Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions Part Eleven : KARMA (Understanding the importance of thoughts)

( “Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”- Richard Bach, in ILLUSIONS )

Among the many factors that determine Karma, THOUGHTS are the most important. What kind of thoughts we have determine everything else in our life.

A popular Indian fable told and retold in different versions, illustrates the importance of thoughts : Two friends, shared a common journey. Along the way, there was a dispute as to where to spend the night. One wanted to spend the night in a temple, and the other wanted to spend the night with a prostitute. They parted ways to rejoin and resume their journey the next day. The one in the temple was having unkind thoughts about his friend, and the one with the prostitute was full of repentence, and was having very high thoughts about his friend who went to the temple. That very night, an earthquake occurred and both the friends died. In the other world, the friend who went to the temple was sent to hell, and the one who went to the prostitute was sent to heaven. The one who spent the night with the prostitute, protested, saying that he was the one who sinned, and the one who spent the night in the temple, should be sent to heaven. He was told the nature of thoughts of both of them – while with the prostitute, he was full of repentence and held very lofty thoughts of his friend, whereas, while in the temple, his friend held very low thoughts about his friend, and self righteous thoughts about himself –  about how right he was in staying back at the temple!

The story illustrates the power of one’s thought. Also, the one who thinks superior of himself or herself, and does not possess humility, somehow relinquishes the right to God’s Grace…. (the rivers of God’s Grace gather in the valley of humility…)

The law of karma helps the evolution of the soul – and each and every thought of ours gathers the powerful effect of good or bad karma which, accumulated over a period of time, becomes “destiny” and “fate” – Hence in essence, it is we who determine our destiny by our thoughts……Which is why, thoughts are held paramount for spiritual progress…..

(to be continued….)

KARMA – Towards Understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions…..Part NINE (Karma – Cause and effect)

(The great physicist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” – This third law of Newton is best explained by a rifle firing a shot and the rifle recoiling – however, the recoil is not so huge as the firing of the bullet since the mass of the rifle bears down upon the recoiling acceleration. Even though various forces such as mass, density, volume, gravity, etc act and influence on the physical nature of a substance when it is subjected to the laws of physics, the fact that there is a reaction for every action, could never be ignored…..)

The third law of Sir Isaac Newton, when applied in the world of metaphysics and life, becomes, the LAW OF KARMA. Boy George’s song of two decades back, titled, “Karma Chameleon” is a good definition of Karma’s effect on individuals, since Karma “changes” the personality of a person according to the weight and intensity of the karma, good, bad or neutral.

The Hindu way of thinking is deeply entrenched in the belief of Karma. “What one sows, one reaps” is the central thought of such belief. Among the various definitions of Karma and the theories of Karma, the simplest understanding of Karma is conveyed well by the law of Cause and effect.

Karma is nothing but the law of Cause and effect acting on our lives. We reap what we sow. But such simple definitions are able to give us only the basic understanding of Karma. Even though the concept of Karma is simple, its functioning is very complex. And understanding Karma in its fullest sense is very difficult for any of us since our ego does not easily permit understanding and knowledge to blossom from suffering. But then, to overcome the ego and understand Karma is to unlock the mystery of life, and living itself.

Karma is of many types. Sanchita Karma is the stockpile of karma from many lives – Prarabdha Karma is the karma that we have undertaken to undergo in this life. An apt analogy would be : A bank Account. Just as we have a bank account, and we take small amounts of the bank account in daily doses, and when we don’t exhaust the entire amount withdrawn for a day, put it back in the account, similarly, the Sanchita Karma of an individual lies in the Karma Account of that individual – and for each life, he/she withdraws a particular amount of Karma for spending in that life – according to the will of the person, the karma gets expended – if the Prarabdha Karma is exhausted much before one’s lifetime, one can even withdraw from the larger Sanchita Karma Account and spend it in this life or, if by that person’s will, the karma does not get expended much, at the end of that life, that person puts it back into the Sanchita Karma account, as the case may be.

Even though the analogy is simple, the working is not. In this diverse world, the complex interlinking of the karma of various individuals is done at various levels, that if one looks at the overall picture, one understands that NOTHING happens by chance.

