There Are 12 Laws of Karma at Play in Your Life—Here’s What They Mean

Photo: Getty Images/Carolina Hidalgo
Karma describes the concept of getting back whatever you put forth—good or bad—into the universe. By definition, it's central to Hinduism and Buddhism for determining a person's next worldly existence based on the ethical net of their current one. No matter what belief system you follow (or don't!), the concept of karma can factor into your life. There are 12 laws of karma constantly at play, whether you realize it or not.

When you live in accordance with these 12 laws of karma, you create good karma in your life, theoretically increasing the likelihood for good things to happen. Below, learn more about what karma is and find a breakdown of what each of the 12 laws mean, plus tips for how to harness their power.

What is karma? How does karma work?

"Karma is the idea that what you do comes back to you. The energy you put out is the energy you receive back,” says Alyse Bacine, a breathwork practitioner and spiritual mentor with a master’s degree in counseling psychology. “Karma can show up in different ways for different people and in different lifetimes even. So, we can't always know or predict how and when it will come back to you."

This begs the question: does karma really exist? According to Bacine, yes, karma is very real and present in our lives, even if it doesn’t quite make sense logically. “There is a mystical, magical energy to the universe that we can’t always understand from our logical human perspective,” she says. If you’re still feeling a bit skeptical about karma’s existence, take a retrospective look at your own life or the lives of others and you’ll likely find real life examples of karma in action.

Different Types of Karma

Diving deeper, Bacine notes that in Hinduism there are three types of karma. Prarabdha karma encompases the karma you’ve accumulated in this lifetime. Sanchita karma refers to the sum of all your past karmas from previous lifetimes, and Agami karma results from current decisions you’ve made and actions you’ve taken.

The most often talked about types of karmas, though, are good and bad karma. Bacine explains that good karma is when you make a positive contribution to the world such as helping someone in need, paying someone a genuine compliment, or even smiling at a stranger. That good fortune then returns back to you in some way—maybe you meet loving people in your life, receive unexpected money, or things just work out well for you.

On the contrary, bad karma is when you’ve made some sort of negative contribution such as doing or saying something that hurts others out of jealousy or anger. You may then receive that energy back in the form of difficult situations and challenges or you might experience someone doing something similar to you down the road (read: karmic relationships). “It's not always the exact situation either,” Bacine notes. “It can show up differently, but the karmic situation will always carry the same underlying energy."

Where do the 12 laws of karma come from?

In addition to the different types of karma, there are also the 12 laws of karma. Think of them as the rules to playing the game of karma and understanding how it all works. "The 12 laws of karma originated from the Hindu and Buddhist belief systems,” Bacine says. “In these schools of thought, the 12 laws of karma are a tool for interpreting how energy works in our universe. Karma translates to the word action. In my understanding, these laws help us to understand how our actions affect ourselves, others, and the universe."

What are the 12 laws of karma?

1. The Great Law

Also known as the law of cause and effect, the great law is what comes to mind for many people when they consider what karma means. It states that whatever thoughts or energy we put out, we get back—good or bad. “It's like sowing and reaping,” says Jennifer Gray, certified professional life coach. “If you plant love and kindness, you shall get that in return.”

2. The Law of Creation

The law of creation is all about—you guessed it—creating. You don’t just wait for good things to magically happen in your life; you have to actively go out there and make things happen. Gray points to the Oprahs, and Beyoncés of the world as prime examples of people who embody this karmic law. “They have used their talents, gifts, and abilities to bless the world,” she says. “They are constantly creating something, not just for the benefit of themselves but also for the benefit of others.” So, the power to create your ideal reality lies within you.

3. The Law of Humility

In order to change something in your life, you first have to accept what currently exists. That is the premise of the law of humility. This is one trait, Gray points out, that many highly successful people embody. “They are strong, kind, generous, and very humble people,” she says. “But when they all started on their paths, they had to accept certain things about themselves and society.”

So know that no matter where you start, if you're able to own your story and the facets of it that are completely out of your control, you can also own the path for what's next. A happy, healthy, successful future is yours for the taking.

