[GHHF] Karma Theory: Relevance to the Modern Corrupt Society

03 Mar 2020 2621 Views

If you oppress a man, you will suffer oppression in this or another life and reap the fruits of the seed you have sown in this life. If you feed the poor, you will have plenty of food in this or another life. There is no power on the earth, which can stop the actions from yielding their fruits. Such is the Law of Karma - Swami Sivananda

Every time I go to India, I hear about rampant corruption and how the government officials take the opportunity to exploit the people who come to their offices and how they manipulate the system to cheat their customers. One wonders as to what happened to the morals, ethics and honesty that was the hallmark of India for thousands of years. It is mindboggling to realize the extent of corruption, cheating and bribery has crept into the daily life of the average person. Nothing gets done in the government offices without bribing the officials. If you want to be honest and get the things done scrupulously in the offices, takes days, months and even years without the assurance that your work will be attended to.  Letters written to officials are never acknowledged and answered.

The corrupt people go to any level to take advantage of the people who rely on these government officials for their work. The personal experiences of my family members made me speechless and questioned whether karma theory really works for the corrupt, dishonest and crooked government officials. Few months ago, my brother passed away in Vijayawada. His two children who live in USA came to witness their father’s death and devastated to witness their dad leave this world. My brother retired as a principal of college. To receive the pension and support for their mother, a death certificate for their father was required. My nephew went to the government office innocently thinking that they would give knowing the urgency of the matter. After visiting the government office three times, it became crystal clear that he had to pay about ten percent of the pension his father was to receive. After paying the amount he assumed that the official would issue the death certificate. The next day, my nephew went to the office to realize to his horror that the official was on leave of absence. Nobody knew when this official would return. Other “sharks” were waiting to attack and bite him. Fortunately, a lady official in the office, who had lost her husband realized the torture that bereaved family members go through, was very sympathetic and helped him to issue death certificate with no expectation. It took about 15 minutes to issue the certificate. More than one week was wastedin so much mental agony and frustration in addition to thousands of rupees bribe for 15-minute job.

In another example, our family members who live in USA had signed a contract to sell one housing plot in Hyderabad. The Registrar’s office came to know that this couple live in USA and were planning to leave the same day the registration was to take place. As you may have guessed that the official in the Registrar’s office kept delaying until this couple agreed to pay the amount, he demanded knowing that they do not have any choice left except to grease his hand. Obviously, there is no time limit as to how soon a particular request should be addressed and disposed-off. These corrupt officials are not accountable to higher echelon because the higher ups are part of the problem and recipients of certain percentage of the grease (bribe).  The corruption is rampant and unchecked. Just imagine how many people go to these offices to get their birth certificates, death certificate, registration of the property, building permit, etc.  Can we imagine how much money they could be making in a day. Everyone knows, but nobody dares to do anything. It is deeply engrossed in the system. They are waging an assault on the honesty, morals and ethics of the country that was considered the most ethical, honest and moral one

Many people argue that the most corrupt, dishonest and ethically bankrupt people are living a good life, living in most expensive neighborhoods, driving expensive cars, spending their time in the most expensive bars and restaurants, and get away from any prosecution. The most honest, ethical and moral officials live in  relatively substandard conditions relative to their position. In fact, several cases are reported where the honest officials are trapped and humiliated by dishonest people. They are either transferred or charged with corruption.  Some of them are even imprisoned with false accusations.

Since we are all taught about the importance, relevance, and significance of karma theory, we would reflect on the consequences of bribery, cheating, corruption, lies, inducements, and deception on their life. As per karma theory, whatever we do in our daily life during this lifetime in addition to the effect of past liveswill have consequences in this life as well as the next life.

The Origin of the Idea of Karma

Although the concept of karma is not explicitly explained, there is evidence that the people of Vedic period believed that their rituals, homas and Guru Kulashad consequences for those who benefitted from them. Vedas revealed that the deeds of the dead have consequences. The dead are either  rewarded or punished in accordance with the appropriateness of their performance of yagnas.

