From awell-know Judge article, these 31 aphorisms first
appeared in the March 1893 issue of The Path. In the May and
June 1893 issues of The Theosophist, a learned Hindu pandit,
E. Desikacharya, somewhat critically responded by stating
that these are fairly common traditional notions about
Karma, providing an impressive series of quotations. Below
are the aphorisms together with the passages from Hindu
(1) There is no Karma unless there is a being to make it or
feel its effects.
"If they (the afflictions) are the root (of Karma)
fructification (or result) is rank, years, and enjoyment"
Patanjali, Yoga Sutras (II. 1:3).
"All the creatures in the world would have been
exterminated if there were no Karma. If also Karma bore
no fruits, creatures would have never multiplied
......... Without Karma, the course of life itself would
be impossible." (Mahabharata (Vanaparva, sec. XXXII)
"There must be a body for the Karma to operate on, and Karma
to operate on a body" (Vatsyayana's Commentary on the Nyaya
Sutras, III. 2, 64).
(2) Karma is the adjustment of effects flowing from causes,
during which the being upon whom and through whom that
adjustment is effected experiences pain or pleasure.
"These (Karmas) have joy or suffering as their fruits,
according as the cause is virtue or vice." Patanjali, Yoga
Sutras (II, 14)
(3) Karma is an undeviating and unerring tendency in the
Universe to restore equilibrium, and it operates
"The consequence of the Karma that is once done can never be
obviated." (Mahabharata. Vanaparva CCIX)
(4) The apparent stoppage of this restoration to
equilibrium is due to the necessary adjustment of
disturbance at some other spot, place, or focus which is
visible only to the Yogi, to the Sage, or the perfect
Seer: there is therefore no stoppage, but only a hiding
"The Karma done must be suffered, whether good or bad."
"Indeed, all creatures live according to the Karma of a
former life, even the Creator and the Ordainer of the
Universe, like a crane that liyeth on the water
(untaught by anyone)". (Mahabharata. Vanaparva, Sec.
(5) Karma operates on all things and beings from the
minutest conceivable atom to Brahma. Proceeding in the three
worlds of men, gods, and the elemental beings, no spot in
the manifested universe is exempt from its sway.
"Karma affects the whole Universe from Brahman to the
See also Manu Smriti (XII, 9-51)
(6) Karma is not subject to time, and therefore he who knows
what is the ultimate division of time in this Universe knows
"As it (Karma) is not controlled by Time and Space, it
should not be judged by Time and Space." (Vyasadeva,
Commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras - II, 1:1)
(7) For all other men Karma is in its essential nature
unknown and unknowable.
" It is very difficult, to know which is Karma and which is
not Karma". (Bhagavadgita, IV, 17)
"He who knows it is a wise man" (Bhagavadgita, V. 19). )
(8) But its action may be known by calculation from cause to
effect; and this calculation is possible because the effect
is wrapped up in and is not succedent to the cause.
See Manu (Chap. XII, 39-51)
"We have to conjecture about the nature of our previous
Karma, by our present birth" (Vyasadeva, Commentary on
"Its action can only be conjectured," (Bhojadeva, Commentary
(9) The Karma of this earth is the combination of the acts
and thoughts of all beings of every grade which were
concerned in the preceding Manvantara or evolutionary stream
from which ours flows.
Since every cause must have an effect and since the present
Karma is the result of past Karma, and Karma is thus said by
Sankaracharya to be with no beginning, it is reasonable to
suppose that the Karma of the present Manvantara is the
result of the past.
(10) And as those beings include Lords of Power and Holy
Men, as well as weak and wicked ones, the period of the
earth's duration is greater than that of any entity or
race upon it.
(see Patanjali's Yoga Sutra II, 1, Vyasadevas Commentary)
(11) Because the Karma of this earth and its races began
in a past too far back for human minds to reach, an
enquiry into its beginning is useless and profitless.
"The objection would be valid if the world was had a
beginning; but, as it is without beginning, merit and
inequaity are like seed and sprout, caused as well as
causes, and there is therefore no logical objection to their
operation." (Sankara, Commentary on Bhagavadgita, II. 1. 35)
(13) The effects may be counteracted or mitigated by the
thoughts and acts of oneself or of another, and then the
resulting effects represent the combination and interaction
of the whole number of causes involved in producing the
"The effects (of Karma) which have not yet begun to operate
will be counteracted, or will die out (Brahma Sutras.IV, 4,
See also the Prayaschitka Khanda and Madhavacharya,
Commentary on Parasara Smriti, chapter on Karmavipaka.
