‘Karma literally means “deed” or “act” and more broadly defines the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction which governs all life. Karma is a natural law of the mind, just as gravity is a law of matter’
This is beautiful article By Dr Satya Prakash Chowdhary
As I grew up I started wondering about the purpose of life. Life brought with its myriad experiences, the inevitable experience of suffering too. Why do we suffer? Why are we born? Such questions plagued my mind for a long time. The sacred books and the wise men gave me a glimpse of the theory of karma and transmigration of the soul. It seemed very logical, yet I doubted it especially during the dark nights of the soul, that are common to most spiritual aspirants in the early phases. Then I started studying Jyotish or Hindu Astrology. But it took me years of hard work, some experience and sincere thinking to be convinced. When I started seeing the patterns in the horoscope manifesting in actual life, I had to accept the theory of Karma. Slowly it was no more a belief, but a fact.
Karma means not only action, but also the result of an action. Whatever we are going through at the moment is the result of previous actions, not just of this life, but many lives. In short Karma is the sum total of our actions both in this life and in the preceding ones. Nothing happens by accident or chance actions. Everything happens in regular order, the past, present and the future being interconnected and interdependent. Cause is Effect concealed, and Effect is Cause revealed!
Now that brings us to the question of rebirth. Books written by Ian Stevenson, Hiroshi Motoyama, Moody and many other interesting cases strongly suggest that there is proof of rebirth. Every good astrologer himself is proof of Karma and rebirth! Let us examine the theory of Karma and rebirth. You will not cease to exist after death. It is the physical body that dies. The astral body (sukshma or linga sarira) and causal body (karana sarira) continue forth. The causal body has all your Karmas stored in it as seeds, seeds that result in rebirth. As long as man has not exhausted all his Karmas, he has to be born again. All our actions and thoughts become the seeds for our future lives. Karma is at the root of this cycle of births and deaths. Again and again Karma makes us take birth. Countless times have we been born and countless times have we died. Very many wombs have we passed through.
In each life, we have mother, father, brothers, sisters, spouse, children and so on. We are born in a family as a result of undischarged debts of past lives. Constantly we are creating accounts, debiting and crediting. We are creating Karmic debts with all those with whom we interact. The Karmic debts (rna) lead to bondage or attachment (bandhana). These Karmic attachments pull us into the wheel of existence again and again. runanubandhana (the bond that results from Karma debts) is at the root of repeated lives.
Karma leads to rna and rna leads to Karma. It works both ways. If you have given something to somebody in some life, the memory is stored in your casual body. That person will be your debtor in this birth. If you have taken in the past, it will be taken from you in some birth. The causal body stores the memory of all of one’s runanubandhanas of countless births. Till all the karma stored in the causal body is burnt away or exhausted, there is no liberation from rebirth. Human life is nothing but a memory of runanubandhana, the story of the countless karmas that we make, and live through. Every relationship reflects some runanubandhana. The people with whom we have very strong Ruanubandhana become our parents, spouse, children and coborns in this life. The memory of Karmic debts may be sweet or bitter. Sweet memories of karmic debts lead to a `happy’ relationship and bitter memories to an `unhappy’ relationship. In reality most of the karmic debts are mixed, a mixture of sweet and bitter memories. That is why most relationships are of a mixed nature. I will try to explain briefly two kinds of relationships that are very important: parent/child and love/marriage relationships.
This relationship is the most important. This is the easiest way to discharge our karmic debts toward one another. Some possible ways in which it works:
i. A person whom you have helped in some life is born as a child, takes good care of you in the present life and discharges his/her debt.
ii. A person to whom you owe a lot in some life may be born as your son or daughter and take back what you owe. Such a child makes you spend heavily on her/him.
iii. A person whom you cheated ruthlessly in a previous life is born as your child and gives you a lot of suffering, takes your money and goes away.
iv. An enemy of some life is born as a son/daughter in this life, in which case, he/she behaves like an enemy, hates you and causes a lot of suffering to you. The spouse, the parents, siblings, friends, servants, all is born in a set up together as a result of runanubandhana.
