Karma is a Sanskrit term meaning action, work or deed. According to Wikipedia, ‘Karma’ also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect whereby the intent or the actions of an individual (the cause) influences the future of that particular individual (the effect). Good intent and good deeds contribute to good results while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad results. This, in a nutshell, constitutes the Laws of karma. So now let us try to delve deep into this topic to understand what these good or bad deeds are, what the results of performing these deeds are and how one should instead strive to rise above Karma, to achieve the ultimate goal of his/her life.
Types of Actions :
According to the Vedic scriptures, Karma may be broadly classified into three –
Karma – Actions that one performs as per one’s prescribed duties is called Karma.Karma, or pious activities, are those that bring about pious results .These actions are in accordance with the laws of nature and the prescribed duties for human beings. Charitable actions like feeding the poor, constructing schools, hospitals, etc fall under this category.
Vikarma – Sinful actions performed misusing one’s freedom are called Vikarma. These are deeds that are against one’s prescribed duties. Such actions always result in sinful reactions. Activities like killing, cheating, stealing, intoxication, illicit sex life, etc fall under this category. Vikarma results in impiety and ultimately causes the suffering of the concerned living entity.
Akarma – Actions that release one from material bondage and liberates one from the cycle of birth and death are called Akarma. Akarma constitutes those activities which do not result in either pious or impious karmic reactions. This is not caused by material inertia or by not doing anything. Instead, Akarma refers to purely transcendental activities the fruits of which are dedicated unto the Supreme Lord.
We find in the sacred texts of Bhagavad Gita, that Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna to perform Akarma, while explaining to him the most confidential knowledge.
yat karosi yad asnasi
yaj juhosi dadasi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kurusva mad arpanam
O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all the various austerities that you may perform, should be dedicated and done as an offering unto Me (Krishna).
(Bhagavad Gita 9.27)
By dedicating the fruits of one’s activities unto Lord Krishna (the Supreme Personality of Godhead) one no longer entangles himself in the ropes of the Karmic Laws. Every living entity has to work to sustain his life and that of his family. Krishna suggests, that one works for Him so that one does not have to suffer from the reactions of his/her activities. For example, before eating, one should offer the food unto the Lord, and then eat the remnants. Similarly, if one desires to perform any ritualistic activities, then one should dedicate it unto Him. If one performs any austerities, then he should dedicate it unto Sri Krishna. Of Course, one should first of all be trained, under the guidance of a bonafide spiritual master, so as to learn what activities , foodstuffs, etc can be offered unto Sri Krishna. One should not think ,however, that one can get away with doing anything and dedicating it to God.
Drawbacks of Karma and Vikarma :
The atma according to his actions attains a situation. By good deeds, he becomes good, by sinful deeds he becomes sinful.Through pious activities the living entity attains happiness and through impious actions the living entity attains suffering.
(Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, 4.4.5)
Pious activities benefit one with the flickering happiness of his/her senses. A pious man may be awarded a higher birth in his next life, where he would not suffer from shortages of wealth, beauty or reputation. The Karma Kanda section of the Vedas, which deal with fruitive activities ,declare that such a pious man, who has amassed a lot of piety in his present life, might obtain his next birth in some rich aristocratic family of this earth or may even be born in any of the heavenly planets, where the opportunity to gratify one’s senses is more pronounced.
On the other hand, a person who has amassed sins suffers the reactions of his misdeeds. He suffers in his present life as well as the next. The bewildered living entity, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, falsely thinks himself to be independent and the doer of activities. He considers himself independent of any law. He thinks there is no God or regulative principle to supervise over him. Thus he engages in different sinful activities, and as a result, he is put into different hellish conditions life after life, to be punished by the laws of nature.
