We know Buddhism doesn't have a creator God like most religions, however there is the law of Kamma, a law we cannot see and also we cannot prove, in other words, a law that requires faith and cannot be measured like gravity or electromagnetism.

Once a Theravada senior monk said that: "Buddhists should not say they don't believe in God, because they believe in the laws of nature and Kamma, it works like a God, a higher force, only not a creator God, not a being we pray to"

So, Is kamma "like" a god?

  • 1
    One of the most sensible definitions of karma I heard was that it is what it means literally. "karma" means action. The idea is it is not a judge or something that is "out there" measuring and rewards/punishes your deeds. It is the deed itself that has its effect inscribed in it.
    – nakiya
    Sep 5, 2014 at 3:37

6 Answers 6


Sure, there is a way that karma could be understood as being "like" a god. It is one of the forces that controls the whole of the universe; it has the world in its power:

kammunā vattati loko

The world goes according to karma

-- MN 98

In that sense, it could be understood as sharing a similarity with the concept of god. That's about as far as the similarity goes, though.

The law of karma isn't an entity, it is a regularity of interaction between moments of experience, that certain types of experience (ethically intentional ones) have a creative force, for either good or bad. It is important to remember that the word "karma" just means "action". So, in a way you are asking "Are actions like gods?" which of course is silly. Nonetheless, the law of karma does act a bit like a god would, only a lot more logically.

  • +1 on That's about as far as the similarity goes. God in other religions' sense is a being that can think for itself, and can actively do things. Karma is more "reactive"
    – Raestloz
    Sep 5, 2014 at 6:43

Such a highly dualistic analogy is completely wrong, from non-theistic Mahayana/Vajrayana perspective. His points seem to be that:

  1. Buddhists believe in karma, and this belief is similar to belief in God.
  2. Karma, like God, is a mysterious force that evaluates our actions and gives us our due.
  3. Person is separate from God; Person is separate from karma.

However, in reality:

  1. Buddhists do not take karma on blind faith. Instead, they know that karma is real, even if somewhat abstract, phenomena that (unlike God!) can be observed, studied, predicted -- and therefore controlled.

  2. Karma is not some kind of transcendental (otherwordly) force. It is a natural tendency of regular action to lead to certain results. Karma does not evaluate our actions against some book of moral rules. Instead, our actions themselves lead to certain results. Our actions IS karma.

  3. It is not like the acting person is one thing, the world is another thing, and karma is third thing. Person is a result of past karma, manifestation of past karma. Karma is just how the world works, so karma is the world. The world and the person are two sides of the same stick.

So no, not at all. Karma is not like God, is not "higher force". Karma is us and we are karma.

  • 2
    Points 2 and 3 are very good and I agree, point 1 I think is very open for debate, we cannot measure or prove that Kamma exists, it does requires faith at least for normal people (not Buddha's or enlighted beings)
    – konrad01
    Sep 4, 2014 at 18:04
  • 3
    The first point may be a bit controversial, nonetheless good answer. I agree though it can't be proven that easy - maybe it can't. You said "observed" and "predicted", but I think it's very hard to actually predict when/how one's action might have influence on something/someone. Sep 4, 2014 at 18:42
  • Also Karma is not an object of veneration. Even if we don't accept that Karma is more literally real than God (I'm not trying to start a fight; just being logically rigorous), its relation to morality is completely different from that of the Abrahmic God.
    – Marcin
    Sep 4, 2014 at 19:17
  • but not all gods are venerated, some are feared and some are quite neutral, think about all religions not only christians
    – konrad01
    Sep 5, 2014 at 11:29

Karma is to Buddhism as gravity is to physics: fundamental, inevitable, basic, impartial, all-pervading and so basic it's quite hard to explain. The function of gods in religion centres around intention. Karma, like gravity, is a principle of interaction that is utterly without intent. Nor is it the subject of veneration. Given that many gods are not all-pervasive, I don't think that karma has any qualities that are quintessentially godly.

