12 Laws Of Karma: Steps To Living A Conscious And Ethical Life


Karma is a deeply Vedic concept that has played a part in Eastern philosophy for millennia. 

The concept is primarily rooted in the Vedantic interpretation of reality, which suggests that reactions are a result of actions in an eternal cycle that spans across physical, emotional, and mental realms.

In modern times, there has been a distillation of the core principles of karma, which are known as the 12 cosmic or universal laws of karma.

In this article, we will touch upon the below:

  • Understanding Karma
  • Origins Of Karma And The 12 Laws
  • What Are The 12 Laws Of Karma
wooden sign that says karma on it

Understanding Karma

Three Parts

Karma is fundamentally laid out in three parts (in relation to sentience specifically). These three parts are sanchita, prarabdha, and agami:

#1: Sanchita Karma

Sanchita karma is the amalgamation of karma generated from the past actions of previous lives. The stock of karma from previous incarnations.

#2: Prarabdha Karma

Prarabdha karma is the active component of sanchita karma, as it is what is implicating the current actions and affairs of life. It is the blossoming of the fruit from the seeds of sanchita karma.

#3: Agami Karma

Agami karma (or kriyamana) is future karma generated by contemporary actions.

Bow And Arrow Analogy For Karma

To explain sanchita, prarabdha, and agami, think of karma like a bow and a quiver full of arrows. The full repository of arrows in our quiver represents sanchita karmas. 

The arrow is our action, and the bow is the intention behind it. Just like an archer aims before releasing the arrow, our intentions shape our actions. This combination of intention, and the action itself makes up prarabdha karmas.

a man shooting a bow and arrow

The deftness of the arrow’s flight and where it lands represents agami karma, the future impact of the actions of the archer and his weapon.

The arrow’s quality depends on how well the bow is drawn. If the bow is drawn skillfully, the arrow hits its target. 

Similarly, if our intentions are pure, our actions will be good and lead to positive outcomes. But if the bow is drawn clumsily or with ill intention, the arrow might miss the target. 

The same goes for our actions – if our intentions are negative, our actions will lead to bad consequences. Once the arrow is shot, it can’t be recalled, just like our actions can’t be undone. 

The effects of our actions, whether good or bad, will come back to us like the arrow returning to the archer. 

Origins Of Karma And The 12 Laws

Karma is deeply entrenched in the schools of thought of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Karma itself as a concept doesn’t have a definitive source but is spread across a set of scriptures in these spiritual philosophies. 

lots of gold buddha statues in a row

Throughout the ages, various gurus and saints have written commentaries on the earlier scriptures, which in turn have become canon for certain sects.

So for this reason, there are common themes of karma as expounded by ancient sources, but there are variations depending on where you look. The majority of contemporary scholars would point specifically to the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Abhidhamma

From its roots in ancient religious literature, karma has gained popularity and influenced other philosophical schools of thought. It is in the modern age where the 12 laws of karma have found their way into the popular discourse of spiritual seekers.

So therefore, it is important to note that these 12 laws of karma are in fact a modern take on the core principles of karma, rather than being lifted from a single sacred text.

What Are The 12 Laws Of Karma?

Karma is a cosmic, spiritual, and divine explanation of the force of nature that illustrates how actions and reactions manifest across the dimensions of space and time. 

It’s a complicated and extensive topic, clearly enough so to warrant 12 angles in which to understand the theory behind the spiritual explanation of activity. 

woman meditating next to a incense stick and singing bowl

The 12 laws are interpretations to provide a framework for living with a karmic foundation, offering instructions on how to live in harmony with the world by generating good karma.

The 12 Laws Of Karma

1. The Great Law: Cause And Effect

This law is defined by the balance of action: what you put out, you receive. This is known as the Great Law, as it is fundamental to the effects of karma. 

Another way to understand this law is through the well-known saying, “you reap what you sow.” This means that whatever output we generate will come back to us in some form or another. 

S.N. Goenka explains that the negative consequences of bad karma actually occur immediately through the defilement of one’s mind after committing an unwholesome deed.

2. The Law Of Creation

This law suggests that we are all responsible for creating our own reality. That our thoughts and actions are the sowing of seeds into our environment, shaping our own lives and the world we inhabit. 

hands up in the sky

This law also focuses on the notion that life requires our participation if we want to manifest anything. In recognition of karma, we must take an active role.

3. The Law Of Humility

The spiritual path is a humbling one, or any path of self-growth for that matter. Constantly looking to increase harmony in your own mind and within others with peace and love naturally requires a great deal of ego deflation.

