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Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म) originated in the Vedic system of religion, otherwise known as Hinduism. As a term, it can at the latest be traced back to the early Upanishads, around 1500 BCE. In its major conception, karma is the physical, mental and supramental system of neutral rebound, "cause and effect" that is inherent in existence within the bounds of time, space, and causation. Essentially what this means is that the very being which one experiences on (as a human being) is governed by an immutable preservation of energy, vibe, and action.

Karma, for these reasons, naturally implies reincarnation or rebirth (though the opposite is not true) since thoughts and deeds in past lives will affect one's current situation. Thus, every individual alike is responsible for the tragedies and good 'fortunes' which are experienced. The concept of an inscrutable "God" figure is not necessary with the idea of karma. It is vital to note that karma is not an instrument of a god, or a single God, but is rather the physical and spiritual 'physics' of being. As gravity governs the motions of heavenly bodies and objects on the surface of the earth, karma governs the motions and happenings of life, both inanimate and animate, unconscious and conscious, in the cosmic realm.

Thus, what certain philosophical viewpoints may term "destiny" or "fate" is in actuality, according to believers of karma, the simple and neutral working out of karma. Many have likened karma to a moral banking system, a credit and debit of good and bad. However, this view falls short of the idea that any sort of action (action being a root meaning of 'karma'), whether we term it 'good' or 'bad', binds us in recurring cause and effect. In order to attain supreme consciousness, to escape the cycle of life, death, and rebirth and the knot of karma one must altogether transcend karma. This method of transcendence is variously dealt with in many streams of not only Hinduism and Buddhism, but other faiths and philosophical systems as well.

From Hinduism the concept of karma was absorbed and developed in different manners in other movements within the other Indian religions of Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Although these religions express significant disagreement regarding the particularities of "karma", all four groups have relatively similar notions of what karma is.