What is Karma?
General (Popular) Understanding :
Every action has it consequences. The consequences of one’s actions are often called “Karma”. Typically, good karma is Punyam and leads to benefits; bad karma is papam and it leads to hardship. When unpredictable bad things happen, Hindus attribute it to their bad karma, either from this life or from a previous life. Pious Hindus like to earn Punyam by doing good deeds and wash off their Papam through charity, penance, rituals and prayer. Sometimes it is hard to decide what is a good deed and what is a bad deed. The thought of Karma can paralyze pious people into inaction or remove their motivation to work. Krishna taught that if you do your duty, established in Yoga, not motivated by results, then Karma will not stick to you.
What motivates us to act (to do karma)?
Karma, in the sense of action is normally done for one four reasons, according to Kunda Guruji :
- phalApEkSa : a desire for results/benefits.
- rAga dvESa : emotions like fondness and hatred
- sanga : attachment
- ahankAra : the sense of doership (I am the doer).
Absence of these reasons – leads to karmayoga.
There are 3 kinds of karmacOdana – motives (drivers) for karma according to Bhagavad Gita : Chapter 18.
- Knowledge or gnyAna
- That which is to be known – gnyEyam
- The knower – parignyAta
What constitute the karma sangraha?
The Karma-Collection (karma sangraha) has three kinds (of elements).
- The instrument/means – karaNA
- The action – karma
- The karta – the doer.
- Knowledge or gnyAna
- The action – karma
- The karta – the doer.
- If you everything as one – your knowledge is sAttvika.
- If you see everything as different – your knowledge is rAjasa
- If you think one thing is everything – your knowledge is tAmasa.
For quiz questions see : http://ancientindians.net/2012/10/29/bhagavad-gita-18-18/
Karma definitions according to Kunda Miss :
- karma : any action
- karma : duty
- karma : consequences of one’s action
- karma : vedotkta karma : from karma kAnda
What are the causes for success, or karma siddhi? Can a person take full credit for his sucess or failure?
There are 5 reasons for the fulfilment of all tasks. (sarva karmANAm siddhayE). (Causes of Karma Siddhi : Bhagavad Gita : 18.13-18.17)
- adhiSThAna : the place or the base
- kartA : the doer
- karaNa : the means, the instruments (can also be the limbs)
- iSTAs : wishes/effort/worship/vedic rites
- daivam : fate/deity
Whether a person starts a karma (action) with his mind, speech or body, whether it is regular or extreme there are these five causes.
Therefore someone who considers himself, the kartA, alone as the cause, from an incomplete thinking (akRta buddhitvAt), that man of poor conclusions, does not see the truth.
He who does not have the feeling that “I did this”, whose buddhi (the taught part of mind) does not cling – that person can kill and not have killed these people and still not be bound. (See : Bhagavad Gita Complete – satyA vyAkhyAnam)
How do the three kinds of gnyAna (knowledge) do karma cOdana motivate us to karma?
- sattvika Knowledge (gnyAna, jnAna), makes you see the same bhAva or essence in all beings, and that which is undivided in all the divisions.
- rAjasa knowledge makes you see the different kinds or shades and nuances in all beings and things.
- tAmasa knowledge makes someone think that the whole world is in one deed and interested in it. tAmasa knowledge is ahaituka – not based on reason. It is alpa or trivial. It is atattvArtha – meaningless, without truth.
How can I judge whether my karma is sAttvika, rAjasa or tAmasa?
- sAttvika karma is done always without any saMga or attachment. It is done without rAgadvEsa or passionate like or repulsion. It is aphalaprEpsu – not motivated by a result for the fruit.
- rAjasa karma is done with desire and wishes, with ahaMkAra (I-ness, I-did-ness) and with a lot of stress and effort.
- tAmasa karma is binding or anubandha. It is kSaya or destructive, diminishing or wasteful. It is violent or himSa, it causes suffering to us or others. It is anavEkSya pauruSam. That means it is done without assessing our competence to do the work. It is begun from mOha, fascination or illusion.
How does karma-phala accrue across many lives?