Case studies can help the understanding of the complex concept of karma, better.  A certain individual, used to steal pen/pencil/papers/ etc from the tables of his colleagues in office. Many a time, the colleagues will suffer the tension of having lost something like a pen or pencil because of the activities of this individual. But nobody suspected that he was the cause of this problem, and he himself guarded this truth safely from others. But every time someone lost something, he used to secretly feel happy and he derived a sadistic pleasure out of it. This went on for years, and one day, suddenly, he had kept a bag containing a few lakhs on the table, and somebody had stolen it! Karma, had caught up with him. Like that, in quick succession, he lost a number of things – he kept lamenting, and when he confronted his own self one day, he was distraught with what was happening. And yet, he could never understand that he was the victim of his own Karma when he used to filch small things like pens and pencils. But, the question arises, whether the loss of a pen or a pencil and the loss of a few lakhs of rupees be the same? On the face of it, it appears that a losing a pencil and losing a few lakhs are two different things. But if we take into account the pain that is caused when one loses the pencil or money, it is the same. So, the pain is the same even though the physical value of each, differs. The law of Karma would not be bothered about how big or small the value is – it only sees that the pain of losing a few lakhs of rupees equals the pain of losing a pen/pencil – for if the person loses a pencil or a pen, he may not feel the intensity of pain that was originally felt by the person who lost the pen/pencil – thus, the law of Karma has to be understood in its entirety and by the amount of pain/pleasure caused, and not by physical or material value.

Karma can also be interpreted in terms of astrology, and astrology is often  used to manipulate/deviate/regulate/lessen/escape from Karma. But such use of astrology without understanding and unlocking the actual reason as to why the Karma is there in the first place, actually increases the overall karmic burden of an individual, even if it is lessened by astrological tools in this life…..

                                                                Even animals have Karma…..

(To be continued….)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions…Part EIGHT (The role of stars in our Karma)


(When Ancient Rome was invaded by the Etruscan army, three brave  soldiers, led by Horatious Cocles (ref : Lord Thomas Macaulay) fight at the entrance of the only bridge across the River Tiber – At one point of time, when he alone is left defending the bridge, and before plunging into the river Tiber, brave Horatius, tells thus :

“To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or later.

And how can man die better

than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his Gods”

and then plunges headlong into the Tiber river, goes the legend of Horatius. One of the most important thing to note is this – “For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods” – for the karma left by his forefathers and for his faith…..)


The Hindu calendar is replete with when to do what – the infamous Rahu Kaalam, and the famous “Kuligai” Kaalam are often consulted when the Hindu does something important. Indian astrology follows the lunar year which is determined by the movement of the 27 stars/planets based on the moon and not the sun.

These 12 lunar months are divided into 6 months  of  “Uttaraayanam”  (when the earth moves towards the sun in its elliptical orbit)  and  six  months  of  “Dakshinayanam”, when the earth moves away from the sun in its elliptical orbit. However the zodiac signs of Hindu astrology remain the same as that of western astrology – except for the difference in the time periods, since the Hindu astrology follows the lunar calendar and the western astrology follows the Solar Calendar. The Hindus call the twelve Zodiac signs as RASI which are  : Mesha, Vrishabha, Mithuna, Kataka, Simha, Kanyaa, Tulaa, Vrishcika, Dhanus, Makara, Kumbha, Meena.

In the vast, vast cosmos, earth is but a tiny speck of a planet and yet, occupies a very important place as it is at the border of the physical and astral worlds.  (Reminds one of the Bermuda Triangle   –  even if the mystery is solved ! ) When  the “Dakshinayanam” starts, it is considered the start of the night time for the astral heaven, and this period, known as “Aadi” in Tamil, is considered inauspicious for many activities.

Whereas  “Uttaraayanam”  is  considered  very auspicious  as  it is the day time for the astral heavens. The tilt of the earth’s axis at 23.45 degrees, and the elliptical orbit (rather than a circle) of the earth around the sun accounts for a number of reasons why vernal equinox and autumnal equinox are important in calculating the position of the stars/planets viz a viz the earth in both astronomy as well as astrology.