Vedic people performed manyyagnas/homas to appease the panchabhutas to ensure that all the respective Gods bless them to be peaceful and bless them with good life. In those days the unpredictability of the panchabhutas instigated the people to take some action to please them. They performed yagnas to make sure that rains do not create havoc,negative planets do not harm, crops are not damagedand untimely deaths are avoided. Yagnaswere performed to remove potential threats to the family welfare, to secure progeny, to acquire wealth and prosperity, to protect from sickness, to prevent diseases, toyield proper harvest, to prevent natural calamities, to assure marital bliss, and to eliminate enemies. By proper chanting of Vedic mantras, they expected fulfilment of their wishes.

In those days, priests in the villages were given free lands, houses to live, clothes to  wear, paddy and vegetables as food items. These gifts were given for teaching sastras to the interested people and doing pujas and conducting homas for the welfare of the families and welfare of the society.

In Vedic period, Gurukula concept was prevalent where young children are sent to Gurus’ ashram to learn. After completing a number of years of study, the students used give Dakshina. It is a kind of reward for learning from the Gurus.

Hymn CVII of Tenth Mandala of the Rig Veda describes the benefits of generously and liberally giving Dakshina (gifts) to the Brahmanas who have performed a Yagna (ritual) for you.

HYMN CVII. Dakṣiṇā.

1. THESE men's great bounty hath been manifested, and the whole world of life set free from darkness.
Great light hath come, vouchsafed us by the Fathers: apparent is the spacious path of Guerdon.
2 High up in heaven abide the Guerdon-givers: they who give steeds dwell with the Sun for ever.
They who give gold are blest with life eternal. they who give robes prolong their lives, O Soma.
3 Not from the niggards-for they give not fireely-comes Meed at sacrifice, Gods’ satisfaction:
Yea, many men with hands stretched out with Guerdon present their gifts because they dread dishonour.
4 These who observe mankind regard oblation as streamyVāyu and light-finding Arka.
They satisfy and give their gifts in synod, and pour in streams the seven-mothered Guerdon.
5 He who brings Guerdon comes as first invited: chief of the hamlet comes the Guerdon-bearer.
Him I account the ruler of the people who was the first to introduce the Guerdon.
6 They call him Ṛṣi, Brahman, Sāma-chanter, reciter of the laud, leader of worship.
The brightly-shining God's three forms he knoweth who first bestowed the sacrificial Guerdon.
7 Guerdon bestows the horse, bestows the bullock, Guerdon bestows, moreover, gold that Rsisters.
Guerdon gives food which is our life and spirit. He who is wise takes Guerdon for his armour.
8 The liberal die not, never are they ruined: the liberal suffer neither harm nor trouble.
The light of heaven, the universe about us,—all this doth sacrificial Guerdon give them.
9 First have the liberal gained a fragrant dwelling, and got themselves a bride in fair apparel.
The liberal have obtained their draught of liquor, and conquered those who, unprovoked, assailed them.
10 They deck the fleet steed for the bounteous giver: the maid adorns herself and waits to meet him.
His home is like a lake with lotus blossoms, like the Gods’ palaces adorned and splendid.
11 Steeds good at draught convey the liberal giver, and lightly rolling moves the car of Guerdon.
Assist, ye Gods, the liberal man in battles: the liberal giver conquers foes in combat.

As we can see that Charity givers live high up in heaven,  they who give steeds dwell with the Sun forever. They who give gold are blessed with eternal life. They who give robes prolong their lives. He who brings Dakshina (largess) comes as first invited... Guerdon bestows the horse, bestows the bullock, Guerdon (Dakshina/largess) bestows with gold that glisters, gives food which is our life and spirit.

The liberal  (generous)people are not ruined, suffer neither harm nor trouble, gain fragrant dwellings, get themselves brides in fair apparels, obtained their dose of liquor, conquered those who assail them. His home is like a lake with lotus blossoms, like the Gods’ palaces which are adorned splendidly. The liberal man will be in battles to conquer the foes in combat.