My Veda Guru says :
prArabdha karma is a bit like your EMI (Equated Monthly Installment). Every birth you take you are required to exhaust only part of your previously earned karma, good and bad. The best attitude towards this karma is to grin and bear it.
sanchita karma is like the total amount due from you and total good stuff due to you, as of this instant. The good and bad do not cancel each other out and each has to be experienced separately. From the instant of gnyana, sanchita karma is destroyed, but you still have to work out your prArabdha.
Agamya Karma. Even though gnyana has destroyed your sancita karma, you have to live as long as your prarabhda dictates. The new karma associated with this part of your life is called aagamya karma. This is also destroyed by gnyana.
As per this philosophy, this life goes as per its destiny and and newly acquired pApa and puNya are totalled and adjusted at the end of your life. Again the new prArabdha for your next birth is determined. But for a gnyani, there will be no next birth since he has zero totals of pApa and puNya at the end of his life.
Then what happens to all the good deeds a gnyani does post the instant of getting gnyAna? It goes to the society.. to the followers of that saint.
Please find below notes from this source on the internet. about Prarabdha karma.
- Like an arrow released towards its target, the karma begun before the dawn of knowledge (prarabdha) is not destroyed by gyana. 454 : Shankaracharya in his Vivekachudamani.
- Once he is convinced of the unreality of the world, a knower, with mind undisturbed, allows his prarabdha karma to wear out, and engages himself in worldly affairs accordingly. 7-131. Pancadasi
- Do not fear irregularity when the wise engage themselves in actions according to their Karma. Even if it happens, let it be; who can prevent the karma? 7-132. Pancadasi
- In the experience of their prarabdha karma, the enlightened and the unenlightened alike have no choice; but the knower is patient and undisturbed, whereas an ignorant man is impatient and suffers pain and grief. 7-133 Pancadasi
- If by the force of his prarabdha karma, a wise man is compelled to enjoy the fruits of desires, he does so with indifference and great reluctance like a man who is impressed for labour. 7-143. Pancadasi
- Once the prarabdha karma is exhausted, the seer either attains videha-mukti (i.e. death), or, he is in constant one-ness with the paramatma. Thus, prarabdha karma is a great blessing to the world, as the world can benefit when the gyani interacts with it. If prarabdha karma were burned up in the fire of gyana, the only medium of teaching from these great masters would be pure silence. Pancadasi.
There are 3 kinds of mokshas : sarupya – same form, salokya – same world and sayujya – same identity.
There comes a time in our lives when we want God either ‘to be near’ or ‘to be one with’ and so on and we are not interested in settling for samsung galaxy tabs, lovers or kingdoms to rule. Then we get interested in this karma concept. Of course we have given up vikarma or doing bad things long ago. The choice is now between doing good things (karma) and then earning lots more goodies (which we don’t want anymore) or doing nothing at all (akarma). Many people plonk for akarma and they think that they are sannyasis. They don’t participate in worldly affairs and live on alms or on air and wear very little or nothing. akarma is not sannyasa at all.
sannyasa is not related to bodily actions but to manasic (mental) detachment. You do your karma, and are detached from karma-phala. So you do your duty to your body, your family, your society, to humanity, to posterity, to the environment, to the universe, to devas, to God.
You do it just bodily thinking that God is the doer or nature is the doer. When you save a wet cat, you dont care about the rat its going to kill tomorrow. You keep doing “the right thing” in the “here and now” to the best of your knowledge, with no attachment to the consequences.
(If alarm bells are going off in your heart, when you hear “with no thought of the consequences’ then you are not at this stage. Please stick with doing your duty, and relax.) You see karma in akarma, akarma in karma.. And thus you are the real sannyasi, you are the real yogi!
Then, you not only become krtsna karma krt, one who has done all that one should do, you also become free from the effects of your karma good and bad. No more rewards or punishments for you. Only sayujyam, sarupyam or salokyam.
What are Akarma and Vikarma ?
If you do nothing that may or may not qualify as akarma, for eg the manas of a person sitting still may become purified and engaged in citta, then even sitting still is karma.
Tha manas of a soldier who kills the brave and noble soldiers of the enemy army may feel purified and engaged in the chitta, even though, as Arjuna put, ‘it it is a horrific action’. So it could count as karma and not as vikarma. Whereas the manas of a person who does nothing to defend an exploited child, could become guilt ridden and impure, then we know that person is engaged in vikarma.
Do my actions count as karma? Do they purify my manas?
Karma is that which should be done, Akarma is not doing and Vikarma is doing the wrong thing.