The basis of the month comes from the lunar cycle of nearly 30 days. (The Egyptian hawk- god is also known as “Monthu”) Calendars based on the moon are used in traditional Indian astrology rather than the SUN SIGNS of western astrology. Because of the various factors like an ellipse instead of a circle, and because of tilts of the planets (even moon’s position is tilted at an angle?) the period of lunation (lunar cycle) ranges from 29.18 days to 29.93 days – which is why the exact period of “ammavasya” and the exact period of “poornima” is taken into account while doing pujas and other rituals. But it is this very accuracy that has made the lunar calendar unpopular since the solar calendar (also the Gregorian Calendar which is used all over the world today) provides a more easily understandable calendar with less calculations. However, for reasons of astrology, the lunar calendar is important.

Many confuse “Ammavasya” with the New Moon – Actually, “Ammavasya”   (Ammavasai in Tamil) is the absence of the moon – and only the actual sighting on the second/third day is considered the actual New Moon. During Ammavasya the ritualistic worship of the dead ancestors is done, signifying the ever present bond with the souls that we know on this earth, even after death takes them away. Pithru darpanam is an important aspect of Ammavasya.

Tharpanam/Dharpanam means “Offering” – The basis of this Pithru darpanam is very interesting. It is believed that the Pithru loka or Pithru “world” (astral world) is on the other side of the moon and when it is Ammavasya, the other side of the moon receives sun light and hence they are able to connect to their descendents on earth. Could it be that the position of the moon during Ammavasya enables the frequency of the astral world to match the physical or vice versa so that the connection between the living and the dead are established?

But why are the concepts of Ammavasya/tharpanam/etc important to the Hindu? Because they are deeply connected to the concept of Karma.

(To be continued – Next : Concept of Karma)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, rituals and traditions…..PART FOUR

Om – Tat – Sat, Sat-Chit-Ananda, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Sama Beda Danda, are all simple abstract concepts that exist in many a Hindu household, and are often practiced as a way of life, without much fanfare. Each simple concept of Hinduism can be expanded into a whole new way of life. For example, the concept of Om – Tat – Sat – which a Hindu simply states as his morning prayer in abstract terms, corresponds with the Holy Ghost, God the Son, and God the Father in the Christian scriptures. And according to the expansion of the consciousness of a person, he experiences these concepts, is the belief. The religion itself, is like a river – It just flows – it is used just as the user deems – to wash oneself, or to swim, or to catch fish – the river itself, remains unaffected.

One of the finest aspects of Hinduism is that there would be different interpretations to a single concept and each one would throw light on a different perspective. For example, there are many interpretations/significance attributed to different parts of a temple. The pond in the temple is said to denote the mind – unless the mind is clear, it cannot reflect the divinity within – if the mind is distorted like the water with ripples, it cannot reflect the divinity. The sanctum sanctorum is said to be the heart of the temple, where you feel love for God. The temple towers are related to the spine in the human body – the windows/doors in the towers denote the various chakras in the spine. Like this, the allegories are endless. Different schools of thought look at these aspects in a comprehensive manner.

However, nothing ever comes close to the abstraction of the planetary worship done in Hindu temples. Karmic compulsions force humans to undergo many trials – to temporarily negate or escape the invisible forces and pulls of the planets, the ancient Hindus discovered many ritualistic shortcuts, one of which is the worshipping of the navagrahas – Each planet is ruled by a God or Goddess, and worshipping them brings permanent or temporary relief to the worshipper. The ancient Hindus discovered that Karma (Prarabda Karma and Sanchita Karma   – Karma is again a very huge topic – some say that some Karma cannot be changed, whilst some Karma can be changed with God’s Grace) does not affect the person who has expanded his consciousness to encompass the star/moon and planets that affect him. Accordingly, they arranged the images of the Sun God, the Moon God, Saturn, Jupiter, etc etc. (The nine Gods worshipped are – Sani, Chandra, Surya, Rahu, Ketu, Shukra, Bhudan, Sevvai and Guru) and when a person ritualistically circumambulates the images, he /she is said to have expanded his/her consciousness to encompass these celestial bodies, and hence, freed from their compelling influence. But as told earlier, the important thing is to understand these symbols, rituals and customs in the right perspective. The flexibility of Hinduism allows these concepts to be interpreted in different ways by different people at different times.

