Saturday, June 13, 2009


Life continues.... even after the most horrific tragedies, like the one we witnessed on 28th May 2009. The loss of a 22 year old son in a motorcycle accident was a very big blow to the parents, relatives and friends. I had written about this in my previous post, "Life, Astrology and Destiny". Many questioned the existence of God and the seeming injustice, when God is considered to be all merciful..... How can God take away a young son ahead of the older relatives and parents?, specially when the parents are God fearing and have never done any thing wrong or harmed any one in their lives.

These and many other similar doubts are expressed whenever such an incident occurs, and these kind of incidents happen with great regularity in this mortal world. The only sane answer under such circumstances is that it is God's will and that we mortals have no control over these incidents. It is also stated that it is all linked to individual 'karma'.

What is Karma? Most Indians intuitionally understand the 'karma' philosophy. However, it is difficult for people who are more intellectually inclined to translate this into understanding of life and living. Most of us educated people want a scientific explanation of this word, & the philosophy behind this potent word, and how it functions. I too fall under this category and have been/ continue to try to understand this philosophy. My understanding so far is based on my readings, discussions and my own thinking and I am sure I would benefit by inputs from more curious/ knowledgeable others.

As I understand, 'Karma is action'. Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction, or thinking of it in another way - every action is a cause for a susequent effect, or reaction. The action could be in the form of thought, word or deed. Thus all my actions, knowingly or unknowingly, create a reaction. Unknowing actions also create karma - an analogy to understand this is taking poison unknowingly - poison will kill whether taken knowingly or unknowingly.

As we continue to live, we indulge in various actions, and each of these actions have a fruition period - from immediate to over a prolonged period. An analogy of poison would help one understand the import of this - immediate effect of poison, like taking cyanide; or a delayed effect of poison like effect of pollution, which takes its toll after many years. Every action thus has a different period after which it becomes ripe and ready for a reaction. We keep accumulating all these karmas over a lifetime; some give their effects during the same lifetime and others keep accumulating for effect in another life time (sanchit karmas). As per Hindu philosophy, the soul never dies; only the body dies. The soul cannot be destroyed and has to be reborn to live through the effects of the accumulated karmas, until it reaches a stage of nil karmas or a stage of zero debit/ credit balance, when it merges with God.

Karma philosophy and re-incarnation are thus inextricably linked. Hindus always believed in re-incarnation, based on the Gita. All other faiths which originated in this part of the planet believe in a very nearly similar philosophy. It is now being accepted by other faiths too that re-incarnation is a reality, as there have been many instances of kids who could re-collect their past lives, and these re-collections have proven to be true. Also, past life regression is a branch of science that is lending credence to the re-incarnation philosophy.

Birth and death are pre-destined, based on our previous karmas. How else would one explain the varying circumstances and attributes with which each one of us is born. God is all merciful and treats every one of us the same way. He would not put any of us in seemingly favourable/ unfavourable circumstances, based on His likes and dislikes. I believe, He has created a karmic system, which dictates our life. His Grace is the same for each one of us, but like the sun it affects us differently, based on our particular circumstances. The same sun affects the people in the plains, mountains and deserts, etc., differently.

We are ourselves responsible for our own karmas and our future lives. Some of us are born in a rich/ poor family, beautiful, handicapped, as Indian/ American/ African, etc., as we are under the effects of previously accumulated different karmas. Similarly, we die under different conditions and circumstances based on our previous karmas and these events are pre-destined, as per my understanding. After our death, our soul, with the entire record of our 'sanchit' karmas is liberated from this body. Due to attachment developed by the soul to this body, the various rituals, including consigning the body to the fire, are performed so that the soul could continue on its evolutionary process without attachments. Our (referring to the soul in this case - the body is like clothes - our soul keeps changing bodies, like our body does clothes) karmas lead us to different planes of existence, beyond earth, some better, some worse. The effect of good karmas lead us to lead a life in what is called heaven to enjoy the fruits of our good karmas and the effect of bad karmas are lived through in lower planes, or hell in common parlance.

Our 'sanchit' karmas are like fixed deposits of different terms. As and when they come to maturity, some of these are bunched together as 'prarabdha karma', for us to be reborn in a body to live through the effect of our karmas. The maturity terms after which these karmas effects are felt are fixed, and thus our birth and death are fixed, and pre-destined. During the lifetime, we live through the effects of our previous karmas. In life, like Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, "what you meet in life is destiny, how you meet it is self effort" (karma). So, in short karma is in our control and these karmas are what are going to decide our future destiny, if we continue to consider ourselves to be the Doers. This is one important point.

It is believed that in case one does all work as His, without any thought of the fruits thereof, then this kind of karma does not bind and does not create any further destiny.


Kislay said...

Absolutely brilliant explanation Sir . Mind blowing . Thank you so much . I tend to dabble in these subjects as well , but my understanding is like the mere knowledge of the alphabets . This was a great lesson , which will push my level up . Please please do write more on this . And that Sai baba quote is brilliant . It explains so much in so little words . Why destiny and karma both control our lives , and why we do have a certain amount of control on our lives .

BK Chowla said...