The hymn says that giving Dakshina to the Brahmanas performing your Yagna can bestow a place in high up in heaven, an eternity with Surya, eternal life, a long life, being invited first, becoming chief of your village, a horse, a bullock, gold, food, a bride, a beautiful house, a bride, liquor, a good chariot, and many more. This is a clear case of KARMA where good deed leading to benefits in both this life and in the afterlife


Definition of Karma

           Karma is defined as action or deed, generally interpreted to mean cause and effect. For every action, there is reaction. What goes around comes around. The relevance of karma is not limited to either one religion or one country. Word Karma has become acceptable lexicon in many countries. William M Mahony recognizes the importance of karma, “It is likely that no other notion from the sacred traditions of India has had more influence on the worldviews assumed by non-Indian cultures as that of karma, for in it lies the foundations of a wealth of astute ethical, psychological, metaphysical, and sacerdotal doctrines.”    

"Karma" literally means "deed" or "act"and more broadly refers to universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, which Hindus believe governs all consciousness. Karma is not fate, for we act with what can be described as a conditioned free will creating our own destinies. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determine our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate reaction. Not all karmas rebound immediately. Some accumulate and return unexpectedly in this or other lifetimes.

Swami Vivekananda explained about Karma to the people of United States: “Any word, any action, any thought that produces an effect is called karma. Thus, the law of karma means the law of causation, of inevitable cause and effect. Whatever we see or feel or do, whatever action there is anywhere in the universe, while being the effect of past work on the one hand, becomes on the other, the cause in its turn and produces its own effect. Each one of us is the effect of an infinite past. The child is ushered into the world not as something flashing from the hands of nature, as poets delight so much to depict, but he has the burden of an infinite past. For good or evil, he comes to work out his own past deeds. This makes the differentiation. This is the law of karma. Each one of us is the maker of our own fate.”

Max Weber described the idea of Karma as follows: “Karma doctrine transformed the world into a strictly rational, ethically determined cosmos; it represents the most consistent theodicy ever produced by history.” (The Religion of India first published in 1916.)


"Guilt and merit within this world are unfailingly compensated by fate in the successive lives of the soul which may be reincarnated innumerable times in animal, human, or even divine form.... The finiteness of earthly life is the consequence of the finiteness of good or evil deeds in the previous life of a soul. What may appear from the viewpoint of a theory of compensation as unjust suffering in the terrestrial life of a person should be regarded as atonement for sin in a previous existence. Each individual forges his own destiny exclusively, in the strictest sense of the word."


He further states that "The mechanism of rebirth is, therefore, a consistent deduction from the super-divine character of the eternal order of the world, in contrast to the notion of a god who is set over the world, rules it personally, and imposes predestination upon it."


Judith Willer (The Social Determinism of Knowledge. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971) believes that weber was correct in his interpretation of karma theory and concludes that the Karma doctrine does not have the same logical difficulties as other religious systems. The Karma system works without a deterministic role for God.  There is no problem of theodicy in the Karma system because no all-powerful god is needed or postulated.


"The law of karma along with the doctrine of rebirth has the merit of solving one great problem of philosophy and religion, a problem which is a headache to the western religions, and which finds no satisfactory solutions in them. The problem is: How is it that different persons are born with an infinite diversity regarding their fortunes although God is equally good to all? It would be nothing short of denying God to say the He is whimsical. If God is allGoodness, and All powerful, how is it that there is so much evil and inequality in the world.Indian religions relieve God of this responsibility and make our karma responsible." (R. K. Tripathi, Problems of Philosophy and Religion, Varanasi: Banaras Hindu University, 1971).


Sri Aurobindo has summed up the principle of the Universal Law of Karma in these words:

"...a man's past and present Karma must determine his future birth and its happenings and circumstances; for these too must be the fruit of his energies: all that he was and did in the past must be the creator of all that he now is and experiences in his present, and all that he is and is doing in the present must be the creator of what he will be and experience in the future. Man is the creator of himself; he is the creator also of his fate. All this is perfectly rational and unexceptionable so far as it goes and the law of Karma may be accepted as a fact, as part of the cosmic machinery..." (The Life Divine, pp. 806-07) (Author's emphasis)

