Karma - The Perfect Justice of Karma
"If I choose wrong over right...how can I blame god?"
"For a person who wants to transcend duality, good karma is as useless as bad."
-Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
A couple of years ago, my sister, also unmarried and living in a flat a few floors below mine in the same building, fell badly ill. Eventually, my mother and I moved her into our flat. I was struck by the play of events. I had stayed in my sister's house for close to 10 years and she had nursed me through a dangerous illness. Now it was my turn to do the same. The law of karma had passed the verdict.
Fashion writer Meher Castelino considers her marriage to her late husband Bruno to be the outcome of a profound karmic connection. Says she, "I had tons of boy friends, but whenever they suggested marriage, I used to run away. When I met Bruno, I felt I was coming home, as if we were meant to be together. There were no butterflies in my stomach, nor did I get cold feet. And we shared a rare empathy. He would just walk into the room and he could sense my mood."
Writer Chitra Raghavan(name changed) shares an uncanny experience: "Years ago, a friend of mine and I were regular shopping companions. At some point, her mother wanted a particular decorative mask, but we could never find it.
"Fifteen years later, by when we had drifted apart, I suddenly woke up with static in my head. I felt impelled to visit a shop that I had never gone to before. And there lying down demurely on a shelf, was the mask my friend's mother wanted. I bought it and sent it to her. A few months later she sent me an amazing letter. She wrote to thank me for the mask and to say that she had been very ill and that the mask, which had been placed opposite her bed, had made her feel better. Her next sentence sent chills down my spine. She said she knew that I would give her the mask because I owed it to her from a past-life."
The Key to Life
Karma is perhaps one of the most wonderful discoveries anyone who wishes to understand life can make. Until we come face to face with it, life can seem like an arbitrary, whimsical dispensation. Why are some people rich and some poor? Why are some lucky and others drowned in disasters? Why are some happy and others not? Why is life so unfair?
A few years ago, all of Mumbai was aghast by a tragedy that was as inexplicable as it was total. A young girl from the North East, on a holiday to Mumbai, was loitering at the Gateway with a friend, when suddenly an unknown man (later discovered to be mentally unsound), charged at her with a knife and stabbed her to death. Her friend, when she rushed to help, was badly injured. How could this young girl ever have imagined this could have happened to her? What explanation can there be for this but karma?
The newspapers are filled with similar improbable tragedies and the rare stroke of equally improbable good luck: rapes, murders, acid being thrown on a young girl's face, people dying because help came too late, a sweeper winning a two-crore lottery, and so on. In every case, the cause is karma. Even as I write this, my mind is upon a tragedy that unfolded through today's morning papers. An inebriated young man ploughed his way through a cluster of tenements in the small hours of the night and killed seven pavement dwellers, including a pregnant woman. Several others have been injured. Karma reaped a grim harvest last night. I shudder too, to think of this young man's karma and how it will influence the future trajectory of his life.
In his book, What you would like to know about karma, Dada Vaswani, the spiritual head of the Pune-based Sadhu Vaswani Mission, talks about a learned rabbi who wrote a book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People, where he finally comes to the conclusion that God is not omnipotent and his powers are limited and defined.
Dr. Annie Besant, the great Theosophist and freedom fighter, had a similar question on her mind when her little baby fell ill and developed convulsions soon after its birth. Traumatised by its suffering, she stopped believing in a god who could visit such cruelty upon a baby. However, one day, she read Madame Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, a work based on Hindu philosophy. Here, she encountered the concepts of karma and reincarnation and light dawned. The baby had lived before. Perhaps, thousands of times.
The baby's convulsions had their roots in some other lifetime, as indeed did her suffering on watching the child.
It transformed her thinking and attitude and finally inspired her to settle down in India and join Madame Blavatsky's The Theosophical Society of India.
What is karma?
Vedic scholar and spiritual teacher, Swami Veda Bharati, defines karma thus: "Karma is a comprehensive term for processes whereby impressions are formed and imprinted on the mind-field to bear certain fruits in a strict application of the law of cause and effect."
Jesus Christ put it more pithily, "As you sow, so you reap."
