I have seen multiple references to karma on this site, varying in its descriptions dependent on the question.

Most answers appear to have the same answer e.g. Whereas Karma is what happens as a result of your actions or your choices. - Source

If karma is the result of my actions or choices and it has a bearing on one's life now and in the next, who/what is the keeper of such actions and choices? Another way to ask the question is how is a record of my actions maintained and kept?

  • Record is a concept. Nothing is maintained in reality. Not just Karma. Commented May 22, 2015 at 3:16
  • I need to learn more about the topic, but allow me to share my layman's intuited impression--won't be popular. If karma is cause & effect, it is how the universe is designed, physically and chemically, so there would be no need for an entity to manage it, there is no who/what or how--no magic, just physics. I'm skeptical that it can be defined more granularly than that; if someone claims to, they're claiming to answer the mystery of life/purpose of the universe, is that known or knowable? Takes ego to think it is. Science is a work in progress. Yet I'm open to logical hypotheses, so here I am.
    – Shon
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 17:34

6 Answers 6


The Sanskrit word karma means action. It was used in Brahmanism to refer to those physical and verbal acts that were considered to bring positive results to the individual performing the acts (or on behalf of whom the acts were performed by Brahmin priests).

The Buddha denounced this idea. In his teaching, that which was potent for the individual was the state of mind (cetana):

cetanāhaṃ, bhikkhave, kammaṃ vadāmi

It is cetana, monks, that I call karma.

-- AN 6.63

Either way, anyone who tells you that "Karma is what happens as a result of your actions or your choices", doesn't understand the meaning of the word. What they are referring to is vipāka (result); karma is that which brings vipāka.

Either way, your question still stands:

who/what is the keeper of such actions and choices?

This is a common question, but it mostly stems from a lack of clear understanding that karma simply means action. It isn't a thing, it doesn't last from life to life or moment to moment, and it certainly doesn't come back to reward or punish the doer.

The law of karma is simply an observable pattern or regularity that exists between ethical acts and the results that follow them. I don't know of any explanation for why the universe works this way, but that it does is readily apparent.

We don't question, for example, whether torturing others is bad for the person doing the torturing (or at least we shouldn't). Obviously doing evil corrupts one's mind, destroys one's reputation, cultivates enmity, etc. (c.p. MN 129)

The real question, I guess, is why this doesn't end at the moment of death. Of course, given that death of the individual is a concept (as is the individual), there really isn't as much trouble explaining this as one might think. One's rebirth is conditioned by one's death and the events leading up to one's death; a murderer is likely to be reborn entangled with the murdered, because murdering others involves karmically potent mind states that change one's future mind states including those involved with one's death.

Another way to ask the question is how is a record of my actions maintained and kept?

It isn't. Nothing that arises lasts more than a moment, and nothing that has ceased ever returns. Karma is simply a natural law, like the law of gravity or conservation of energy, that:

“yādisaṃ vapate bījaṃ, tādisaṃ harate phalaṃ.
kalyāṇakārī kalyāṇaṃ, pāpakārī ca pāpakaṃ.

Whatever sort of seed one plants, that is the sort of fruit one will reap;
A doer of good good, and a doer of evil evil.

-- SN 11.10

  • I am confused. You made the comment that In his teaching, that which was potent for the individual was the state of mind (cetana) followed by The law of karma is simply an observable pattern or regularity that exists between ethical acts and the results that follow them.
    – Motivated
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 5:40
  • It seems to be contradicted by the comment One's rebirth is conditioned by one's death and the events leading up to one's death; a murderer is likely to be reborn entangled with the murdered, because murdering others involves karmically potent mind states that change one's future mind states including those involved with one's death
    – Motivated
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 5:40
  • I say contradiction because, it still seems to suggest that a record of some sort is maintained between this life and the next. Did i misunderstand? If so what exactly?
    – Motivated
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 5:41
  • If the mind dictates karma, does this mean that all thoughts are seeds for karma? How can that be if i am only to observe them, be aware of them and not participate as i have no control over the ebbs and flows?
    – Motivated
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 5:43
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    @Motivated As with the history of physical events, it isn't held anywhere. Events affect subsequent events, which affect subsequent events, etc. like dominos... except much more complicated. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 7:23

When a volitional thought comes Sankara is created. This in the subtlest forms this is Kalapa (Sub atomic particles which arise and pass causing other sub atomic particles to arise when they pass). Say when you are doing some action you feel the sensation associated with the action (p35 - Comprehensive Manual of Abidhamma by Bikkhu Bodhi) based on roots of the action.