In today’s world.. it’s hard to determine what is karma because we no longer believe in caste, gender and age guidelines and the distinction between right and wrong blur as our planet is being forged into a global village. If I say do “this” you can point out a situation or time in which that specific thing is not good.
I have recently had an illuminating idea on this subject.
The entire “karma-kanda” of the Vedas is for Chitta Suddhi. (As we have already discussed., chitta is already pure.. here chitta refers to the conglomerate including manas, buddhi, dhi and citta.) (See Engaging your manas, dealing with pain and confusion, experiencing bliss and Chitta Suddhi and Chit Svaroopi and kRtsna karma kRt : one who has done the entire karma (work) that is to be done).
Since the entire purpose of karma is to purify the manas (the part of your mind linked to the senses) and to help it engage with the chitta (the divine consciousness)…
…the test of whether an action is karma is whether it purifies the manas.
So lets try this on a few examples.
- Eating cake : delights my tongue and makes me happy, if I eat once piece and makes me sick and unhealthy if I eat too many pieces. It gives me an inkling of bliss, but is not a route to keeping my manas engaged in the chitta. My manas is in the gnyana- indriya (a sense that percieves) of taste. At the end of eating a piece of cake, at my age, there will be a tinge of guilt for having disobeyed the doctors’ orders. So this is definitely not karma for the ageing, though it may be okay for small children.
- Looking at the sunrise or moon or stars or ocean or Himalayan Peaks : delights my eyes and makes me happy. It not only gives me an inkling of bliss but can also turn my mind to nature, the universe, the creator, God and fill me with a sense of wonder. This gives me a better shot at engaging my manas with the chitta and can count as karma therefore.
- Feeding hungry orphans or the destitute elderly or any act of kindness to living things :When you feel the pain of any life-form with your manas, even though it is not attached to your body, and when you act to relieve that life form of its pain, ie when you help or love another living thing, your mind is engaged with the chitta or universal consciousness and even though it hurts your body and manas, you feel sense of relief when that being is saved. It is said that the Devas feel the pain of other beings acutely, far more than even we do. Thats why they help us.
- Chanting Vedas or Gita or any text that YOU hold as divine : is karma.
- Adhyayana or studying the Puranas or anything you consider divine : is karma
Krishna says that ANY action you do with your manas engaged in the chitta, thinking that God is acting through nature, is karma, ie purifying action. That means I could be eating cake and still feel purified if I remembered that it was little Krishna eating the cake.!
What are samskArAs :
In Hindu Practice, from conception to death, there are well-defined rituals, called samskaraas, to help the manas engage with the chitta and become pure.
Today, people follow very few of these practices, a good example being the vivaha or marriage samskara. But even then few focus on the divinity of the occasion or use the occasion to engage the manas with chitta. Instead its all about socializing, fun, ostentation and often even exploitation. Often even with the sacred fire lit and in presence of Veda Mantras, everyone is thoroughly distracted and treat the whole thing as a background sound. The manas of the key players is so very stressed out.
So I am thinking that a simple holding of hands (pani grahanam), in the presence of the divine rising sun, and a commitment or sankalpa (will/ decision) to share their lives.. should succeed in engaging the manas of the couple with their chitta, and qualify as a a samskara.
The mind in sanskrit philosophy has many different parts.
The manas is the bit that feels anything at all. Pleasure, pain, excitement.. and interestingly enough bliss! It is deeply connected with the indriyas or senses .. so much so that it is sometimes called the sixth sense in the Bhagavad Gita. Not the same as the sixth sense in popular english writings.
Learn a few important words.
The “dhi” is the intelligent part of your mind.. the bit that thinks. The “smrti” is the memory. The “buddhi” is that part of your mind that knows things. It can learn or be taught.
The “chitta” is that part of your mind that is conscious. Devi is chidsvarupi ie Devi has the form of your consciousness.
And in the form of Chit, Chidsvarupi, Devi exists in all beings in all worlds always.
Chitta is that part of your mind, that has sankalpa or “will power”. It is the Chitta that makes things happen. Chitta is pure. Chitta is divine.
Understanding the manas.
- The manas generally trots off behind the senses. It deals with perceptions like heat sound etc and responds with likes, dislikes.. moods, anger and other emotions.
