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Difference Between Dharma and Karma

karmaDharma vs Karma

No matter what religious tradition you follow, you will be asked to live a moral life by the tenets of that religion. The terminology varies from east to west and north to south, but the basic message of all major religions is: ‘be kind to your fellow men and you will eventually receive an award.’ The indigenous religions of India ‘“ Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism ‘“ all ask their believers to following the concepts of dharma and karma to improve not only this life, but their ensuing ones as well.

Definition of Dharma and Karma
Dharma ‘“ refers to one’s duty in this life. You dharma varies according to your class, your family, and the time of your life.
Karma – refers to the actions that one does in relation to one’s dharma.
In a sense, dharma could be seen as one’s lifelong task and karma the steps that one has to take to complete the task.

Applying Dharma and Karma to Your Life
Dharma ‘“ can either be a comforting or an unsettling concept. On the one hand, you may believe that if you follow the traditions of your family and community you will be completing your dharma. That means that as long as you uphold the status quo you are being a moral person. However, some people may question their personal dharma and search for its true meaning outside the confines of their community. In that case, the quest for dharma is life-long and can cause considerable stress if you feel you are not properly following it.
Karma ‘“ can be thought of as a cosmic tally book. All the actions you do, good and bad, are recorded. Some people believe that if your good actions outweigh your bad then you will move to higher level on your next rebirth and if your bad actions outweigh your good then you will move to a lower level on your next rebirth. Others believe that every action needs a balance. If you something good for someone, in this life or the next he will repay your favor. The same is true for debts.

Your dharma determines what type of karma your actions will bring. Going off to war to defend one’s country may fulfill the dharma of one man, but cause bad karma to incur in another man who was supposed to stay home to take care of his children.

1.Dharma and karma are Sanskrit concepts that have been codified through the practice of indigenous Indian religions.
2.Dharma refers to one’s lifelong duty whereas karma refers to someone’s day to day actions and the negative or positive obligations these actions bring about.
3.Dharma is something one must spend a lifetime achieving whereas karma changes from moment to moment.
4.Your dharma influences the type of karma that you actions will bring about.

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  1. Very nice article, sounds like you put a lot of thought into it, nicely done!

    • How much Dharma is good enough Dharma to get liberated or enlightened ?

      Dharmas are the road signs, we try to follow to keep the traffic flow smooth and not chaotic. The problem is these are laws forced externally. Not that these are bad but in reality no one can keep the law all the time. The internal law or the Karma without the fruit of action, better defined as LOVE is the one that really matters.

  2. Hey this is great, i would like to cite it for an essay, me I know the name of the author?



    “karmany evadhikaras te
    ma phalesu kadacana
    ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
    ma te sango ‘stv akarmani
    karmani–in work/actions; eva–certainly; adhikarah–right; te–of you; ma–never; phalesu–in the fruits; kadacana–at any time; ma–never; karma-phala–in the result of the action/work; hetuh—cause, reason or motive ; bhuh—become,happen, occur; appear; ma–never; te–of you; sangah–attachment; astu–there should be; akarmani–in not doing work.

    Your right is to work only, but never to its fruits; let not the fruit-of-action be not your motive, nor let your attachment be to be inaction.

    This verse appears to be the core message of entire Bhagwad Geeta.
    The verse is broken into two parts.
    1. You/We certainly have right (FREEDOM) to work or action but not to the fruit of action meaning not to let the fruit of action is your/our object of any action.
    2. Not to be attached ( Sangha) to inaction. Inaction could be construed as sin.

    Let me start about the word “evaadhikar” that is used here. or the FREEDOM.
    The verse says we have the right to the action and it is certain. The word “eva” means certain. There is full freedom in all our actions. In full freedom Geeta puts me in the driver’s seat. I have no string attached. There is no binding or condition. Whatever the work I do, I do have full right or freedom. It is left to me how I act or perform in my daily life. This kind of freedom contradicts most of our misunderstanding that God controls every action we do. We have been told there is an external theistic God sitting up in the sky controlling each and every of our daily actions. God is thought as the highest authority and a supreme micromanager. We have been told by many religious people that we are just puppets. Then our actions would be just mechanical or robotic with no individual conscience. I do believe all creation is sustained by God draws its existence from God. If God controls everything we do, then it also implies that God also determines the outcome of all things. Then what is the point of exerting any effort? Que sera, Que sera what will be, will be. Why practice, workout, or exert any effort? Human responsibility seems to disappear if everything we do is ultimately predetermined before we were born.
    The word “karmani” (action) is not qualified here; this could be good or bad. Geeta at least on a surface level does not say what kind of action we are supposed to do. BG does neither clearly qualify nor quantify the actions. It does not preach about the moral codes, dogmas, rituals etc. There are no “shall not” or even “shall” things. Had BG insisted only on “good” as most of us perceive, it would have made that clear. The author of the BG realizes that good and bad are grey and these are not absolutes. For example, one may consider killing an animal for food is bad but for some that may be the only source of food. One may view Mahabarata as a Dharmic war. Paradoxically it was also an adharmic war; the enemies were killed in Krishna’s deceitful ways. A deeper level of understanding will reveal these paradoxes.