Shiva Purana 1:17“Each soul is binded by these eight aspects of the Nature. The actions performed as the result of these bondages is called Karma. A man reaps the fruits of his actions- Whether good or evil. He either enjoys pleasures or suffers because of sorrow, due to this Karma.” The soul takes rebirth in a cyclical way and is binded by the effects of his Karmas. The eight Chakras are nothing but the eight forms of nature. Shiva is beyond the reach of these eight chakras, on the contrary he has full control on these eight chakras. So, a man can become free from the bondages of this world, only by worshipping Shiva Linga. The linga is both gross as well as subtle. There are five types of Lingas on this earth- SWAYAMBHU LINGA, BINDU LINGA, PRATISTHIT LINGA, CHAR LINGA, GURU LINGA. A person desirous of worldly pleasures should worship the gross Shivalinga, whereas one who is desirous of attaining salvation must worship the subtle Shiva linga.”

Karma Concept in Upanishads

For the first time the doctrine of the transmigration of souls depending on the deeds of the individuals appeared in Upanishads. What is distinctive about the Upanishads is that man's character and lot in this life is determined by his deeds in previous life, and that what he is now in this present life determines what he shall be in a future existence. Early ideas of rituals and traditions may have resulted in the belief that action alone determines the future of their lives.

Artabhaga asks Yajnavalkya, after a man's bodily organisms are dissolved into the elements following his death, what becomes of the man?  Yajnavalkya says, "Take me by the hand, my dear Artabhaga; we must talk about this by ourselves, not here in the assembly. So, they went out and conversed with each other, and what they spoke of was works, and what they praised was works. Verily by good works a man becomes good, evil by evil." The meaning is clear in another utterance of Yajnavalkya: "According as a man acts and behaves, so he is born; he who does good is born as a good man, he who does evil is born as a bad man; by holy works he becomes holy, wicked by wicked. Therefore, it is said: Man is wholly made up of desire; as his desire is so is his insight; as his insight, so are his deeds (Karman); according to his deeds so is his destiny."

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad(III.2.13) the teaching that "one becomes good by good action, bad by bad action" become lexicon of Hindu way of life. Even in villages, it is accepted as a philosophical way of looking at their life experiences.  Whenever they experience obstacles in life, it is accepted by saying “it is my karma. I have to face it.” But the karma concept is quite explicit about the ethical significance of the doctrine of karma:“According as one acts, according as one conducts himself, so does he become. The doer of good becomes good. The doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action.” (IV.4.5)

One of the earliest formulation of the Karma doctrine occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. For example:

Now as a man is like this or like that,
according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be;
a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad;
he became pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds;

And here they say that a person consists of desires,
and as is his desire, so is his will;
and as is his will, so is his deed;
and whatever deed he does, that he will reap.

— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Hymns 4.4.5

"To whatever object a man's own mind is attached, to that he goes strenuously together with his deed; and having obtained the end (the last results) of whatever deed he does here on earth, he returns again from that world (which is the temporary reward of his deed) to this world of action. So much for the man who desires." (4.4.6)

In the Chandogya Upaniṣad ( V.10.7) conduct and consequences are further linked up across lives: “Accordingly, those who are of pleasant conduct here -- the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahman, or the womb of a Kshatriya, or the womb of a vaiśya. But those who are of stinking conduct here -- the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a stinking womb, either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast (caṇḍāla).”

This theme is also reiterated in other Upanishads. For example,  Shvetashvatara Upaniṣad ( V.11-12):

“According unto his deeds (Karman) the embodied one successively assumes forms in various conditions. Coarse and fine, many in number, the embodied one chooses forms according to his own qualities. [Each] subsequent cause of his union with them is seen to be Because of the quality of his acts and of himself.”

In many of the Upanishads, the doctrine of karma has become fused with the doctrine of rebirth. It is, however, worth distinguishing between these two doctrines, which are in fact logically independent. The doctrine of karma makes certain claims about the relation of actions to results; the doctrine of rebirth makes certain claims about our survival of death. The former claims neither entails, nor are entailed by, the latter. Nevertheless, historically the two doctrines were regarded in the Indian context as intertwined. In particular, the form of one's rebirth was held to be determined by one's karma.

