and tamas, who possess the power of renunciation and knowledge, whose knowledge is defectless and eternally universal. Being free from rajas and tamas, their statements are true and beyond doubt.

Definition of pratyakṣa

Knowledge attained through the present contact of self, intelligence, mind and senses with the sense objects is called pratyakṣa.

Definition of anumāna

Anumāna means inference and is based on previous perception. It is of a threefold nature and refers to the three times present, past and future. One can infer a covered fire from smoke, a foetus from sexual union and the coming fruit from seed. From the sight of a fruit, one infers the cause of the fruit.

Definition of yukti

One can observe that the growth of grain depends on the combination of the factors of water, ploughing of the field, sowing and climate, the growth of the foetus depends on the combination of the dhatus and the making of fire depends on the flint, fire stick and friction of the stick on the stone. Thus the four legs of therapy eliminate diseases when used in combination and judiciously. Yukti means the knowledge that sees things produced by a combination of many causative factors.

These four – āptopadeśa, pratyakṣa, anumāna and yukti3 – are the instrument and method of examination by which everything – existent and non-existent – can be examined. And these methods provide the proof that reincarnation (punarjanman) is true.

Proof of rebirth through āptopadeśa

Authoritative scriptures are śruti (the Vedas) and smṛti (scriptures based on the Vedas), which are composed by āptas for the benefit of human beings and which are recognised by all other āptas. It is clear from the authoritative scriptures that dana, yajña, satya, tapas, ahimsa and brahmacarya (charity, religious sacrifice, truthfulness, renunciation, non-violence and sexual abstinence4) lead to perfect well-being and liberation from saṃsāra (cycle of birth and death) and that those who have not overcome their mental defects are assured of punarbhava (rebirth).

An example of an authoritative scripture that explains reincarnation is the Bhagavad-gītā. In the 2nd chapter, verse 13, it says:

“Just as the embodied soul continues to wander in this body from childhood to youth and to old age, so at death the soul enters another body.”

And in verse 22, the Supreme Lord instructs us in the following words:

"As a man discards old garments and puts on new ones, so the soul gives up old and useless bodies and takes on new material bodies.”

Proof of rebirth through pratyakṣa

By perception it can be observed that offspring are dissimilar to parents, that there are differences in voice, physiognomy, spirit, intellect, destiny. One person is born in an upper class and another in a lower class of society. One attains happiness, the other suffering, the life span is different. The tendency of the newborn to laugh, cry, suckle at the mother's breast, etc., the attainment of different results despite similar actions, intellectual interests, inclinations and dislikes – all indicate a past life.

Proof of rebirth through anumāna

It can be concluded that the actions of the self are indestructible and that the attainment of the reactions is inevitable. This is called destiny. Rebirth – of whatever form – is the result of past actions. Actions performed in this life produce the next body. One life emerges from a past life and produces another, just as fruits emerge from seeds and fruits produce new seeds again.

Proof of rebirth through yukti

And what is the logical proof of reincarnation? Nothing is without cause, one thing always emerges from another. The foetus is formed by the combination of six dhatus, action takes place through the connection of the doer and the instrument of action. Karmaphala (result of action) arises from karman (action) and not from akarman (non-action). There is no growth of a seed without a seed. Karmaphala is always in harmony with karman. A certain action is followed by a certain result, just as a certain seed grows into a certain plant, or a certain flower into a certain fruit.

When one has been convinced of reincarnation through the four methods of knowledge acquisition and examination, one will strive throughout one's life to act in accordance with the Śāstras, so that a better birth – whether among humans or on higher planets among demigods – will be the result. Ultimately, however, what matters is to reach the highest realm of freedom and bliss, the Kingdom of God, from which there is no return. Thus the aspiration for “the other world” is explained.


1 Discharge of religious duties in varṇa and aśrama in the Vedic social system. Because many things are twisted in the course of kali-yuga prosperity and wealth then obviously depend on other factors.

2 Śāstra-cakṣu – “to see with the eyes of the (Vedic) scriptures".

3 Yukti is so closely related to anumana that one can just as well speak of three methods. Indeed, in the Vimāna section of the Caraka-Saṃhitā, in the chapter on the three pramāṇas (sources of knowledge acquisition), yukti is not dealt with separately.

4 The term brahmacarya does not mean complete sexual abstinence, but sexual intercourse only for the procreation of good offspring.