4. The Law of Growth

As its name suggests, the universal law of growth is about expansion, namely within ourselves. Gray says that as we grow, change, and evolve internally, our external reality will change and grow as a result. This is where personal development and reading self-help and spiritual books can come into play. And the growth never ends—there’s always new things to learn, shift, and heal.

5. The Law of Responsibility

The law of responsibility is about taking ownership for everything that happens in our lives, including the not-so-good stuff. “We are responsible for how we choose to live our lives—not anyone else,” Gray says. “We are responsible for how we show up in the world, how we allow others to treat us, and how we treat other people.” In order to put this law into action, take responsibility for the part you play in every situation you have.

6. The Law of Connection

The law of connection states that everything and every person is connected in some way. For example, Gray says that although the past you, the present you, and the future you may seem like entirely different people, they are all still you. Everything you've experienced has led to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. It’s all linked up. We’re connected to other people, too.

“As we help, teach, love, honor, and respect ourselves, we do the same for others,” Gray says. “The connection is always there. We just have to be observant and tune into it.”

7. The Law of Force

Although some of us may claim to be pro multitaskers, the inclination to do everything at once often just slows us down. The law of force states that you cannot put your energy toward two things simultaneously. “When you focus on one thing at a time, you accomplish much more, and with better results,” Gray says.

8. The Law of Giving and Hospitality

This law of karma is all about selflessness, being giving to others, and practicing what you preach. It’s about ensuring that you're not simply saying and thinking good thoughts but that you also walk the walk and follow those beliefs with action. Let’s say, for example, that you believe in donating to charity. So, then, the law of giving and hospitality states that when the opportunity to donate presents itself, you follow through and actually donate, rather than simply advocating for it to happen.

9. The Law of Here and Now

As you can likely guess, the law of here and now is all about being present. “Most of us live our lives thinking about the past and what we did wrong, playing that same old recording in our minds,” Gray says. “If we live in the here and now and are attuned to what we are doing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and feeling, we won't be so disconnected when we are interacting with others, eating a meal, watching a movie, or just spending time by ourselves. You will notice that the energy is different, and the experience is more engaging and rewarding.”

10. The Law of Change

If you’ve found yourself experiencing the same situation over and over again (maybe you’re attracting the same type of undesirable partner, for example), that is the law of change in action. It’s a sign from the universe nudging you to learn a lesson.

The pattern, Gray says, will continue to repeat itself until you learn from the experience and do something differently in order to evolve into a better version of yourself and stop the vicious cycle. The problem is that so many people are thinking too much and not feeling enough. “To change the pattern and the problem, we must be able to connect thoughts and feelings and then proceed to adjust and make changes accordingly,” she says.

11. The Law of Patience and Reward

This karmic law essentially translates to “hard work pays off.” Consistent work, that is. It’s about showing up and doing the work and not giving up on your big goals, even when you don’t see any progress made toward them quite yet. Gray recommends living in accordance with this karmic law by acknowledging that achieving great things requires time and persistence, not giving up, celebrating yourself, and savoring every little milestone you achieve along your journey.

12. The Law of Significance and Inspiration

The law of significance and inspiration tells us that we all have value to give. Our unique gifts are meant to be shared with the world and will make a positive impact. No matter how seemingly small and unimportant our contribution to the world may seem, it is important. Tap into this karmic law whenever you need a boost of motivation. But remember: you only get back what you put forth.

How do the 12 laws of karma affect our lives?

So, why should we care about karma? The short answer is that it affects our lives and the lives of others in a major way, whether we’re aware of it or not. "Understanding the concept of what you do comes back to you, helps us to aspire to act from a place of alignment and with ourselves and others,” Bacine says. “It gives us a moral compass.”
The cool thing is that we are creating our own karma as we live our lives—both good and bad. In order to harness the power of the 12 laws of karma, we must intentionally create good karma by making positive contributions to the world from a place of sincerity, Bacine says. In other words, do good things because it feels good to you, not just because you’re seeking good fortune in return.

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