Karma in Puranas

Markandeya Purana recognizes Kindness, noble association, noble activities aimed at the ‘Paraloka’, Truthfulness, espousing the right causes of mankind; worship of Guru, Devas, Rishis and Siddharishis; Sadhu Sangam (Company of Sadhus), Practice of Good Actions, Mitrata or Friendship and constant ‘Namasmarana’ (recitation) of Bhagavan are considered good acts worthy of emulation.

“Through the ripening of the fruits of his actions he does not attain any rest, like a worm caught within a whirlpool. The desire for liberation arises in human beings at the end of many births, through the ripening of their past virtuous conduct.” Yajur Veda, Pingala Upanishad 2.22

Devi Purana says everybody is under the influence of karma. No one is exempted. Not even the celestial Gods including Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswar. “No individual can arise without some sort of action or other. It is through karma that the Sun traverses in the sky; it is through karma that the Moon was attacked with consumption disease; it is through karma that the Rudra holds the disc of skull bone. This karma, therefore, has no beginning nor end (till moksha); now that this Karma is the sole cause in the production of the Universe.” (Book IV:11: 12-13). “Therefore, O King, the sages declare that the seed of Karma is eternal. This whole universe changes incessantly, being controlled by this karma.” (IV:11:17)

Vayu Puranam states, “Now all these are captives in the chains of acts, and at the end of their existence become slaves to the power of Yama, by whom they are sentenced to painful punishments. Released from these inflictions, they are again born in the condition of gods, men, or the like: and thus, living beings, as the Sashtras apprise us, perpetually revolve. Now the question I have to ask, and which you are so well able to answer, is, by what acts men may free themselves from subjection to Yama?” (Book III:7:4-6)

Vishnu Puranam sates, “Man performs all acts for the purpose of bodily fruition, and the consequence of such acts is another body; so that their result is nothing but confinement to bodily existence.”

Thus man, like a brute beast, addicted only to animal gratifications, suffers the pain that ignorance creates. Ignorance, darkness, inactivity, influence those devoid of knowledge, so that pious works are neglected; but hell is the consequence of neglect of religious acts, according to the great sages, and the ignorant therefore suffer affliction both in this world and in the next. (Book 6:5: P:639)

Karma in Mahabharata

In Anusashana Parva of Mahabharata, Yudhishthira asks Bhishma: "Is the course of a person's life already destined, or can human effort shape one's life?"Bhishma answers by saying that the future is both a function of current human effort derived from free will and past human actions that set the circumstances. Repeatedly, the chapters of Mahabharata recite the key postulates of karma theory. That is: intent and action (karma) has consequences; karma lingers and doesn't disappear; and all positive or negative experiences in life require effort and intent. For example:  happiness comes due to good actions, suffering results from evil actions.  By actions, all things are obtained, by inaction, nothing whatsoever is enjoyed. If one's action bore no fruit, then everything would be of no avail, if the world worked from fate alone, it would be neutralized. (Mahabharata, xiii.6.10 & 19)

Markandeya mentions in Mahabharata the relationship between karma and its consequences: “In the world of men, no man reaps the consequences of another man's karma. Whatever one does, he is sure to reap the consequences thereof; for the consequences of the karma that is once done, can never be obviated. The virtuous become endowed with great virtues, and sinful men become the perpetrators of wicked deeds. Men's actions follow them; and influenced by these, they are born again.”

Anusashana Parva: Section VI

Yudhishthira said, “Tell me, O learned sire thou art versed in all the scriptures, of Exertion (Effort) and Destiny which is the most powerful?'

"Bhishma said, 'This ancient story of the conversation of Vasishta and Brahma, O Yudhishthira, is an illustration in point. In olden times the adorable Vasishta enquired of Brahma as to which among these two, viz., the Karma of a creature acquired in this life, or that acquired in previous lives (and called Destiny), is the more potent in shaping his life. Then, O king, the great god Brahma, who had sprung from the primeval lotus, answered him in these exquisite and well-reasoned words, full of meaning.'"

