Karma: Cause or Consequence?
by M. Govindan Satchidananda
The term Karma brings to mind notions of law and justice, reward
and punishment, as well as judgment and fate. In the Christian
and Judaic context it seems to include the concept of sin and
punishment. As such, it is not something we care to dwell upon;
but rather dread. Because it is related to such difficult concepts,
we generally prefer to avoid thinking about it; too often our
attitude is "I don't understand it," or "it is dfficult to understand."
If we do think about "karma" it raises so many unanswered questions,
1. What types of karma are there?
2. Why do bad things happen to good people?
3. Is my life determined by fate or by my free will?
4. What is grace? What does it have to do with karma? How to obtain
Before attempting to answer
these question, however, let us attempt to define karma. A simple
definition is that karma is a law or principle of nature which
requires that every action, word or thought has an effect or consequence;
or that every action has a reaction; or with regards to our human
incarnation, it is the power which by its continuity and development
as a subjective and objective force, determines the nature and
eventuality of the soul's repeated existences. So karma is cause
and consequence. In short, karma is the action and consequence
of the mind, speech and body.
Question number 1: What
types of karma are there? Is there Good Karma? Bad Karma?
In Yoga-Sutra II.12, Patanjali
refers to types of karma: "The reservoir of karma rooted in the
afflictions is experienced in seen (present) and unseen (future)
Because of the existence of
the afflictions (klesah) of ignorance (avidyà), egoism
(asmità), attachment (ràga) aversion (dvesa) and
the clinging to life (abhinivesah) we accumulate and express karmas.
There are three types of karma:
1. pràrabdha karma: those presently being
expressed and exhausted through this birth;
2. àgama karma: new karmas being created during this birth;
3. sanjita karma: those waiting to be fulfilled in future births;
The receptacle for all the karmas is known as
the karma-àsaya, "the reservoir, or womb, of karma" or
The karmas wait for an opportunity
to come to the surface and to express themselves through the klesah.
One strong karma may call for a particular birth and body to express
itself, and other closely related karmas will also be expressed
or exhausted through it. This goes on until one attains Self-realization
and ceases to create new karmas.
We need to understand that we
are simply living out our karmic destiny. Time is karma, the sages
say. We have our own karmic map. We also need to understand that
each person has his own karma and acts according to it. We wonder
why someone acts a certain way, or lives a certain way. He is
wondering the same about us. Each of us is programmed with a certain
nature. Our opinions of what is perfection come from what we were
taught and how well we have learned our lessons. The circumstances
of our life occur because of our karma. But we have free will
as to how we will deal with these, positively or negatively. If
we choose to deal with these negatively, for example, in creating
suffering for others, the reactions return to us in more intense
or terrible forms. Dealing with circumstances patiently, creating
happiness for others, neutralizes the karmic consequences gradually.
Practice: 1. Record the major
lines of your karmic map. What have been your life's major desires?
What have you been most attached to? What have been your life's
major events? Turning point? Lessons?
2. Reflect on this statement: "To break free
of karma we must realize that we have already attained what we
Good and Bad karma?
In Yoga-Sutra II.14, Patanjali
tells us: "Because of virtuous and non-virtuous karma, there are
[corresponding] pleasurable and painful consequences."
If we bring happiness (hlàda)
to others we gain pleasure; if we bring suffering (paritàpa)
to others we will reap pain for ourselves. If we allow true happiness
for ourselves, we automatically make others who are near us happier
-- whether or not they know that initially. Our habits, or subconscious
impressions (samskàras), largely determine our actions.
Therefore the quality of our birth (jàti), lifespan (ayuh)
and life experience (bhogaþ) is determined by our subconscious
impressions (samskàras). Therefore we should cultivate
thoughts, words and deeds, which will be edifying to ourselves,
and to others.
Practice: 1. Cultivate thoughts,
words and deeds, which will be edifying for yourself and others,
but first listen to and reflect on your innermost guidance, and
avoid egoistic reactions.
2. Record situations when you
have consciously made an effort to say or do something you knew
would bring joy to others. How did you feel as a result.
3. Record situations when you
have avoided saying or doing something you knew would harm others.
When you failed to avoid them? How did you feel afterwards?
Question number 2: Why
do bad things happen to good people?
When accidents, acts of aggression,
natural disasters, unexpected losses occur, causing sufferiing
or death to persons who appear to be completely innocent, or who
have lived virtuous lives, we may well wonder "Why do bad things
happen to good people?" The cause may be either: fate, that is
prarabdha karma or sanjita karma,, the consequences of acts performed
in this life. When the bad things are really terrible, usually
it is the former: inescapable fate, the consequence of past life
actions. Because a good person in this life generally does not
commit acts which would result in terrible consequences. Small
errors of judgment or mistakes in words or actions do of course,
bring consequences, often immediately. But the above question
is usually in response to tragic events which occur to the innocent.