The manas likes ice cream and appreciates Hritik Roshan or Aishwarya Rai. It is the buddhi that learns about all flavours of ice creams, where they are available, how much they cost and their effect on your waistline. This data is stored in your smriti. When your manas sees Dhoni drinking a soft drink and demands one too, your dhi or intelligence helps decide whether to get one now and of course how to do so.
The manas likes water bodies like rivers and seas, mountains and flowers and all pretty things. Your manas can be happily engaged in beautiful sights, sounds, tastes… and so on. This is one way to be “happy”. Thats why we like pilgrimages and vacations. This is an example of engaging your manas to gnyana indriyas or perceptive senses.
- The manas can be happily engaged in activity. Gardening, cooking, cleaning, writing, talking, running… and so on. This is another way to be happy. That’s why we like creative things, we become so absorbed in what we do that we forget that our back hurts or tooth aches. Your legs, arms etc are called karma indriyas. This is an example of engaging your manas to your karma indriyas.
Other people admire people who sing more than people who hear music. So a manas absorbed in work earns as a bonus the respect of some other minds.
- The manas can be engaged in buddhi by learning. This is a nice and useful way to be happy.
- The manas can be engaged with dhi while thinking. Thus when we are totally absorbed in thought, we don’t see what is around us. This makes some people happy, but some people don’t like to think.
- The manas can be engaged with chitta, consciousness or divinity.
This awesome activity is called atma sthiti or brahma sthiti. Since the chitta is same across all beings, your manas gets a taste of universal consciousness. Awesome Vedasukthas have been composed by people in this brahma sthiti. Krishna was in this state all the time.
It is said that this state is the ultimate bliss. It is said that this state confers miraculous powers or siddhis.
One the few occasions when I touch this sthiti, I cant even speak or think or anything. I don’t know how to simultaneously engage my manas in chitta and the indriyas-buddhi-dhi at the same time. It is said that Sankaracharya, Buddha and other teachers could do this. I don’t know. Some amateurs who touch this sthiti (state) without any help/guidance end up damaging their smrti, lose control of karmendriyas, some lose their buddhi and dhi too! This s what I heard. Two people told me about their permament loss of part of their smrti.
But from brief brushes with this state, I can tell you it is completely pain free and burden free. It is not the dizzy excitement of roller coaster ride or warm glow of hugging your baby. It is an absence of all this..
The Bhagavad Gita is targetted at the manas. Krishna says, I (citta, paramatma) dwell in all bodies and make them do things. You (manas), engage with me and don’t get distracted. You will be pain free and happy! It is a kind of love letter from the chitta to the manas!
Chitta Suddhi and Chit Svaroopi : A clarification
Devi is called Chit svaroopi ie, one who has consciousness as her form.
Karma kanda of the Vedas are said to be for Chitta suddhi, purification of Chitta Consciousness
I asked my Veda Guru, Kunda Miss, how can you purify Devi who is all pure – what does this mean?
She clarified that in the term Chitta Suddhi, refers to the union of chitta-manas-buddhi.
It is really the mind – manas that needs to be purified. Chitta is already pure.
Buddhi is that part of your mind that can learn and is taught.. the knowing part of your mind.
Dhi is the thinking part of your mind.
Manas is the part of your mind that is most involved with senses and perceptions and feelings.
Chitta is pure consciousness. The Tat. The Brahman. The Tat is called Sat – Chit – Ananda.
This is possibly what is referred to in modern english as “uinversal consciousnesss”.
Gnyana, Karma, Akarma : Bhagavad Gita : Chapter 3
The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita explains Sankhya Yoga and in that Sri Krishna says that Gnyana is Superior to Karma. Then towards the end of the chapter, Krishna tells Arjuna to his duty.
The third chapter begins with Arjuna expressing a doubt.
“If You think that buddhi (intellect) is better than karma, then why do you want me to do this horrible duty of fighting?” he asks.
Mis-labelling in Popular Conception :
Even in India today, in ordinary households you have this kind of discussion. Some people are heavily into Vaidika Karma. They follow rituals to the best of their understanding and ability every day. Some people only follow it for weddings and funerals. Others try to understand the meaning of these rituals and try to do what is relevant to the present times. Some abstract the philosophy.