    Why freedom in action is so much stressed here?
    1. As mentioned earlier, actions cannot be mere mechanical or robotic. Geeta does not want me to be just a puppet.
    2 Human ingenuity or creativity cannot be there without full freedom.
    3. Only free mind can discover new things.
    4. I can grow only in full freedom. The growth here is not static or reaching a state of perfection/ enlightenment/ nirvana but to experience a dynamic and vibrant life. All vibrations cease when one is tied up.
    5. There is no fear in freedom.
    6. Only in freedom we will not be afraid and we dare to take RISK.
    7. Most importantly Love does not exist without full freedom.

    Freedom cannot be given, Geeta just says we already have evadhikar and it does not say Krishna / God granting freedom. We already have it and we need to find it on our own. In a way God is freedom. Freedom is often curtailed by the society, by culture, by parents, by tradition, by a Guru or a spiritual or a holy or God man. Once we become conditioned by these external influences we seldom seek to get liberated. We strongly get held by the beliefs we have been told. Without freedom there is no clarity. Without freedom one cannot find the truth. Without free mind we remain in bondage, confined to the boundaries and we very much resist thinking out of the box. Without freedom one cannot LOVE any one.

    Without freedom one becomes fearful. In fear one gets angry or gets mad at others. In fear one fights with other religions, condemns, compares and criticizes. A terrorist commits a crime in his own fear and he does not know what freedom is. Terrorism may sound very bold act. Paradoxically it is committed because of threat or fear and not recognizing the freedom at all.

    Having said all about this wonderful unlimited freedom, we find it hard to think that this very freedom also allows bad things in addition to good ones. It appears to me the bad actions are the risk of having full freedom. I may argue the risk is well worth it.
    Actions not based on the fruit do not see the difference between the good and evil. There will be no such thing as Dharma and adharma in a literal sense.

    Let us look at this verse in another way. The verse first says “Not to relinquish action but to relinquish fruit of action”. Do your work but do not expect the result of it. Do not expect to control the outcome. One does not have a control or choice on the level of success or failure that may result from that action that is initiated. There is no guarantee as to the result of an action!
    Now let us think seriously. Superficially these statements do not really make any sense here. There is no logic here. Despite all the freedom in the work, we simply do not have a claim on the fruit of the work. Bummer! What I consider a “perfectly executed” action does not mean or guarantee perfect result. I can spend my entire life learning, studying, training etc to perform an action but the reward I expect may not come at all. Regardless how best I behave Moksha or Nirvana will not be guaranteed. Krishna even makes it clear to Arjuna that victory is not guaranteed.
    In this world we think every action is fruit/goal/result oriented. What is the purpose of an action if we are not entitled to enjoy the fruit of it? In our frustrations and anxiety on the uncertainties of the results of our actions we may not perform an action. It sounds disincentive to do a work when we know the reward is not certain or guaranteed. I guess knowing this kind of disincentive, Bhagwad Geeta goes further and says regardless of uncertainty of the fruit we should “Not to be attached to inaction, meaning one cannot stop action. Just because the result is uncertain one cannot sit without an action. It warns against Inaction. Inaction is construed as sin, something we cannot avoid. When we put these two sentences together we find the emphasis on the action alone. BG is serious about work/ action regardless of the result of the work.

    Actions in this context I presume are voluntary, not spontaneous like breathing or beating heart. I also presume the action has to be relentless and persistent and but not “Perfect “action we are asked to perform. (Perfection is the fruit of action)

    Fruit of action can never be well defined and I personally consider this as an illusion. As humans we try to qualitative and quantitative all the actions and we expect proportionate fruits of action. We try to see this in black and white, good and bad, yes or no. The truth is like multiple choice answers, no way can we measure right amount of action to achieve a right amount of fruit. There are great examples in MB. All Sudhama had was a little pounded rice for Krishna. He did not need expensive offering/ ritual to please Krishna. Satyabham’s wealth was no match for a meager Tulsi leaf offered Rukmini.
    The question is how good of an action is good enough to earn perfection/nirvana or enlightenment? Other way stated how bad an action was bad enough to disqualify from reaching a fruit of an action? We will never know the answer.

