Karma has quite a karma. Long after India's seers immortalized it in the Vedas, it suffered bad press under European missionaries who belittled it as "fate" and "fatalism," and today finds itself again in the ascendancy as the subtle and all-encompassing principle which governs man's experiential universe in a way likened to gravity's governance over the physical plane. Like gravity, karma was always there in its fullest potency, even when people did not comprehend it. The early seers who brought through the Vedas were practitioners, mystics and divine oracles who put into practice the knowledge of karma. To them, Karma -- from the root kri, "to do" -- was a power by which they could influence the Gods, nature, weather, harvests and enemies through right intent and rites righteously performed. Thus by their actions they could determine their destiny. Through the ages, other realized souls explained the workings of karma, revealing details of this cosmic law and, when the tradition of writing came into vogue, recording it for future generations. In this way they established karma as perhaps the fundamental principle of Hindu consciousness and culture then and now.
But karma has suffered a chronic association with the word fate. Fate is a Western idea, derived largely from the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It means, with wide variation, that one's life has been set by agencies outside oneself. Karma is exactly the opposite. "`It is the coward and the fool who says this is fate,' goes the Sanskrit proverb," said Swami Vivekananda. "But it is the strong man who stands up and says, `I will make my fate.'"
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