I fully agree with you.Karma..action.We hould leave for God what is best done by Him.Destiny is very mysterious but is a reality.

Piper .. said...

Sir, I have long struggled to understand the concept of Karma. After Dad passed away, almost everyone said, its his good Karma, that he passed away peacefully within 5 months of diagnosis - good karma because almost all cancer patients die a terribly painful,inhumanly tortured death after months and months of suffering(My own aunt did). I have struggled to understand what Karma is all about. Your post makes things far clearer to me than ever before. But here`s one qstn. Our actions are not always under our control. Sometimes circumstances, sometimes our needs drive our actions. What may be my urgent need may not be so for another. In that case, doesnt Karma translate into destiny?? Isnt it my dad`s destiny to have passed away peacefully without much suffering? Will it not be my destiny, if tomorrow I die a painful death?? Is there a difference between Karma and destiny then?
Yet another truly excellent post Sir!

J P Joshi said...

Kislay: Like you said, I too dabble in these subjects just to understand the 'why' and 'how' of life. This urge becomes stronger when some disturbing events take place; on other occasions, life just seems to be too busy for any thoughts beyond the physical plane. Thank you for your comments.

BK Chowla: Agree with you - Karma is in our control and that is what should concern us, in the here and now.

J P Joshi said...

Piper: Yes, I do agree with you that your Dad had done good karma to have 'passed away peacefully within 5 months of diagnosis'. I tend to believe that our past karma dictates our present life, but also do believe that karmas in this birth can modify the severity of the effects of our past actions. The effects of our past actions themselves cannot be wiped out though, I believe, as they are now our 'prarabdh' destiny, which is pretty much fixed, as I understand.

I too am also trying to understand this concept. My understanding so far suggests to me that karma (cause and its effect, both are considered as part of karma) is created only if the ego 'I' is involved in the action. In case the action is done as an act of service to God then no karma gets created that would bind the soul to the sequence of 'births and deaths'.

So, who is the 'doer', is the most important determinant of karma. Looked at in another way, if whatever comes in our life is accepted as God's will, and with equanimity, irrespective of whether it is to our liking or not, then we would not be creating binding karma. For work to be non-binding, it should be done for work's sake, and not for selfish ends, or for the fruits thereof.

To me, Mother Teresa's work in India clearly falls in this category. She undertook even the so called lowliest of work and did it as service to God and not for selfish ends.

The Purity Project said...

hi! your words are very interesting, and I did enjoy the read, however, I don't agree with Karma at all. It was interesting to me that you were able to use God and Karma in the same article. Although it does make a certain amount of sense that Good works should be repaid with good fortune, it is not a reality in the way and matter of how God works. In his word He even says that our good works are like filthy rags compared to His own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6), so this clearly is in direct conflict of the idea of Karma all together. Also, we can look at the example of Job in the Old Testament. Job was said to be a holy man of God-blameless. Yet
ALL of his children died (on the same day infact) his wife abandoned him, he lost all his riches and even lost his health. According to Karma, since he was a good man, he shouldn't have suffered such horrible tragedies. Yet he did, and God is still Good. You are right to say that everything is in God's will and it is confusing when someone so young dies. a dear friend of mine was robed and then shot to death 2 years ago. he was only 21. he was a good person and didn't deserve it. But Karma had nothing to do with his life or death. we belong to God and I believe that tragic things happen to direct our eyes (both spiritual and physically) towards him. isn't it funny how we run to God during tragedies, but forget about him when everything is going our way? it's a shame, but God loves us regardless- he provides for us, even though we do not deserve it. That's more valuable than any amount of Karma. Karma, from what I know, gives and takes according to what you've done; but God's love is consistent with who He is, not circumstantial based on a person's past.

J P Joshi said...

The Purity Project: Thank you for your comment. Let me confess firstly, that I am not an expert; I too am a seeker and secondly, I do not have any knowledge of the Bible.

After having read your comment, I have one question: Do you believe in re-birth? In case you you donot then it is very nearly impossible to explain every birth being different in terms of physical, mental, and psychological attributes, considering that God loves everyone equally. Karma then would be limited to just one birth and that would make it impossible to explain the two incidents that you have narrated.

I also believe that God is all merciful and showers his Grace equally on all of us, but also believe that we recieve His Grace differently based on our conditions or karmas. Its like the sea breeze will fill only the sail that is unfurled, although it is present for every boat on the sea.

God does not interfere in the Karmic system that He has created. We get what we deserve based on our karma. However, this system is designed as per God's will, and also enforced by His will. One can understand this by looking at the systems that we mortals have created. Take the traffic system - you jump a red light, you get a ticket - the system gets enforced through the representatives of the system. This is a very mundane example but can be analysed further for understanding God's systems too.

Yes, we learn in life from pleasure and pain both - more from pain, and these lessons are meant to take us Godward - our final destination - it may generally take us more than one human lifetime to reach there, based on how we live life and our karma. Our final goal as humans is to get the knowledge and evolve and this evolution takes place from a position of "I and my Father", to "My Father and I are one" and finally to "I am the Father" or "Aham Brahmasmi".

This is purely my understanding and I do respect your opinion too.