"Bhishma continued, 'Nothing comes into existence without seed. Without seed, fruits do not grow. From seeds spring other seeds. Hence are fruits known to be generated from seeds. Good or bad as the seed is that the husbandman soweth in his field, good or bad are the fruits that he reaps. As, unsown with seed, the soil, though tilled, becomes fruitless, so, without individual Exertion, Destiny is of no avail. One's own acts are like the soil, and Destiny (or the sum of one's acts in previous births) is compared to the seed. From the union of the soil and the seed doth the harvest grows. It is observed every day in the world that the doer reaps the fruit of his good and evil deeds; that happiness results from good deeds, and pain from evil ones; that acts, when done, always fructify; and that, if not done, no fruit arises. A man of (good) acts acquires merits with good fortune, while an idler fall away from his estate and reaps evil like the infusion of alkaline matter injected into a wound. By devoted application, one acquires beauty, fortune, and riches of various kinds. Everything can be secured by Exertion: but nothing can be gained through Destiny alone by a man that is lacking in personal Exertion. Even so does one attain to heaven, and all the objects of enjoyment, as also the fulfilment of one's heart's desires by well-directed individual Exertion. All the luminous bodies in the firmament, all the deities, the Nagas, and the Rakshasas, as also the Sun and the Moon and the Winds, have attained to their high status by evolution from man's status, through dint of their own action. Riches, friends, prosperity descending from generation to generation, as also the graces of life, are difficult of attainment by those that are wanting in Exertion. “(VI:16-17)

Karma and Bhagavad Gita

Karma played a crucial and fundamental role in the teachings of Lord Krishna to Arjun. When Arjuna was disheartened and saddened by the possible killings of his relatives, Gurus and friends, Lord Krishna talked about his responsibility and the need for discharging his action. Bhagavad Gita is more philosophical and practical treatise than a religious one. Lord Krishna recommended karma yoga for everybody irrespective of their station and volition. No one can avoid their responsibilities in their life.

Your human right is for activities only, never for the resultant fruits of actions. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction - Bhagavad Gita 2:47

Perform all actions forsaking attachment (to their fruits), being indifferent to success and failure. This mental evenness is termed Yoga - Bhagavad Gita 2:48

Ordinary action (performed with desire) is greatly inferior to action united with the guidance of wisdom; therefore, seek shelter in the ever-directing wisdom. Miserable are those who perform actions only for their fruits. -Bhagavad Gita 2:49

Actionlessness is not attained by simply avoiding actions. By forsaking work no one reaches perfection. Bhagavad Gita 3:4

Perform those actions that are obligatory, for action is better than inactivity; even simple maintenance of the body would be impossible through inaction. Bhagavad Gita 3:8

Worldly people are Karmically bound by activities that differ from those performed as Yajna (religious rites); Labor nonattached, in the spirit of Yajna, offering actions as obligations- Bhagavad Gita 3:9

The individual who truly loves the soul and is fully satisfied with the soul and finds utter contentment in the soul alone, for him no duty exists. Therefore, always conscientiously perform good material actions, and spiritual actions without attachment, by doing all actions without attachment one attains the highest. Bhagavad Gita 3:17-18

Like unto the lotus leaf that remains unsullied by the water, the yogi who performs actions, forswearing attachment and surrendering his actions to the infinite, remains unbound by entanglement in the senses. Bhagavad Gita 5:10

When dutiful action is performed solely because it should be done, forsaking attachment to it and its fruit, that renunciation is considered Sattvic. -Bhagavad Gita 18:9

It is truly impossible for an embodied being to abandon actions completely, but he who relinquishes the fruit of actions is called renunciant. -Bhagavad Gita 18:11

What does Nishkama Karma mean?

Nishkama Karma is a central theme in the Bhagavad Gita. An important philosophical concept in Karma yoga, it means to act unselfishly, without attachment or without personal gain in mind.

When acting out of Nishkama Karma, an individual is acting without any expectation that good will be returned to him/her. In Sanskrit, Nishkama means “action without motive,” “work without desire" or "desirelessness.” Seva is rendered for the sake of rendering without any expectation of reward of fruits. It is not done for the sake of either name or fame. Nishkama karma is done at your conscience level – divine level. It is a feeling that God propels you to do it. The motto of seva expressed by Swami Vivekananda is ‘Atmano mokshartham jagat hitaya cha’ which means ‘For one’s own salvation and for the welfare of the world’.