    Let us explore the ideology of Karma and BG Verse 2:47. Law of Karma is generally understood like this. Right work means right reward. Good deed means good life; one can say he/she has done “PUNYA” in the past life to have/enjoy good things in the present life. Bad work means we get punished whether in this life or in the next life. It is said that if one is a misogynist in this life, then in a future life the person will be female. There is even a list, people have written on the kind of punishment in the next life for each bad deed committed in this life. To an extent it is true , a smoker is more likely to get lung cancer or heart problem. Karma is generally understood as any physical law which is like Cause and effect. For every action there is a proportionate reaction. This law according to some is stretched even into spiritual realm. It is very common in India we comment that it is all because of karma of the past life one suffers in this life. It appears as though someone is keeping the score. One enjoys a good life because of his/her good deeds ( Punya) in the past life. One suffers because he or she did some bad things in the past life. But this kind of explanation falls short to answer how much a good deed is good enough to break the cycles of birth and death.
    The Karmic ideology (not necessarily a reality) appears to go against this verse in BG as it says just because you do a good action does not mean an appropriate good result will happen. A bad action may not necessarily result in a bad fruit. In fact we have no right or an assurance for the fruit of our action. How could that be?

    Again my question is how good of an action is good enough to achieve the right amount of fruit? There is no way we can measure these things. We try to see in terms of good and bad, yes or no, black or white, dharma vs. adharma; violence vs. non violence etc. The truth is it is not just yes or no answers, but it is more like complicated multiple choice answers. We may find more than one equally compelling good answers. This is the dilemma Arjuna faces at the beginning of the war. Arjuna was struggling in measuring the good deeds by finishing off the Kauravas against the bad deeds of killing people (paapa) and carrying the Karmic burden by doing so. What was Krishna’s answer? He answers in this verse by saying “Forget about the fruit of actions” (good or bad). He tells Arjuna just do what he is supposed to do. He tells him to just concentrate on his action alone and not to worry about the fruits either paap or punya.

    Relinquishing fruit of action is not something we can intellectually force upon ourselves. I cannot walk around with a mind thinking “I am detached from this world”. I cannot walk like a Sanyasi with a forced detached look. This is an intellectual exercise and it is futile. But the truth is bad or good results happen irrespective of how we like to see. This is something we need to understand and come to terms and embrace both, not blaming one’s “Fate or Karma.”

    The action to be performed, what BG calls “the Karma with no bondage” is also called Dharma. This is the work that is not based on the fruit. There is no condition attached. It calls for work that needs to be done, not in the intension of achieving good but do it in goodness (freedom) already established. It is not like doing some work with the thinking of some good result will happen tomorrow or something I need to do this as a duty, but to work with already established in Good. I guess here the word “Good” may not be appropriate. Upanishad calls this Poornam or wholesome or Advaita. I guess this is what it means when BG says “established in self”.

    When we go back to the Karmic ideology I mentioned earlier it does make sense to know that the work we do with the goal of attaining the expected result or reward, it becomes burdensome. As an example we can attest to that when we feel the stress and anxiety (burnout) associated with the work that has a deadline.

    The kind of action what BG calls as an “unattached” sounds lifeless. It gives the superficial impression that somehow we need to get through in order to break the cycles of birth and death and find the Nirvana or Moksha. The highest position would be like a Sanyasi or a Guru staying away from the material world with the forced detached look. We feel as though these people high up on the ladder are almost there and even some ones are actually “enlightened”. It may sound like we all need to be like saints or some Rishis and to have a religious or repressive mind. We start to revere those robed Swamis or Gurus or Pope as the enlightened ones and as a commoner we feel the inadequacy of our deeds. Some of the confusion is the misunderstanding of the word renunciation. BG clearly calls for renunciation of the fruit but NOT the action itself.

    For any action, it does not matter what my position or status in the society, all it is to have no condition attached and not be conditional. My Swadharma, that is my unique education, knowledge and skill put together has to be relentless and dynamic. The action can be anything but not mechanical or robotic.
    To my understanding BG does not push the moral throttle down. It leaves to us to figure out what kind of action we are supposed to do but it has to be Unconditional. As per Geeta action has to be unattached, not binding to the result. Action has NOT to be based on the reward.

