The Sanskrit word karma stands for the notion of action. Karmic residue is taken to mean the output or effect, in ancient India taken to mean ‘the remainder’, of action. Ancient Indians1 suggested, then claimed and then believed fanatically (to this day) that the karmic residue of a life,2 i.e. of a biological unit, as balance of good and bad actions, carries (itself) forward as start-up ‘setting’ of a new life/bio-unit rather than merely as a ‘setting’ change for an already existing life.3 Verifiable evidence for their claim has not been produced. That karmic residue includes some part or all of its creator, i.e. the creator’s self (or soul as ‘driver’), i.e. his or her essence or substance, has not been observed.
Basically karmic residue happens/activates as observer (or receiver) effect.4 That’s because ‘the meaning of a message (i.e. of an output of action) is the response it produces.’ Which means that karmic residue becomes active only if and when it strikes as a random (meaning differential) input. Whether or not a unit or quantum of karmic residue strikes and the (good or bad) effect it produces depends on the state of the receiving unit.
In simpler terms, a biological unit (the sum total of all inputs of karmic residues, acting as conditions, so the Buddha) serves, in theory at least, as (a self-driving/perpetuating, self-regulating and self-adapting) karmic residue transforming machine.5 It inputs6 (karmic) residue (recently called ‘garbage’) in order to stay alive, in the process generating new (karmic) residue7 (i.e. garbage) as output.
According to archaic paddle-your-own-canoe, i.e. Hinayana, Buddhists,8 such a self-regulating conditions (i.e. karmic residue) transformation machine has no apparent (abiding or permanent) self ≈ driver (i.e. as self, spirit or soul).
Elimination of karmic residue results in moksha.
1. Although the word Karma appears in the ancient Veda, it is there taken to mean a religious act. The notion of karma as now understood appears first in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (approx. 800BC) as an out of the blue generalization of the vague notion of ‘You get what you deserve’ or ‘As you sow, so shall you reap!’ Later generations of Brahmin priests, seeing the value of Karma as a political red herring, set about working out the details of the new karma notion without however providing compelling evidence for its existence, not so much within a life but between lives.
2. What karmic residue is and how, indeed if it transmits from life to life is still a complete mystery. In this regard see the collection of learned academic essays entitled: ‘Karma & Rebirth’, Edited by Wendy O’Flaherty 1983
3. Such transmission would not be permitted under the rules proposed by Darwin’s evolution theory but would hark back to Lamarck’s evolution proposition.
4. That karmic residue acts as recipient response is obviously a huge problem not anticipated by ancient karma theorists.
5. The term machine should here be understood in the sense of a Turing Machine, namely as a set of abstract (transformation) rules (or conditions), to wit, an algorithm or fractal.
6. … i.e. feeds on
7. … i.e. fodder
8. In this regard see: The Buddha’s bluff