Musings on Karma and Karma Phala
To understand the working of Karma, it is important to understand what Karma is. Every action, speech, or thought constutes a Karma. Every motion,every action, every transformation, everything in this manifested universe are sustained by the Karmic cycle of action and its fruits. Thus, whatever action one performs, one will invariably face its results, the only variable is the time.
Now,let us understand Karma at individual level. Scriptures divide Karma into three categories: Sanchita, Prarabdha, and Agami. Sanchita Karma is the store house of all your Karmas performed till now but, which are yet to bear results. The actions you are performing now out of free will in this life, in present, are called as “Agami Karma” and they keep getting added to the store house of Sanchita and will bear result in future. Prarabdha Karma is those set of Karmas, which has become ripe to give fruits. It is Prarabdha Karma,which causes your current birth and determines, the body you get, family you get, your svabhava and vasanas. The Jyotishya Shastra, makes Kundali chart based on these Prarabdha Karmas, which lays out a general framework of the kind of life a person will have and the situations he/she will face. Thus, what we call fate is nothing but previous Karmas,which is giving results now. It is a reference to Prarabdha Karma. But, we have a free will to choose how we respond to the situations presented by the Prarabdha Karma. This exersion of free will is Agami Karma, which inturn will bear fruits in future.
Thus, Fate and Free Will are not two diferent things. They are not two contardictory things. Instead, they are a reference two same phenomenon: Karmas performed. The only difference is the time of performance. Fate refers to past Karmas giving fruits in present. Free will is present Karmas, which would give fruits in future.
A sub-set of this Prarabdha Karma,is Rina Bandha- the Karmic bond. As I said above, a person gets a particular birth in particular body and family and surroundings based on Prarabdha Karma, as a result of past actions, which are ripe to give results. But, this understanding is incomplete without understanding the concept of Rina-Bandhana or Rinanu-Bandhana- the Karmic bond or Karmic debt. It is Rina Bandha aspect of Prarabdha Karma, that determines who one’s parents would be, whom one will marry, whom one will feel attracted etc. In other words, all human interactions, even interactions with animals,plants, and other beings like Ghosts etc. are depended on Rina Bandhana. When the Karmic debt is paid, the relationship breaks away, unless, we have already formed a strong relationship based on Love, which creates am even stronger bond by turning mere Karmic Rina into a Bond of Prema. Not just relationships, even in cases like, if we receive a charity, or if we loose money to someone else, it either indicates a performance of a fresh Karmic rina, or is a result of previous Rina connection.
Another sub-set of Prarabdha is Vasana, Samskaras, and Svabhava. One Svabhava, which is often refered to as Varna, has two compotents: one is Svabhava inherited from present parents,which in turn is governed by Prarabdha Karma and two is Samskaras and Vasanas inherited from past lives, which again is governed by Prarabdha.
Now to the question, who determines what kind of Karmas have riped and what has not riped? In other words, who is the dispensor of the fruits of Karma? The scriptures reply Brahman or God (not Abrahamic God) is the dispensor of fruits of action. Why so? Because, Brahman exists as Atman i.e. Innermost Self of all beings and objects and hence is the witness to all actions. Brahman, being, the knower of all actions, not only of a person, but of the entire Universe, Brahman alone is capable of deciding on not only the nature of fruits to be imparted but also the timing of such imparting. Not to forget the fact Karma exists at cosmic level and the entire cosmos is interlinked. Thus, it is Brahman who exists as the Self of entire Universe alone is capable of dispensing fruits of actions of not only individuals but also of objects and realms of existences. Again, who is this Brahman? Upansihads says: Know that as Brahman, from whom the Universe (not just the physical universe but all realms of Universe) has emerged, in whom the Universe is sustained, and into whom the Universe dissolves back.
The Question of Self and self
The Hindu scriptures adopt various methods to explain layers of our identity and self-hood. At the grossest level, we identify ourselves with name and form, with our physical body and physical Universe. The Physical body is called Sthula Sharira. But, physical body is not everything we have. we have the intellect, mind, and the senses, which are non-physical, and are called as Sushma or Linga Sharira i.e. subtle body. The Pranamaya Kosha, manomaya Kosha, and Vigyanamaya kosha refers to this Sushma Sharira. Then, we have the ‘Karana Sharira” or the “Causal body”, which is the source of physical and subtle body. This Causal body is nothing but the storehouse of Sanchita Karmas, refered to before. These three bodies corresponds to the state of waking, dreaming, and deep-sleep. And beyond these three body is the True Self, the innermost Self, Atman, which is ever free and free from all conditioning and is transdendent and as well as a Witness. This Atman is the true Self (capital S). Where as the ego, the Ahamkara, which is seated in Causal body and which manifests and self-identifies with Sthula and Sukshma, is the smaller self (with small s). When we speak about birth and death, or afterlife, or rebirth, etc. it is not the Atman, which is spoken, but the Ahamkara, which self identifies with body and mind. Then, there is one more term, Jivatma, which is often translated as individual soul, but is not very proper nevertheless. Jivatma is actually that ray of consciousness (Atman), which is reflected in the Jiva (stula-sukshma-Karna complex). Upanishads call it Angushta-Matra Purusha- Purusha who is size of thumb, who exists in the Hrdaya-Heart (i.e. center of individual existence, not physical heart) and controls the Jiva. But, most people when they are in their physical and subtle bodies, in waking and dream state, they are mostly unaware and ignorant about the workings of Jivatma. Thus, from the practical sense, Jivatma controls everthing indirectly (though, in truth it is the true controller). Mostly, people exist in Ahamkara and work on that plane by identifying oneself with body and mind, with Stula and Sukshma sharira.
