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I want to know the colloquial chinese translation of "Karma".

The conversation example:

Bob: She had financial problem for 30 years and never got a decent job besides labor.
Me: I guess it's karma. <== I need translation of karma in this context.

Note: the karma here refers to fruit/result of her past karma in buddhism.


Second case:

One day, my dad just lost $5 in his pocket when walking home. My mom heard that and she said "I remember once you took $5 on the street, so I guess it's karma".

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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted


因果报应 and 造业, 作业 or even 作孽 suggest that she did some bad thing in the past, and you are sneered at her life. 命 is more neutral and shows some sympathy.

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Is there two words version of "命" in this context? How about 命运? ("我想这就是命运吧") – suud Aug 19 '14 at 18:13
@suud, the two word version is 宿命 - predestination. This is a different concept from karma. – 杨以轩 Aug 20 '14 at 4:32
@QuestionOverflow: so you say 命 is not proper translation of karma? – suud Aug 20 '14 at 5:24
"命" here is a collective concept, not specifically "宿命" or "命運". As Saṃsāra (輪迴) is commonly accepted among Chinese, we believe that the presence is influenced by the days lived and the previous life (前世孽, 今世果), not solely determined at the moment of birth (宿命). – Henry HO Aug 20 '14 at 7:03
@suud, they are somehow related but not quite the same. 宿命 refers to the present outcome whereas karma or 业报 refers to past actions. The Buddhist believe that past actions affect present outcome. Whether it is proper or improper depends on the context. As correctly pointed out by Ma Ming, this word is more neutral, whereas 报应 and 孽 shows a level of grudge or vindictiveness on the speaker, which would not be very appropriate in normal circumstances. – 杨以轩 Aug 20 '14 at 7:52

I guess it's karma! 我想这就是报应吧!

Karma = 因果报应

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agree on all other, since the statement did not saying she did anything bad, 报应 should not be use at all. – ah_hau Aug 20 '14 at 0:56
I just added second case. What do you think? Is "报应" more appropriate for second case? – suud Aug 20 '14 at 12:17
yupe, it's more appropriate cause it's the consequence for doing bad in the past. – ah_hau Aug 21 '14 at 0:55

@ah_hau's answer has a good generic phrase for the typical English usage (of treating "karma" as some sort of cosmic justice system). It suggests that the woman might have done something evil 30 years ago, and has been suffering misfortune because of it.

But if you want to specify that her misfortune is payback for deeds in a previous life, there's a common phrase you should use. It is specialised for this context: 上辈子做了什么孽, literally, "did some bad karma in a previous life".

For the second case, are you saying "it's karma" in the sense that he had the good luck of finding $5 earlier, so losing $5 now is just balancing it out?

If that's the case, there's a few set phrases you can use:

  • 风水轮流转: "good/bad luck goes around."
  • 三十年河东,三十年河西: "fortune changes"
  • 有得有失: "you get some, you lose some".
  • 有输有赢: "you win some you lose some".

For example, your sentence could be translated as: 你不是在路上捡过五块钱吗? 风水轮流转嘛!

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nice, but your answers are not in colloquial taste. – suud Aug 20 '14 at 19:12
@suud That is a matter of opinion and locality. I personally hear this stuff often enough. – Semaphore Aug 20 '14 at 19:15
don't you think it's a bit too long? It sounds like 成语. – suud Aug 21 '14 at 5:12
@suud are you under the impression that people never 成语 in real life? – Semaphore Aug 21 '14 at 5:17
I seldom hear it in my family, but they speak hokkienese more than mandarin though. – suud Aug 21 '14 at 16:05




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For 1st sentence: 也許是她自作孽. <- This is an incorrect translation. Please see Ma Ming's answer.

For 2nd sentence: "報應" is a bit too heavy in this case. We can say "現眼報" (spoken Cantonese) or "眼前報" (written Chinese);

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I think it should be 作孽 instead of 作業? – TactMayers Aug 19 '14 at 9:34
Yup, you are right. ^_^ – Henry HO Aug 19 '14 at 12:23
For 2nd case, do you have more simpler answer in one or two words? Three words seems not so colloquial ^^ – suud Aug 20 '14 at 19:14
@suud, "現眼報" is spoken Cantonese, though a bit old fashioned. ^_^ – Henry HO Aug 20 '14 at 23:57

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