• (often capitalized): in Hinduism and Buddhism, the immaterial element generated by a person's intentions, actions, and inner nature that determine whether or not the person will continue to exist in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth and, if so, the qualities of his or her next life
  • A mystical influence believed to be generated by a person's choices that determines the nature of his or her fortunes
  • A general aura or ambiance that describes the overall nature of a person, place, situation, or object


Karma is a key component of many Eastern religions and philosophies, including Hinduism, Buddhism and even Taoism. Although the specifics vary according to different belief systems, Karma is best understood as a kind of intangible force or entity that influences one's fate within the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Although the details again vary with different faiths, Karma is in general formed by some combination of a person's actions and intents; it depends not only on what the person actually does but also by the nature of their inner self. Karma that is generated by positive actions and thoughts that are in accordance with the principles of a person's faith is thought to have a desirable influence on one's next life, allowing one to be born into good life conditions, experience good fortune, and, in some faiths like Buddhism, even freeing one from the cycle of rebirth (see: NIRVANA ). Likewise, Karma generated by negative actions and beliefs will cause one to be reborn into undesirable life circumstances. When used in a religious context, Karma is often (but not exclusively) capitalized.

The traditional, philosophical uses of karma have helped to connect the word with a sense of "cosmic justice" in the Western vocabulary. In this sense, karma is often used to refer to a mystic, indefinable force that influences one's immediate future. The Western usage includes two distinct types of karma. There's "good karma," which one generates by doing good deeds and treating others well, and "bad karma," which one creates by being inconsiderate and treating others poorly. These two types of karma are thought to accrue like withdrawals and deposits in a bank account. Having a net amount of "good karma" will lead to good fortune in the future, while a net sum of "bad karma" will lead to hardship or bad luck. It is important to note that, in the Western usage, karma is often considered single-use; once karma brings about something, be it good or bad, it is "used up" and must be collected again.

A slightly less common Western usage of karma describes the overall vibe perceived from an object, person, place, or situation. In this case, the karma being described takes on the same good and bad notation as the previous usage. So, for instance, a room in which a party is occurring might have "good karma," while a girl with a menacing demeanor could have "bad karma" about her.

Example: By strictly adhering to the tenets of the Eightfold Path, the Buddhist monk hoped to shape his Karma in such a way that allowed him to be reborn in desirable circumstances.

Example: "That car just missed me!" exclaimed Tommy. "Must've been good karma from working at the soup kitchen yesterday!"

Example: "I don't want to visit the haunted house; that place has bad karma," said Susan.

Derivative Words

Karmic: Karmic is an adjective or adverb which describes an object or action as being a consequence of or related in some way to karma.

Example: Many people believe that bad luck is really a form of karmic justice.

Similar Words

Dharma is a word which sounds similar to karma and which also describes an important concept in Eastern belief systems like Hinduism and Buddhism. Although the specific meanings of dharma vary among different faiths, it generally describes the beliefs, actions, and ways of life that are in harmony with the fundamental order of the universe.


Karma is believed to have been introduced to English in the early nineteenth century. Initially formed as a term used in Buddhism, karma in Sanskrit literally means "deed" or "fate." Its earliest ancestors include words in Avestan and Old Persian, which were themselves likely formed from the root "kwer," which means "to create or shape."

In Literature

From Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore:

Even chance meetings are the result of karma… Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there's no such thing as coincidence.

Here, the use of karma implies that every detail of our lives is predetermined by our actions in previous lives.


  • You won't come to harm if you have good karma!
  • Soup Kitchen in Burma - Now that's good Karma!


Buddhism, Hinduism, Philosophy, Mysticism, Fate, Luck

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of karma. Did you use karma in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.