Madhvacharya, at the end of the chapter on Prayaschitta,
observes that all of them are. only for Sancita Karma and
not for Prarabdha Karma, and refers to the Brahma Sutras
above quoted for his authority. He also adds that any
prayaschitta undergone for counteracting or mitigating any
other kind of Karma is no real prayaschitta, for, although
their fruition is temporarily held in abeyance, he will have
to suffer it in the future.
(14) In the life of worlds, races, nations, and individuals,
Karma cannot act unless there is an appropriate instrument
provided for its action.
See references to Aphorism No. 1.
(15) And until such appropriate instrument is found,
that Karma related to it remains unexpended.
"In the Sanhita Karma, that which is most powerful, first
begins to bear fruition, and it has body (also) as its
instrument to work through." . (Madhavacharya , Prayaschitta
See also references for Aphorism No. 13.
(16) While a man is experiencing Karma in the instrument
provided, his other unexpended Karma is not exhausted
through other beings or means, but is held reserved for
future operation; and lapse of time during which no
operation of that Karma is felt causes no deterioration in
its force or change in its nature.
“Only when there areKlesas(Kama,
Kroda, &c.), will Karma be able to bear fruition. When there
no Karma can act, just as rice which has husk and which is
not fried will sprout. Thus Karma will not be operative
either when the husk of theKlesasare
burnt off byBrahmagnana,
or when there is no such husk. The fruition of Karma is
either age and experience. We shall now enquire, is one kind
of Karma the cause of one birth, or many births? Or, are
several kinds of Karma the causes of a single birth? If we
think of saying that a single Karma is the cause of birth ,
that will not do, as we cannot say whether it is one of the
Karmas done in the previous births, or a Karma of the
present birth, that is the cause of the next birth . Hence
mankind will not, as a body, have a desire to do good
Karma.* If we should suppose a single Karma, then the case
becomes more hopeless. If we should again suppose that
several Karmas are the cause of several births, how can
there be a large number of births in a single birth, the
conclusion to which we are invariably driven. Thus what we
should say is, that certain kinds of Karma committed between
birth and death (in an incarnation) group round a more
important Karma, cause the individual’s death, and give him
a new birth altogether. It is those Karmas that give him
sufficient age (to experience ) . How to know them we can
“ Karma is of two kinds, viz., that which bears fruition
and that which does not. That which we can infer from
the mere fact of our existence, is the Karma which bears
other kind of Karma (Aniyatavipaka)
is of three kinds : (a ) That which perishes in the bud
: (b) That which acts as an auxiliary to a more
important karma (c) and that which does not begin to
bear fruition at once , but only works after several
incarnations. The Sruti says: ‘Two kinds of Karma should
be known : one is bad; the virtuous make it perish .
Hence shouldst thou desire to make good Karma .Gnanisknow
this Karma” (Vyasadeva`s Commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga
Sutras , II, 13)
“The residue of works have affliction for their root, and
are felt (either ) in this manifest birth , (or) in the
unmanifest one”. (Sutra XII).
(17) The appropriateness of an instrument for the operation
of Karma consists in the exact connection and relation of
the Karma with the body, mind, intellectual and psychical
nature acquired for use by the Ego in any life.
See references for Aphorism No. 14.
(18) Every instrument used by any Ego in any life is
appropriate to the Karma operating through it.
(19) Changes may occur in the instrument during one life so
as to make it appropriate for a new class of Karma, and this
may take place in two ways: (a) through intensity of thought
and the power of a vow, and (b) through natural alterations
due to complete exhaustion of old causes.
In other words, the Karma which was hitherto bearing
fruition has stopped doing so owing to the “repetition of
Mantras, penance (under which is included Prayaschitta ) and
Samadhi,”which are no other than the “ intensity of thought”
and “ power of a vow”. See Bhojadeva’s or Vyasadeva’s
Commentary on Patanjali’s Sutra (II, xii).
(20) As body and mind and soul have each a power of
independent action, any one of these may exhaust,
independently of others, some Karmic causes more remote
from or nearer to the time of their inception than those
operating though other channels.
