Demystifying Karma

As per the popular definition of Karma, it is the sum of a person's actions in the current and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. And then there are sayings like "As you sow, so shall you reap" and "What goes around, comes around". Karma being a very difficult topic to understand, here I try to demysitify a few facts about Karma

As per the popular definition of Karma, it is the sum of a person's actions in the current and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. It's well known that Krishna highlighted this before the start of the famous battle of Mahabharata in his discourse to Arjun, the great warrior and disciple who represented mankind. The result of these questions and answers ended up being compiled in what is called the Bhagavad Gita. Later, we see Buddha highlight Karma in the same exact way. Western philosophers have had similar sayings like – "As you sow, so shall you reap" and "What goes around, comes around". Regardless of the culture, country, region, or nationality, we've heard similar sayings in our languages and stories highlighting karma are very prevalent.

The current world is divided into material and spiritual worlds. There is a school of thought that call the material world the real and the spiritual world the ideal world. It's important to differentiate the two type of worlds. "Action" in the material world might mean work done to acquire material well-being. However, "Action" or Karma actually refers to the spiritual definition which is more like the right deed done in accordance with one's Dharma or moral duty. Doing good karma without being affected by the outcome of the karma is the way to go in life. Krishna emphasizes this in the Gita, and also stresses working selflessly. According to Krishna, one who leads a life of doing karma without worrying about the result is the closest to God. To be more specific, this person would be closest to enjoying bliss in every moment of his life. It will be like living a life without any stress, worry, insecurity, fear or any other negative human emotion. In fact, if one understands this and is able to practice this, it is like achieving the highest human form possible: someone unaffected by misery, failure, calamitous results, disease, pain and maybe even death.

The Buddhist definition of Karma is less of an action and more of an intention. Whereas, it's a good perspective to the definition, it’s not entirely accurate. Yes, intention is a big part and may be the most important part of the definition of Karma. However, when Krishna says "Do Karma", what he really means is "Do good Karma". This means that the intent is already assumed to be good and that's why Karma is synonymous to "Right Action", not just action. There are situations where one might have the best intention, but the results may be contrary to the expectation. For example, a child who touches fire will feel the pain of the burn and, even though he has good intentions, the result was not favorable. So, Karma is action that will result in a result. The Karma, itself, may be in our control but the result may not be. So, evidently, it makes sense for us to focus on something we can control and let go of what we cannot.

Most human problems occur because of control issues. When the Karmic theory is clear in our hearts and minds, we don't control what we shouldn't control, and it makes our lives easier, calmer, better and provides us bliss in everything we do. It's a well-known fact, that human beings feel good when the result is in their favor and vice versa. That is a very materialistic approach to finding success in life. For the individuals with this kind of approach, their well-being is contingent on externally controlled results. Since the dependence is on something external, the probability of success in every such situation is evidently lower than another situation which is fully under the control of an individual. Life is an endless struggle and every individual fights personal battles and wars at different levels. Anything from fulfillment of basic necessities, to higher goals in life, require a lot of effort throughout life. It's possible to fail in some aspects, and sometimes repeated failure is a possibility, too. In fact, success may only be guaranteed in situations where enough has been learnt from failure. And to take it to another extreme, in something as big as a life, failing at least in some situations is inevitable. However, failure doesn't make us feel bad. It's the failure that occurs when we were anticipating success that makes us feel bad. Imagine a situation where the related failure or success doesn't mean anything to you. In that case, no matter what the result is, the emotional deviation from the un-deviated self would be minimal, meaning you would neither be too much elated with success nor feel bad with failure.

So, what if I control? First, you can hardly control something that is external to you. If you can, it’s not external to you. Or let me work on the definition of external again. External, in this case, really means outside your absolute control. So, even though it sounds simple as to why control something that is outside our control, we see this happening over and over again in our daily lives. Students pray for good results, professionals for good salaries, parents try to control their kids, kids try to control their toys and this cycle has become so much a part of human life, that they have pretty much forgotten the real nature, which is not to control the external.

Now, what if we try to control the external and it actually works? Sometimes, it does work. Someone might be able to influence other people into believing his vision and may garner enough support. In this case, the person will bear the karmic cost of his actions, good or bad. Yes, good karma will result in good and vice versa. However, what needs to be understood is that we could have still tried to do the same thing without tying ourselves to a particular result.

What about people who keep doing bad deeds and still they are successful? A lot of times people come to me and ask this question.

The short answer is, "It's really debatable". Since someone's success is external to me, I would not want to be tied to it or even want to think about it. However, for the sake of explaining what went right and what went wrong in this case, I like to ask what do you really mean by success? Do you mean the person is making more money than he used to? Does he own an expensive car, building etc.? Well, that just explains some material success and that doesn’t really talk about his well-being. Also, that situation might just be his current state. Once you look at the complete life of the same person, you may have a different opinion, and you might even realize that he didn’t have quite a great life like you might have then perceived. Trust me, I am friends with celebrities who have all the money in the world but are not happy at all. I know celebrities who were once very rich and are now broke. At the same time, I know people who neither had the fame of a celebrity, nor had the riches one desires of, but have enjoyed bliss every moment of life.

So, I think if there is a take away, it is that if you practice the spiritual or the actual definition of karma, it will lead to a better well-being. The materialistic definition, or, in other words, the actual misinterpretation, may confuse you into states of happiness followed by states of misery and, in most cases, create a vicious circle one might spend the whole life in.

Read another article: Demystifying God