The 12 Laws of Karma: How They Work and Why Following Them Can Change Your Life

Photo: Getty Images/Carolina Hidalgo
Karma describes the concept of getting back whatever you put forth—good or bad—into the universe. In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma determines the nature of a person's next life or worldly existence based on the ethical net of their current one. And by the same token, the events of a person's current life are thought to reflect the residual energetic consequences, or karma, from actions taken in their past life or lives, as dictated by what are known as the 12 laws of karma.

No matter what belief system you may follow (or don't), however, understanding the concept of karma is thought to help you live your most aligned life and become the fullest version of the person you were meant to be. It's only through learning about the karma that we may carry in this lifetime that we can resolve it and play a role in determining our own fate.

Experts In This Article

Because karma operates in a system governed by the 12 laws of karma, following these laws is how we can generate what's known as good karma and theoretically increase the likelihood for good things to happen. Below, you'll find a deeper dive into the meaning of karma and a list of the 12 laws of karma, explained. Plus, spirituality experts offer examples of the laws of karma in action and how aligning with each one can change your life.

What is karma, and how does it work?

"Karma is the idea that what you do comes back to you, and the energy you put out is the energy you receive in return," says spiritual mentor and breathwork practitioner Alyse Bacine. "Karma can show up in different ways for different people and in different lifetimes, so we can't always know or predict how and when it will appear."

This begs the question: Is karma real? According to Bacine, yes, karma is real and present in our lives, even if we can't prove its existence. “There is a mystical, magical energy to the universe that we can’t always understand from our logical human perspective,” she says.

For an example of karma in action, just consider how bad things can occur, seemingly inexplicably, to good people: Karma would say that the reason why is related to the consequences of actions taken in a past life (which you may be able to learn about by checking your birth chart for astrological placements associated with karmic luck).

Though you can't change what a previous incarnation of you may have done or the cosmic luck (or lack thereof) you inherited at the time of your birth, you can adjust your behaviors in this lifetime to live in alignment with the 12 laws of karma, and work to integrate and resolve karmic lessons you may carry.

According to spiritual medium Gaia Chinniah, karma guides the quality of your life. She refers to karma as your life’s blueprint and describes it as an interconnectedness between your selves, your lives, and your actions. “Karma operates as the intricate tapestry of experiences woven by your soul in the physical realm, and it encompasses every thought, action, word, and gesture you've chosen and encountered,” says Chinniah. Because your soul carries on this information, she adds, karma doesn't just affect you and the events of your current life; it can also affect future versions of you, as well as your children and the generations to come.

What are the different types of karma?

Bacine notes that in the ancient Hindu scriptures known as the Vedas, there are three types of karma. Sanchita karma refers to the sum of all karma accumulated in previous lifetimes, prarabdha karma is the particular portion of past-life sanchita karma that you're experiencing in your present life, and agami karma consists of the karma you're creating now with present actions and decisions, which will have its energetic effects in future lifetimes.

Each of these types of karma rests on the actions you've taken and decisions you've made in past lives or that you make in the present, which can fall into either "good" or "bad" buckets. Bacine explains that good karma is the result of making a positive contribution to the world, like helping someone in need, paying someone a genuine compliment, or even smiling at a stranger. The good energy or karma you've generated then returns to you in some way—maybe you meet loving people in your life, receive unexpected money, or certain things just work out well for you.

On the contrary, bad karma occurs when you’ve made some sort of negative contribution to society, such as doing or saying something to hurt another person, or acting out of jealousy or anger. You may then receive that energy back in the form of difficult situations and challenges or perhaps someone acting in a similarly hurtful way toward you. “It's not always the exact situation,” Bacine says. “It can show up differently, but the karmic situation will always carry the same underlying energy.”

Sometimes, we even enter karmic relationships with people who surface elements of our karma that we need to integrate or heal, and though we feel drawn to these people, being with them requires us to do a lot of personal growth as a result.

What are the 12 laws of karma?

1. The Law of Cause and Effect

Also known as the great law or the universal law of karma, the law of cause and effect is what comes to mind for many people when they think about karma. It states that whatever thoughts or energy we put out, we get back—good or bad. It’s the most basic rule of karma and also happens to be one of the 12 laws of the universe. “It's like sowing and reaping,” says certified professional life coach Jennifer Gray. And even though we sometimes think more about how bad karma affects us (or the people who have done us wrong), good karma can similarly keep the good vibes flowing.

How can this law of karma change your life? According to Grey, “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. As this law of karma would have it, you don’t just wait for good things to magically happen in your life; you have to actively go out there and make them 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.”

But you don’t have to be Beyoncé-level successful to be aligned with this law. Ultimately, it’s about figuring out what you really want your life to look like, how your actions can contribute to that goal, and how you can adjust them accordingly. For example, if you really want to have a loving family life and flourishing relationships, you might consider how you can actively create more opportunities for connection. In this way, the law of creation can have a highly empowering impact on your life in reminding you that the power to create your ideal reality lies within you.

3. The Law of Humility

In order to change something in your life, the law of humility says that you first have to accept what currently exists. 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.”

