Karma in Hinduism is defined as the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. A person goes through life collecting karma by the actions they perform. There are two types of karma. Good karma and negative karma. Good actions create good karma and bad actions create negative karma. Dying with any karma attached to the person’s spirit will lead to their spirit being reborn into a new life. It is believed by Hindus that dying with good karma will reward a person’s spirit by reincarnating them into a better life that may be in a higher place in the caste system.
Hindus believe that life does not end when a person dies. The person’s body dies but their soul does not die. The soul is reborn into a new body through a process called reincarnation. The soul lives on in what is called the astral body. The astral body, which contains the soul, enters a new physical life. This cycle of reincarnation is repeated until the soul has reached a state of perfection or maturity.
The cycle of reincarnation is called Samsara. The individual soul, or jiva, is subject to reincarnation. The jiva is what is rewarded or punished by good or negative karma. The atman, or a person’s deeper soul that is similar to Brahman, is not affected by karma. The atman travels with the jiva during reincarnation. Although a person’s current life is already determined by the actions they performed in previous lives, the person must be responsible for their own actions.
Hindus view the process of reincarnation as a hardship. Each reincarnation means the person has failed to obtain moksha. Moksha is defined as the liberation from rebirth and Samsara. Moksha gives an individual’s atman entry into the highest reality, Brahman. Hindus do not want to be endlessly reincarnated. The goal for Hindus is for an individual to merge their atman with Brahman. In order to be liberated from Samsara, a person must have no karma at all. Any karma, good or negative, causes reincarnation.
Because Moksha requires a person to have no karma, it is very difficult to achieve. Many Hindus believe that Moksha is too hard to accomplish. Instead, Hindus collect good karma and are happy to be reincarnated into a better life. In order to achieve moksha, Hindus must deliberately not want to achieve moksha. Their salvation will come after an individual abandons all their desires and pursuits and that they accept that their individual soul is the same as Brahman.
There are three paths that Hindus can take in order to achieve moksha. They are called Karma Marga (action), Jnana Marga (knowledge), and Bhakti Marga (devotion).
Karma Marga is also called “the path of the works” and is for people who prefer to perform daily tasks, like raising a family or volunteer work, in order to seek liberation from Samsara. This path is about living unselfishly and living in harmony with dharma, which is the foundational concept of Hinduism. People who choose this path use the saying “Do the right thing only because it is right.” The saying means that a person should do a good deed because it is the right thing to do and that they should not expect to be rewarded for doing the good deed.
The next path is Jnana Marga, or the path of knowledge. People who choose this path devote a large amount of time to meditation and learning. People who belong to the Brahmin caste, the highest level in the Hindu caste system, are who usually take this path. This path requires followers to study the three schools of Hindu philosophy (Vedanta, Sankhya, and Yoga) in order to obtain knowledge of the true nature of reality.