You might have sometimes wondered how it is determined what kind of life people will have. Will they be born in a rich or a poor family? Will they have good health or bad. Will they have a happy life or a not-so-happy one? The answer to all such puzzling questions is that it is the universal Law of Karma that determines this. I have already introduced it in my previous presentation on the Cosmic Consciousness. Let us do a quip recap of its basics before discussing it in detail.
As we know that the universe operates on the law of causation which states that for every effect there is a cause. All phenomena in nature are governed by this law. As an illustration, when we sow a seed in the soil, a plant grows out of it. The plant, which is the effect, will not grow, without sowing of the seed, which is the cause. When this law applies to the humans, it is called The Law of Karma. In simpler terms, the law implies that every action has a corresponding reaction. This means that a good deed will bring back something good to the doer, while a bad deed will entail something bad, either instantly or at a later time in this or in the forthcoming lives. For example, if we are kind and caring, we will get happiness in this and in subsequent lives. On the other hand, if we intimidate and bully others, we will suffer hardships. The universe functions according to this law and justice is administered to everyone. So, if bad things happen to us, it is a reaction of our own past bad actions done either in this life or in our previous lives. We reap what we sow. Why would Brham randomly give happiness and miseries to people?
Here you may ask, do we have more than one life? The answer, according to Vedas is yes. We have several lives. After we die, our soul moves to another body for its next life. This cycle of birth and death ends only when we are able to make sufficient progress and all our karmas are consumed. By the time that happens, we reach an evolved human state. We become a loving and caring person, a noble human being. Our consciousness expands to become at par with the Cosmic Consciousness. Then our soul gets liberated and merges with the Supreme Soul. How this happens will be discussed later in this, as well as in my forthcoming presentations.
As a formal definition, our action and its reaction or consequence together constitute what is known as Karma. These Karmas are witnessed by the part of Brahm that resides in our body as a witness and a record of these karmas is stored in our sub-conscious mind. So, whatever we do, stays with us and we cannot escape it. Don’t fall for the promotional gimmick of Las Vegas which says ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’. It simply does not. So, don’t be fooled.
The kind of life we will have depends on the mix of our accumulated good and bad karmas that we have generated in the past lives. If good karmas outnumber bad karmas, then we will have a predominantly good life and if the opposite is true, then our life will be loaded with problems. Here one thing should be noted that each karma has a separate consequence. Good and bad karmas don’t cancel each other. Bhagavad Gita beautifully elaborates the Law of Karma. It declares that we cannot escape the consequences of our actions and so it is sensible to exercise caution before we act.
Now the question arises, what are good and bad karmas? The answer is simple. Good karmas are generated when actions are of a positive nature, performed by people following a path of integrity and virtue. They tend to be benevolent, loving and caring. Bad karmas are those that are typically performed by dishonest and selfish people, with no concern for others. Such actions are mean and evil.
Vedas state that among the good karmas are honesty, trustworthiness, non-stealing, truthfulness, helping others especially those in distress, giving charities, showing compassion, not taking anybody else’s money, never torturing anybody either physically or mentally, talking pleasantly, dependability, taking care of elders etc. Among the bad karmas are, deceitfulness, Lying, torturing others physically or mentally, talking hurtfully, dishonesty, stealing, taking other people’s money or belongings, not helping others, not giving charity, non-dependability, not helping the needy and elderly, etc.
In our journey for eventually getting out of the Karmic cycle, the first step is our effort to move from vice to virtue i.e., from Tamasic (baser and inertial qualities) to Rajasic (dynamic and passionate qualities, which are normal human qualities) and eventually to Sattvic (noble qualities), so that our karmas keep improving and become less punishing and more rewarding in the coming times, thus, reducing our pain, suffering and miseries; and ensuring a better, happier and more fulfilling life for ourselves. Good karmas not only ensure better future life for us, but also make us virtuous and a spiritually advanced person. It is a great step forward. However, even this is not the goal since even a good karma also generates a reaction and cannot help us in getting out of the Karmic Cycle, which is necessary for the liberation of the soul. We will see later how we can become Karma free.