The law of karma says that every action, mental, verbal or physical, has a consequence. And this consequence is visited upon us. None of us, no matter how rich, powerful or influential we are on the world stage, can avoid facing these consequences. Our lives and destiny are created by the sum total of these consequences, both good and bad. The personality we have been born with, the way we look, the parents we were born to, the religion and country we belong to, our relationships, have all been created by consequences in some past life. Karma, therefore, goes hand-in hand with reincarnation. Our present has been created by our past and our future is taking shape through every moment that we live - through every thought, word and action.
The Karmic Process
Karma manifests through the accumulation of samskaras upon us. Every thought, word and deed creates a samskara or impression that alters us and eventually changes our destiny. Most of us know by now that our thoughts create our lives. Therefore karma begins with thoughts. Good thoughts generate good karma while angry or negative thoughts reap bad karma. Even more subtly, karma is determined by our motivation. The same act may generate good or bad karma depending on the reason why we are doing it. Giving a meal to a beggar out of compassion and because we want to get rid of some old food, will have different consequences.
Says Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, "The word 'karma' literally means 'action', but the action is not what he does with his hands. Right now, someone picks up this stone. This is an action. It has no quality of its own, but in that person's mind, he has the intention of taking it and throwing it at someone. He has not thrown it, but already the karma is done."
We are completely responsible and completely accountable for our lives. We get away with nothing. What could be fairer, more just or ethically sound? We live in a moral universe, whose foundations are absolute justice and absolute responsibility. Rejoice, all ye who have grieved or raged at the world's shoddy standards in these matters. Neither George Bush, Dawood Ibrahim, nor any venal politicians who has looted and destroyed this country, will get away with anything. They may be able to influence the rule of the law in this life but as sure as the sun rises in the East, their actions will bear fruit in due season. The scales of divine justice are absolutely balanced.
Writes Dada Vaswani, "The impact of this law is inescapable and inexorable. Its effect, reaction and response are absolutely impartial. We could say that it is the law of karma that unholds dharma and maintains justice, equity, order and balance in the universe."
Dr Jayalkashmi, a chest physician and follower of Sri Bhagavan, of the Oneness movement, tells a fascinating tale that bears it out. A patient of asthma went for a retreat conducted by the organisation and was asked to pray to Bhagavan to reveal the cause for her asthma. She saw a vivid image of a past life in which she was born in a farmer's family and had ridden a bullock relentlessly for sport, whipping it cruelly until it had got breathless and panted. She had pursued this activity for five years. This karma manifested in severe asthma that caused her to get breathless. However, the insight did not heal her. On the contrary, she got worse. One of the guides then told her that her misdemeanour was too severe to be dispelled by mere awareness. She was told to do penance for six months, feeding grass to a cow, looking deeply into its eyes and asking it for forgiveness. After six months, the asthma vanished completely."
The karma and reincarnation theory hold the key to the mystery of life. Without it, life remains a puzzle, a source of frustration and despair. I, for one, simply could not accept an unjust world. I could not respect a God who was unjust and fanciful, who visited suffering upon little children, who strewed our lives with accidents and disasters for no apparent cause.
Karma makes everything clear. We recognise that everyone's life has been created by themselves; there is no room for partiality on the Creator's side. Karma also teaches us the grand purpose of life - to take successive births in order to increase in awareness and understanding, until we can intuit how to avoid karma altogether, at which point we will be free of the need for rebirth.
Writes spiritual preceptor and author, Deepa Kodikal, in her book, Teachings of the Inner Light, " Leela, to be a fitting sport for the Lord, must be a distillation of pure marvel and infinite creativity as the Lord Absolute Itself. It must be freewheeling, intriguing, unpredictable and fascinating… It must be laid within an intelligent preset framework and follow its own well-laid rules and laws… It must be wrapped in profound mystery, and elicit astonishment…And yet the game is so simple! It is a game that will amuse us once we have unraveled it and understood and appreciated the bare simplicity of its rules."
Types of Karma
There are three kinds of karmas that we incur. The first is kriyaman karma. This karma has its consequence the moment we act. For instance, we feel thirsty and slake the thirst, or feel an itch and scratch. This kind of karma finishes itself then and there, without any carryover. However, not all karma can spend itself so immediately. A murdered person can hardly murder us back nor can the one we save from certain death be able to reciprocate in the exact manner. These karmas are accumulated in our account, and the generic term for the stockpile of karmas that we carry with us and add to every moment, is called sanchita karma. The karma that we bring into each lifetime is called prarabdha and represent the percentage of sanchita karma that is ready to ripen and bear fruit. Prarabdha karma, therefore, determines our destiny from life to life. This is responsible for many of the fixed attributes in our lives - our personality, parentage, gifts, IQ, and the major events in our lives, such as who we will marry.
