Karma — The Economy of Action

“a person consists of desires. As is one’s desire so is one’s will; as is the will so is the deed that is done, and one’s deeds conditions what one will become”. (Br. U. 4:5)

1. The jiva which is a distinguishable ray of the Supreme Brahman somehow experiences a “fall from knowledge” — it becomes separated as it were, from the Godhead. How and why this occurs is the ultimate Mystery. The Vedas intimate that it is because of desire — a desire to experience duality.

2. The jiva then begins its samsaric journey by devolving into the lowest forms of existence such as plants in which state its natural consciousness is contracted to the maximum.

3. Slowly through a process of spiritual involution the jiva develops and matures, expanding its consciousness through the various lower forms of life — insects and animals until it finally reaches the human stage. This primary transmigration through the lower life forms takes about 8,400,000 births according to tradition. This is a natural and progressive process because these life forms have no concept of right and wrong or the ability to make moral choices, and therefore no Karma. Animals are not responsible for their actions, they are motivated by instinct and the drive to fulfil their natural needs of sustenance, security and procreation.

4. The secondary transmigration which is an active and self‐directed process, starts with the human birth. All people in every society upon the earth have concepts of right and wrong and laws governing their relationships with each other, based upon a perception of justice. There are universal values and truths which every social group in every place in the world has access to. Hinduism teaches that Isvara cares about all beings in the cosmos and makes provision for their spiritual development and unfoldment by revealing guidelines in a manner appropriate to those particular individuals. The human evolution (becoming involved in samsara) and involution (becoming liberated from samsara) is governed by the Law of Karma (see next section).

5. Finally the Supreme Goal of human existence which is Liberation from the continued round of births and deaths is obtained. Tradition says that from the lowest type of human birth to the birth in which spiritual awareness arises, one passes through approximately 100,000 births. So we see that this is a very long and arduous process, from the moment of spiritual arousal

to the actual achievement of enlightenment and liberation can still take numerous births. So our sages have always exhorted us not to waste this precious human birth which is so rare.

Karma is the most basic doctrine of Sanatana Dharma and a thorough understanding of the dynamics of Karma is essential for any degree of Spiritual advancement. Sanatana Dharma takes for granted that there is order pervading the universe. Karma is the doctrine of the economy of action. The word Karma means ‘action’ and refers to the entire cycle of action and its consequences. Every action in addition to its material goal, produces a moral consequence which manifests as either joy or sorrow. Whatever we put out into the universe we get back in equal measure. All positive actions produce happiness and all negative actions result in suffering. This law operates whether we are aware of it or not. It is the process by which we shape our own destinies and build up our own reality. Through ignorance we bind ourselves by selfish actions, feelings or thoughts. As long as our actions are directed towards self gratification alone, there is not the slightest possibility of working towards liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. Even the smallest thought or act has consequences which are not settled with death.

Cause and Effect

In this life we experience the effect of our past actions, and often feel resentful that we are now suffering for the course of action set into motion by someone else. But when one looks at life from the point of view of immortality, and the Self as an eternal imperishable spiritual atom, then everything falls into a pattern of cause and effect. Karma, as the law of spiritual dynamics, makes us self‐reliant beings with the realization that we can never escape responsibility. We can never plead ignorance of the law, nor take the attitude — “this time it won’t matter!” In fact the effect is inherent in the cause and therefore the two are in fact one continuum. In the inviolability of the law lies our potential freedom. It enables us to modify, change and remold our character which is the result of our past lives, and to create our future character in greater perfection — improving on our mistakes from the past, knowing that not one single iota of effort goes to waste. Objections are often raised that the doctrine of Karma is unjust because we are now suffering for actions we have done in the past of which we have no recollection. Recollection of the exact cause is irrelevant, the causes may be manifold, but the effect in ourselves and in others is either joy or sorrow. Every single action that we do potentially has a threefold effect — it either makes someone happy or sad or leaves them feeling indifferent. Actions which cause indifference do not have much of a karmic effect. Actions which cause either sorrow or joy to others will rebound upon the doer.

Predestination & Karma

Karma is often misunderstood as a synonym for destiny or fate. Karma is neither of these — it is a cosmic law which negates any possibility of luck, good fortune, or chance. Behind every fortuitous opportunity or apparent stroke of luck lies the energy which we ourselves have generated. Likewise behind every loss and misfortune lies the negative energy which we ourselves have created. We are powerless to change the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and to alter what actually happens to us, but we have complete freedom to determine how we will deal with each and every situation that arise, and turn it into a means of progression or retrogression. Predestination, fate or destiny implies that there is an external force which is imposing its own agenda onto us. Karma is the law whereby we create and experience our own agendas. We have the power to visualize, plan, work for and achieve our own certain future.

Dynamics of Karma.

The actual working out of the law of Karma is extremely complex, including millions of fine permutations and tunings affecting the lives of all of those around us and everyone that we have ever known. All these dynamics are controlled by the Devas (Cosmic Forces) of Karma — the Nine Planets (Navagraha). But there are certain basic principles which we need to understand. We are all acting on three different realms; physical, emotional and mental, with energies appropriate to each realm. Physical actions determine our physical environment, our emotional life revolves around our family, friends and associates and determines our interaction with them, and our world of thoughts, goals and aspirations determine how we interact with the world around us and ultimately understand ourselves. All these three energies together make up our character.