In order to manifest this change within the framework of karma, you have to first accept what is. 

One example of this would be, if you were looking to abide by a life of karmic grace, you would first have to admit to yourself your inventory of past negative karma. To be humble is to admit the negativity you have inevitably brought into the world.

4. The Law Of Growth

This law is in reference to our own spiritual growth. We have to become more pure in our intention, more wholesome in our actions, and more in harmony with the balance of life and karma.

a seed growing into a plant to represent one of the 12 laws of karma

5. The Law Of Responsibility

Similar to the law of creation, this law is about taking ownership of what we do. Recognizing that it is ourselves that are responsible for what happens in our lives, from the lens of our actions and reactions. 

You can see the similarity here with Stoicism, which imparts a teaching of discipline in how we interact with the world around us.

Furthermore you can see a similarity with Adlerian psychology, which imparts a notion of the separation of tasks between yourself and others when it comes to responsibility.

6. The Law Of Connection

Both science and spirituality tells us that everything is connected. The universe is a cosmic soup of energy being transferred in different mediums, across a variety of known dimensions, on the linear progression of time.

In relation to karma, we are connected to our past selves and the people and environment we affected at that time, our present selves and what we are affecting now, and our future selves and the people and environment we will affect in the future.

woman dressed in white looking into a forest

7. The Law Of Focus

The law of focus or force is about the driving energy and intention behind performing actions. This law states that you cannot effectively perform good action by distributing energy towards two goals simultaneously. 

If we were to fully dedicate our focus to spiritual values, then we would lose proclivity for lower thoughts like that of greed or lust.

8. The Law Of Giving And Hospitality

A core principle of Vedic philosophy, and especially with karma (see Bhagavad Gita quotes on selfless action), this law is all about selflessness, or desireless action. 

To act with generosity and hospitality to your peers is to be selfless.

9. The Law Of Here And Now

Living in the present, staying connected to our senses, observing our mind and body, all this establishes a sense of connection with what is happening in the moment. 

a yellow road sign that says be here now

The law of here and now in relation to karma is about being fully aware of what is happening in the moment, so you are connected to the intention of your actions, and the effect they have on the world.

10. The Law Of Change

Vedic philosophy also ascribes free will to the universe, as bestowed by a sentient divinity. This is how karma can exist in beings. 

The law of change indicates that the divine Universe is presenting us with a looping set of situations through karmic force. 

With this repeating pattern, the Universe is trying to present experiences to us to learn from, so that we can address the problem by connecting with our thoughts and feelings, to elicit change.

11. The Law Of Patience And Reward

The law of patience and reward is about how with consistent skilful action, the fruits of labor in spiritual growth will manifest. 

You could look at this from the angle that tangible results will come (what goes around comes around), but a closer look at living in line with karma means that with a purer mind, joy comes from the action itself.

12. The Law Of Significance And Inspiration

This law tells us that there is significance in our individual output: that there is value to share in the world. 

That our contributions have positive (or negative) impact, and that this knowledge should act as inspiration to act in a selfless way.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the 12 laws of karma, why not take a look at our other articles on the subject:

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Born and raised in London, Luke is a passionate writer with a focus on travel, yoga, philosophy, and meditation. As a certified yoga teacher having studied under a swami in Rishikesh, Luke now lives in India pretty much just practising yoga, meditating and writing articles! Luke's life arc has gone from somewhat turbulent to peaceful, and he considers yoga and meditation direct methods to sustain introspective insight to manifest peace and happiness, despite life's challenges. Luke's passion for meditation has led him to complete multiple meditation retreats, where he spent almost 40 days in silence in the last two years. He practices various meditation techniques such as Vipassana, Anapana, and Metta Bhavana, each adding to his knowledge and experience of the true self. Most recently he meditated in Jaipur, India, and before that lived for a short spell in a monastery with forest monks in Northern Thailand. To Luke, yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it's a way of life that helps him cultivate a stronger mind-body connection. As a young man with arthritis, Luke understands the importance of observing and controlling his body, and yoga has been a vital tool in his journey to better health and well-being. The practice of yoga has not only helped him manage his symptoms but has also given him a new perspective on life. Luke's love for yoga and meditation is not limited to a single tradition or practice. He's fascinated by the spiritual teachings of all types of religious philosophy, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity for their essence and wisdom. His passion for spirituality is what drives him to continue learning and growing, and share his knowledge with other people. Luke in his spare time is an avid chess player, cyclist and record collector. He also has experience with addiction, and so sponsors multiple people from different walks of life in their recovery programmes.

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