Owning your story means accepting what is out of your control and acknowledging what can be done in response. It’s also about accepting how your actions haven’t always served you and the role you've played in perpetuating some bad karma, so that you can forgive yourself and move forward.

4. The Law of Growth

Speaking of moving forward, this next karmic law is all about learning and growing. 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 (kudos to you for reading this article). The growth never ends—there are always new things to learn about yourself and the world, and if you take an open-minded approach to the next chapter of your life, you can channel even more of those new things.

5. The Law of Responsibility

The law of responsibility is about taking ownership of 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.” We may not have control over everything that happens to us, but we do have control over how we respond, and sometimes that is the most important part.

6. The Law of Connection

The law of connection states that everything and everyone is connected. Think about that woven tapestry that Chinniah mentioned. Everything you've experienced has led to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. By the same token, our daily actions—including our responses to adversity and to good fortune—connect us to our selves, souls, and other people. “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.” By doing so, we'll be able to see the ripple effect of karma more clearly.

7. The Law of Force

Our modern lives are filled with multitasking; we rarely focus on one task at a time. Although our society has convinced us that we have to accomplish multiple things at once in order to maximize our productivity, multitasking actually slows us down, and the karmic law of force is proof. It 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. But what does this have to do with living a more positive life? It allows us to be more present and purposeful. By slowing down and releasing the constant need to be productive, you will be able to engage with life with more intention and meaning.

8. The Law of Giving and Hospitality

This law of karma is all about selflessness, giving to others, and practicing what you preach. A lot of people have good intentions and values, but how many of them are matching those aspirations with action? For alignment with this law, you have to focus not just on good intentions, but on meaningful action.

“The essence of this law lies in the authenticity of your intention to give, coupled with actionable follow-through,” says Chinniah. “Make others feel cherished and valued by extending your care and generosity—without anticipating reciprocation.” Aligning your intentions and your actions in this way will ensure you're leading a life of integrity.

9. The Law of Here and Now

The law of here and now is all about being present. In our world of distraction, chaos, and anxiety, this is increasingly hard to do. “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. That can be exhausting, as it deprives us of the opportunity to enjoy the present moment.

Instead, Gray recommends tuning in to your senses, being aware of what you are doing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and feeling (as much as each sense is accessible to you), to find your here and now. To do so, she recommends trying an easy mindfulness exercise whenever you're feeling disconnected or not fully present, such as identifying five objects in your environment that are the same color. Making it a habit to be present in this way will allow the experiences of your life to become more engaging and rewarding.

10. The Law of Change

If you’ve found yourself experiencing the same situation over and over again (maybe you keep dating the same kind of partner to no avail, for example), the law of change just might be to blame. It’s a sign from the universe nudging you toward change.

In cases like this, the same pattern is bound to repeat itself until you figure out how you can be responsible for changing the outcome, says Gray. In other words? Only different actions and an openness to evolving into a better version of yourself can stop the vicious cycle. “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 basically says that consistent hard work pays off.  To live in accordance with it, Gray says it's important to acknowledge that achieving great things will always require time and persistence—and no real success comes quickly or easily.

Celebrating yourself and savoring every little milestone along your journey can help you recognize your progress and remain committed to your goal. It’s about showing up, doing the work, and not giving up on your big goals, even when the progress feels slow and the resistance strong.

12. The Law of Significance and Inspiration

The law of significance and inspiration tells us that we all have value to offer the world. “Every soul incarnates with perfected abilities honed over lifetimes, meant to serve humanity and themselves,” says Chinniah. While some people may seem to discover their gifts effortlessly or early in life, others will need to devote more time and energy to figuring out what their particular contribution to humanity will be.

Either way, it's essential to remember that all people have unique gifts to give, whether big or small, says Gray. “Gifts aren't necessarily grand talents; they can be modest yet profound expressions of kindness and wisdom.” Her advice? “Embrace your uniqueness, and understand that your actions can inspire others profoundly, no matter how seemingly insignificant.”

Frequently Asked Questions About the 12 Laws of Karma

Who created the 12 laws of karma?

Think of the 12 laws of karma as the rules to playing the game of karma (and of life, for that matter). “The roots of Karma trace back to the ancient Rigveda [the oldest known compilation of Vedic Sanskrit hymns], documented around 1500 BCE,” says Chinniah. “The 12 laws emerged from these profound Vedic texts, evolving into the guiding principles of Hindu and Buddhist faiths...and illuminating the path toward mindful living and spiritual enlightenment.”

How can the laws of karma change your life?

The 12 laws serve as constant reminders that the way you live your life can have profound effects on your fate and future. "Understanding the concept that what you do can come back to you can help you aspire to act from a place of alignment and with yourself and others," says Bacine.

Understanding the 12 laws of karma can also help you realize the control you wield over your own life. “While we all are dealt different cards in this world, our responses, choices, behaviors, and healing determine how this blueprint unfolds,” says Chinniah. By choosing your actions, words, and gestures intentionally, she says, and aligning your behaviors with the karma you're hoping to generate, you can ultimately change the design of your life and move closer to your desired reality.

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