What Is Karma and How Does It Work [The Complete Guide]


When we mention the term karma, the main thing that pops into mind is the phrase “What goes around comes back around”. However, karma’s purpose and explanation goes far beyond rough patches and causing misery. So, what is karma when stripped back from all of its pop-culture-related misconceptions? We will break down what it is, how it works, what types of karma there are as well as how you can change them, and go over the 12 laws of karma.

What Is Karma

In Indian religion and philosophy, karma, Sanskrit karman (“act”), is the fundamental causal law by which good or bad acts decide the future modes of an individual’s life. Karma denotes the ethical aspect of the rebirth (samsara) method, which is widely accepted throughout India’s religious traditions. In its most basic form, karma applies to all deeds and their consequences and is used to advance the soul and cause enlightenment.

How Does Karma Work?

The most common misconception is that “fate” acts in the same way as karma. However, this is not the case. If you do something bad, it does not mean that something negative will happen to you in order for it to “balance out.” Karma is a force inside us that we can use for good or bad and not here to bring up unresolved issues.

Just like gravity governs the physical world, karma governs the divine realm. How karma works is through holding us accountable for our actions and, more specifically, for our intentions. The karmic process is nothing more than energy. It’s the product of our deliberate thoughts and behaviour. We will be affected by the energy we produce now and in the future. It has nothing to do with rewarding or punishing people. Karma is impartial, and we have power over it.

Did you know: Karma is actually scientifically proven. We also know that our thoughts and feelings literally construct our reality (and lifetimes). And, when we think positive thoughts or do good deeds, our brain reaps significant benefits. This can only have beneficial consequences and events in our lives.

Good and Bad Karma 

A popular misconception is that the karmic structure is black and white, and that it is either good or evil. There are occasions when you may believe you’ve generated bad karma by doing an action that was performed with the best of intentions. The purpose of an action determines whether it has good or bad karma, and how it manifests.

Good Karma

So, what is good karma? Good karma is the result of your actions and past impressions, whether it’s a deed, a feeling, or an expression. Your purpose directs the outcome of your action to be positive. Good deeds are rewarded either in this life or the next and they can also determine your karmic relationships.

Bad Karma

And what is bad karma? Bad karma is the polar opposite of good karma, and it is earned by negative actions, emotions, and/or words. Bad motives lead to bad behaviour, which leads to bad outcomes. Bad karma, like good karma, may be received in this lifetime or as a result of a past existence. If you find yourself on a bad spiritual path, first try to understand the karmic body, and if that leaves you with no answers, try out online psychic readings.

What Is Instant Karma?

If there is an immediate retribution for a bad deed or a reward for a good deed, it is referred to as instant karma. An example of good instant karma would be you helping an old lady cross the street and her giving you a freshly baked cookie afterwards. Instant bad karma is an instant retaliation for a negative thought or deed; for example, a person makes fun of something you’ve done and shortly after does something embarrassing themself.

How Do Good and Bad Karma Work?

All karma manifests in a positive or a negative form at some point in your life, or what we might call ups and downs. As an example of bad karma, we could explain this through a general example: Someone cheats on their partner without any remorse. Later on, they get divorced and that person develops some type of health issue that presents a lot of problems in their life from that point on. Although bad karma is what most people refer to as “what goes around comes back around”, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the only form that the karmic body takes shape in. In addition, karma’s main purpose is not to make “bad people” suffer, but to be a guide as to how people should lead their life in order to reap good karma either in this life or the next one.

However, there are occasions when you must make a bad decision while having a positive intention. For example, to spare your friend’s feelings, you may decide to lie to them. Although telling a lie goes against how karma works, your motivation for telling your friend the lie was positive and motivated by compassion and love, so there is a sort of karmic matchup. This proposes the question: Will your positive intentions outweigh the negative karma of lying?

Did you know: In Buddhism karma isn’t defined as a good or bad thing. Karma is simply the product of decisions made in this and previous lifetimes. Meanwhile, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism do believe in this distinction.

Difference Between Karma and Dharma

In this section, you’ll learn about dharma and how it’s different from karma.

What Is Dharma?

You might be wondering, what is the difference between karma and dharma? Dharma refers to one’s responsibilities in this life. Your dharma varies depending on your social status, family, and life stage. Dharma’s understanding can be both soothing and disturbing. On the one hand, you may believe that by adhering to your family’s and community’s customs, you will be fulfilling your dharma. That is, as long as the status quo is maintained, you are a moral individual. Some people, on the other hand, can doubt their personal dharma and seek true meaning outside of their community.