  • Yes, but Karma is not "without intention", at least in Buddhism, Karma depends on intention!
    – konrad01
    Sep 5, 2014 at 1:39

Often intention plays a role in deciding if something is ethical/unethical, has good karmic results, or bad. For example, accidentally killing versus intentionally killing. Outwardly the may look the same.

If intention matters, then karma would need to be able to reason and know our thoughts. These are exactly the sort of things we attribute to god(s).

I think this is in part why karma was eventually personified by King Yama, the judge of the dead.

As other answers have already mentioned, there is an entirely naturalistic way to look at karma. In a way, naturalistic karma is a harsher judge-- killing is killing and has consequences, regardless to intentions.


I think it's a very common misunderstanding that karma is something that happens to (other) people as a result of actions (they) did, like some sort of embodying force of justice. Alternately, I might think that things are happening to (me) because of what (I) did and now (I) am being somehow punished. This is a false conception though. Nobody deserves to suffer for what they have done and I am not being punished for past wrongs. There is no judgement, any more than gravity judges the car the drives off the edge of a cliff.

It's not that karma is unobservable, it's just that this mind is easily distracted and I have an ongoing habit of missing the obvious. Meditative practices are one means of working through the distractions and learning how to pay attention. When I'm paying attention, nothing is especially mysterious. When I'm not paying attention, I stub my toe and curse the man who built the table.

  • But Kamma cannot be scientificaly measured, it is unpredictable when compared to gravity for instance, so for normal people like us it does requires faith, you cannot prove it works... right?
    – konrad01
    Sep 4, 2014 at 21:36
  • @konrad01, I don't think it requires faith to observe karma, but I do think it requires faith to begin following the Buddha's eight-fold path in the first place. From there, understanding may follow. Karma is not something remarkable or supernatural and it's not something normal people can't understand. You understand it all the time; the challenge is whether I was paying enough attention to realize it.
    – Dan Bryant
    Sep 4, 2014 at 22:05
  • The point with Kamma and faith is that it cannot be scientificaly proved, of course as a Buddhist you will take it as something natural, you are used to the concept of kamma, however you cannot prove it, you believe in it based on the Buddha's teachings and the credibility Buddha has with you, but I cannot say Kamma is like gravity in the sense gravity can be measured, calculated in details and is 100% predictable.
    – konrad01
    Sep 4, 2014 at 22:28
  • If you act like a jerk, people won't like you. When people don't like you, they don't volunteer to help you. When no one helps you, you are more likely to fail. Therefore, if you act like a jerk, you are more likely to fail. How does this require a leap of faith?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 5, 2014 at 0:03
  • @AndreiVolkov: My understanding is that a buddhist would believe that if somebody murdered a baby and hid the corpse without anybody ever finding out (happens all the time) and without that person being mentally burdened by it (rarer, but there are people like that) that still will have negative consequences, or am I misunderstanding this now? Sep 5, 2014 at 7:44

My work (karma or kamma) or my action is my God for self-realization.i.e., only through my action can I see my God.

This Buddhist philosophy is stated somewhat differently in Hindu philosophy:

You have the duty and right only to Karma, no special rights for the fruits of action, not even for the privileges.

  • If the phrase above is a quote, where is it from: what is it quoting?
    – ChrisW
    Sep 27, 2014 at 8:58
  • @ChrisW: It is a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, the Divine saying in Holy book. Wording is mine.Sanskrit origin only is authentic, though English renderings can be varied. If you google "Karmanye Vadhikarastay" you get many commentaries as it is one among the principal messages in the Gita or Geetha.
    – Narasimham
    Sep 27, 2014 at 10:34
  • 2
    Some modern scientists proposed that Bhagavat Gita was positioned by its authors as a supposed "clarification" of Astica (orthodox) position in response to challenges by Nasticas (incl. Buddhists), but what it really ended up being is a synthesis of the two. The polemical question the above quote addresses was "Does Enlightenment require cessation of karma (intentional action)?" And the authors' answer is: "You are still obliged to perform your social duties, but cessation of clinging to the fruits is what's required for Enlightenment". Makes sense?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 27, 2014 at 16:35

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