SEX/ LOVE/ MARRIAGE
Two people can be mutually attracted to one another only if there was some relationship between them in some previous life. When you meet a person to whom you were related in a previous life, the stored memories or the runanubandhana stir up your emotions and you may start “feeling” for the person. In fact sex itself has rnanubandhana at its roots. In countless lives, we would have had sex with many people. Every longstanding relationship leads to certain deep impressions. Any act when done repeatedly can become a habit. Every habit leaves an impression. These impressions are the samskaras, which drive us to act again. That is why we get sexually attracted many times. But if we have no more debt (rna) with the other person, it just remains as a fleeting thought, as an impulse only. But if the runanubandhana is still there, the attraction results in a relationship. Sometimes even if the karmic debt is discharged, still the samskaras (impressions of past acts) drive us to sex. We eventually end up creating a fresh account, a further karmic debt that is not advisable. Somebody who was your mate in a previous life could have come back as your mother, sibling or father. That is how incest occurs! The previous samskaras stir up an over whelming urge to have sex again in this life. But the nature of the relationship, the purpose being different in this life, it only leads to fresh unwanted karma, which is not safe. In the majority of the sexual attractions, it is only the samskaras and not the actual karmic debts (runa) that operate. But if there is any undischarged karmic debt, it results in a relationship of love. When the karmic accounts are settled, once there is no more debt, the relationship breaks suddenly. But if the runanubandhana is very strong, it results in a long-standing relationship like marriage.
This is the cause of every relationship, how it is born and how it ends. But nothing is permanent. No karmic debt can be everlasting. Eventually it has to end, when the debt is discharged, when the account is balanced. In this impermanent world change is the law of life. Countless wombs have we passed through. Innumerable mothers, fathers and wives have we been with. But when a karmic debt is over, the attachment might still be there. We still cling on. When rna (debt) is over, the relationship has to end. But anubandhana (bondage or attachment) might still make us cling to the person. Like the fan that turns for a while even after the power supply has been switched off, the attachment doesn’t die for some time. Once the rna is over, nothing can sustain the relationship. Hence any further remnants of attachment (anubandhana) are bound to produce only suffering and misery. In some cases, one of the two people involved grows out of the relationship once the rna (debt) is discharged. But the other refuses to move on, due to the attachment (anubandhana). The second person suffers tremendously because any further attachment leads to misery and suffering only. Sometimes there is bitterness also after separation. This bitterness can sow the seeds for future karma! When the karmic debts are over, when a couple has to part ways, as far as possible, it should be done with the least negative feelings. They should part in an amicable way to avoid further seeds of new karma. Easier said than done. The karma that brings two people together into marriage can also be of many types. I will mention a few below:
i. Bitter enemies are born as husband and wife and always fight, criticize, deceive one another and make their lives miserable.
ii. Two people who have created negative karma between them come back as man and wife and lead a life of suffering together, fighting with one another.
iii. Two people who have created both positive and negative karma between them come back as man and wife and have a mixed life causing both happiness and unhappiness to one another.
iv. Two people who have created positive karma between them in previous lives come back as man and wife and lead a relatively happy life.
v. One who has taken a lot in some life has to give in the present life. In such a case, one of them will always be giving (money, love, care, etc.) and the other receiving.
vi. Two souls who are evolving spiritually come as husband and wife, help each other in their evolution and benefit one another. This is the purpose of marriage.
vii. A couple who has been husband and wife may come back as husband and wife again if their runanubandhana is very strong. If the runanubandhana is very strong and their destinies (lives) are so strongly interlinked, usually both die almost at the same time. If one dies first, generally the other also dies within a few hours or days or weeks. The souls are so strongly identified with one another that towards the end of a successful married life, they behave as if they are one.
viii. Sometimes (rarely) a very highly evolved being or soul, or spirit or even an avatar is born as two people to accomplish a mission. After the accomplishment of the mission, they merge back into one. Though very rare, such a divine couple also takes birth in all ages. Such a high soul may be born as two separate individuals as husband and wife, brothers, guru and disciple, etc.
The anubandha (bond) between husband and wife is thus of many types. The patterns of karma are myriad, exceedingly intricate and perplexing. It is very difficult to understand because karma is an eternal mystery that defies all description. Yet we should try to understand what little we could with the guiding `light’ of Jyotish.
KINDS OF KARMA
i. Sanchita Karma or Total Accumulated Karma
This is the vast store of accumulated Karmas of all past lives (as a human being only). It may be indirectly seen in a man in his character, his tendencies, aptitudes, inclinations and desires.
ii. Prarabdha or Fructifying Karma
That portion of our Karmas allocated to us in this life is called Prarabdha. It is the fruit of our past actions that are being reaped in this life. All of Sanchita karma will not be experienced at one time. Only that portion which has `become ripe’ for experiencing in this life time is Prarabdha. The natal horoscope reveals Prarabdha only.
iii. Kriyaman or Current Karma
This is the fresh karma that we do in this life. This is the area that man has freedom to determine the course of action. This determines our future lives. This is where the concept of free will comes. The horary chart reflects both the prarabdha of past lives as well as the kriyaman of this life. In other words the prashna (horary) chart is the latest karmic bank statement with regard to the query!
iv. Agami Karma or Future Karma
The karma that is coming, in other words, new actions that you contemplate as a result of your thoughts, the way you envision the future, is Agami Karma. Today’s plans when executed could become a reality one day. Planning is Agami while execution is Kriyaman. Thus Agami (planning) leads to Kriyaman (freshly executed actions of the present) which becomes Sanchita (accumulated) to later surface as Prarabdha (destiny). Sanchita karma manifests in two ways. Firstly, as Prarabdha or the so called destiny, and secondly, as the Samskaras or tendencies.