So does that mean that we have no say in the matter, and that our lives are fixed? It is part of the Lord's lila that the answer is fluid and paradoxical. Destiny and free will both exist and indeed, the successful life is that which creatively juxtaposes both forces. Prarabhda may determine certain events, perhaps that we fail in our SSC or that we have an unrequited love affair. However, we always retain with ourselves the choice of reaction to these events. As Victor Frankl, psychotherapist and author of Man's Search for Meaning, says, "The last of human freedoms (is) - the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances."
And when we respond positively, we will reap good karma, or even succeed in transforming it altogether. Great people have often achieved their status by fighting tremendous odds. Gandhi, for instance, was a most unprepossessing youth, shy and timid, but he flowered into the fearless Mahatma, who could face British batons and oppression without flinching and without retaliation. Albert Einstein too was not known for his brilliance as a youth. Yet, his profound discoveries in Physics changed the entire subject and the way it was approached. Demosthenes, the great orator of ancient Greece, was born with a stammer, which he corrected by declaiming to the sea with pebbles in his mouth.
A friend of mine, who has had a love marriage, tells me that her horoscope indicated that her relationship with her mother-in-law would be so bad that one or the other would commit suicide. The going was certainly rocky, but using the spiritual tools of self-restraint and acceptance, my friend fielded the situation so skilfully that her mother-in-law today has a deep affection and respect for her.
Writes Deepa Kodikal, "Just as the Law has sprung forth from the Lord, our Karma and destiny spring from us. The Absolute alone is their source. Just as It is the source of everything and contains everything, and yet is beyond everything, so we too are the source of our Karma and our own destiny, and yet are beyond them both... We can trample upon them and wipe them out of existence, if we so will. The destiny of our karmas, and thus the course of our destiny, is in our own hands."
Free will and Destiny
That, in fact, is the whole point of karma. Far from sealing our choices and casting us into bondage, karma puts the entire onus upon us. A blind or malevolent fate is not responsible for the events in our lives. We ourselves are. And therefore, we have the potential for creating a better karma for ourselves in the days and lifetimes to come.
Writes Dada Vaswani, "We can make or mar our destiny by our thoughts and actions. We are free agents; we are blessed with free will. We are free to choose between the two alternatives of good and evil, at every step, every turn of life." He adds, "The doctrine of karma is this essentially one of hope and encouragement. It is the best motivation we can have for right thinking, right action and right living."
Says Cyrus Khambatta, vice president and joint secretary of the Avtar Meher Baba Bombay centre, "All that I have learnt through my spiritual exploration is that reactivity accumulates further karma. When reactive patterns based on our old karmas come up, we are supposed to take creative steps to get out of their hold. I take a deep breath and think, 'What action can I take that is of spiritual value?' If one is grounded in the present moment, and has the grace of the master, karma can be overcome. Baba used to say, 'Karma may impel but not compel you to do certain things.'"
He says, "I am secretary of my housing society and you know that a secretary only gets abuses from the members. I have learnt over time not to get flustered by their unflattering opinions of me. In fact, I tell them, 'Sir, your opinion of me is your opinion. My opinion is different. And I prefer to stay with that.' They have today recognised that I cannot be shaken."
The Value of Karma
The benefits of karma are manifold. It helps us to recognise that we determine our destiny. This knowledge can inspire us to transform ourselves and better our lives. It is also the best guarantee to good behaviour. When we know that we are going to bear the consequences of our every action, then we will be careful to moderate our actions, words and eventually thoughts. We do not need to invent heaven or hell or the idea of a punitive God. The inexorability of karma is sufficient deterrent.
Anjali is a young girl of my acquaintance who has such a contentious relationship with her father that she has cut out all contact with him. Recently, however, she read Psychiatrist Brian Weiss's book, Many Lives, Many Masters, where he talks about how the same people come into our lives over and over again, impelled by karmic debts. Fearful of encountering her father in yet another lifetime, she is now trying to heal the relationship. To seekers looking for 'liberation from the cycle of birth and death', bad karma is tantamount to a life sentence, for it binds them to 'samsara', to use Buddhist terminology, once again. They are therefore usually vigilant about not incurring more bad karma than they can help.