To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction. (2:47)

"Fixed in yoga, do thy work, O Winner of wealth (Arjuna), abandoning attachment, with an even mind in success and failure, for evenness of mind is called yoga. (2.48)

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty” (3:9)

Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme. (3:19)

"With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the Yogis perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in Yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace. (5.11)

In Karma yoga philosophy, there are two central concepts: Sakama Karma and Nishkama Karma. Sakama Karma is to act under self-centered motivations with the goal of being appreciated, recognized or receiving goodness in return. Nishkama Karma is the opposite of Sakama Karma, considered to be selfless action without being recognized or appreciated.

Whenever there is a motivation, expectation, manipulation, or exploitation involved in performing our activities, it is Sakamakarma whose aim is goal oriented.   It is the intention behind doing your karma determines that act to be either good or bad, desirable or undesirable and helpful or useless.  Best example is found in Christian missionaries. In the pretext of doing God’s work, they convert people with deception, allurement and trickery. Gandhi strongly objected to conversion tactics as he saw a coercive and intimidating force to make people embrace Christianity.

Ultimately, Nishkama Karma is considered non-attachment to the result of personal actions in life, but with selfless loving motive. The karmic concept centers on whatever actions a yogi does within the world for the sake of others and not for self-benefit. There are many Gurus who go to the Western hemisphere only to impart Vedic knowledge, not to convert them to Hinduism.

Karma works on many levels and it’s very difficult for a human being with limited intelligence, who knows only about his current existence, to figure it out. As Lord Krishna said:

 “You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty” (3:9)

Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits; let not the fruit of action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.” (2:47)

Therefore, giving up attachment, perform actions as a matter of duty, for by working without being attached to the fruits, one attains the Supreme.(3:19)

By performing their prescribed duties, King Janaka and others attained perfection. You should also perform your work to set an example for the good of the world. Whatever actions great persons perform, common people follow. Whatever standards they set; all the world pursues. (3:20)

Sri Ramakrishna expressed this nishkama karma while talking to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee by saying that it is done for the sake of others rather than for one’s self.  “When a sannyasi gives something to another he knows that it is not himself who gives. Kindness belongs to God alone. How can a man lay claim to it? …. If a householder gives in charity in a spirit of detachment, he is really doing good to himself and not to others. It is God alone that he serves-God who dwells in all beings; when he serves God, he is really doing good to himself and not to others” (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.(P: 670-671)

Sree Pada Sree Vallabha Transfers Karma

The Story of Shiva Sarma is one of the examples where one’skarma is transferred to another person. The law of karma cannot be denied or tampered with. This is a universal principle that must be adhered to.  Sree Pada Sree Vallabha, the first incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, was born in 1339 in Pittapuram and lived only 30 years. He was born with tremendous powers. In that village there lived a Vedic scholar and strictly adhered to religious practices in the lineage of Kashyap Sage. He had a son who was born dullard and nonintelligent. One day Sree Pada Sree Vallabha came to his village and had an opportunity to recite Vedas in his presence. Appreciating his knowledge and realizing the sadness on the face of the scholar, Sree Vallabha asked him to express any desire he may have. He expressed concern about his son’s intelligence.  Reply given by Sree Vallabha reveals the nature of karma and how karmas can be paid.