These ("seeds") stay dormant until the condition are right for them to give results. Here multiplication starts ("fruit"). When this happens you feel the associated sedations of the results. Each seed has a certain "taste" associated with the result (the same "taste" you felt when doing the action). By your reaction to this sensation (with craving or aversion) you multiply the results of future results.

When a new group of Sankara or seeds starts when these have the dominant taste off your past Karma and other Sankara lay dormant though still arising and passing as a group of Kalapas. Since this arising and passing is with decay if a condition does not come for its multiplication then some just passes away with no results.

Through meditation but making you self sensitive whilst not being reactive to the sensations associated with the formation you stop reacting new conditioning and also understand the process these are created. You might not be able to identify each and every Kalapa (only a Buddha can do this if I am not mistaken) which sums up as you total Sankara but you will identify more and more significant clusters. These might be small dot like areas where a certain sensation prevails where as maybe in the rest of the body other sensation are dominant. (These are also fruits due to some multiplication of the seeds as they maybe too minute for a normal person to identify.) By non reaction (devoid of craving and clinging) they loose there potent as they do not multiply.

At the moment of death what happens is this process passes away in one physical body an arises in another. Hence the seeds are still there whilst arising and passing.

Another way to look at this is in the process of doing Karma you create a cluster of Kalapas. This arise and pass giving arise to other Kalapas. When one Kalapa passes it creates a new one which is progressively less potent. Look at this as a Discrete-time Markov process.

Karma is a memoryless process (hence no keeper). You have hidden states not observable over a threshold (based on strength of awareness). There are external perturbation (result of past Karma, hence contact with the taste pertaining to the state) based on the potent of the hidden states to which you react and cause them to (state based on response to stimuli) multiply the hidden states. Each state has a stopping time when they decay away without result.

  • Thanks. Some of the concepts such as Sankara are unknown to me. Would you mind explaining in a way that a lay person like myself can understand? I appreciate it.
    – Motivated
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 5:46
  • Link to explanation: Saṅkhāra. More on the word: Saṅkhāra Commented May 23, 2015 at 9:11
  • Let me know if this helps. Commented May 23, 2015 at 9:15
  • So what you are saying is that there is no keeper of karma?
    – Motivated
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 18:02
  • Quantum (Kalapas) - seeds of you karma are stored in your Sub concious / Bavanga. Each moment all this pass away and a new set arises. When conditions are right more and more Kalapas of the same type arises. This gives the result of the Karma. So in a superficial way or very loose way you can say it is stored in you sub concious. Commented May 26, 2015 at 18:13

The kamma is stored in the subconscious as a resultant consciousness (vipaka citta) and remains there until a right condition present itself, when it would resurface. If it is strong it would be carried over to the next existence.

More on the transmigration of kamma in the Theravada tradition.

  • Thanks. Whose or what subconscious if not of mine? If one were to die today, how are the results of karma carried over to the next existence?
    – Motivated
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 18:19
  • In conventional reality (sammuti sacca) we refer to me, mine and I or else we would not be able to communicate. In ultimate reality (parmattha sacca) we know that there isn't a self that owns the 5 aggregates. If a self owns any of the aggregate then it would be able to control it, say stop thinking , but it can't. Thinking is dependently origininate.
    – Samadhi
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 18:43
  • 1
    Hi samadhi. Would you mind editing the answer and specifying the branch, or better yet, the source this answer reflects? That would be even more informative i think
    – user382
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 21:53
  • 2
    The idea that anything is "stored" or "remains" from moment to moment is not a part of the theory of kamma in Theravada Buddhism. Commented May 22, 2015 at 1:46
  • 2
    Bhavanga is momentary, just like all citta Commented May 22, 2015 at 10:35

Firstly, I would like to clarify that according to Theravada Buddhism, karma is not the 'result' of your 'actions' but the action itself. Performing certain kinds of actions (karma) leads to certain kinds of results. What does ‘action’ mean? It exclusively means ‘intention’, in the context of Theravada Buddhism. The physical doing of something is equated with karma only insofar as that it is a physical manifestation of the intention. With the above clarification, the question would be interpreted to mean ‘Who/What/How is the keeper of intentions’? The question is assuming that there is some kind of ‘keeping of intentions’ that occurs between the moment of intention and result. This assumption is wrong, and may be based on popular theories or misinterpretations of karma and how it leads to certain results.

So you might now ask, how does a specific intention lead to a specific result? The theoretical answer is quite complicated, and can be found by reading thoroughly the text called Abhidhamma (here is a link to an English translation: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/abhidhamma.pdf), which is the primary source of Theravada Buddhism where the subject of how specific karma leads to specific results is examined in detail.