Difference Between Karma and Dharma

To help you further differentiate what is dharma and karma, think of karma as the product of one’s conduct in relation to one’s dharma. In certain ways, dharma can be viewed as the task of one of your lifetimes, and karma as the steps necessary to complete the task. Your dharma decides the type of karmic experiences you will receive as a result of your deeds. For example, going to war to protect one’s country may fulfill one man’s dharma, but it may result in bad karma and misery for another who was supposed to stay at home and care for his children.

Did you know: Dharma is something that takes multiple lifetimes to achieve, while karma is something that varies from moment to moment.

What Is the Karmic Cycle?

The karmic cycle describes how karma operates in people’s lives through various circumstances and karmic experiences that we must go through in order to learn a soul lesson. One karmic cycle is said to last 12 years, with different stages of our lives divided into karmic cycles. The karmic patterns are divided into 5 stages:

  • Childhood Cycle: 0 – 12 years

Individuals will intentionally construct environments that will assist them in their spiritual path.

  • Youth Cycle: 13 – 24 years

This is when the majority of the signs from your past life begin to appear, and you begin to pay off your debts in a meaningful way.

  • Adult Creation: 25 – 36 years

As soon as a person enters the adult stage of their karmic cycle, their karmic patterns are thought to be complete. What manifests are all of the mental, emotional, and physical health issues that have been aligned for that person in a previous lifetime.

  • Adult Expansion: 37 – 48 years

At this point, the karmic patterns take hold. The karmic life tests have been increased in difficulty. This is due to the fact that either the individual is resisting or hasn’t fully absorbed the information that these tests require.

  • Adult Contraction: 49 – 60 years

From this point forward, the cycle’s power begins to wane. This is the worst karmically of all the phases. Individuals have either fixed or postponed issues for the next lifetime.

  • Breaking the Karmic Cycle

So, how do you break a karmic cycle? One approach is to gradually get there by doing the right things over a number of lifetimes. However, if you’d like to get out of a cycle during the lifetime you’re in at the moment, another option is to stay in your current situation, do your best, stay open and concentrated, and make yourself available to the process.

Key Takeaways

What is karma? Karma is the fundamental causal law by which good or bad acts decide the future modes of an individual’s life.
Karma is a force inside us that we can use for good or bad.
A common misconception is that karma is actually fate and that the main purpose of it is to punish people for doing bad deeds.
Good karma is the positive result of your action, whether it’s a deed, a feeling, or an expression.
Bad karma is earned by negative actions, emotions, and/or words.
Karma is the product of one’s conduct in relation to one’s dharma. Dharma refers to one’s responsibilities in this life.
You might find yourself in a karmic cycle, but there are ways on how you can break out of it.

What Are the 12 Laws of Karma in Buddhism?

Chances are, you’ve been aware of the 12 laws of karma all along and haven’t had the faintest clue they belonged under the realm of Buddhist karma. Understanding them will aid you in creating your own karma-busting motto or affirmation and explain the karmic process.

The Great Law or the Law of Cause & Effect

You might have heard the saying “You reap what you sow”. This is the first of the 12 laws of karma in Buddhism and is also one of the Laws of the Universe. It states that whatever thoughts or energy you put out, you will receive, no matter if it’s good or bad. You must represent and be deserving of what you desire in order to obtain it. Whatever one sends out into the Universe returns to them.

The Law of Creation

The law of creation emphasizes the significance of life not being just something that happens to us. Instead of waiting for anything to happen by itself, you must take steps to make things happen in your life. Surround yourself with the things you want in life and be true to yourself.

The Law of Humility

The theory behind the law of humility is that you must be patient enough to understand that your present reality is the product of your previous behavior. If what one sees is an adverse or negative personality trait, they cannot concentrate on a higher plane of life.

The Law of Growth

One of the 12 laws of karma that will change your life is the law of growth. You must begin with yourself in order to positively shape the world. That’s because true growth or improvement starts with what you can handle, which is yourself. If we want to develop spiritually, we must change ourselves, not the people, places, or things around us. When we change who and what we are within our souls, our lives change as well.

The Law of Responsibility

The law of responsibility entails taking responsibility for all that occurs in our lives, including the bad. It’s a perfect reminder that all that happens to you is due to your actions. We reflect our surroundings, and our surroundings reflect us – this is a universal truth. It is important to accept responsibility for one’s life.

