Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions Part Ten : KARMA (the inevitable death)

(There is an interesting Arab story of a servant in Baghdad who goes to the market and gets startled to find the messenger of death looking at him – He then rushes back to his master, and asks for a horse. When the master asks the reason, he tells that the messenger of death is there in the market, and he suspects that he is looking for him, and to avoid him, wants to borrow the master’s horse so that he could go to Samarah, another town, and thereby avoid the messenger of death, and his fate. So saying, he grabs the horse, and mounting it, gallops out of Baghdad to Samarah in full speed. The master then had to go to the market for the provisions himself. He too, saw the messenger of death at the market, and he enquired as to why did the messenger of death startle his servant in the morning. Says the messenger of death, “I was very surprised to see him here at Baghdad because I have an appointment with him at Samarah later today”)

In the Hindu mythology, there is a similar story of how Garuda, after he brings Lord Vishnu to Mount Kailash for a visit, is waiting for the return of Lord Vishnu when his eyes fall on a small bird sitting on the gate of Lord Shiva’s abode. Just as he was admiring the bird, in walks Lord Yama, the God of death – he looks intently at the bird, and goes inside. Garuda, instantly comes to know the reason for Lord Yama’s look – that the bird’s time is up – he then decides to save the bird from its  fateful destiny since Lord Yama had “marked” him by his look, and hence, taking the bird in his arms, flies many hundreds of miles and leaves it next to a pond, and comes back just in time to see Lord Yama come out of Lord Shiva’s abode. Unable to contain his curiosity, Garuda asks Lord Yama as to why he looked at the bird before he went in – Answers Lord Yama : I was surprised to see the bird here, as it’s destiny is to die near a forest pond, swallowed by a snake, hundreds of miles from here”

Both these stories illustrate the inevitability of fate, karma, or destiny.  The law of Karma operates mechanically, with mathematical precision – “justice be done, at any cost” is the theme of Karmic law. It is unrelenting in its pursuit of justice.

But the law of karma operates without fear or favour or prejudice, and is often misunderstood because of its rigidity. This very rigidity has often been adroitly exploited by wise men, saints, astrologers, and others who have learnt to circumvent the law of Karma by satisfying it – the relief one gets may be temporary or permanent, depending on various factors.

Case Study : Shri Z is a clerk in a govt office. He often goes late to office, and is never bothered about his late attendance.  One day, his son was injured in an accident, and he rushed his son to the local govt hospital, where, the doctor was not there. On enquiry, Shri Z learnt that the doctor always comes late. He suffers the late coming of the doctor in painful repentence of his own late coming – his very act of immediate repentence, sets the law of karma in action – the doctor arrives, and saves his son – but the lesson for him is to come to office in time – in future – but has he learnt his lesson? If he mends his ways of coming late to office, he may escape further karma – but if he gets back into the old habit of coming late, another incident may come up where his repentence may NOT work the magic it did earlier.

In this case study, even though the late coming alone of Shri Z seemed to attract the karma of the painful wait for the doctor, other factors such as past karma of Shri Z, his son, and the doctor, will also have a say, and has to be taken into account. It is precisely because of this complexity, that understanding of karma is very difficult and has to be seen always in context.

The law of karma has one basic purpose – to teach some valuable lessons to us. Once we learn the lesson, the effects of the law of karma may become less or sometimes, due to God’s Grace, altogether fades away….

( 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….)