chapter  3
19 Pages

The Theory of Karma in the Mahābhārata

ByChristopher G. Framarin

This chapter delves into the ‘mechanics’ of a theory of karma. The ‘bare-bones’ intuition that right and wrong action produce good and bad consequences for the agent raises questions of how this happens and whether mokṣa is possible given that this happens. Rejecting the view that there is no detailed ‘theory’ of karma in the Mahābhārata, Framarin moves to a careful discussion of Vyāsa’s concept of karmāśaya – a state produced by action only when it is accompanied by desire and aversion (kleśa) for its results. These karmāśayas dispose the agent to repeat an action because of a desire for the fruits of the action and also make it possible to stop the cycle of rebirth by giving up desire – a strategy that is consistent with the Bhagavad Gita’s message. Framarin argues that such a theory is actually an improvement on contemporary strategies that sophisticate the intuition that good/bad actions lead to good/bad consequences by introducing saṃskāras (merit/demerit). He gives two alternative accounts of how karmāśayas can be related to saṃskāras and shows how on either interpretation the Mahābhārata is able to provide a way out of the cycle of action and rebirth.