The Law of Connection

The 6th law of the 12 laws of karma is the law of connection. It states that since everything in the Universe is linked, even the smallest or seemingly insignificant tasks must be completed. Neither the first nor the last steps are more important. Both are needed to complete whatever you’ve set your mind to do. The past, the present, and the future are all intertwined.

The Law of Focus

Trying to focus on so many things at once can cause irritation and negativity. That’s why the law of focus advises you to focus on only one thing at a time. It is impossible for us to have thoughts like greed or rage if our attention is on spiritual values like love and peace.

The Law of Giving & Hospitality

Selflessness, giving to others, and doing what you preach are all part of this law. It’s about making sure that you’re not only saying and thinking positive things, but that you’re actually putting your values into motion.

The Law of Here & Now

The 9th from the laws of karma is the law of here and now. You can’t be in the moment if you’re looking back to reflect on the past, or forward to be concerned about the future. We can’t have new ideas, patterns of action, or dreams when we still hold onto the old ones. To gain karmic experiences of true peace of mind, you must try to embrace the present.

The Law of Change

History will continue to repeat itself until we learn the lessons we need to change our course. Change provides you with a new direction to follow in order to build a new future and a better version of yourself that is free of the habits of the past.

The Law of Patience & Reward

Long-term rewards necessitate patience and perseverance. What this law entails is that true happiness comes from understanding that as long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing – the reward will come in its own time.

The Law of Significance & Inspiration

We all have a role to play in this world and something to contribute. What we share can seem insignificant to us at times, but it can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. According to this law, every individual contribution is a contribution to the greater whole. This law wraps up the 12 laws of karma that will change your life.

Did you know: The purpose of karma is to teach us virtues such as self-reflection, inspiration, commitment, and ambition. And if you break any of the laws in one way or another, it does not result in a set-in-stone punishment.

How Can I Change My Own Karma?

Here are some suggestions on what you can do:

Acceptance, Forgiveness, and Presence

If you’d like to settle a karmic debt, start by being present. It can be difficult to be present without forgiveness and acceptance of the past, because the past will certainly haunt you, with those past traumas projecting itself into the present. You will become more present by healing past emotional wounds and unresolved issues that have been projected into the present moment. And this is a procedure that will last as long as it is needed.

Call to Action

The easiest and most undervalued way to repay all karmic debts and produce good karma is to act on principle and upon the laws of karma. Do good even though it isn’t expected of you. When in doubt, behave in the manner in which you would like people to treat you.

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness plays a big part in changing your own karma. The main target of mindfulness is to be present and hush all the impulses you might be inclined to do or say. Instead of feeding or responding to impulses, you learn to recognize them for what they are: emotions. As a result, mindfulness has the potential to reshape the ties in the chain of acts and consequences. One way to practice mindfulness is by writing affirmations which further manifests a higher sense of presence.

Wrap Up

A common misconception is that karma is actually fate and that the main purpose of it is to punish people for doing bad deeds. Karma is the fundamental causal law by which good or bad acts decide the future modes of an individual’s life. There is good and bad karma; however, all depend on the actions and thoughts we have in this life, or from a previous lifetime. There are also 12 rules which encompass the main purpose behind karma and what manifests from it.


Who wrote the laws of karma?

Although it is not set in stone who exactly wrote the 12 laws of karma, the Vedic theologian Yajnavalkya, in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E., shared a belief that later became the main objective of karma, but was considered new and esoteric at the time. This is the earliest date back to karma.

Can I change my own Karma?

We can’t get rid of karma because it is an inextricable part of how life works. One has no influence over their karma but has complete control over how it is changed. To do so, we must first be clear about what we want to experience in the future and be open to enlightenment on our spiritual paths.

How long can a karmic cycle be?

What is Karma but the force that a person’s actions produce? Karma is said to follow a cycle throughout our lives. It’s believed that it normally lasts 12 years and is divided into sections based on our age.


I've loved writing since I can remember, and back in high school, I started loving psychology as well. So I majored in it while dabbling in spirituality and yoga on the side.

Latest from Jelena

5 Must-Have Spiritual Tools You Can Use for Daily Spiritual Practices Why Do I Twitch When I Sleep? [Common Reasons Explained] What Is Past Life Regression & How to Do It 7 Symptoms of Negative Energy at Home

Leave a Reply