Since life is a mix of good and bad karmas and so we are blessed in some respects and miserable in others. In a lifetime a person undergoes several cycles of good and bad times when we are predominantly happy and miserable respectively. In some cases, however, misery prevails longer, while in others happiness is dominant. It all depends on what kind of karmic mix we have got at the time of our birth.
Karmas are of three types. The first type is Accumulated Karmas of the remote past which are not used up, called Sanchit Karmas. Part of these karmas make subtle impressions on our mind, form our habits and are reflected in our character. Our personality depends on how our actions have been in the past. Our nature, mental composition, habits, inclinations, tendencies and behavior are determined by the subtle impressions or sanskaras generated by these Karmas
The second type involves those Karmas that determine our present life. These define, what we call our luck or destiny, also known as our Prarabdha Karmas or Bhagya. These karmas, too, are mostly from our past lives that are assigned to us to consume in the current life and we get a life in accordance with that.
To give you an analogy consider an archer, Sanchit or accumulated Karmas are like arrows left in the case that will be shot later, whereas Prarabdha Karmas are like arrows that have been shot. These Karmas are ready for reaping. Nobody can avoid them. These are consumed only when we experience the consequences that resulted from them. It is like paying a debt accumulated in the past.
The third category of karmas include those karmas that we are doing at present. These are called Kriyaman (Karmas being generated) or Agami Karmas (Karmas for the future). We will face their consequences in the future.
While effects of Prarabdha karmas are more or less inescapable, there are certain practices, like serving others through social service, appealing to Brahm for easing the pain through prayers or mantras, practicing techniques of yoga and meditation, etc. that can ease the rigors of some bad Karmas. The details of how it happens will be covered in later shows.
Here, however, we should keep two things in mind. First, these methods mostly take some time to produce results and so, a consistent use of these methods is recommended. Secondly, only certain type of Prarabdha karmas can be diminished, or erased, others cannot be mitigated and must be faced.
One thing more, the law of Karma is not to be confused with a Fatalistic view of life wherein people believe that whatever has to happen is predestined and they do not have any free will to act. That is not true. When Prarabdha influences our life adversely, we can always fight back and make efforts for improving things. We are not required to surrender to adversities and suffer passively. We can take the misfortune as a challenge and rise up to the occasion. Secondly, bad times do teach us important life lessons, which is a big plus. Next, we can take recourse to remedial actions discussed above. And lastly, realizing the adverse consequences of bad Karmas, we can make a conscious effort to take charge of the Agami or future karmas. For that we can make a genuine and conscious effort to reform our habits through care and discretion, so that we develop a tendency to perform good actions as far as possible which will ensure a good life for us in the future.
Lastly, let us see how we can become Karma-free. The reason why we have to face the consequences of our karmas is that there is an ownership of the Karma and an associated expectation of outcome. We must relinquish both, the ownership of karmas as well as the desire for a return. Then our Karma will become Nishkama Karma meaning desireless or selfless Karma which will not bind us. Then onwards we do not generate the binding karmas and once our accumulated karmas are consumed, we become free from the Karmic bondage.
Now the million-dollar question is that how we get rid of the ownership of Karma? The answer is, by considering our actions as our contribution to the smooth running of this great universe created and run by the Supreme Being. In the ultimate analysis, it is Brahm who is the doer of everything. We merely act in accordance with our nature which is determined by the mix of Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic Gunas or qualities that we have got and dictated by our circumstances in which we are placed by our past karmas. We are, thus, merely doing our bit in His grand design since we are part of that design and so why should we exp ect a return. Suppose there is an accident and we happen to be there. We should help the injured person as our duty without expecting any return favor. In reality, it was Brahm who helped the injured person. We were simply executing His wish and so why should we have an expectation for return? Even in our day-to-day work, we should adopt the same approach.
Practicing Nishkama Karma may seem challenging, but we should try to make it our eventual goal. Only then can we be free from the bondage of Karma, paving the way for our soul to be liberated eventually. Otherwise, we will keep moving in this unending cycle of life and death.