Karma. We’ve all heard of it. However, not so long ago, few people knew of it. Now, even some conservative religious people use the word as part of their regular vocabulary. According to Pew Research Centre, as of 2009 nearly one quarter of Christians in America professed a belief in reincarnation – of which karma is an integral part. (1)
This article will examine the common beliefs of karma, and show that there is much more to karma than is commonly known. We will see that we are not victims of our own karma, destined to the vagaries of fate, but that we can control our destiny and live the life of our dreams.
The word karma itself is an ancient Sanskrit word which literally means work, action or deed. It traces its roots to ancient India, from where it spread throughout Asia. Karma is also used to refer to the spiritual principle of cause and effect. Religions thus urged people to do good deeds, and incur good karma so that they would not have to suffer (at least in the next lifetime).
This interpretation was sufficient in the olden days to keep people in check. The law of karma and its attendant law of reincarnation imposed a moral obligation on people to do good. After all, according to some Indian and Chinese interpretations of reincarnation, incur enough bad karma and you could be reborn in sub-human species such as a worm (or worse). Who wants that, right?
Opponents of karma argue that karma is fatalistic. It leaves little room for free will in that we are pre-destined to certain events. They believe that God gave us each free will to do and experience as we so choose. Of course, the counter argument is that we do have free will in the action that we perform in the first place to warrant the necessary karmic reaction.
The question that arises now is: Are we then bound by karma, or more precisely, karmic reaction? Is it that once we perform a certain action, we are bound to the corresponding reaction? Most religions convey the idea of reincarnation as being cyclical. We perform karma in one life and experience the results in another while simultaneously accruing more karma. Then we are reborn to experience the results of that karma etc. Most religions represent this concept as a figurative wheel of karma (see graphic above).
How then do we get off this wheel, or cycle, of reincarnation? The cycle of reincarnation ends when we achieve Self-realisation, or moksha (liberation) in Sanskrit. This is achieved when we have had sufficient experiences of both good and bad, eventually leading to God or Self-realisation. The law of karma is imperative in this process. By experiencing the results of enough karma, we gradually learn to perform primarily good deeds and eventually cease to accrue karma.
One of the main scriptures of the Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita, speaks of three main ways in which we can become freed of the fruits of karma, or karmic reactions- development of love for God (Bhaktiyoga), development of divine knowledge of God (Gyanyoga), and selflessly serving God and His creation (Karmayoga).
It is not the purpose of this article to delve into any of these paths in detail. Just a brief description however, will be of benefit.
Bhaktiyoga, or the path of devotion, involves surrender to the will of the Supreme Being, trusting that God will provide all that is necessary. Karmayoga is the giving up of the fruit of karma through aligning one’s will with that of the Supreme Being. In other words, offering oneself in service to God.
Philosophically, or the path of Gyanyoga, the law of karma is based on the perennial philosophy of the ages. It is predicated upon a view of a supreme, unitive consciousness of which we are all part. Thus, it makes sense that whatever is done to one part will affect the other, eventually returning to the originator.
To put it another way, if we are all ONE being of consciousness (see The Science of Consciousness), then what I do to you is in effect what I do to myself. Even in the Bible is this concept is simply expressed as the commandment, “Do unto others as you will have them do unto you.”
Is there more to karma than a simple law of action and reaction? According to modern scientific evidence and the ancient Vedic scriptures, there is. Over the last few decades, several serious researchers have produced volumes of compelling evidence of reincarnation. Ian Stevenson, (2) Brian Weiss, (3) and Michael Newton (4) are just a few of the many medical doctors who have become stalwarts in the field. Many of these case studies have been empirically validated with the possibility of fraud ruled out.
Of particular note are the works of Dr. Michael Newton, who has done extensive studies, not just on individual’s previous lives, but in the ‘life between lives’ in the so-called spirit world. Dr. Newton uses hypnosis to take his subjects to the afterlife and previous lives. (Also some possible future lives but that is another discussion entirely!)
Here he finds some corroboration between that which is mentioned in ancient scriptures regarding karma and free will. Individuals in the afterlife speak of being in a utopian type world with some similarities to Earth. There, as souls, or more correctly, jivas (see my article on The Five Bodies), they speak of spending time in study of their past lives and how they can improve their behaviour in subsequent lives.
Very interestingly, the subjects under hypnosis all speak of the choice they have of their future lives – what type of body structure, sex, geographic location, race, and all manner of variables. Furthermore, they also choose what events they would experience in that life, to balance karma from previous lives.
For example, one of the cases mentioned by Dr. Newton is that of a successful businesswoman who complained of chronic pain in her legs, just above her knees. Having had no success in conventional medical treatments, she went to Dr. Newton as a last resort. Dr. Newton took her in hypnosis to a previous life where she found that as a child she had an accident in a horse drawn cart. The cart’s wheels rolled over her legs, just above the knees, causing both legs to be broken. She was crippled for life in that lifetime, with incredible pain. (2)
There are a couple of interesting aspects to this case. The first is that upon further questioning by Dr. Newton, the subject said that she deliberately chose that event as a soul (jiva) before embarking upon that lifetime. This was meant to balance the karma of a previous lifetime, and provide much needed soul development. The second is that the pain of that lifetime carried on into this lifetime, with no apparent medical cause. In my article, “The Chakras,” we will look at how this is possible as quantum data travel.
The fact that we have such choice in our karma is borne out in the Hindu scriptures. Here, we find that there are three types of karma – Sanchit or karma that is accumulated over all lives, Prarabdha or karma that we take with us into this lifetime. And Kriyamana (or Agami), the karmic reaction which we are currently experiencing.
(Concluded in Part 2, tomorrow.)
(1) “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” Pew Research Center, Dec. 9, 2009, at https://www.pewforum.org/2009/12/09/many-americans-mix-multiple-faiths/
(2) Stevenson, I. (1974). Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. The University Press of Virginia. Charlottesville.
(3) Weiss, B. (1988). Many Lives, Many Masters. Fireside. NY.
(4) N. Newton. (2003). Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives. Llewellyn Publications. St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Copyright ©️ Pt. Narendra Dutt Mishra 2018. Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety without any modifications under the condition that the author and source link is included.