    Having said all these now it becomes clear that the only action done not seeking reward is Love. Love needs full freedom and is expressed in action only and not in just words. This has no Karmic burden. Karmic burden is simply and completely burned by Love. Love is sacrificial work. Love calls us to give up wholeheartedly what we treasure. Love is nothing to do with good or bad.

    The reasons for relinquishing the fruit of action or not getting the exact fruit of action are:
    a. However best we do we may not achieve perfection or the result we desire.

    b. It teaches humility. We will understand human limitation.

    c. We seek divine to decide and help to understand our limitation.

    d. Action based on result has a tendency to short cut or even cheat. One may even jump into other skill, neither trained nor familiar with the other skill just to find the fruit of action.
    e. The best purpose I see is to get our Ego out. When an ego performs any act with a desire for fruits thereof, Karma accumulates. Ego is something when a person regards the fruits of action (success or failure) as ‘mine’ and it is based on duality or double minded or Dwaitic attitudes. Let me try to explain this.
    The verse tells we have no claim on the fruit. A person may put in hours of work and make very little money and another person may put in just a few hours of work and make a lot of money. How could this be? Remember this verse explicitly says fruit is not our business. This is not a fair system. This is not a pure physical law of action and equal reaction. One does not proportionally get rewarded according to the amount/quality of his/her work. The person who was not rewarded enough despite his “extra” effort typically grumbles looking at the person who earned a lot more with his little work. The grumbling comes out of dualistic thinking. Dualism compares and complains about of not being fair. Dualistic brain grounded in Ego keeps track of score through comparison and contrast. Who has more who has less, which is better who is worse etc…? BG teaches about non duality by not giving us the right to the fruit of action and thus to absolve our egoism. There is enough for everybody and it is not about competition.

    Let us look at what happens when these two segments, “not relinquishing action but relinquishing fruit of action” connected to each other? The real actions Geeta asking us to perform are those based on the relinquishment of fruit of action. Now, it appears Geeta does qualify the actions in a deeper sense, giving full meaning. As stated before in full freedom one can commit bad actions such as stealing, lying, violence, lust etc but when we go deeper we realize these actions are based on fruit of action. The person, who performs bad actions, does these with the strong intention of fruits of action. Vinobha puts it nicely when he says when bad actions are rubbed against the relinquishment of fruit of action these types of actions automatically get excluded.

    Actions based on fruit of actions are conditional, binding and KARMIC… Actions based on the relinquishment of fruit of action are not conditional, not attached; none binding; NON KARMIC and these are done in full freedom. This is Karma Yoga or Love in action.

    Going back to freedom, we find there is neither fear nor any compulsion; there is no urge to be secure. In freedom there is no psychological inner dependence. Inner dependence is very much deep rooted. We want to be safe, want to be admired about our looks, dress, degrees, diplomas, positions, we need to be self assured and recognized. Many of us strive to become some thing what we are not made for. It is mostly natural that we like to have a sense of importance and we want to be famous and powerful. In all these processes we can never be free. In trying to become something different or following an authority there is no freedom. Geeta says following Para Dharma is wrong. The moment we want to be something we are no longer free. One should think only what is and not what should be. “What is” is the action I take. “What should be” is the ideal or the fruit of action. So much is out there by the propaganda of modern life, religious institutions, books, media, Gurus, Babas, theologians, priests etc. trying us to be something different than what we already and we waste enormous amount of time and energy (Karmic load) in pursuing such ideals. Geeta warns against what it should be.
    Freedom and love are not reactions, if someone cusses me, I get angry, and that is reaction born out of fear and dependence. Love is not “I love you and you love me” It is not a trade, not something that can be bought in the market. Love is not hedged upon return.

    To summarize, action based on fruit of action is conditional or binding with no freedom. An unconditional or unbinding action is Love. So the overall underlying message in this beautiful verse is (unconditional) Love and Love has no karmic burden.
    These are my thoughts and you have full freedom to comment.
    Thank you for reading.
    You may respond to this by emailing

    • Thanks for reading.. A long one perhaps very redundant.. I think I should make it short.

      FYI I observe the core message in Bible is freedom and love.

      Thanks again

  4. That was beautiful. Absolutely loved reading it.

  5. Great V nicely explained. Answers most queries. Thanks.

    That is why I think Hindus is more of a spiritual science and not a religion. Hence there should not be any clash of Hindus with any religion.

  6. Just wanted to thank and please keep us the good work thanks

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