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DOCTRINE OF KARMA (ACTION AND REACTION)IN HINDUISM

DOCTRINE OF KARMA (ACTION AND REACTION) IN


HINDUISM
(I-DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, MARCH 2013)
The fear of death occupied upper-most the minds of our sages. This anxiety is very well
expressed in the two famous Vedic Mantras,Mrityoer maa amritam gamaya-(Lead us from
death to Immortality) and Mrityoe mooksheeya na amrutaat--save us from death but not from
immortality. Both are society oriented and not individual. Preoccupied with the fear of death
they came out with the profound theories of Karma and PunarjanamaAction and
Reaction, and Reincarnation. According to Hinduism, the body alone dies, but not the soul called
Aaatman. The path the soul takes is decided upon by the past and present actions which are
popularly and collectively known today to the world as Karma. The soul continues its journey
after discarding the physical body with a heavy load of Karmas from one life to another until it is
able to exhaust all Karmas by undergoing pain or pleasure sensations in the body on this Earth.
In the process it adds some and deletes some knowingly or unknowingly. On God-realization the
individual soul (called Jeevaatman which is Aatman in its mobile state) merges with the Infinite
called Paramaatman or Supreme Principle. But the mystery is nobody remembers about his past
deeds and it is only in the knowledge of the Supreme.
We often ask what Karma is and what are the various types of Karma? Karma is a unique
feature of Hinduism and does not feature in most religions of the world. Buddhism, Sikhism and
Jainism also subscribe to this being influenced by Hinduism. Individuals perform countless
actions from birth to death called Karma in Sanskrit or in philosophic sense. Karma in Sanskrit
means action but in Hindu philosophic sense it is accepted as action and reaction or cause and
effect. Karma is talked about and discussed in Bhagavadgeetaa elaborately. Each such action
has its effect and produces results. Some institutionalized religions believe in Resurrection but
not Reincarnation. It is one time reward or punishment as per their thinking which needs a
forgiver and benefactor. Laws of Karma essentially follow Laws of Energy as both are action
oriented.
In the grand scheme of Evolution, as far as our knowledge goes, human being is the most
evolved in the act of creation of the Supreme Principle for that is endowed with the power of
thinking and is responsible for the amazing discoveries and inventions. This evolution has not
stopped at present level and is going on. In its upward trend metaphysically this trend will
change human being after millions of years from material one to spiritual one, when the dignity
of the being as one possessing divine spark will be more evident. We have seen ample evidences
of this phenomenon as in the lives of great souls like, Ramanuja, Sankara, Meeraa, Ramakrishna
Paramahamsa, Nanak, Jina, Buddha , Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and others of past and present,
though they are few and far between. The one way we can explain the present population

explosion metaphysically is that more and more low creatures are drawn into human fold by
this process of evolution.
Our knowledge about the unknown and his creation is very limited living in a small planet called
Earth. As we all know there are around 350 billion galaxies like the Milky-Way in which earth is
a minute speck like planet. Brahman operates under His directive to create all things in the
universe as we understand. Even though our ancient sages knew about some of the unknown to
humans, their main focus had been on human beings on the earth planet being bogged down by
the fear of death, shackles of Samsaara and the desire for liberation of the most evolved human
beings living on this Mother earth. We hear in Puranas and Vedas about Saadhyas, Devas,
Rakshasas, Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas and others and also about several Worlds (lokas)
like seven upper worlds and seven lower worlds about which scriptures are silent but mention
their existence. Science knows also very little of these. Our knowledge is thus limited.
Purushasookta also says what we know is one fourth and what we dont know is three fourths.
The divine spark in few is not due to the evolution that has taken place by divine will alone, but
by a collaboration of both the Individual and the Supreme as the Theory of Karma predicts.
Actions done by anyone therefore is not that done by God but by only by the will of the
individual alone, which may be good or bad or passive. Therefore the responsibility lies solely in
the individual alone. Thus every one of us is responsible for all our Karma or action which in
turn produces reaction. The founded religions believe differently and do not contribute to
collaborative theory.
No one can escape his or her Karma. Puraanas emphasize this fact even in the case of Gods. This
fact is showed as examples to human beings to realize and obey the Laws of Karma. Lord Vishnu
was cursed by Saraswati. On being cursed He came to this world as Rama and suffered the pangs
of separation from Sita. Hinduism postulates that Laws of Karma are operative on this planet of
Earth. Rama killed Vaali negating Kshatriya Dharma. So when born as Krishna in the next avatar
Krishna allowed himself to be killed by hunters arrow. It is not that God is bound by the laws of
Karma. Geeta says Laws of Karma do not affect Him. It shows his greatness how he obeys his
own creation of Laws of Dharma and Karma. Law makers cant be Law breakers, on which
present day justice system also agrees.
Hindus believe Jesus was an incarnation of God on this earth. He absorbed all Karmas of all his
disciples and thousands of devotes around him. He allowed himself to be crucified to fulfill the
laws of Karma. Each time Jesus cured someone from deadly diseases or saved someone after
physical death he was voluntarily accepting their Kaarmic load. But world today is not free from
bondage of Karma, but on the other hand it is ever-increasing and waiting for his comeback.
Then what? Here the theory of Incarnation of sages explains things better than of resurrection
based on faith. If the sin or virtue is one time affair it will be logical to assume that God created
everybody perfect! But it is not so. How do we explain so many defective births, status
differences and talents differences?
The various actions according to Laws of Karma are categorized according to the result one gets
from them at different time periods. They are called Aaagaami, Saanchita and Praarabhdaa in
Sanskrit. The simple word meanings of these are: Aaagami means in the future; Saanchita comes