Karma can help make sense of even the most difficult situation and foster acceptance. Dada Vaswani talks of an elderly lady who was bedridden and in pain, yet her smile never wavered. The cause of this was clear: She said, "I must have performed bad karma in my past life and therefore have incurred this. Let me not incur bad karma in this life."
Instead of weeping over situations and questioning why an event has befallen us, karma helps us to accept it and move on to make the most of it. The concept of karma and the consequent fatalism has often been blamed for our country's passivity and lack of initiative. However, this is a gross misunderstanding of karma. Karma releases us to act, because only when we accept something can we do something about it. If we are a passive people, blame it on the poor self-esteem acquired through centuries of foreign rule. Indeed, the resilience of our country and the fact that it has survived with its culture intact for close to five millennia, is thanks to the greater ability to accept the vicissitudes of life and yet go on.
Is karma punitive? Writes Dada Vaswani, "Man is free to choose - between vice and virtue, good and evil, selfishness and service… But remember, if the right to freedom of choice is vested within him, it follows that the responsibility for his actions also rests with him; for we cannot have rights without responsibilities…. If I choose wrong over right, evil over good, how can I blame God for what results from my actions?"
Far from being punitive, the stick of karma goads us to try and understand the laws of life, abide by them and to go beyond narrow self-interest. We learn to be responsible for our actions and to be aware of the importance of motivation.
Proof of Karma?
However, the sceptic will want to know, what proof is there that karma and reincarnation actually exist? In answer, we can also ask, what proof is there that the empirical approach is the only way?
At the same time, the evidence of karma and reincarnation is impressive. There are the innumerable near-death experiences that tell us that life after death exists. Many also talk of the wise beings they meet there who often send them back because their work on earth is not yet over. Some also affirm that the purpose of human existence is growth. We are here to grow, to increase in wisdom, compassion, joy, benevolence and other positive qualities. The ultimate end, they tell us, is to merge with the Supreme Creator. How akin this is to the purpose of life intuited by the Vedic sages, who never tired of telling us our true identity - Brahman. If this is indeed the purpose of life, and life is a school, it follows that karma is our progress card, telling us how many marks we have earned in this enterprise and where we have failed, and meting out the appropriate corrective or appreciative action.
These truths are strikingly brought out in Psychiatrist Brian Weiss's books. Weiss was a regular psychiatrist until the day a patient called Catherine came to him. To his surprise, when asked to regress to where the problems came from, she regressed into an altogether different past life. Since then, Weiss has been writing fascinating and transformative books about the patients who come to him for therapy. Usually, they go into a past life or even a future life and recognise the karmic patterns that limit them - anger, the desire for control, insecurity and others. By becoming aware of the karma that result from their negative samskaras, most are inspired to change. Writes Weiss in his book, Same Soul, Many Bodies, "The soul, always, at all times, evolves towards health. He adds, "Our past and future lives converge in the present, and if they can induce us toward healing now so that our current lives are healthier and more spiritually fulfilled, we will make progress."
His books are also testimony to the importance of working on relationships, for karma manifests through them very often. According to him, we take birth again and again with the same set of people in order to heal the relationships and achieve harmony. In karmic terminology that would be tantamount to overcoming the karmic bonds that force us into negative behavioural patterns.
Writes Deepa Kodikal in her book, Teachings of the Inner Light, while describing a contentious relationship: "This blow-for-blow relationship will continue, birth after birth, until at least one of us understands the Law of Karma, or attains purity of mind through the path of spiritual discipline. Finally, one day, wisdom will dawn: Do unto others, as ye would have them do unto you." Some might ask, if we get only our just desserts, where does God's grace enter into the picture? According to Dada Vaswani, if we would make a tally of our good thoughts, words and deeds as opposed to all our negative thoughts, words and deeds, we would recognise that the latter is much longer a list. Yet most of us are showered with blessings by God, far in excess of our merits.
