The Ways Of Karma
Life of every human being in the universe has four practicalities: Dharma (the principle of cosmic order), Karma (spiritual principle of cause and effect), Prema (concept of elevated love) and Gyana (knowledge). Of these, karma is the most talked about; it is also the most misunderstood. “Karma” literally means “deed” or “act”, and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, which Hindus believe governs all consciousness.
The Gita says: “Gahana Karmano Gatih ” – immeasurable are the ways of karma. Karma is a concept in Hinduism which explains causality through a system where beneficial effects are derived from past good actions and harmful effects from past bad actions, creating a system of actions and reactions throughout a soul’s reincarnated lives forming a cycle of death and rebirth. This causality is said to be applicable not only to the material world but also to our thoughts, words, actions and actions that others do under our instructions. When this cycle of death and rebirth comes to an end, a person is said to have attained Moksha or Salvation. The cycle of birth and death on earth is said to be formed from 8.4 million forms of life, but only in human life, an exit from this cycle is possible.
Karma is not fate. According to the Vedas, if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determine our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate reaction. Not all karmas rebound immediately. Some accumulate and return unexpectedly in this or other lifetimes. Human beings are said to produce
karma in four ways:
Through actions that we perform ourselves
Through actions others perform under our instructions
Everything that we have ever thought, spoken, done or caused is karma, as is also that which we think, speak or do this very moment.
Hindu scriptures divide karma into three kinds:
- 1. Prarabdha Karma – Karma as action.
- 2. Sanchita Karma – Latent karma.
- 3. Agami Karma – Karma as result.
Prarabdha Karma means ‘begun’; the action that is already manifesting and that is giving its effect right now. This fruit-bearing karma is the portion of accumulated karma that has “ripened” and appears as a particular problem or opportunity in the present life. You cannot avoid it or change it, as it is already happening. Sanchita Karma is an accumulated karma. It is latent or manifested in the form of a tendency or impression in the mind. From this stock of sanchita karma, a handful is taken out to serve one lifetime. Sanchita karma can be burned off by spiritual practices before it manifests.
Agami Karma is the future karma of action; that which has not yet come and which will take effect in the future. If you commit a crime, you may not get caught today, but will live with the possibility that one day you may get caught. Actions performed consciously are weighted more heavily than those done unconsciously. On this basis some believe that only human beings who can distinguish right from wrong can do karma. Therefore animals and young children are considered incapable of creating new karma as they are incapable of discriminating between right and wrong. So they cannot affect their future destinies. This view is explained by the concepts of a Karma-deha (action body) and a Bhoga-deha (completion body).
The soul in a Bhoga-deha body enjoys or suffers the consequences of previous acts. So the Bhoga-deha is considered any non-human body; a plant, animal, insect etc. This body is solely meant for burning off karma. An animal, being under the complete control of Nature and its influences and energy, is therefore regarded as being unable to create new karma. The Karma-deha refers to the human body. It is in the human body that we can and do create karma. It is in the human body that we are held responsible for our actions owing to the fact that we can exercise choice based on developed intelligence.
The only way to break the cycle of material existence is through the human form, the karma-deha, but it is in the human form that we are most likely to create negative karma, thus throwing us back into a bhoga-deha body and keeping us bound in effects of karma, which are experienced as pleasure and pain. And just as poison affects us even if taken unknowingly, suffering caused unintentionally will also create an appropriate karmic effect. Karma is also always bound by time, because every action has a limited reaction. If you do something good to people they will come to thank you and be grateful to you as long as they are experiencing the effect of your action. So, karma has only a limited sphere of its effect, be it good or bad.
It is often asked, “Why are good people made to suffer while those who commit injustice go unpunished?” Such questions arise when we see an event in its limited framework. No good action will yield a bad result and no bad action will bring a good result. This is the law of karma. As you sow, so shall you reap. If you sow a mango tree, some thorny bushes may come up because of the seeds present in the manure brought from somewhere else. It is not the mango seed that brings up the thorny bush. Your mango seed will bring mango fruit, in due course.
Our perception of suffering, of good and bad, is always relative. An awareness of dharma helps in understanding the strange ways of karma. Whenever you see someone suffering, you need to help him. That is your dharma. If you do not do your dharma, then you incur bad karma for not having done your dharma. Live with karma; don’t be attached to it. ”See action in inaction and inaction in action,” says the Gita. Awareness, alertness, knowledge and meditation will help erase past impressions. It has the strength to dissolve and destroy any karma and free you. According to Hinduism “Our destiny was shaped long before the body came into being.” As long as the stock of sanchita karma lasts, a part of it continues to be taken out as prarabdha karma for being enjoyed in one lifetime, leading to the cycle of birth and death. A human being cannot attain Moksha (liberation) from the cycle of birth and death, until the accumulated sanchita karmas are completely exhausted.
The cycle of birth and death on earth is formed from 8.4 million forms of life, only one of which is human. Only as humans are we in position to do something about our destiny by doing the right thing at the right time. Through positive actions, pure thoughts, prayer, mantras and meditation, we can resolve the influence of karma in the present life and turn our destiny for the better. A spiritual master knowing the sequence in which our karma will bear fruit can help us. As humans we have the opportunity to speed up our spiritual progress with the practice of good karma. We produce negative karma because we lack knowledge and clarity. Unkindness yields spoiled fruits, called paap, and good deeds bring forth sweet fruits, called punya. As one acts, so does one become: one becomes virtuous by virtuous action, and evil by evil action. Karma is that which propels reincarnation. The stronger the impression, the greater the possibility of the next life being according to that. So, often you reincarnate like the person you hate or love. The mind which is full of different impressions leaves this body but the impressions await suitable situations to come back. So the last thought is very important. Whatever you do throughout your life, in the last moment your mind should be free and happy.