However, my personal suggestion is that it would be a wise decision to understand for yourself how specific intentions (karma) leads to certain results, rather than trying to have an intellectual understanding of this process by reading the text. Having a practical understanding of this process of cause and effect (how karma works) is far more beneficial than having an intellectual understanding, because an intellectual understanding is simply based on concepts and is essentially meaningless apart from giving you a temporary sense of satisfaction whereas if you see how cause and effect works for yourself, it will lead you to being released from your mental defilements and therefore set you free from suffering permanently (the path that the Buddha taught). So now you might ask me, how can you understand cause and effect for yourself? By understanding the experience of reality clearly. How can you understand the experience of reality? By practising the four foundations of mindfulness. If you want to know how to practise the four foundations of mindfulness, please read this book (http://static.sirimangalo.org/howto/HTM.pdf) written by a great monk called Yuttadhammo, who in this book clearly and comprehensively explains how to practise the path that the Buddha taught in order to understand reality clearly and therefore set yourself free from suffering.

Therefore, by practising the path that the Buddha taught, you will come to understand for yourself the nature of karma, how it is not something that is recorded and how it actually leads to specific results.

  • Thanks although i am unclear on the concept of karma on its effects in this life and next. For example, if the intentions of my actions have a bearing on the next life, how is this maintained?
    – Motivated
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 6:38

Please allow me to add another view. Keep in mind that this is part of a rather new approach combining the ancient views on consciousness and karma and finding explanations for them based on current scientific findings and theories.

For a moment envision us as merely the passengers within the physical constraints of this body. Much like taking a plastic bag and moving it thru the air to inflate and then we quickly close it off at the opening. WE are the empty inside while our body (all of it including the brain) is the bag. We are merely consciousness inside. Awareness. And we only experience things as our perceptions and mind allow/interpret. Outside of our bag we were merely awareness. Everywhere awareness, but simply awareness nonetheless.

While limited to measly perceptions, short lifespans, and strict obedience to linear time in these bodies we are able to affect change. This is something that we could NOT do merely as awareness. This change causes not only instantaneous effects, but also chains of subsequent events as a result. This is known as karma. Here is where it really starts getting interesting.

The multiple universe theory suggests that all possible outcomes are around us at all times. The universe we select is the one we encounter based upon our individual choices and the world we have built around us. Part of that world is the karma we created by our actions and choices and perceptions and the subsequent events those create. It's interesting to note the double slit experiment here. All things that must be wave or particle are both until we perceive them. This is scientifically proven. Our consciousness perceiving things actually affects the real world on a quantum level and this in turn affects the future. Going forward. This is karma. Cosmic momentum.

Now there are scientists showing that we actually store these quantum changes in the microtubules of our brain cells. article These same scientists also believe in the plastic bag theory of consciousness - that consciousness is merely an embodiment of the everything surrounding us in a human form. And that when this body passes it merely merges back into the whole. But what about that resultant karma?

The leftover karma creates the issues for many. If you set a bunch of events into motion then who will be on the receiving end of those probability changes and the like that existed when that body passed away? Once that consciousness is "ejected" back into the ether what becomes of those resultants? Do they merely fizzle away?

I am starting to believe that WE can actually clear our karma thru meditation. I will dig thru the vedas and upanishads and dhammapada to see if such an interpretation may fit into their readings or if it even should. But I believe this is the beginning to the confluence between the physical world and the world of consciousness.

Of course this will support the idea that Karma inevitably happens no matter what actions are choices or decisions we make. But it also May support the idea that we are unable to merge with the Consciousness whole wow we have Karma results attached to us. If it is true or can be shown that meditation can get rid of karma then we may find our link between physical world and the universe on a corporeal level. This can also support issues such as the type of karma affecting the type of rebirth. Perhaps a negative resultant Karma demands a certain type of vessel at rebirth.


"If karma is the result of my actions or choices and it has a bearing on one's life now and in the next, who/what is the keeper of such actions and choices?"

Nobody/Nothing is the keeper.

"Another way to ask the question is how is a record of my actions maintained and kept?"

With activities/volition the record of your actions is maintained and kept.


With activities/volition there arises actions of the mind and body.

With the arise of actions, there arises knowledge of Good and Bad.

When the body dies, this same knowledge will make the body and mind be reborn again, based on this knowledge.

Whenever you're reborn, the whole universe is reborn with all its beings.

This your kamma.

It is maintained and kept by the universe you experience with your senses.

The universe you're reborn in is the result of your kamma and the keeper of your kamma.

The universe you're reborn in is the record of your actions.

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