Digest of terms


strictly speaking, the accumulated nonmaterial residue or effects of one's actions, both in this life and in previous ones, which cause one to be reborn in the ongoing cycle of reincarnation/rebirth (samsara), and variously interpreted and developed within Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions. In Hinduism the dominant emphasis is on the impact which past activity in a previous life has on the present and which present activity has on future lives (and the possibility of ultimate liberation from the cycle, moksha). Caste status, wealth, health and life expectancy are all affected. In Buddhism and Jainism the emphasis is more on the effect which the refinement of intentions can have in leading to eventual enlightenment (nirvana). Different schools of thought developed diverse interpretations, but the commonly shared theme is of an automatically working law of moral (and ritual) cause and effect according to which good actions generate good consequences, and bad actions bad consequences (one reaps what one sows), in this life and future lives. It is one way of conceptualizing a world in which justice ultimately prevails, and in this respect it is analogous to theologies of rewards and punishments, or heaven and hell, found today in Christianity and Islam in particular.

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