from the Sanskrit verbal root ci which means collect. Sanchita therefore means that which is
collected; Praarabhda consists of two Sanskrit words pra and aarabhda meaning that
which has started well.
Aagaami Karama
Sankara describes Aagaami Karma as follows:
Jnaanoetpaty-antaram Jnaanidehakritam punya-paapa-roopam karma yad-asti tad-aagaamiityeti abhideeyate
Aagaami karma is the result of good or bad actions performed by the body of the realized soul
after the dawn of knowledge.
As you sow so you reap is a famous proverb known to all humanity. What you do today may
produce result the next instant, after few years, or in future life as we all believe in many lives. It
is also true what may appear as Punya (noble deed) in one situation may be papa (sin) in another
situation. A Jnaani or wise man though do not identifies with his body or has no sense of doership, yet may appear to be performing actions through his body complex. All such actions are
called Aagaami Karma which culminates in either as Punya or Paapa. There are many such
examples in our Puraanas as we have learnt.
Aagaami Karama is sowing for reaping the fruit in the next life and is completely under ones
control. Thought, actions and desires if they are pure, unselfish and righteous will lead one on to
the path of perfection. The opposite qualitiesimpure thoughts, actions, desires, selfishness and
unrighteous conduct that load against one, all of these--rebound to cause sufferings to the
individual in the next life, till retributive justice makes ones senses aware of such things. This
is likened to the lump of clay on the wheel to which any shape can be given.
Saanchita karma
Sankara describes Saanchita Karma as follows:
Sanchitam Karma Kim? Anantakoti-janmaanaam beejabhootm sat yat-karma-jaatam poorvaarjitam tishthati tat sanchitam jneyam
The results of all actions from previous births which are in the seed form and which give rise to
future countless births are called Accumulated actions (Sanchita Karma).
Jeevaatman (individual Self) takes innumerable births in various bodies from beginning-less time
as we understand from Upanishads. It exhausts its stock of Karmas and does not create new
karmas to itself. But in the human births it not only exhausts but also bound to create new
karmas. Those actions done in the present which get accumulated to our account and are to be
experienced in future births are called Sanchita Karma. Each one of us has already enough
karma as capital and we are constantly adding to it good or bad. This capital is enough for
endless births in various bodies.
Sanchita karma can be altered by the effort of individual towards the character-reformation and
thus the tendency towards evil gets removed. Penance expiates it while Jnaana nullifies. This is
compared to the unshapely mass of clay on the potters wheel which is taking shapea certain