Thus, using “individual soul” or the “soul” could be quite misleading as we do not know whether it refers to Jivatma, or Ahamkara or simply to the sukshma sharira.
The Question of Karmic Fruits
We previously saw, how Prarabdha Karma results in our present birth. The scriptures also deal with how our present Karmas effect our future births. Among many factors that play a role in determining the Karmas, which ripe and become Prarabdha to manifest a birth in a body, two play important role: One how we lead our present life, how we exert our free will, what Agami Karmas we performa nd how and secondly, our last thought/desire that is very strong at the time of death. You might have heard, stories about how taking the name of Lord at death, helped people attain Vaikunta etc. It is a reference to this factor. One will be having God in his mind at the time of death, only if he/she has cultivated strong devotion and surrendering throughout his/her life.
Now, coming back to the question how our present actions effect us and what kind of actions lead to what kind of birth. The scriptures speak about how, those who thoroughly live a life of Dharma and practice devotion will attain attain heaven or the realm of Deities after death, a state which is relatively more free than physical state. Similarly, how who perform predominently Adharma attain realms of Narakas, where they suffer or take birth as animals,plants, or as human families, where they undergo enormous suffering and bondage. And those people with a mixed bag of Dharma and Adharmic actions, takes birth again as a human. Thus, Dharma leads to Swarga, Adharma to Naraka, and a mixture of two into Manushya Loka. But, this is of course a outline and there are lot of nuances involved. For example, only those who perform Devotion and Upasana for a long time and have attained considerable surrendering and one-pointed cocnentration attain Devaloka at death. They will remain in Devaloka untill their Good Karmas are exhausted and then return to take birth as human. On the other hand, those who perform their duties well and live righteously and Dharmically but without performing Upasana, will travel to Pitr Loka after death. Even they return to human existence after exhaution of the Dharmic karmas. It is to be noted, existence in Devaloka is much more better and happier and lesser bondage than Pitr Loka and which in turn is always better than other realms like Narakas, which are full of suffering. And as said before, those who live Adharmically and selfishlly harming others and mindlessly pursuing desires without care for other’s welfare, will attain Narakas (temporary realms of suffering) and then take birth as animals, plant, etc. which are having more tamas and more bondage and continue to suffer, till they are Karmically ready to take a higher birth.
The Question of Ghosts
Now, continuing with what is said above, normally people who have done a mixture of Dharmic and Adharmic Karmas, with predominance of Dharmas, though at times take another birth immideately after death, mostly they first travel to Pitr Loka, stay they for a time and only then take birth as human. The rituals of Shraddha performed immidiately after death, the centralmost portion of them is aimed to help the person smoothly travel to Pitr Loka. The reason is, since, we are all attached to our physical bodies, just after death, we tend to stay close to our body, in fact the mind and subtle body will be in a consufed state immidiately after death. The shraddha rituals helps the subtle body of the departed by removing their confusion and showing them path to the Pitr loka. That is why it is said, if Shradha rituals are not done, the departed may become stuck and be roam around as “Preta” (a kind of Ghosts). This, though correct, may not be always true.If one’s Dharmic actions are very strong, then one may theoretically attain Pitr loka, even if Shraddha is not performed. But, since we humans are never perfect, Shraddha helps one to attain Pitr Loka. But, not all are able to do it. For various reasons, it may be due to too much attachment to physical body, or as a result of some grave Adharmic actions, some people after death are stuck in a state of disembodiment and there are various names like Bhuta, Preta etc. for them, each have specific meaning. For example, a Brahma Rakshasa is a spirit of a Brahmana, who willfully kept his knowledge secret from a worthy disciple. He got that state as a punishment to his Adharmic action. Thus, this should answer the quetsion why and how Ghosts are formed.
But, let us understand that it is not the Atman or Jivatman which has become Ghost as such. It is the subtle body, which after leaving the physical body, either enter the realms like Pitr Loka, )where it is assumes a stula sharira, but one which is different from human body) or Devaloka (where it exists in subtle body, but in a freeier and more happier manner), or is stuck in states like spirits (where the subtle body is disembodied, yet is full of attachment, suffering, pain, and limitations and embodied to such a state). The “I” which identifies with the state of Bhuta or Preta is the Ahamkara.
The Question of Untimely Death
Some believe that since everything is according to Karma, there is nothing called untimely death. But, when it is said, “Untimely” it is not a reference to Karmas in totality or to the Sanchita Karma. In stead, it is with reference to Prarabda Karma. As I mentioned before, Prarabdha Karma which results in a birth gives a general layout of how the person’s life would be and the situations he would face, based on which Jyotishya charts are made. But, this does not take into account Agami Karmas. Our Agami karmas, the exertion of Free will, impacts how the Prarabdha plays out and may chalk out an entirely different life. Thus, by proper and righteous exertion of Free will, a particular suffering denoted by Prarabdha can be averted and similarly, by Adharmic exertion of Free will, one may have untimely death. [Of course it is different issue, people often use untimely death simply to say a person died in young age!]