Depending upon the degree to which he commits sins, he is sent to suffer in the lower hellish planets. Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) gives a detailed description of the twenty-eight hellish conditions, which award various punishments to the sinners. For example, those who kill animals,birds and subsequently cook them ,are put into the hell known as Kumbhipaka, where they are boiled in oil. A government official who poorly administers justice, or who punishes an innocent man, is taken to the hell known as Sukaramukha, where he is mercilessly beaten. Again, a man who tricks another man and enjoys his wife is severely punished in the hellish condition known as Andhatamisra. Besides, the sinners may be punished with low births in their next life or even be deprived from birth in the human species. This is a very dangerous situation as there are 8.4 million species of life and one has to traverse through them, to be born a human again.
At this point, one might ask, that in this world sinful people are often seen enjoying lavish lives while pious men are seen suffering from material miseries. To answer this ,it must be clarified that the laws of karma are very intricate and act in a way that might be difficult to grasp. Good actions bear Good results while sinful actions bear sinful results. But action might not be immediately followed by a reaction. In other words, actions and reactions might be separated by time. One might have performed something noble in the past and hence he/she might be presently enjoying the fruits of that previous pious deed. The results of any misdeed that he/she performs at present, might be delayed until the pious credits of the previous noble deeds are completely exhausted. Hence it might appear to the casual eye that the Laws of Karma are non-existent. However, these laws are a reality of nature and Karma eventually catches up with the Karmis.
It must be noted that the ultimate goal of one’s life, is to obtain liberation from the bondages of birth and death, and be situated in an eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Lord. The human birth is very rare and the only opportunity for a living entity to attain this elusive goal. So whether one performs pious deeds (Karma) or impious deeds (vikarma), one has to still take birth and accept another body to enjoy or suffer the results of his/her actions. Hence both Karma and Vikarma, binds one to material miseries, and ultimately serves as an obstacle to spiritual salvation. Anyone who takes birth in this world of matter ,has to subsequently embrace old age, disease and death. Hence an intelligent man aspires to cross over this material ocean, where everything is temporary, and instead be situated in the spiritual world which is characterized by eternity, knowledge and bliss.
The realm of Pure devotion :
We understand by now that one desiring to make any progress in his/her spiritual life, must transcend the laws of Karma. As discussed previously, ‘Akarma’ or the act of dedicating the fruits of labor unto the Supreme Lord, liberates one from the Karmic laws.
Sri Chaitanya, who is none other than the Supreme Lord Himself, goes one step further, and stresses upon the intentions that guide an individual’s actions. Pure devotees of the Supreme Lord only engage in activities that further the cause of the Lord’s mission.They do not waste a single moment and incessantly engage their body, mind and soul ,in propagating the holy name and the glories of the Supreme Lord. Such actions ,which are completely devoid of one’s own interests, are transcendental to the laws of Karma and bear neither pious nor sinful reactions. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu hence gives us a very simple formula to differentiate between Pure devotion, and actions that are borne out of material desires –
atmendriya-priti-vancha, tare bali ‘kama’
Krishnendriya-priti-iccha dhare ‘prema’ nama
(Chaitanya Charitamrta, Adi, 4.165)
The desire to satisfy one’s own senses is called ‘Kama’ or Lust while the selfless desire to satisfy the senses of Sri Krishna, the Supreme Lord, is called ‘Prema’ or Love.
So one should strive to rise above the laws of Karma and develop a mood of being completely subservient to the Supreme Lord. Laws of Karma cannot be escaped simply through material inertia, but instead by constantly engaging one’s mind, body and words in service of the Supreme Lord. If we study the lives of great saints, we would find that they were not motivated by even a tinge of selfish desire to satisfy their own senses. Instead they were prepared to take great risks, and work relentlessly to further the cause of their Supreme master.
Pure devotion of Srivasa Pandita :
We would like to end this presentation citing a beautiful pastime that demonstrates the selflessness of a pure devotee. This below pastime reveals how love for the Supreme supersedes anything else in the life of an exalted saint.