shape. This shape is possible of alteration by an effort on the part of the operator, i.e. by the skill
of the individual
Praarabhda Karma
Sankara says the following as to Praarabhda Karma:
Praarabhdam karma kim-iti chet| Idam sareeram-utpaadya iha loke eva sukhadukhaadi-pradam
yat-karma tat-praarabhdam bhogena nashtam bhavati praarabhda-karmanaam bhogaadeva
kshaya iti ||
Having given birth to this body, the actions which yield results in this life in this world in the
form of joy as well as misery and which can be exhausted only by enjoying or suffering them is
called Praarabhda Karma.
We often call as fate, destiny or luck, actions which are fructified from the capital karma to give
us present birth, the surroundings in which we live, our life-span etc. All human beings are
mortal. Whether one is wise or ignorant, everyone has to undergo various conducive and nonconducive situations in this present life based on karma. Those actions which have started
fructifying have to be exhausted only by yielding appropriate results. Thus we see even
Ramakrishna had to suffer from cancer. It is like a growing fruit reaches its full maturity and
then disintegrates.
The individuals Karma is usually compared to that of the clay on the potters wheel. In this
instance the clay has already taken shape and is about to be lifted off the wheel. Hence it is not
possible to alter its shape.
Some actions yield results later due to their inherent nature. They are like term deposits with late
maturity dates. They may not come during ones life time. They may be stored up until their date
of maturity. Such Karmas are called Sanchita Karma. That is how in Hinduism Doctrine of
Karma is also tied with the Doctrine of Reincarnation or Punarjanma.
Any action done in this life is called Kriayamaana Karma or Aaagaami Karma. We have heard
the maxim in Hinduism atyutkataih punya papaih ihaiva phalamasnute- We reap the benefit of
our deep good or bad actions in this very life. A person who has committed heinous crimes will
suffer in this very life. Many trivial good or bad actions may not give immediate effects. These
actions go on accumulating during our life-time and join the vast deposit of Sanchita Karma.
Sanchita Karma stays in a potential state like term deposits. But some on maturity like term
deposits become kinetic karmic force which starts yielding results. This kinetic form from the
stored up potential form is called Praarabhda Karma. When the Praarabhda Karma is exhausted,
the aatman leaves which we call as death. All Hindus believe Praarabhda Karma causes a
persons birth and also determines how he lives and how long he lives.
Ramana Maharshi, a popular saint from south India said: The Supreme Principle controls the
fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds--praarabhda karma. Whatever is destined to
happen will happen, do what you may to stop it. The best course, therefore, is for one to be
silent. What cannot be avoided should be endured.

HOW DID THE FIRST EVER SOUL GOT ITS KARMA?


To find an answer this question one may have to go through the three lectures, Can scriptures
and science co-exist in the theory of evolution?, Samsaara and Mukthi and Trigunas.
Creation came out of food, which came out of the rains, which came out of Yajna (sacrifice).
Yajna came out of Karma (action), which came out of Nature, which finally came out of the
Infinite says Geetaa. This shows our birth is purely instrumental and our desire for salvation is
also instrumental.
Vedanta accepts Sankhya Philosophy even though many feel it is atheistic in its thinking.
Bhagavad Gita also describes Sankhya and Yoga philosophy in many of its chapters devoting one
full chapter for it. Vedas and Upanishads talk about Creation as well as Puraanas. As long as we
experience pain and pleasure as a consequence, we are impelled to correct our path we are
travelling and go above those experiences. When that stage is reached the sole attains the state
of realization and merges with its source and has no desire to come back.
In Sankhya philosophy what we call soul is identified with Purusha. Logically there are as many
Purushas as there are beings in this Universe. Purusha is pure Consciousness. This multiplicity of
Consciousness occupying the same space is seriously objected by Vedantins. Sankhya explains it
away by comparing it to light, which can occupy same space from multiplicity of candles.
Prakriti according to Sankhya Philosophy is composed of three extremely subtle substances
called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas as has been explained under Trigunas. Gita says that there is no
such entity in this world, or in heaven where the Divines live, which can be free from these three
Gunas.
The process of Creation starts when Prakriti borrows Consciousness from Purusha and starts
acting like a Conscious entity. The first sign of Prakritis conscious activity is to change itself. It
undergoes a process of gradual transformation resulting in manifold world as the final outcome-Prakriti, Mahat, Ahankara, mind, five sense organs, five motor organs, five Tanmatras, five
Mahaabhootas, (all being product of Purusha). As soon as Gunas start intermingling Creation
starts. In this process depending on time and type of instantaneous mix souls with different level
of Karmas appear. The soul initially carries a load of Karma which can either exhaust itself or
can carry over to the next birth if it cant be exhausted. Then on Praarabhda Karma, Sanchita
Karma and Aaagaami Karma come into operation for further births.
In another school of thinking God (Virat) has really become this manifold Universe just like the
milk becomes yogurt. Virats wish to become this world is only a game or Lila. Here again the
equilibrium of these strands of Gunas running independently gets disturbed resulting in a variety
of souls with all permutations and combination of Gunas. His First ever Creation, Brahma
though an ideal mix, obeys the Laws of Karma that is whatever is created has to die. Brahmas
life span is 100 Brahma days though very large compared to that of normal human being in the
planet of earth. Even avatars in human birth honored Laws of Karma.
We learn in Physics about the Laws of Conservation of Energy. Energy is never destroyed
according to this law. It can only be converted from one form to anotherkinetic to potential

and vice versa. Extending this concept to the Laws of Karma, it can be said any energy expended
through any action of the doer changes its forms and becomes a Karmaphala or Kaarmic force.
This force comes back to the doer like boomerang sooner or later. This kaarmic force starts
acting on the mind and body causing pain or pleasure. After working on the body and mind of
the doer the kaarmic force seems to be spent apparently It may be safely assumed that it only
leaves the individual who does it and becomes a part of the storehouse of cosmic energy.