In reply Sreepada Sree Vallabha stated, "My child! The fruits of past actions are unavoidable even to great people. The entire creation is moving subjected to unbreakable laws. Women get husbands as fruits of their worship. One begets children as fruits of his devotion. One should always donate to deserving people. Donations made to unworthy persons bring undesirable results. If food is offered to a good person, the donor of food derives some part of the merit accruing from the good deeds performed by the good person. Donation should be made without arrogance. Then only it gives good results. Sri Pada Vallabha replied, “On account of the past karma (acts in previous life/lives and its effects on the present life) in previous lives you got a dull witted one as your son. You both wanted a child with long span of life. You did not want a short-lived one. So, I granted you a son with complete span of life. If the sin earned in the previous life needs to be erased and want your son to be a scholar,you have to be ready to sacrifice your life. Itneeds to be done in consonance with the karmic principle. If you are prepared to sacrifice your life, I will make your son a worthy scholar. For that Shiva Sarma replied, "Swamee! I entered old age. I am ready to relinquish my life. What more can I aspire than my son becoming a great scholar and speaker like Brihaspati." Then Sreepada who had the power to make things happen declared, "Yes! You will die soon. After death you will remain for some time in subtle body and undertake penance in an underground cellar below a neem tree in Dheesila town. Afterwards, you will take birth in the holy land of Maharashtra. Don't reveal this to your wife under any circumstances."

Three Types of Karmas

Everything that we ever thought, spoke, acted or behaved is karma, as is also that which we think, speak or do this very moment.  Hindu scriptures divide karma into three kinds: Sanchita, Prarabdha and Kriyamana. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait classified them as Dormant, Active and Potential.

Sanchita / Dormant is the accumulated or stored karma of the past lives. One’s tendencies (Vasanas) such as character, behavior, intentions, activities, efforts, desires, and thought process in previous lives will be carried over to the present life. Sometimes, accumulation of several life experiences may navigate the present actions. Sometimes, one previous life experiences may direct them to act. It would be impossible to experience and endure all karmas in one lifetime. From this storehouse of sanchita karma, a portion of actions are carried to the present life.   All sanchita karmas may not be exhausted in one lifetime and they are likely to be carried on to the next lives.

Prarabdha/ Active. When a portion of accumulated karma gets "ripened", one experiences the fruits of those activities whether good or bad. The activities undertaken in this life are the result of previous life experiences.  We are born with a set of Vasanas which influence our behavior, thought processes and actions. All of us have certain set of Vasanas (tendencies) unknown to us that influence our thinking, desires, intentions and actions. One should not interpret to mean that an individual does not have chance to mend his behavior.  One can make deliberate effort to reduce the negative tendencies and improve the positive behavior to neutralize the sanchita karma. What we do in the present life will be transferred to the next life.

Krishna said to Gandhari after witnessing her lamentations on passing of her 100 sons: “On the loss of children, on the loss of substance or friends and kinsmen, men suffer exceeding anguish, like the fire of a burning forest. This whole world depends upon Prarabdha Karma (past actions) in pleasure and pain, in birth and unborn being. Whether a man has friends or not, whether he has foes or allies, whether he is wise or void of wisdom, he gets his happiness through Prarabdha Karma.

Kriyamana/ Potential. Our way of thinking, doing, behaving, relating with others and performing our activities in the current life is Kriyamana karma. All Kriyamana karmas flow into sanchita karma that shapes our future. All the activities conducted in the present life are stored for next life. Only in human life we can change our future destiny. After death we lose Kriya Shakti (ability to act) and do (Kriyamana) karma until we are born again in another human body.Tigunait captured the essence of kriyamana karma with this statement: “Potential karmas are like arrows that have not yet been made, although the factory, the skilled arrow maker, the raw materials, and the customer are all present. The ego is the factory, the senses are the arrow makers, anxiety is the raw material, and the desire-ridden mind is the consumer. It is up to our faculty of discrimination to make the final decision as to whether or not these arrows will be made. If they are, they will be stored as dormant (sanchita) karmas, and sooner or later they are bound to be shot, resulting in destiny-prarabdha karma.” 

Tulsidas, a Hindu saint, said: "Our destiny was shaped long before the body came into being." Till the stock of sanchita karma lasts, a part of it continues to be taken out as Prarabdha karma for a being to experience in the present lifetime, leading to the cycle of birth and death. A Jiva cannot attain moksha (liberation) from the cycle of birth and death, until the accumulated sanchita karmas are completely exhausted.

“All consequences of actions should be experienced, whether good or bad. The unexperienced karma will not subside even after hundreds of crores of kalpas (one Kalpa equals 4,320 million years).”  (Brahmavaivarta Purana 33:45.)

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