Their previous lives prarabdha karma is bearing consequences in
this life. The suffering inherent in tragic events is mitigated
to the extent that one cultivates vairagya or detachment; if one
can remember that "Who I truly am is unaffected, because I am
the witness, not the body, not the mind, not the emotions, then
such events may also provide one great lessons. Not only may we
learn detachment when tragic events occur,, but we can also distinguish
what is permanent from what is impermanent, what brings joy versus
what brings suffering. Ultimately such events help us to distinguish
the True Self from the body-mind personality. It is not that we
suppress or consider as unreal the suffering which the mind, body
or emotions may endure, but that we see it for what it is: a passing
phenomena. By going into the suffering deeply and through it ultimately,
we become liberated from it.
Jyotish, or Vedic astrology,
may enable us to foresee prarabdha karma. While we cannot avoid
such karmic events, we can mitigate their effects by preparing
ourselves physically and mentally, as well as by avoiding those
activities which may exacerbate the suffering. There are positive
karmic events as well whose benefits may be amplified by preparation
or decisiveness or timely action. A yogi however, does not seek
astrological forecasts except in rare, significant situation which
may involve others, for example, a marriage, or newborn baby's
life preview. A yogi prefers to cultivate equanimity and willpower,
come what may. Over reliance upon astrology makes one a slave
to one's karma, through fear and 'self-fulfilling prophecy." The
right use of will coupled with reflective insight and yogic discipline
is generally a better use of one's energy and intelligence. One
learns to master each situation as it comes. A yogi seeks to surrender
to what may come, to purify himself of desires, preferences and
fears, and so become a perfect instrument for the Lord. "Not my
will but Thy will be done," allows "the jiva to become Shiva"
ultimately, as Divine Grace descends in the form of Self-realization
and other siddhis.
Practice: 1. Make a list of
things you worry about? Afterwards, ask yourself why? Record what
comes up for you? Then contemplate on the question: "Who worries?"
Question number 3: Is
my life determined by fate or by my free will?
While fate and karma are related,
they are not equivalent. Fate is those events which occur despite
all of ones efforts to bring about an alternative result. It is
prarabdha karma, the consequences of previous incarnation's actions,
being realized in the present life.
Karma as we have see earlier
is of several types, and includes a play between good and bad
karma. One may mitigate bad karma, which has caused suffering
to others by good karma, such as charitable acts, which brings
joy to others. This mitigation may occur in the present life,
for example, in the case of someone who makes amends for rude
behavior to a friend, and so obtains their foregiveness. Knowing
that all thoughts, words and actions bear consequences, therefore
the wise avoid evil and seek only the good. In this way they accumulate
a great positive balance of merit which may offset or at least
weaken the effects of evil acts.. They speak only what is necessary
and edifying for others. They recognize the great opportunities
that exist in acts of charity and compassion. By acting selflessly
they also purify themselves of egoism (anava). The deluded on
theother hand, act from egoism, and seek advantage for themselves
over others. In so doing they cause pain to others, and inevitable
karmic consequences for themselves, either in the present or future
incarnations. They also strengthen their own egoism, and sink
further into delusion.
Fate is unavoidable karma, no
matter how great is one's balance of positive karma. Whether it
brings difficulty or pleasure, the way we respond to it with equanimity,
remembering: "this too shall pass." The wise realize that fate
provides to them another opportunity to "let go" of attachments,
to remain equaniminous, and to center themselves in the awareness
of the underlying satchidananda (Absolute being, Consciousness
Free will is a delusion as long
as one is a slave to the ego's fears and desires. Free will can
be exercised only when one is aware and unattached to desires,
and the dualities of life. By cultivating vairagya (detachment)
one sees beyond liking and disliking, success and failure, loss
and gain, pleasure and pain, to the Truth of things. Abiding in
the awareness of the Truth, one can act "freely," no longer a
slave to fear or desire. One can act powerfully as an loving instrument
of the Divine. "Not my will but thy will be done," becomes the
mantra of those whose will has become freed from egoistic, karmic
and deluded tendencies. Otherwise, "free will" is a delusion,
merely a servant of egoistic desires and preferences. "I prefer
to have…" or "I prefer to do…"says the ego. "It
does not matter.." and "I am love" says the soul. Kriya means
"action with awareness," and its systematic practice enables one
to bring awareness into all actions, in all five dimensions. It
is a powerful antidote to karma: "action with reaction."
Practice: 1. Repeat these affirmations
"Not my will, but thy will be done." Or "May Your will be done,
and not mine," and "As you will, as you will."
2. When the unexpected occurs,
before reacting, pause, and reflect. Let go of the emotional reaction.
3. Look for opportunities to
bring joy to others. Increase your merit of good karma. Avoid
words, thoughts and actions which may bring suffering to others.
In a subsequent editorial we
will explore related questions, including: "What is grace? What
does it have to do with karma?" and "How can Kriya Yoga neutralize
Cause or Consequence Part 2
Copyright: M. Govindan Satchidananda,
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