Lord Chaitanya had exhibited the most amazing and wonderful pastimes of His, during the daily sankirtana at Srivasa pandita’s house.None in the world could dance as beautifully and as gracefully as Sri Gauranga. As soon as the Kirtana began, the Lord became absorbed in trance ,and would sometimes fall down upon the ground with such force, that the earth would seem to shake.Sometimes He would become so heavy that no one could restrain Him, while at other times, he would become as light as a cotton.Sometimes He would weep for hours altogether, trembling and rolling on the floor, while the devotees would secretly take the dust from His lotus feet. The soul stirring kirtana of the devotees,mixed with the melodious voices of Kartala,mridanga and conch shells, coupled with the Lord’s ecstatic dancing created a musical uproar that cannot be compared to anything of this material world.
During one of these days, while everyone was busy in sankirtana, Srivasa Pandita’s young son, who had been ill for a few days, passed away. The ladies within the house began to wail in lamentation at the boy’s untimely death. Srivasa pandita could sense that some calamity had befallen his house. He quickly entered the inner chambers and found out what had happened. He was shocked to realize that his son had passed away. Being well versed in the scriptures, he could control his own grief. But when he tried to console the women of the house ,he failed.
Srivasa Pandita then further reminded the ladies that Sri Chaitanya, the Supreme Lord, who is the very object of worship of all the demigods, including demigods like Lord Brahma and Shiva, was personally dancing in their courtyard and he hence requested all the ladies to control their cries until the Lord had finished His sankirtana. Srivasa didn’t want to disturb the lord and dampen His ecstatic dancing mood.Srivasa Pandita warned the ladies that if the dancing of the Lord was disturbed due to their hue and cries, then Srivasa would commit suicide by jumping into the Ganges.After instructing thus, Srivasa pandita returned and joined Mahaprabhu in His ecstatic sankirtana.Srivasa Pandita was a devotee of the highest order and it is not possible for us fallen souls to imitate his exalted mood. Only an empowered associate of the Supreme Lord can go as far as suppressing the pains of his own son’s death, for the sake of pleasing the Lord. Srivasa Thakura completely disregarded his own interests, and instead engaged his senses in enhancing the pleasure of the Supreme.
Mahaprabhu continued His kirtana till the middle of the night. But of course the omniscient Lord knew everything about what had happened, and prolonged His kirtana only to further glorify Srivasa, His dear devotee.Lord Gauranga then expressed that He didn’t find the usual bliss in the kirtana that day and suspected that some calamity had befallen Srivasa Pandita’s family. When Sri Chaitanya came to know of the untimely death of Srivasa’s son, He became greatly shocked and was surprised why nobody had informed Him about the incident till then. Noting Srivasa Pandita’s pure devotion and his selfless love,the lord began to cry and embraced him dearly.
Thereafter Mahaprabhu came over to where the dead body of the child was lying.As soon as He touched the body, the child regained his consciousness and began to speak as follows – After offering obeisances unto Sri Gaurahari, the child explained that the ordain of the Supreme Lord is absolute, and no one can change that. He continued that he had taken birth several times before and had also undergone the process of death on all these previous occasions. However, on this particular occasion, he had the supreme fortune of beholding the lotus face of Lord Gauranga , while passing away and thus he had left his body very happily. Speaking thus, the child fell silent once more. Hearing these words from the mouth of a dead child, all the devotees present , became struck with wonder and fell upon the lotus feet of Lord Chaitanya.
The Lord enacted this pastime at Srivasa Angan only to teach us, how selfless and surrendered a perfect devotee should be.No matter what the personal loss, an ideal devotee is never too morose or baffled ,as pleasing the senses of the Supreme Lord ,always remains his prime focus (prema) and ultimate objective.He is completely dependent upon the mercy of the Supreme, and hence relates anything good or bad that happens with him, as the will of the Supreme Lord, who is his ever well-wisher. Sri Srivasa Pandita is an example of such an ideal and exalted pure devotee of the Lord.