- [ˈkərmə] - कर्म

The law of cause and effect. (1)

The Bible refers to karma in the book of Galatians when it says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” If you sow evil, you will reap evil in the form of suffering. And if you sow goodness, you will reap goodness in the form of inner joy. Every action, every thought, brings about its own corresponding rewards. Human suffering is not a sign of God’s anger with mankind. It is a sign, rather, of man’s ignorance of the divine law. (2)

It is the law of karma that makes reincarnation necessary. If one doesn’t receive all the positive and negative consequences of one’s actions by the time he or she dies, then one must come back to receive those consequences. However, in that lifetime they also create more good and bad karma, and so must come back again and again. (2) Even a desire for something or someone creates karma that must be fulfilled. And if one’s desire is not fulfilled in during one’s life, that will also cause the person to reincarnate. (3)

Can We Change Our Karma?

Karma is very difficult to change, but it is possible through prayer. Human beings, according to laws of nature, must pay for all their wrong actions, but when they tune themselves to God by deep prayer and remember the perfect image within them, then, realizing their divinity, they need not suffer for their past human errors. But if they again become identified with their humanity by not forgiving others, then they again subject themselves to be governed by the exacting law of karma.

Karma can also be changed by the intervention of a Self-realized master who is free from karma. A master can take on some of the karma of his disciples to help them advance more quickly. The most well-known example of this is Jesus. By being crucified, he paid for his disciples’ past evil actions, and freed them from the need to suffer for them.

Mass Karma

Karma can also affect a group of people, such as a religion (4), country, or even a planet depending on the karma of the majority of the group. A country can be conquered, or have droughts or famine, because that was the overall karma of the group, even if a few did not have that karma. If those who do not have that karma have strong karma for the opposite occurrence, they might be spared.

Paramhansa Yogananda gives the example of a plane crash. If enough people on that plane have the karma to crash, the plane will crash even if some do not have the karma to crash. But if a person has strong enough karma to live, they might survive the crash or end up not taking that flight. (5)

How Do We Become Free of Karma and Reincarnation?

Very few people realize how many of their actions and desires are generated by past karma. They believe they are acting on free will, but instead they are acting out habits buried deep in their subconscious mind from many past lifetimes.

The way out of this cycle is to renounce the false notion that one demonstrates freedom by giving free reign to one’s desires. By attuning oneself with the infinite wisdom behind karmic law, one accepts God and His guidance from within, rather than being guided by desire. The more one lives guided from within, the greater one’s control over outer events in life. As long as one is acting on divine guidance rather than ego, one accrues no more karma, and it is eventually dissipated. (6)

Further Study

Karma and Reincarnation by Paramhansa Yogananda


  1. Karma: A Study of the Law of Cause and Effect, Jerome A. Anderson. Chapter 1, “Karma: The Revealer of God.”
  2. a b Karma and Reincarnation, Paramhansa Yogananda. Chapter 1, “The Law of Karma.”
  3. Autobiography of a Yogi, p. 302
  4. Revelations of Christ, Paramhansa Yogananda. Chapter 20, “New Wine”
  5. The Essence of Self Realization, Paramhansa Yogananda. “The Law of Karma”
  6. Karma and Reincarnation, Paramhansa Yogananda. Chapter 2, “How to Face Your Karma.”

Yogic Encyclopedia

An encyclopedia of yogic terminology and sanskrit words.