People who follow the pUjA paddhati consider themselves followers of bhakthi yoga and people who don’t consider themselves followers of sAnkhya or gnyAna yOga. People who do their duties consider themselves karmayogis. People who do nothing consider themselves sannyasis. In my view all this is a mis-labeling. A confusion.
Which is better karmayOga or gnyAnayOga? What are you like?
Arjuna was similarly confused. He asked Krishna to tell him for once and for all which way, he, Arjuna ought to follow.
Then Sri Krishna said that he had clearly defined two different ways
- gnyAna yOga for the sAnkhyAs.
- karmayOga for the yOgis.
In my thinking, understanding is better than to “do and die” without reasoning why. I am sure that many people would agree.
But in the absence of understanding, “doing your assigned duty” is better than “doing nothing”.
Krishna said that Externally “Doing Nothing” does not lead to a state of ‘naishkarmyam’. If you keep thinking of the things you have given up and hanker after them, you are not a sannyAsi you are a mithyAcarI or even a hypocrite. In traditional Indian middle class society, there are very few opportunities to deviate from your assigned duties. The society keeps your morals for you. If however, you always dream of what you do not have.. that does not count as naishkarmyam. Virtue is not the lack of opportunity.
Krishna said, Activity is certain, whether of the limbs or involuntary processes or the mind. Nature makes us act. Karma tyAga – renunciation of all action is almost impossible. A person who internally controls his senses and acts in detached way, he excels.
Vivekananda put it simply as “renunciation is of the mind”. Think of a single action that you do, where you renounce the fruits of your action – internally. We all act with a purpose in mind. So doing your duties does not make you a karmayogi. Internally renouncing the benefits of your work, being detached from your duty while doing it makes you a karmayogi. Society will anyway compel you to do some of your duties and prevent you from following some of your desires. This does not make you a sannyasi or a karmayogi. It is the inner ‘tyaagam’ and ‘asaktata’ that make you a karmayogi.
Krishna said that ‘Karma is better than akarma’
Simply not doing things without knowing why and without detachment can be laziness or foolishness.. it is not a way to realize God. For anyone in this world, who is not yet a realized soul.. ie who still has some vestiges of ignorance or agnyAna, “doing” is superior to “not doing”. This means that you have to follow the vaidika karma as well as your loukika karma ie your vedic as well as your worldly duties.
Krishna said “do your karma for yagnya.” He said, ” In past prajApati (Brahma) created people and yajnas (yagnyas) and asked people to perform yagnyAs to achieve their needs. (See : pancha mahaa yagnyas, Vedic Rites (Rituals) : kalpa, The Devas of the Veda). Brahma said that the dEvAs and the people were to care for each other. Devas could be cared for through yagnyas. People could enjoy the fruit of the yagnyas, which was given by the devas after they offered it first to the devas. To eat or enjoy the yagnya phala without making an offering to the devas is akin to stealing.To cook for yourself is a sin. But to offer food to the Gods in yajna and then eat it will free you from all sin”.
Even today in many households food is first offered to God as ‘naivedyam’ and then eaten as prasadam. Cooking and eating are one form of yajnya. Work is another form of yagnya.., if you do it as worship and offer the benefits to God, before enjoying the rest as prasAdam. This means if you work all month and get a salary, you must offer a part of it to God and accept the rest of it as His prasAdam. If your work is a yagnya, and your salary is the yagnya phala, then you must perceive it as given by the dEvas who are pleased by your yagnya., not by your employers. This is hard. But if you do it you are on the way to becoming a karmayOgi.
Krishna said, “Yajna (Work) comes from Karma (Action), parjanya (clouds/indra/results) come from yagnya, food comes from parjanya (clouds/results/devas), living beings come from food (need food to live). Karma comes from brahma and Brahma from the indestructible (akshara). Brahma which is present everywhere is present in yajna (work). Anyone who deviates from this cycle and lives only for the senses lives in vain.
I believe that we should not take this literally but symbolically. Work comes from action. Work pleases God and gives results. Offer the results to God before you enjoy them. ie recognize that what comes from ‘your’ work is really “His” gift. Your work is your worship. The results are prasaada. The creator Brahma is present in your work. Thus your work is sacred and divine. The results are His gift and thus sacred and divine.
