Decoding Karma


I've always loved learning about different faiths. I cannot express in mere words how much it amazes me and terrifies me at the same time, how simply people can devote every minute, every part of their being to a force they consider greater than themselves. The force may be Allah or Jesus or Ram or even the person sitting next to you right now, but the ability to believe, to find meaning in something larger than life is the most beautiful and spell-binding characteristic of man. Dan Brown in his book Angels and Demons says, “Faith is universal. Our specific methods of understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some of us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for the truth, that, which is greater than ourselves.”


I’d like to now throw light on an institution I am a staunch believer of, the institution of karma. Karma is the principle of cause and effect, where it is your actions and your intentions that influence the path you walk on, that decide the future course of events. To put it simply, karma means you reap what you sow. I believe that karma is a system based on merit, it has no bias. You are rewarded for your good deeds and punished for your sins, irrespective of who you are and where you come from. For karma, you aren’t Hindu or Muslim, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, male or female. You are nothing but plainly the sum of your choices and your actions.


The idea of karma owes its origin to the Hindu religion, where it is believed that when the soul leaves the body at the time of death, the new body the soul occupies at rebirth is a consequence of the karma of one’s previous birth, as is the life led by that body. So in a sense, our karma not only impacts our life in this birth, but also the lives we live in our succeeding births. However, this cycle of rebirth is not eternal. When one attains God-realization or Self-realization, the law of karma is transcended, the soul gives up its identification with the body and mind, and regains its native freedom, perfection and bliss, which is known as moksha. Even though the institution of karma is indigenous to Hinduism, almost every religion preaches a similar idea of cause and effect. To quote the Bible, for example, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. One of the fundamental Islamic principles is the following: “What we receive from God is categorical to what we present to Him (Al-Jaza’ min Jins al-‘Amal).”


Now, while one’s karma is paramount, it is also critical to understand that, as rightly pointed out by the literary phenomenon Amish Tripathi, karma is transactional. Let us try and understand how. One knows that a divine karma leads to oneness with the Self. So, in order to attain such a pure karma, people keep thinking they have to perform particular activities to achieve this state of Nirvana- be successful in whatever they do, keep the perfect company, go on a pilgrimage et cetera, et cetera. After making every possible change, however, people still can't find true happiness or calmness. It’s a ceaseless cycle. The truth is, that attaining happiness and satisfaction when you’re constantly chasing something and expecting something in return for your actions, is impossible. For example, when we give charity, it is natural of us to expect at least recognition in return.


And that is the nature of karma.


It is transactional.


So how does one find peace?


“Simply by Being what you are meant to Be. By staying true to your swatatva,” as is rightly pointed out by Amish again. If we live in accordance with what we are meant to Be, we don't necessarily have to try to carry out our karma. Everything simply falls into place on its own.


The question that now must be answered is how the nature of one’s karma is decided. What factors decide whether a person has good karma or bad karma? This could be understood through a story narrated by Vedavati in the gripping Raavan: Enemy Of Aryavarta.


The sight of a lion in his old age is painful. In such a situation, the old lion is usually challenged by a younger one in the pride. Even after his defeat, if the veteran hunter manages to survive, he is allowed to flee. The lionesses switch their allegiance to their new leader, even if he may choose to kill the defeated leader’s cubs as a demonstration of his power.

Once, while travelling through the grasslands between the Krishna and the Godavari rivers, Vedavati came across such an old lion who, apparently, had managed to save his cubs from the horrific fate that had awaited them a few moments ago. Even though the cubs may have just escaped death, they were starving and so wanted food to nourish themselves. Their exhausted father, well beyond his hunting days, needed an easy kill. His prayers were answered, when he saw a doe with her three fawns. What could be better, one of them was

clearly weaker than the others, the runt of the family.

The father dashed, determined to keep his cubs alive for another day. The doe sensed this and fled with her fawns towards the tree line, running and jumping over each other. But Alas! The weakest fawn wasn’t as fast as his siblings and the mother saw that the old lion was soon closing in on her child. She stopped, and came back- creating a diversion while the weakest of her kids could escape. On seeing this, the lion’s joy knew no bounds for his cubs could now get more than one meal.


But how is the lion’s karma affected here?


What is his dharma?


Should he be a good father and kill to feed his starving children?


Or should he exercise his goodness and let a heroic mother live?


Fortunately for us, animals don't think in terms of karma or dharma. But judging it from the human perspective, it is a father’s dharma to feed his children. However, if blood was being shed for mere pleasure, it would have been against the father’s dharma. This is how one needs to understand karma. One will attain a pure karma only if one lives by his dharma, and one’s dharma depends more on the intentions of his actions than on his actions alone. In this way, if a person continues to walk the path of dharma throughout his life, it is indisputable that he is walking on the path of liberation.


Why is such a philosophical idea of karma necessary to understand?


Why read an article like this at all?


This is because it is necessary in today’s day and age to evolve beyond the myopic idea of faith that is stuck in our minds. It is inevitable for man to place his faith in something. And unquestionable faith placed in something dangerous can prove catastrophic for society. A school of thought like karma is based on logic and impartiality. It provides you with an incentive to live a better and fuller life. And invariably, it advocates equality among all in an afterlife that is thrilling and intriguing to think about.


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