Niskama Karma: A Critical Assessment

  • P. K. Mohapatra


This chapter continues the critical, reconstructive analysis on the traditional theory of niskama karma. Indian value system is entrenched upon a supposed logical trilogy comprising three interdependent beliefs – karma, transmigration and moksa – each belief putatively explainable only in association with the other two. But interestingly, while transmigration is essential to karma, moksa requires cessation of transmigration and so the cessation of karma (to experience whose results one has to be born again). That is why the karma that is required for moksa is niskama karma, which being desireless would produce no effects to be experienced in any life. In this sense niskama karma virtually renders the law of karma inoperative! But, we ask, is it not incoherent to claim that one ought to engage in niskama karma for attaining moksa and yet not to desire moksa that would inevitably result? Will it be immoral for a mumuksu to have mumuksa or even for a jivanmukta to work for nihshreyasa? Then why this emphasis on niskama karma? Reason: proneness for absolutism – absolute obligation to experience the desired result; the assumption that every desire is bondage- causing and every sakama karma is evil. In virtually putting a blanket ban on desires and attachment for any consequence of actions, the niskama karma theory in the received sense prescribed an absolute requirement for itself and thereby puts severe constraints on its success.

We claim that the ideal of niskama karma does not mean that desirelessness is an absolute requirement for moral actions. The Gita conception of non-attachment in action, not for action, is brought in to justify our reinterpretation of the theory.


Logical trilogy Niskama karma Moksa Mumuksu Jivanmukta Nihshreyasa Karma sannyasa Incentive to morality 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. K. Mohapatra
    • 1
  1. 1.Former Professor of PhilosophyUtkal UniversityBhubaneswarIndia

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