The doctrine of Karm is a fundamental belief in Hindu Sanaatan Dharm. Karm is the central concept even of the birth and death cycle.
What is Karm?
What is Karm? Karm is any activity which is performed by Jeev through its 11 Indriyaan (senses - 5 Karm Indriyaan - hands, feet, mouth, excretion etc; 5 Gyaan Indriyaan - eyes, ears, tongue, skin, nose; and one mind) in this world. Karm is also "an action that binds one to the trans-migratory existence.This can be got by mind or by speech or by body (Manasaa, Vaachaa Karmanaa). In other words these are termed as Kaayik (physical), Vaachik (speech) or Maanas (mental) Karm. The very special characteristic of Karm is that nobody can live without doing any Karm. Karm is not only doing anything, but also not doing anything is also a Karm.
Classification of Karm
Although Karm may be classified in many ways but the simplest classification of Karm is of two types -
(1) Voluntary Karm- Voluntary Karm are those which are performed knowingly and intentionally, such as doing Yagya, lying, go on pilgrimage, even taking bath, etc.
(2) Involuntary Karm - These Karm are those which are done unknowingly or automatically or without doing intentionally, or without doing them we cannot survive on this Earth, such as breathing, blinking eyes, eating and drinking (doesn't matter what we eat or drink, but we have to eat and drink; although what we eat intentionally does not come under under involuntary Karm, as it is our control), excretion etc. Although they are very few but still we cannot live without them and in my opinion they should not be counted as Karm because we cannot control them.
Now remain voluntary Karm. They can be divided in several ways --
(1) A Simple Classification
A simple classification is - Dainik Karm (Daily activities), Naimittik Karm (activities performed with some objectives), Kaamya Karm (activities performed to fulfill some desire) and Praayashchit Karm (activities performed to repent for some sin or crime).
(2) Classification by Gun
According to another classification, all Karm are governed by Gun. As there are three Gun, Saattwik, Rajas and Tamas, all Karm under either of these Gun. Thus all Karm are of three types. Actions taken without likes and dislikes or selfish motives are called Saattwik Karm. If they are tainted with these, they become Raajasik Karm. If they are done with evil intentions, they become Taamasik.
(3) Another Classification
Karm, A-Karm and Vi-Karm. Karm are those which are prescribed according to one's Varn and Aashram. A-Karm are those Karm which are opposite to normal Karm, for example telling lies, stealing etc. A-Karm has one another meaning, not 'no action' or 'inaction' or remaining without doing any physical activity or stopping all activities, but it means inactive Karm. These inactive Karm are those which do not bind us to this world. They have no binding Kaarmik reactions or consequences. Vi-Karm are those Karm which are Shaastra Vihit or Shaastra Nishiddh, or opposite to Karm worth doing, means which have been prohibited by Hindu Shaastra, for example if a student starts living a householder's life is called Vi-Karm. It is also notable that Geetaa also supports the idea that it is always better to do one's own Karm according to his Varn and Aashram.
(4) Yet Another classification of Karm
Sanchit Karm (stored), Praarabdh Karm (destiny) and Aagaamee Karm (future).
--Sanchit Karm - are referred to those Karm which are in store or we have already performed in our previous lives. They are stored to give us fruits in future. When they start giving us fruits, they become our Praarabdh Karm.
--It is these Karm, Praarabdh Karm, which have caused our present birth. Praarabdh Karm also decide on the duration of time as well as various experiences - good or bad. Like an arrow once released cannot be taken back, even Jeevan-mukt are seen to suffer with the effects of these Karm. So Praarabdh Karm are those Karm which are in store and now are giving us fruits in this life. It is because of those Karm we enjoy and suffer in this life.
--Aagaamee Karm are referred to those Karm which we have accumulated in previous lives and not yet enjoyed their fruits and Karm done in this life also for which we have not got the fruits yet. We are yet to enjoy there fruits in our future days or lives.
The effects of Karm of one life cannot be exhausted in this life itself. Hence, Punar-Janm or rebirth becomes necessary to bear their fruits. While you are trying to finish the past one life's Karm, some other new Karm get created in this life, which again compel one to take rebirth to bear those Karm's fruits and thus this cycle never ends. Thus our Karm compel us to take rebirth unless we enjoy the fruits of our all Karm, but the problem is that as we finish a few Karm's fruits, other new Karm get created to give their fruit to us, and so our rebirth goes on and on.
Varn and Aashram
As Karm are classified as Karm, A-Karm and Vi-Karm. Karm are defined are those actions which have been assigned to a person according to his Varn and Aashram. There are four Varn and four Aashram in our Hindu system. Varn system is based on the types of the Karm assigned to them and the Ashram system divides the age of a human being to perform his Karm accordingly. So to perform Karm and not to do A-Karm and Vi-Karm (according to our Shaastra) we should know what are our Varn, and what are our Aashram. There are for Varn and four Ashram in our society. The four Varn are --
(1) Braahman - whose Karm is to teach and study, to do Yagya and to do Yagya for other Varn and accept donation
(2) Kshatriya - whose Karm is to protect the rest of the society, to expand their kingdom
(3) Vaishya - whose Karm is to do farming, trading and feed the rest of the society
(4) Shoodra - whose Karm is to serve the rest of the members of the society
One should note that in this system neither any Varn is higher, nor the other one is lower, but still there is a distance between them because of the nature of their Karm.
Human age has been assessed as 100 years in Kali Yug, and these 100 years have been divided in four periods (Aashram). These four Aashram are --
(1) Brahmcharya - From the birth till 25 years the man devotes his time in his education. During this period he studies and obtains knowledge following Brahmchary's rules.
(2) Grihasth - From 25 years of age to 50 years of age, the man follows Grihasth Dharm. During these period he produces children, performs Yagya, gives donations and alms, marries his children etc.
(3) Vaanprasth - From 50 years of age to 75 years of age. During this period he tries to detach himself from worldly things, family matters and enjoyments etc still living in the house.
(4) Sanyaas - From 75 years of age to 100 years of age or till he is alive. During this period he prepares to meet God. He keeps no relationship with family or family affairs, remembers God, keep his needs minimum, keeps busy in Lok Kalyaan (general welfare) without any expectation of any kind of return.
Thus one should perform his Karm according to his Varn and Aashram with Saattwik Bhaav (intentions)