Karma (Action and Reaction)

by Nitya

KARMA literally translates as 'action and its result'. It can be any action, universal or individual. Universal acts include day and night, the northern and southern path of the sun, full moon and the darkness, the movement of the planets, the climate change in earth, such as winter, spring, summer etc., and the cyclone and flood. These universal acts have a big impact and influence on beings of earth. We human beings are attuned to our lifestyle, culture, character, behavior, color, food, and the way of dressing. All are according to this Universal action. We don't have any control over these actions, but we have some control of its influence through our individual action.

Individual actions have many different directions. An individual need not be a single person. It can also be a community or society, or a group of people, such as the people of a country. But here we will consider a single individual and various actions done by individuals for the purpose of spiritual progress.

There are many individual actions. All of our physical movements, internal and external, are actions. Our heartbeat, the function of the digestive system, breathing, etc., are internal functions. The external actions are body movement - moving from one place to another - or the functions of our sense organs. The actions we perform with the help of tools or instruments are also considered external individual actions.

An individual performs actions with the help of organs. We use some organs to know the outside world. They are called the organs of sense or the organs of knowledge. They are the ears, eyes, nose, tongue, and skin. They sense sound, vision or sight, smell, taste, and touch, respectively. The other organs such as words (speech), legs, hands, generative organs, and excretory organs - are considered the organs of action. The organs of action are meant to perform actions, but they may not bring any direct information, as sense organs do. 

The action need not always be physical alone. It can be through words and thoughts. Words and thoughts are more subtle than physical actions. As much as these actions are more subtle, they are that much more powerful, too. 

We are always intended to do actions. No one could remain alive even for a second without doing any action. Our mind is running from object to object; countless thoughts are rushing one after another. These thoughts have a big influence on our nature, personality, body, and the world, and the reaction is that what we are. 

As stated earlier, there are many different types of actions. The actions which we perform daily as a routine are called Nitya Karmas. There are Karmas that we perform with a specific desire (the Vedic ritualistic practices to attain the higher worlds); these are called Kamya Karmas. There are Karmas which we are not supposed to do (harming or hurting any being); such Karmas are called Nishidha Karmas. There are karmas we do occasionally (birth or death day celebrations); they are called Nimitha Karmas. There are also Karmas that we have to do if we make any mistake (apologizing or giving compensations); these Karmas are called Prayaschitha Karmas. The last type of Karma is what we do for our spiritual development (meditation or contemplation), which are Upasana Karmas

All these actions are worthwhile and valuable. Just like a chain, each action supports and nourishes the other. For example, a farmer produces a large amount of potatoes. He or she takes it to a retailer's shop to sell to customers. Most parts go to the customers right away, some of it is bought by a company that produces potato chips, and some of it is bought by a starch company to make glucose. This never-ending chain started with the farmer's little idea to cultivate potatoes.

 "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction", says Newton's physical law. In spiritual law, the reaction may not be equal nor opposite. It can be more or less, and also need not always be opposing. However, every action (cause) produces a result (effect). The result of a given action need not happen right away. Of course, some of them do. According to the timing of the result, Karma is again divided into three categories: Agami Karma, Sanchita Karma, and Prarabdha Karma. Agami Karma is Karma that is done now but brings results later on. It is also called Kriyamana or Vartamana. For example, a businessperson that undertakes an advertising campaign may notice some of the results immediately, but most of the results would come later on in the future.

 There are a lot of actions that we have done in the past from which the results have not yet arrived. Such actions are called Sanchita Karma. These actions and their results are not affecting us at present, but are certain to affect us in the near future. For example, the advertising has been done by the businessperson, and they are expecting the result in the near future. Sanchi can literally translate as a 'bag' - that Karma is in the bag!

 The last type of karma – which produces its result now – is called Prarabdha Karma. All actions from which we get results now, whether done now or in the past, are called Prarabdha Karma.

 There is no escape from Prarabdha Karma other than undergoing its fruits, even for a God Realized person. It is like a stone thrown to the sky. After throwing the stone, we may feel sorry, but it is too late to take it back. It has to fall somewhere in the near future. The birth leading to this present life took place to unroll all the matured Sanchita Karma as Prarabdha Karma. A God Realized person will not have ownership of an action, he or she will not feel that 'I am doing', since they are not considered an individual anymore. Because of this, Sanchita and Agami Karmas are not going to affect him or her.

 For an ordinary person, all three of these Karmas are a concern. Sanchita Karmas are stored in our system, and the Agami Karmas will show their results, because of the strong desires and the sense of doer-ship or ownership over the action (through identification of the body as Self). These actions are always projected as good, bad, and mixed. Good actions turn into happiness, joys, and direct one towards the heavenly pleasures. The bad Karmas turn into sorrows, miseries, and direct one towards the lower worlds. The Karmas that remain mixed as both good and bad do not direct one towards either the heavenly pleasures or the lower worlds, and so allow for the continuation of human birth through reincarnation. Most actions are mixed; it is hard to find an action that is completely good or bad. Since actions that are completely good are rare, there seems to be no easy solution for our life's or world's problems. 

Here we find the importance of spiritual practice - perhaps the only way to get around life, the world and its problems. Spiritual practice is a good Karma. With it, one can have happiness, joy, and peace. Spiritual practices will purify the body and mind, and even all Karmas. With enough practice, the Agami Karma will no longer have any effect on an individual, and the purification of the body and mind will be strong enough to handle the Prarabdha Karma. Spiritual practices such as Dhyana (meditation) and Nididyasana (contemplation) will lead one to God Realization.

 There is no need to weep anymore in the name of past Karmas. There is no longer any need to cry fatalistically, "Oh, my Karma has brought me to this", "Oh, I was spoiled or abused by my parents or others". These actions are futile. Life and its Will are always with an individual, which allows one to make choices to progress. In this respect, as individuals, we can in fact have some effect on our destiny in this life in spite of past Karmas. It only requires continuous spiritual practice with a strong intention.

 The doctrine of Karma gives us hope that there is no Ultimate lawmaker sitting somewhere in the sky. Rather, there is the power in us all to make a choice about how to approach our own lives.

Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.