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References:
Swami Tejomayananda, Tattva-Bodha, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
Mukundan T.K., A concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
Swami Bhaskaranda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
Ed Viswanathan, Am I a Hindu? Rupa & Co., New Delhi, India.

APPENDIX
The Psychology of Karma
Posted: 08/25/2015 12:08 pm EDT Updated: 5 hours ago
Research by psychologist Benjamin Converse at the University of Virginia finds that human beings
tend believe in a kind of karma, namely our western skew on the spiritual axiom that good deeds
result being treated well by fate; we believe we can influence uncontrollable outcomes by
performing good deeds, with the often underlying expectation that the universe will pay us back
in kind. Confronted with bad news, we may think "If I can get through this, I'll be a better person
from here-on."
Karma is thus a kind of reciprocity: I'll buy this round, you'll buy the next, however the deal is made
with the universe itself, rather than specific individuals. It's an attempt to steer life towards
expected and advantageous directions. We hope our acts of kindness to pave the way for journeys
through life that are safe and not too challenging; we hope our kind words inoculate us from pain
and discomfort; alas, life doesn't comply with these demands.
Yet, as the Buddha taught in the first noble truth, aging, sickness and death are in store no matter
how we behave, and so as to will we experience a wide array of setbacks, separations and
frustrations, often on a daily basis. While skillful actions can sometimes bring about positive
external situations; just as often our generosity is not rewarded with validation or financial
rewards. Meanwhile, truly vile and harmful individuals often achieve notable successes in the
world; Dick Chaney and Henry Kissingers, for example, are very rich, criminal assholes (which
is an insult to anuses, frankly).

And so when our best efforts result in lemons we may react by losing conviction in our spiritual
paths. We turn nihilistic, feeling duped by spirituality, as if we've purchased a product that
doesn't act as advertised. "Why did I bother helping so and so when they now don't return my
calls?" is an all too common refrain.
The Buddha's teaching on karma, however, is not a promise of pleasure, acclaim or financial rewards
for our skillful deeds. It's not even a promise of a good rebirth, or even that rebirth actually
happens. Note the Buddha's great teaching to a people known as the Kalamas:
What if there is no life after death, if our actions, both right and wrong, have no external benefits?
Still, here in our present lives, if we act without harmfulness or ill will, we will live in a state that
is easeful, serene. -- Kalamas Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya, 3.65
In other words, if we act from generosity, good will, gratitude, we'll experience whatever life brings
us with greater peace of mind; if we act aggressively, our psyches become agitated as result: no
matter how wealthy we become, we wont truly enjoy it. Selfish and harmful acts result in
feelings of lack of trust and connectedness with others, which is truly a dire state to find oneself
in. I don't know how much misery Dick Chaney or Henry Kissinger experience, but I'm sure
their internal realms would feel like hell to me.
Karma thus becomes intelligible and easy to understand once we understand that positive mind
states, such as pride, confidence and inner esteem, arise from actions that connect us securely to
others, whereas negative emotional states, such as shame, guilt, remorse and loneliness arise
from actions that place us in competition with others. Happiness, in other words, arises less from
accumulation or achievement, but from enacting a series of speech acts and behaviors that
enhance our feelings of affinity and relatedness to others.
Human beings are pack animals; actions that benefit others, and integrate us into a community make
us feel safe, and create what the psychologist Barbara Frederickson call "broaden and build"
emotions: happiness, serenity, optimism. In Matthew Lieberman's clinical research, summarized
in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, it is clear that the area of the brain
that highlights emotional pain -- the anterior cingulate cruciate -- is principally activated by how
well allied we feel with other people. In Robin Dunbar's work in anthropology and evolutionary
psychology, summarized in his landmark text How Many Friends Does One Person Need? show
that we are built to connect, which provides the foundation for peace of mind. In "A General
Theory of Love" by psychologists Thomas Lewis and Fari Amini, it is established that human
beings require secure connections to establish emotional stability and any sense of tranquility, for
we rely on others for limbic regulation.
So karma is a psychological teaching, not a mechanical, Newtonian view. It demands that we
take responsibility for the decisions we make, becoming accountable to both the harm or ease to
others than can result, understanding that its our emotional states, not external conditions, that
can be influenced. It's one of the great teachings in spiritual life: karma doesn't change our
universe as much as it changes how we interpret and experience life. And how we experience life
determines our happiness and peace of mind.
So, how would you like to proceed?