(21) Karma is both merciful and just. Mercy and Justice are
only opposite poles of a single whole; and Mercy without
Justice is not possible in the operations of Karma. That
which man calls Mercy and Justice is defective, errant, and
Keep in mind that Mr. Desikacharya is arguing from the
Dvaita Vedanta school, a very theistic, dualistic and
realistic philosophy. His critique seems to be that when the
Aphorisms agree with his school, then they can’t be original
esoteric ideas and when they don’t agree with Vedantic
scripture, then they aren’t valid. I think that his
very erudite references can just as easily show that the
aphorisms are compatible with Vedantic schools in general
and the ones that do not have parallels in Hindu scriptures
show that they are not dependent on same.
(22) Karma may be of three sorts (a) Presently operative
in this life through the appropriate instruments; (b)
that which is being made or stored up to be exhausted in
the future; (c) Karma held over from past life or lives
and not operating yet because inhibited by
inappropriateness of the instrument in use by the Ego,
or by the force of Karma now operating.
This is exactly what is called Sanchita Prarabdha, by our
Vedantic writers, who group the second and third classes of
Karma into one, and name it Sanchita, which simply means
that which is stored np for operation in future. I may here
add that no notice is taken of Agami (future) Karma in the
above Aphorism. The reader is referred to the Vedanta Sutras
IV, 1, 13 and 15, and any Commentary thereon.
(23) Three fields of operation are used in each being by
Karma: (a) the body and the circumstances; (b) the mind and
intellect; (c) the psychic and astral planes.
With a slight difference in detail, this is just the same as
is given in our writings, e. g ., the Bhagavadgita.
(24) Held-over Karma or present Karma may each, or both at
once, operate in all of the three fields of Karmic operation
at once, or in either of those fields a different class of
Karma from that using the others may operate at the same
This is an inference from the two preceding Aphorisms.
(25) Birth into any sort of body and to obtain the fruits of
any sort of Karma is due to the preponderance of the line of
See Aphorism No. 16.
“ The important Karma, with its auxiliaries, determines the
nature of enjoyment, (such as rank, age, &c.) in the next
birth.” (Vyasadeva, Commentary on Patanjali, II, 13)
(26) The sway of Karmic tendency will influence the
incarnation of an Ego, or any family of Egos, for three
lives at least, when measures of repression, elimination, or
counteraction are not adopted.
(27) Measures taken by an Ego to repress tendency, eliminate
defects, and to counteract by setting up different causes,
will alter the sway of Karmic tendency and shorten its
influence in accordance with the strength or weakness of the
efforts expended in carrying out the measures adopted.
(28) No man but a sage or true seer can judge another's
Karma. Hence while each receives his deserts appearances may
deceive, and birth into poverty or heavy trial may not be
punishment for bad Karma, for Egos continually incarnate
into poor surroundings where they experience difficulties
and trials which are for the discipline of the Ego and
result in strength, fortitude, and sympathy.
“ He who knows Karma is a wise man.” (Bhagavadgita, V. 19)
In the Chhandogyopanishad, mention is made of a great Adept,
Raikwa by name, who was suffering from leprosy, as the
result of bad Karma in one of his previous births, and,
notwithstanding that he was a knower of Brahman, he had to
experience the effects of Karmas other than Prarabdha. (See
also Brahmasutras, IV, 4—15).
(29) Race-Karma influences each unit in the race through the
law of Distribution. National Karma operates on the members
of the nation by the same law more concentrated. Family
Karma governs only with a nation where families have been
kept pure and distinct; for in any nation where there is a
mixture of family -- as obtains in each Kaliyuga period --
family Karma is in general distributed over a nation. But
even at such periods some families remain coherent for long
periods, and then the members feel the sway of family Karma.
The word "family" may include several smaller families.
(30) Karma operates to produce cataclysms of nature by
concatenation through the mental and astral planes of being.
A cataclysm may be traced to an immediate physical cause
such as internal fire and atmospheric disturbance, but these
have been brought on by the disturbance created through the
dynamic power of human thought.
In the Mahabharata, Yanaparva, it is said that at the end of
Kaliyuga, owing to the prevalence of Adharma and neglect of
religious duties, famines, pestilence, and cataclysms will
take place, and carry away men and women by thousands. The
whole manifested nature, whether material or astral, is
governed by Karmic law. Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and other
deities do their work, towards an individual, a nation, a
race, or the whole world, according to the nature of the
fruits of Karma they deserve. In Sanskrit writings, thought
and the deity presiding over it are identical, and so both
are involved when an action relating to either of them is
(31) Egos who have no Karmic connection with a portion of
the globe where a cataclysm is coming on are kept without
the latter's operation in two ways: (a) by repulsion acting
on their inner nature, and (b) by being called and warned by
those who watch the progress of the world.