Karma means action. Here karma means action that is deliberately performed by a human being with a sense of कर्त्र्त्वम् kartrtvam or doership. Any action that is deliberately performed by us is an action that brings about a result. It is an action for which we are accountable. An involuntary action like breathing etc. does not produce any result because there is no sense of doership involved in it. That is why if somebody who is fast asleep kicks his neighbor we do not hold him accountable for it because he did not intend to do it. Even in a court of law, if it can be proven that some crime was committed by a person when he was not in his right mind he may either not be punished or will receive reduced punishment. That is why the defense lawyer will also try to prove that his client was provoked and did not intend to commit a crime. The idea is that only an action intentionally done makes one accountable and produces a result.
An action that is in keeping with dharma or righteousness produces what we call punya पुण्य or virtue. If an action is in violation of dharma, it creates the opposite, papa पाप or vice. Therefore, punya and papa are the results of actions that are either righteous or otherwise.
As human beings, we are constantly performing deliberate actions. One of the main reasons why actions are performed is the fulfillment of desires. We are born with all kinds of needs. We are born needy and most people also die needy. As these needs arise in the mind, the mind is prompted or sometimes compelled to perform action to fulfill the needs or desires. Therefore, actions are usually performed as motivated by desires and needs or by expectations and demands. Since there is no end to desires, the fulfillment of one desire brings another desire in its wake. That being the case, human beings are continuously performing actions from birth to death. Therefore, we keep on accumulating the fruits of these actions. The one who has a sense of doership in performing actions is accountable for experiencing the results.
The next question is, “When will these actions give rise to results?” That depends upon the kind of action that has been performed. It is like asking when a given seed will result in fruit. That depends upon the kind of seed it is. Certain seeds bring forth fruits in about a year or two. Other seeds take a few years longer, perhaps five years or even ten. It depends entirely upon the seed. For instance, it may take a mango tree five years of growing before you get mangoes, while it takes a banana or plantain about two years to produce fruit; some seeds fructify soon and some take time. Similarly, there is no rule that an action that is performed now will produce results immediately. Some actions do give immediate results. Eating food appeases hunger as an immediate result. But when we perform an action of charity, service, or worship, it will produce results only in its own time. By the same token, if we hurt somebody, steal something or cheat somebody those actions will also bring about results in their own time. Therefore, of the number of actions that we perform during this lifetime, there are many that yield results in this lifetime itself, while there are many others that will perhaps not fructify during this lifetime.
One may ask what happens to those actions, which do not fructify in terms of results during this lifetime? They are stored in an ’account’ for us to experience their outcome in the future. Therefore, those results will be experienced in a future lifetime. It can be the following lifetime or a future lifetime; we do not know. We call them accumulated results or accumulated actions. The accumulated actions, which are waiting to fructify in the future, are called sancita-karma संचितकर्म. Sancita संचित means that which is accumulated. A sancaya संचय means collection. Sancita is that which is collected or accumulated. As we understand it, there is no beginning to this creation. Therefore, each one of us must have experienced countless human births and, therefore, performed countless actions. It is therefore possible that there are countless actions in our ’account’ that are waiting to fructify. Theoretically, this can result in countless births; ‘there is no end to the process of exhausting the results of the actions we have performed because we do not know how many they are. Not only that, but in the very process of experiencing the result of an action, we perform some more actions. These actions also add up, and thus we accumulate a huge store of sancita-karma. It is like a part of one’s salary getting automatically deposited in the bank every month. The amount in the bank accumulates each month. Some of that accumulated fund is invested in short- or long-term deposits for a period of five years, ten years, fifteen years, or even thirty years. Therefore, periodically, some part of that invested money results in the maturity of a deposit and then they get back that chunk of money. Similarly, of all the karma that accumulates, the result of some of it may ’mature’ and we then get the result of those actions. That is called prarabdha-karma and it is this karma, which has resulted in the present birth and this life.
Of all the sancita-karma, that part which has fructified and resulted in the birth of this body and this life, is called prarabdha-karma प्रारब्ध-कर्म. It is pra-arabdha प्र-आरब्ध or prakarsena-arabdham प्रकर्षेण-आरब्धं, that which has very well begun to fructify or produce its effect. However, our ’deposit’ continues even while we exhaust our prarabdha-karma in this lifetime as we continue to perform new karmas. And, in turn, that which fructifies Will determine our prarabdha in the next lifetime. So the total continually keeps adding up. As we live our present lives and experience the effects of our prarabdha-karma, we continue to perform new karma. Some of this new karma may yield results in this lifetime and some of it may get added to our store of sancita-karma.
The karma that we perform in the present are called kriyamana-karma क्रियमाणा-कर्म or agami-karma आगामि-कर्म. They are the same. Kriyamana means that which is being performed and agami means that which is coming, which will give rise to result in future. Thus, there are three kinds of karma: sancita-karma, prarabdha-karma, and agami-karma, which is also called kriyamana -karma.
All action is karma, but it is classified into three kinds because we are experiencing the results of some of those actions in the form of prarabdha-karma. To become free from the bondage of Karma, all our sancita-karma should be exhausted, which is impossible. The only way to become free from this cycle of karma is to recognize that one is akarta अकर्ता, actionless, and recognize our real status, in the sense that doership is not our true nature; all our actions were performed by the ignorant ’I,’ and the enlightened ’I’ has nothing to do with them. This is just as in a dream we may do all kinds of things, which, at that time, seem very real. The dream-karma may well even give rise to a dream result of pleasure and pain. When we wake up in the morning, however, we have nothing to do with those dream actions or results because the one performing actions in the dream is no more. Thus, when we wake up to our true nature of being brahman ब्रह्मन्, all the actions that we performed as a jiva are not applicable any more. Therefore, the knowledge of the actionless self is the only means to become free from the bondage of action and its result.
Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati