Karma: An Answer for All Seasons

11 Sep. New Delhi. If you ever thought that you worked and yet did not succeed, the way you should have. If you ever questioned about the roles of fate and free will, of the  scheme of things in this variously coloured stage of life – the following may just help you reach your answer. It is a translated transcript of Swami Buddh Puri Ji’s discourse, which he gave in a family setting in Delhi on 10th September 2012, upon his return from a two week tour of England. Please click here to listen or download the discourse audio

The subject of (today’s) discussion is karma-siddhanta (the law of action) or karma-rahasya (the secret of action). We were in England and a gentleman there paid us a visit. Even while on the way he had been discussing this with his friends, and as soon as he reached us, he put forward this question. He said, “We have not done anything bad (sinful) in our life. We have been going to temples, gurudwaras too. We never refrained from charitable and other religious works. And yet, now at this age, our condition is miserable.” His sons have left and no one asks after him. The house is full of distress. They have a big house, enough property too, but are distressed. His question was that they never did anything bad, even gave charity and yet why do they have to go through that misery now. What karma resulted in such unhappiness?

Even here, a number of such questions are asked. “We worked so long and hard but didn’t succeed. And look at him, how he is enjoying. His work was accomplished so quickly.” A third question that is put is: The honest and sincere people are so hard pressed whereas the clever and dishonest ones have a good time. Isn’t it? This is what we often ask or feel like asking. We will dwell on these questions.

In the Gita it is said, “gahana karmano gatih”, which means that the motion of action is profound; it is not (readily) grasped. We perform an action, sending forth ripples to the concerned beings, which having worked their course, ultimately return to us. Right from the motivation that precedes an action, to the result that follows it, the motion of action is very deep. In this culture, we all believe that every action brings forth an analogous result – For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is never so, that we do an action of a particular kind and expect the result to be of a different kind. One thing is – every action leads to a result. Another fact is – the result we get is according to the “action” that we perform, and not according to our wishes or desires. The fruit of an action is given by the Will of God; action is performed by our own will and wish. No action will ever go in vain; we will surely get its corresponding result. A good action will bring a good result; a bad action brings a bad result. But the discrimination between good and bad is not easily attained.

The problem that arises is the following: We perform an action and continue doing it, but we expect fruits quite different from it; not as per the action that we performed. This is true to a large extent. The question that the gentleman in England asked was, “We did not do anything bad; visited temples too. And now the children do not listen to us.” (With a smile) We told him, “The matter is quite straight. You worked to earn money and you got it. You visited temples, gave charity and you are thus well respected there for your work. But what did you do for the children? Did you fulfill your duty towards the children, or not?” He began to say, “We came here, and went on working hard. We couldn’t educate the children in a good way. The children now live according their own wishes.” So it is. We desire those fruits whose seed we didn’t even sow! This happens because we want to work and get results – both according to our own whims and fancies; because, we do not understand that ‘this particular’ action would bring ‘that particular’ result.

We will discuss this little by little. This is seen in nearly everybody – from children to grown-ups. During exam-time, students will go to temples and pray, “Bhagvaan, please pass me in the exam.” Now in order to pass, the correct action is to study in the right way. Though we do not say not to pray, but the important thing is that without having studied, and only praying to God so that certain questions may be asked in an exam – that is not going to work. We do this repeatedly. Someone does not know how to run a business. He does not know how to deal with the customers. He cannot use his brain in business. But he will go to the temple and say, “O Prabhu! Please make everything right with my business.” But how can this be? To run the business successfully, one should learn the nuances of running a business: how to talk to the customers etc.etc. But we do some other actions, but then go to God and say, “O God! I am your devotee. I have worshipped you, I have given charity; now (please) do my work.” More often than naught, this is what is going on.

But the law of karma is: the kind of action one performs, brings a corresponding result, and ‘necessarily’ brings the result.

Sometimes, the case is this. Often many are heard saying, “We studied well and hard; or we left no stone unturned in business. And yet we aren’t successful. And he, who just goes on sitting, who does not even know how to run a business, see how successful he is!” The thing to be remembered here is: we performed an action, and we hope to get its result instantly – this does not happen. A seed sown into the ground, does not immediately becomes a fruit bearing tree. Depending on the seed, it may take some 20 years, some a year and some a few months to bear the fruit. You have sown the seed, it will take time to grow. But we say, “I have done this work, but I have not got the result.” It takes some time. How much time? That is a different matter. But sometimes it so happens, that we did an action and got its result instantly. This happens too. How is this? There are two ways. One, the nature of action performed was such. Second, suppose we have cultivated a field. The seeds, given required care, water and manure, will germinate and grow. Then you cut for harvest with a sickle, which also is a kind of karma, just like sowing the original seed. One who has just sown the seed, will have to wait for it to grow. Someone, who had sown the seed before, which has now germinated and ready to be harvested, will only have to cut with a sickle and he will get his fruits. So in such cases, the seed had already been sown, it was ready to a great extent and with little work we got the fruit. Actually the process is quite long, spreading over to pervious births: we had worked accumulating their samskaras (innate tendencies in the human mind) in return. These samskaras determined our next birth; according to this birth the present circumstances were laid down, chance or fortune aligned itself positively, implying the harvest is ready, and with little effort we reaped the fruits.

Now, if we do not carry a particular kind of samskaras but influenced by someone, want to become scholarly or wealthy or anything else, then we must understand that we do not have the required force behind us to bring easy results. In such a situation, the remedy is to just go on doing the actions repeatedly – they will not go waste. In time, the actions performed now will also bring their result. The actions whose force is with us from previous births, called prarabdha karma, require only little effort now to bear fruit. It was in prarabdha, and with little effort it brought results. If the prarabdha is good (uttama), then one does not have to work very hard to get the result. If not so, then one needs to work more. If it is terrible, then even more so! Now, if something is not in one’s prarabdha, then would any actions done now, to get that result, go in vain? No, it is not so. These actions are akin to sowing fresh seeds or cultivating a new field. They will also bring their fruits. It is the Divine legislation that no action, howsoever small, ever goes in vain.

Now, to fulfill one’s prarabdha also, to gain the corresponding fruits, one “has” to do work. However, it is not accurate to say, “has to do”. In fact, from within himself, he will be inspired to work in that direction. Even if someone tries to stop him, he will not stop. And so, he will end up getting the corresponding fruits: good and bad. No one wants to get a bad result, but the force within him, created by the samskaras of old actions, invariably lead him to such actions which bring the corresponding results.

In addition to these issues, regarding the working of the law of karma, the following is also important. Man, does both good and bad. The good that is done will bring him good result and the bad will bring bad result. But (with a laugh) the good and bad actions do not cancel each other. And there is this. As long as the sense of “I am doing this” is associated with any action, it can never be that an action will be wholly good and virtuous. Similarly, no action is there which is totally bad. Good and bad mingle into each other in any action and corresponding results are obtained. Just like the gentleman in England, who worked hard to earn, but in the process could not look after the children. In the course of performing one action, we end up spoiling something else. So it becomes both good and bad. As is one’s action, one necessarily gets the corresponding result.

Along with this, the following two-three things are important to be said. Someone says, “In my entire life, I did not do anything wrong, and still, I wonder why I have to face this.” The first thing, one does not even come to know, when one ends up doing wrong and one does not remember the wrongs committed in previous births. The force of samskaras gained in the previous births is of immense importance. In fact, it goes on working as a web of karma. And at the time of death, a tempest rises in the body and there the strongest karma becomes active, leading the chain of other karma associated with it. There are three kinds of karma: prarabdha karma, sanchit karma, and kriyamaan karma. Our mind has accumulated the samskaras of all the actions performed from all the births, none has been destroyed. Even after gaining the fruits, the samskaras remain. At the time of death, the dominant samaskara rises.  And just like if there are a number of rosaries lying, and you lift one particular bead, along with that, the entire set of beads connected to that bead gets lifted. So the dominant karma that rises during death has a chain associated with it. This chain determines his next birth. Thus, the new body is determined by the chain of previously earned samaskras. The meaning of getting a new body is a particular set of samskaras out of the total gathered samskaras from all one’s lives, will be fulfilled in this birth. These are prarabdha karma. The remaining sanchit karma remain buried.

So all those prarabdha karma which are to be settled in this life, from birth to death, is in a way pre-determined. The settlement of prarabdha karma is pre-determined. This should be now readily understood. For example, whether the new birth takes place in a male or a female body is decided from birth, this leads to an immense difference in the way the two conduct their lives, thoughts etc. Though today, women are giving competition to men, yet there are always fundamental differences between the two. So this flow, whether one ends up in a male or a female body, is decided from birth. Then parents, family etc. is also decided by the previous karmas. Whether the body is healthy or ill even this gets decided. Today with DNA and genetic theory science can trace back the entire lineage. Then the thinking process too works in a certain way from the very childhood –someone shows clear signs of being very sensible, someone is mischievous, someone is thick-headed. And the qualities and samaskaras cemented in childhood run the course of one’s entire life. Yes, some Vishwamitra – who was of a warrior class, is an exception who in a single birth, through great tapas, could awaken the qualities of a Brahman in himself. Otherwise, the course of one’s entire life – thought process, actions, body – is dictated by the samskaras of childhood, which in turn were obtained through the karma done in previous lives. Someone is rich from birth, someone poor; someone has taken birth here, someone in America – the entire societal circumstances get changed. Someone who is a Hindu now, in the next birth may be born a Muslim and (with a smile) their entire way of thinking then gets upturned. Thus, almost everything is decided from the birth, isn’t it, and the birth is decided by previous karmas. The settlement of prarabdha is governed by the previous karmas.

We are saying that any action committed will necessarily bring a result and the result will be in concord with the action. We are repeating this again: even to settle one’s prarabdha, one has to do action.  The fruit will not simply fall from the sky. Sometimes unwittingly one ends up doing wrong. You may be knowing Pinki who comes from Lucknow. Once she, along with her sister-in-law, mother and brother, were returning from somewhere. And they had to change a train midway. They had to go from platform number one to three. Pinki, her body being a little stout, said she would use the stairs to cross the platforms. But her sister-in-law said, “It is so close. We just have to cross two lines. And see the train has started coming. We should hurry up.” Everybody tried to stop her. After all, the train had started coming. But she didn’t listen. And in fact, her life ended in the process, trying to cross the lines. Now who was moving her in that direction? It was kaal-vayu (the motion of death) or prarabdha-vayu (the motion of karma). The train was right in front of her, but she could not understand, she could not discern. Thus, the dominant karmas, are simply to be settled; we say, at that time the head just goes topsy-turvy. This is true about bad-karmas. But similarly, when good karmas awaken, then from every cell of the body the inspiration arises: “This is the correct thing. I have to this, and only this.” And the circumstances also become amiable. Thus, even to settle the prarabdha, one has to act, one is just made to act, circumstances take such a turn.

And along with this there is this special issue relevant for human beings. Though the prarabdha has to be settled, and one has to act according to that, but because he is a human being, he is also free in doing good actions. It is the right of being a human: “karmanyevadhi ka raste” (Gita). The Lord says, “You have the right to do action”. To have the ‘right to work’ means that within you lies the competence to act, and hence, manifest it. Here enters the concept of man’s dharma or duty. One has to settle the prarabdha, but it can be done in a way, that while settling bad prarabdha, one does not end up doing even more wrong, thus entangling himself further in the web of actions. Instead, he should plan to gain freedom from it.  Now this is a big difficulty!

Whatever wrong happened to us, bad happened to us, if we accept the existence of God, we would know that to be the result of our own misdeeds. But in the course of living out the fruits of these misdeeds we end up doing even greater wrong to ourselves. How? “Kalahi karmahi mithya dosha lagayen”: we start to accuse others, “He did like this. Now not even God listens to me.” These accusations are false. And what is wrong in this? It becomes wrong to say that because of a particular person I was harmed and ending up treating him with animosity. This animosity is extremely wrong. Now in some previous life, owing to enmity, we did a misdeed whose fruits we are bearing now, and in the present, we end up increasing the animosity even further. This builds up an endless chain of events.  Isn’t it? This is what we have to learn to undo in the human body. This purusharth we have to learn.

As we have already said that there is no work which is totally good or bad. The human body is the result of a mixture of positive and negative karmas, and therefore a human being has to necessarily go through both happiness and sorrow, want and affluence, health and illness. But when misery strikes then we begin to blame one or the other person or situation for it! We not only accuse but bear animosity towards the other. Only, if we can save ourselves from this habit! Yes, this is what needs to be done. This is the dharma of a human being. This is the correct karma. This is the little line that we must look at.

It is not that we are not to protect ourselves. If you are in distress, then try by all means to overcome that, but also know that whatever is happening is the result of my own actions and by God’s grace those karmas are being settled. Pray to God, “O God! Give me strength that that my karmas may be settled.” The karma are anyways going to be settled, but in the process let us do something positive so that the we may be purified of the samskaras of anger, greed, attachment etc. And instead of this, we started to put blame on someone else then, we are doing a wrong deed, a sinful deed.

There are very few thoughtful beings who say that we should not blame anyone. In the Gurbani there is a verse: dosha naa kahu dijiye, dosh karma aapne (do not blame anyone, blame your own actions). This is true of the teachings of saints and scriptures. In the Ramayana also it is said: sukhasya dukhasya na kopi daataa, paro dadateeti kubudhireshaa. Svakarmasootre grathito hi lokah, aham karomeetee vruthaa bhimaanah. This means the happiness or sorrow that we feel in the world, is not caused by anyone else. To say that it is caused by someone, is foolishness, it is inverted reasoning. Man is entangled in the web of his own karmas and in his ego he thinks that he is doing this and that.

So, till now we talked about some practical issues: getting wealth, praise, criticism etc. In these cases we tend to straight away accuse the other person. However, there are certain things which too come due to prarabdha karma, like physical illness.  Who can we blame in this case? (With a laugh) Yes, even in such cases we may say, “The doctor gave the wrong medicine, he didn’t operate properly”. But even disease etc. is brought about by our own karma. But there is little more to this! In issues of wealth, praise etc. that we gain from outside, we had done such karma towards others, whose results we got in return. But in cases of disease etc. we have done harm to ourselves. This harm is a little more elaborate. In the Gita it is said, “janam, mrityuh, jaraa, vyadhi…” Birth, death, old-age, disease are also result of karma. Even great saints face illness; and no one can easily escape old age. Which karma result in these? Indeed, they too are caused by our own karma. However, in such situations, the Will of God is also active. But along with that Will, we add something from our own side too which result in disease, old-age, death. God had only willed that we get a body and then slowly it will become old and then it will be left behind and we will get a new body. That was all that God has willed. But we end up joining so much more to this Will of God as a result of our own wishful thinking and activities. Consequently, diseases increase.

The root cause of anything, say death, is that we have become separated from God because of ignorance. We are the image of God. There is no disease in God. Yet, if we are diseased, that implies that we are sitting with our backs turned towards God. This is the root cause.

Now, we say this from our own side, that the cycle of disease and illness is an extension of the root ignorance. Because we consider ourselves to be limited selves, our mind too gets compartmentalized by attachment-aversion, desire-anger etc. These increase because of the root cause. Even if a saint has had to face disease, this implies that in previous lives there were such actions which must have led to the present condition. Now old age will come naturally. Suppose, that old age comes naturally, slowly and without any diseases, it implies that such a being is really the lover and loved of God. There are a few people, who lived for a hundred odd years without any illness or disease. That is the result of good actions. The cause of diseases is anger, greed and attachment – joined to ignorance; desires and wishes. Owing to these our mind and prana run outwards. It runs after greater and greater pleasures of life. The prana-shakti getting thus entangled in the objects of the world, is weakened. The body is run by the prana-shakti, which has thus got weakened and to top that, in pursuit of greater pleasures, we eat more, do this and that – thus the physical body also gets weakened. Someone is just going after money and neglects everything else. They say about Indians who go abroad, they just go on earning and earning and after forty their bodies turn bad. Due to all such things, the body becomes diseased.

Now, say in the previous birth one got diseased but with the death of the physical body that action was worked out. Yet, in rebirth, the basic cause of disease – the samskaras of anger, greed etc. and the outward rushing tendency of prana remained. And these samskaras afflict in the present birth too. And say someone whose pranamaya kosha was greatly activated to the outside, then it can happen that in the new birth one is diseased from the beginning.

The thing is how should these actions be settled! They will be settled, that is for sure. But in the course of living through disease, if we ended up filling our mind with greater distress then that will again lead to the endless chain of misery and disease. Settle them in peace, doing one’s duties. This completes one chapter.

Now we turn to the next discussion.  Until we think, “I am doing”, happiness and sorrow, praise and criticism is bound to go on, but above this there is a divine power as well. Sometimes divine grace can dawn as well. If the karma gets yoked to Divine Grace, and if someone can assimilate it, then tremendous stress and suffering can be released. Now, this is a little subtle. Subtle, because we want God to shower his grace and we pray to obtain his grace as well, and yet we do not get results. There are two things in this. One, we did not pray in the right way. Second, the disease etc. was very strong. It may not be possible to eradicate it fully. We may get strength to live through it. Our suffering may be lessened. But it may not be possible to eradicate the disease fully.

Yes, there is something whereby prarabdha can also be won. This happens when even the body gets transformed. But this can only be done by some rare being. But, atleast one can gain the strength to settle the karmas easily. So, the question is: how can we assimilate divine grace?

If we say to God, “I didn’t do any bad thing, and why do then I have to suffer. Now you only help”, then this is not good. If we are in fact putting the blame on God; this is not prayer. Grace only dawns when we understand the secret of karma, because to assimilate grace is also a karma, a sadhana. Instead of saying it is a karma, we will say it is also a sadhana.  The first thing to be done is, not to repeat any karma that has resulted in misery. Suppose you are diabetic. Now if you pray for healing, but go on eating sweets, then, (with a smile) what grace will dawn! If you are praying to be healed but go on doing those actions that bring disease, then no grace can dawn. So, first refrain from all those actions that bring misery and simultaneously also pray, then you will get the strength to work out the misery. In a way, then misery has ended.

There have been so many cases when doctors had given up. Then they prayed and grace dawned. Grace couldn’t have dawned earlier, because then there was no confidence in God. Until then they were running here and there, and only when they lost in all directions, did they turn to God. And it happened, that consciousness went in and further in, consequently, the disease was healed. We are not saying, do not go to the doctor. We are only saying, we believe more in doctors than believing in God. No, we are not saying, leave all medicines and sit in a temple; we are only saying that what the doctors say is the Ultimate Truth for us, and what the shastras say has only a mild effect on us. Like about Surya sadhana they say, “We had done it for a month. Nothing happened.” And (with a laugh) medicines are being consumed from twenty odd years. We went from doctor to doctor, changed one and went to another, because there the confidence is complete. But to attain Grace, a relation has to establish between us and the source of Grace.

Through sadhana, we establish a contact with the Divine, which for each being is nearest, within their own respective bodies. This means, the mind is outside, bring it inside by japa. The breath is outside bring it within. Go on doing this. Suppose the samskaras of disease were very strong, then it may take more time. The mind will slowly go within. It will get peace atleast. It may be raining, but atleast you will get an umbrella overhead. The rain will continue, but its pain will be lessened. So go on doing sadhana, and along with that do not indulge in any action which will increase misery or disease. In this everything will come: from eating habits to sleep etc. So in this way, attaining Grace is also a karma.

And the last thing that we said in the very beginning! I will get the result of my actions. None can act on my behalf. Like in case of anushthans. We say, instead of making anyone else do japa for you, do it yourself. Yes, in earlier times there were such accomplished Brahmans, who could do japa, and then by their will they could send its results to someone, who could assimilate them using their faith. But today, when the priests are charging for doing japa on your behalf, then this is difficult. Therefore, do it yourself. And do it with confidence and correct method.

Thus getting grace is also a karma. This is a new karma. This is purushartha. Go on doing positive and blessed actions. Do not do bad to anyone. Know that whatever I am getting, is the result of my own actions. Go on settling your account.  And the chain of positive actions will go on building. And it is even possible that in this birth, we meet God, prarabdha may be settled. And little tit-bits can also be resolved in the next birth. Therefore, perform action: to attain grace and settling the previous accounts.

Please click here to listen or download the discourse audio