Sannyasa and Tyaaga :
While Sannyasa is to give up the actions which fulfill your desires, tyaga is to give up the fruit of your action. Purifying actions like yagnya, charity and austerity should not be given up; but attachment to them and to the fruit thereof should be given up.
Yagnya (worship), daana (giving) and tapa (penance) should be performed even by sannyasis according to some, while others hold that all karma should be given up as bad. However Krishna is quite firm that these purifying Karma must be done.
To give up duty from delusion is Tamasika, to give it up because it is a nuisance is Rajasika. These two ways of giving up action don’t count as sannyasa. Doing karma because it ought to be done, giving up attachment and the fruit thereof is Saattvika.
No being in the flesh can give up all action. But the fruit of action can be relinquished. A satvik relinquisher has no doubts and neither hates disagreeable tasks nor likes agreeable tasks.
Karma only sticks to the non-relinquishers after death.
Karma sticks only to those who don’t let it go!
The doer :
18:13 : Oh one of mighty arms, learn from me, these five causes for achievement of all karma, related at the end of kruta (yuga), in sankhya.
Any act of body, speech, or mind whether just or extreme is caused by five causes as per Sankhya.
- the seat (place or body),
- the person-doer (karta),
- senses (karanas), : different senses (gnyana indriyas and karana indriyas)
- effort (pRthak cESTah) : different functions
- and God (daivam) : daivam can also mean fate as used in older texts.
18:16 He, who due to, an incomplete understanding (akrutabuddhi), thinks of his Self alone (kevalam AtmAnam) as the doer, being a durmati (one of wrong views) sees not.
He whose learning is untouched by the feeling of doership (aham kruta bhAva), is not bound even by the act of killing.
18:18 : Knowledge, that which is to be known, and the Knower are three kinds of instigators of action (karma cOdana). Instrument (karana), action (karma) and doer (karta) are the triad of action (karma sangraha).
The Gunas :
Gnyaana (Knowledge), Karta (the doer) and karma (the action) are three things that differentiate the Gunas as listed in Sankhya.
Sat means existence, reality. Sattva relates to Sat. Rajas is light. Rajasik refers to Rajas. Tamas is darkness. Tamasik refers to darkness. These are the three gunas.
It is satvik to see The One in All, rajasik to see different kinds of beings, and tamasik to think that one single thing is everything.
- One who abides in sattvika is detached, unaffected by success and failure, non-egoistic, and endued with fortitude and enthusiasm.
- One who abides in rajasika is desirous of the fruit, greedy, subject to elation and dejection, violent, and unclean.
- One who abides in tamasika is procrastinating, sorrowful, arrogant, unsteady, vulgar, and deceptive.
- Satvik intellect knows what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, fear and courage, what is binding, and what is liberating. Rajasik intellect is confused between right and wrong. Tamasik intellect sees wrong as right.
- Satvaik tenacity is that by which one regulates the mind, breath and senses. Rajasik tenacity is that by which one holds to duty, pleasure and wealth, desiring fruit. Tamasik tenacity: a stupid person does not give up sleep, fear, grief, depression, and pride.
- Satvik happiness is poison at first and nectar at the end, born of the serenity of the understanding that concerns itself with the self. Rajasik happiness is like nectar at the beginning and poison at the end — it arises from a contact between objects and senses. Tamasik happiness: Self delusive at the beginning and the end, arising from laziness and inadvertence. No one is free from gunas in heaven or on earth. (You have to rise above them).
The Is’vara (Master) is in the heart of all beings and through his mAya (illusion), he whirls all beings with dizzying precision. To attain a state of eternal, supreme, peace, take refuge in that Lord.
To attain Krishna give up all other Dharmas and follow Krishna (the Brahman) alone; be devoted to him in every way. Do not teach this to the undeserving, but teach it to the deserving and you will attain Krishna.
Whether you like it or not, your nature (svabhava) will compel you to act. It is egoistic to think that you won’t fight. If you think of Krishna, you will overcome your difficulties through his grace. Be egoistic, however, and you will be destroyed. One who does all work, consciously renouncing it to Krishna, taking refuge in Him, attains a lasting state through His grace. Your motive matters.
- One who is detached from everything, free from desire, who has conquered the self, reaches that ultimate state of freedom from action. When he is detached and tranquil and alike to all beings, he attains supreme devotion to Krishna, knows Him truly and enters Him.