Understanding Karma: The Law Of Action Followed By Reaction

The philosophy is Karma is an essential element of all Eastern philosophies and originated in the war-field of Kurukshetra in India several thousand years ago. This simple philosophy is almost analogous to the laws of physics that tell us that every action will lead to a reaction. The same rule applies in our lives as well. Even if the reactions may not always be in the same trajectory as the original action, it is always there and contributes to our fate.
Understanding Karma: The Law of Action Followed by Reaction
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The literal meaning of Karma is action. However, the philosophy of Karma emphasizes the action for the sake of action itself and not for the purpose of, or with an expectation of return. In the simplest way, the philosophy of Karma can be understood as action without expectation – action that is undertaken as part of one’s responsibility, one’s duty, as a matter of honorable conduct, and not to obtain something in return. This indirectly leads to righteous action that maximizes the returns for the society as a whole, instead of action that would lead to maximum returns for the

individual indulging in karma. The philosophy, thus addresses and prevents many of the vices that greed based individualistic actions bring to the society.

The Concept of Karma

The concept of Karma is the philosophical bridge between scientific reality of every actions resulting from and giving rise to another reaction, and the implication of this reality in our daily lives. Just like there cannot be an action without a reaction, every action of ours will also lead to a reaction that will come back some day to hail or haunt us. Just like the reaction of a ball that hits an object may not be exactly opposite, and go in another direction, similarly the result of our action too may not be immediately visible. However the reaction is always there, and gradually becomes prominent enough to affect us.

Origin of the Concept of 'Karma'

The philosophy of 'Karma' originated thousands of years ago, in the battle of 'Mahabharata', when a famous warrior refused to take arms against his brethren on the ground that he was not ready to kill his relatives for any wealth in this world. On seeing this great warrior losing his strength in the confusion between what is wrong and what is correct, his friend and guide, 'Krishna' gave him a lecture that was narrated later by the famous ancient seer and poet Ved Vyas in what is today the largest ever epic written in human history. Titled 'Mahabharata', this epic consists of over 100,000 couplets in Sanskrit. The lecture itself, a small part of this epic, is called 'Bhagvadgita' or 'Gita' in short.

"You should do what is your karma, without bothering about the consequences". These famous words of 'Bhagvadgita' gave rise to the concept of 'Karma' that advocated following the path and not the destination, as selecting proper path only will lead to the appropriate destination.

Importance of 'Karma' in Subsequent Philosophical Thought

What Krishna told, came to be known as the 'philosophy of karma', and has been a very important element of all schools of thoughts pertaining to Hinduism and Buddhism ever since. This mother of all philosophies, Bhagvadgita retains its place of eminence in the large volume of Indian mythology and mystical philosophies as one which no individual can afford to ignore.

Essence of 'Karma' : Law of Action Followed by Reaction

Krishna told the great warrior 'Arjun' that it was his duty to fight, not because he was greedy and wanted to gain power or wealth, but because having committed himself to being a warrior and having given himself to the principles a warrior must follow, fighting this war was his 'karma' now, from which he could not go back, even if fighting against his relatives was unpleasant. Going against his 'karma' would lead him to worse, Krishna told Arjun, because it will make him responsible for the death of all those who have joined him in the belief that he will fight with them, and it will also lead to despise and insult from his opposition who will only laugh at him as a coward.

Since Arjun was not ready to take the blame of death of his relatives, Krishna told him something that is the essence of 'karma'. He said that the people he will fight in this war will not be killed by him, but by their own karma. Then Krishna went on to tell him that humans are only means to fulfill what is already destined by the karma of the

individuals. One who sins will get punished, and he will be punished because of his own sins, not because of the person who inflicts the death blow.

Like all great philosophies, the essence of ‘karma’ is very simple indeed. A man sentences to death is not murdered by the judge who awards the death sentence, nor is he assassinated by the official who carries the action of executing him. The man gets a death sentence because of his own actions, his own choices and his own discretion, or rather the lack of it. Similarly, a student who fails in an examination, does not fail because of the examiners who did not award him enough marks or grades, he fails because of his failure to learn and perform. One can cite many similar circumstances that help us in understanding ‘karma’.

One also must not forget that like a ball that does not always come back in the same trajectory after it hits a wall, all reactions of an action are not always so easily apparent. But the fact remains that our actions lead to reactions, and our fate is very often affected by the complex outcomes of these reactions. Similarly, the fate of the society to which we belong is also affected by the actions arising from within the society.

'Karma' literally means 'action'. The philosophy assumes an invisible hand that assures that everyone faces the consequences of his or her actions in some way. Thus, a criminal is punished not by the judge or the cops, but by his own actions. Similarly, the cops who kill a criminal or the judge who issues the death sentence are not guilty of killing, because responsibility of a criminal's death lies with his 'karma'.

Three Paths: Karma, Bhakti & Gyana

During his sermon, Krishna referred to many facets of life, and the wisdom of those words stills echoes today. He also referred to three alternative paths of fulfillment, called 'gyana', 'karma' and 'bhakti'. 'Gyana' means knowledge. A person who understands universe becomes free from its bondage, reaching the state of 'moksha' or 'nirvana' - the state of self actualization. Second is 'karma', or action that a person must devote to as per his commitments and duties. Third is 'bhakti' or devotion - the path of submerging your identity and ego in the almighty to the extent you become one with the almighty.

One needs to remember that the 'karma' is always with reference to your duties, or 'dharma'. In fact one's karma is defined by one's dharma. For example, a soldier's dharma or duty is to defend his country and be loyal and obedient to his commander, hence his karma is to fight and kill, but that is not the karma of a scholar. For a scholar, dharma or duty is to study, learn, teach and guide, and so his karma is to read and learn, not fight. Contrary to both of them, the dharma of a merchant is to produce and create wealth, and so his karma is to trade. Notably, it is nobody's dharma or duty to cheat or grab anything by deceit, so anyone who indulges in these actions will suffer because of his karma.

When a person indulges in karma is according to his or her dharma, such karma will bring peace and happiness and all other virtues, not only in this birth but in the succeeding ones as well. When one's karma is contrary to one's dharma, he will be punished, not by another individual, but by his own karma, either in this birth or in the next ones.

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