Releasing Bad Karma
So how does one void bad karma? Spiritual and motivational trainer, Prem Nirmal, offers a way out, "One of the ways to remove or reduce the fruits of past karmas is to expose them to the public gaze! For instance, if you do not want the results of your good karmas, announce it to the public. There are many people who put their nameplates after donating big amounts, without knowing this secret that it is the surest way to let go of those fruits! We can easily avoid the fruits of our bad karmas by publicly acknowledging our sins or misdeeds with complete honesty and sincerity."
Voiding one's bad karma can only come about by earning better and better karma, through facing the consequences of our past actions courageously, and using it to purify ourselves. Eventually, we will reach a stage when we want out of all karma, good or bad.Says Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, "For a person who is thinking in terms of transcending life and death, good karma is as useless as bad.
To him, karma is just karma; any classification does not matter. All karma is bad for a spiritual person. For a person who wants to transcend duality, become one with existence, for that person there is no good and bad. All karma is a barrier, a burden for him. He wants to drop all burdens."
Cyrus Khambatta pinpoints the methodology, "It is doership and kriya that create karmabaandhan. The only way out is to break the karthuthva abhiman (sense of doership). Make your will subservient to the Master's."
In other words, surrender your sense of doership. No matter what you do, whether good or bad, take no cognisance of it. Pass on the credit and the blame to the Higher Power. This advice may seem contradictory to the karmic injunction to take responsibility for our actions. But as in all spiritual matters, the journey is paradoxical, taking us first into accepting responsibility and finally into surrendering it to the Almighty. We cannot jump the gun and surrender before taking responsibility. Indeed, surrender cannot be forced. It is a happening brought on by diligent spiritual practice.
The Bhagavad Gita has been advocating nishkaama karma, desireless action, for thousands of years:
Karmanyevaadhikaaraste, maaphaleshu kadaachana,
Ma karma phalaheturbhuhu, maatey sangostvakarmani
(Chapter II verse 47)
Your choice is in action only, never in the result thereof.
Do not be the author of the result of action. Let your attachment not be to inaction
The End Game
In surrender, the deed is done without any emotional impetus - no desire, no motivation, no feeling is attached to it - the act is pure and therefore devoid of karma. Through non-doership we incur no more karmas and through courageously facing and accepting the fruits of old karmas, we succeed in dissipating them. What then? Then, we enter into the last phase of the Lord's lila - the end game so to speak: enlightenment.
Says Swami Veda Bharati, "We are given chance after chance in the process of re-incarnation and this cycle continues till we really master the science of karma, and therein learn to perform the actions skilfully, that is, not as claimants of a doership but as neutral observers. Our acts of prayer and surrender to divinity invoke such grace that we are liberated from the bondage of karma through a process of enlightenment - achieving sainthood."
How on earth does one ever void the burden of sanchita karma accumulated over zillion lifetimes? That is where the grace of God comes in, for a spiritual awakening immediately destroys the entire stock of accumulated karma. All that we need to void is the karma of this lifetime, prarabdha.
Says Dada Vaswani, "You are not the body, nor the mind. You are not the buddhi. You are that which cannot be touched by karma. Once you arrive at that stage all karma drops out. But even then, the prarabdha karma that you have brought with you into this life, has to be worked out."
Karma then, is the agency, along with maya, which keeps us peddling on the cycle of birth and death. And through her carrots and sticks we slowly work our way out of her clutches. What a game!
Subject: I have seen the karma working - 1 February 2013
I know a person who have cheated several of his close friends financially using various tricks and recently at age of 51 he got his leg got fractured. The law of karma works.
Subject: Theory of Karma - 27 December 2012
One of the very best explanations on this topic are given he book titles
by: Ajit P
Subject: karma - 28 January 2012
A very nice explanation and convincing too. yet my confusion is even if aman commits a serious crime he is told the consequencesses of it and then punished. But when one is undergoing the process of prarabdhakarma, without knwoing for what this agony is how can he be convinced that this is More...
Subject: karma - 24 July 2010
I have seen karma at work at times - I hope to see it work for on a person I used to work with that made my and other co-workers a living hell because of her words/actions. Sometimes it feels like it takes forever to work.
While it is natural to want justice for the suffering this person imposed on you and your colleagues, it is wiser to free yourself of this need. Karma will handle it, if not in this lifetime, in the next. It is not our problem and it is a waste of energy to think about it.
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