( To be continued)

Mass Karma – the thread that links different lives

Some years back, I was traveling in Train No.6602 Mangalore – Chennai Mail when the train plunged into the Kadalundi river near Calicut, killing 52 persons. Even though I miraculously escaped, I could never sleep in peace for months/years thereafter. Many times I woke up with nightmares of the scenes I had witnessed during the accident. Even though I had no time to think while helping the many passengers in the heavy rain at that time, I also happened to witness many a heart wrenching scene. There was this young couple whose one and a half year old child had drowned. Then there was this Gulf returned youth who was visiting his parents after many years in the gulf – His relatives were asking as to why they had to wait for so many years to receive him at the airport just some hours back, only to see him die in that accident. Then there was this colleague of mine, Shri Gangadaran, who gave lunch to me that very afternoon – and in the evening, he was dead. Like this, there were many stories which I found very moving and touching.

I often wondered – Why should persons who have no connection at all with someone else, die together in a tragedy? I also heard of a story where some passenger, who was booked to travel by this train, was delayed heavily by some strange events at a temple – he was cursing his fate that he was wasting his hard earned money by not boarding the train and the next day, he saw the news and was relieved that he lost only money and not his life.

But all this, had set me thinking on the lines of Karma – I could understand individual karma where something happens to a person because of his past karma. But it took me quite some time to understand that the individual karma of many persons can combine to produce mass karma – and similar individual karmas somehow get together.

It was then, that I realized that almost everything in this world can be explained through the Law of Karma. Even a person who “heads” an organization carries the load of organizational Karma – and he/she also transmits his/her Karma to the organization, and vice versa.

The good and bad karma need not necessarily reflect the present personality – for example, a very evil person may experience a lot of good things even after doing evil because he/she may have a very good Karma from the past – and a very good person may suffer a lot because of previous bad karma – so the present personality is rendered irrelevant unless a person reaches a point in his/her life where the good karma equals bad – I believe such points are achieved by every individual – and such points in one’s life are some of the best periods – for marriage, new job, death of a relative, for a new venture, for remolding life, for a transfer, etc.

Karma guides various individuals in various time/space spheres – and at some place, one’s individual karma may overlap another – when this happens, mass karma is attracted. A group of individuals, who otherwise would have never traveled by Mangalore – Chennai mail, came together by the power of Karma – they traveled together by the power of Karma – their collective mass karma acted upon the various factor and the tragedy took place when the mass karma assumed the right proportion – Perhaps the place also has karma – the accident could have happened anywhere – why Kadalundi? – The answer lies in the karma that the place carries. (It is said that there is a small circle, with a diameter of about a feet, in a temple in Cannanore, Kerala, that has never seen death – this was a King’s wish which was granted by the Lord ) The combination of an individual’s karma with that of the place, jointly decide the person’s fate. In an accident, a person may die just out of shock, and another, may not die even after terrible physical injuries – according to their individual karma.

Since Mass Karma attracts individual karma of similar individuals, not only tragedies, prevention also can be attributed to mass karma. We have come across many averted disasters where the mass karma must have been very strong in preventing a disaster.

When 9/11 took place, even though it was a terrorist attack, there were reports of people who were saved by a second in the 9/11 disaster – again, perhaps, karma at work.

But such karma can only be explained by rebirth and theories of rebirth and reincarnation. It is believed that Napoleon, who vowed that he would destroy England, did exactly that when he was reborn as Churchill – it was during Churchill’s regime that the sun set over the British Empire when many English colonies gained freedom. Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda has said that Judas, who betrayed Lord Jesus, was reborn many times before he became a great saint many centuries after the advent of Jesus Christ.

Theories of Karma and Re-incarnation give hope to a suffering world – we can seek solace in such hopes that our next life on this earth will be better, by living righteously in this life, and that our karma will one day, save us….