JYOTISH OR ASTROLOGY
It sheds light on life by revealing our karmic patterns. When a soul is born into a family, it is because of the karmic debts with the others in that family. When everything is ideal, the situations and the persons fit into the karmic patterns and the soul takes birth. In other words the individual karmic pattern selected for this life has to fit in or correspond to the group (whole) karmic patterns of the family, society, etc. This happens not just by chance, but in accordance with the cosmic patterns.
What relation does the horoscope have to destiny? Do planets dictate our lives? These are often asked questions. The planets do not control our lives. They reflect the cosmic patterns. The universe works in certain natural cyclic patterns. Both the macrocosm and microcosm operate in a similar way. The planets revolve around the Sun. The electrons revolve around the nucleus in the atom. `As above so below’. This is the fundamental law. A man can be born only at a time when his individual karmic pattern (Prarabdha) matches that of the macrocosm, that is the planetary and stellar patterns. What is happening at a macrocosmic level is also happening at a microcosmic level. By this cosmic law, the karmic pattern matches with the planetary pattern. In other words the time of birth is Prarabdha (destiny)!
By studying the patterns created by the stellar bodies, we can infer the karmic patterns of the individual, because they both are co-extensive. The horoscope thus reveals the Prarabdha karma of an individual. An intelligent astrologer can analyse to a reasonable extent, the Prarabdha with which a person is born, and based on that, the situations in which the individual may be placed in life at different times. The character, the tendencies, the Prakriti (Constitution), mental make-up and the situations in life are all Prarabdha indicated by the horoscope through the patterns revealed. Hence study of Jyotish or Hindu astrology can shed a lot of light on the unknown aspects of life and is very illuminating. That is why it is called the best light (Jyoti:light; Ish:Lord). Astrology is the best light on life.
Astrology can guide in our lives by giving hope, by correcting us and most importantly can be a Sadhana (spiritual practice) in itself when done unselfishly. To the spiritual person, it gives proof of karma, rebirth and the goal of life. Used wisely astrology can guide us and help us in our spiritual ascent. Areas like Medical astrology, Muhurta and even predictive astrology (only to some extent when used wisely) can be of immense help in our day to day lives. That is the purpose of astrology too.
LIMITATIONS OF ASTROLOGY
Astrology has its limitations too. An astrologer cannot see every thing. He has access to limited information. First only the Prarabdha is revealed through a horoscope, that too in a veiled manner. A very good, honest astrologer has access only to the `Patterns’. He does not `see’ the story written there. He has to analyse the patterns and infer what it could possibly mean. Often the astrologer (Jyotish) comes to crossroads, where two or more interpretations seem equally possible. Each could manifest in many ways. Only the general or specific trend may be understood. But never `exactly’ as it would manifest. The actual event itself may manifest in a manner totally unanticipated by the astrologer. Often the astrologer may misjudge or even be working on wrong information (like wrong birth time)! Even if the astrologer is running a favourable planetary period (Dasha) himself and judges it correctly, he should remember that he has access to the Prarabdha only. He is in the dark where a vital area like Kriyaman Karma is concerned. This is the invisible area, where an individual can make or mar his destiny. Some of the effects of Kriyaman karma manifest in the future lives while some manifest in this life itself. An astrologer can never know exactly about the client’s spiritual merit which may be rapidly declining or increasing. Though the predictions can often be uncannily accurate, no astrologer can be hundred percent correct always and therefore should be humble enough in his approach to the divine science. Nothing teaches more humility as the true practice of astrology does. With all these limitations, an honest astrologer can still guide us to a reasonable extent.
There are a few ideas that emerge from a sincere study of the ancient texts.
Prarabdha cannot be changed by any one. This is destined to happen. No one can avert it. The best way is to accept things as they are and surrender to the Almighty. Prarabdha can affect the body only, not the mind. If one can cultivate sufficient mind control, he can avoid unnecessary mental suffering. In other words disasters happen, but mentally one can remain unaffected by adopting a spiritual attitude.
Some people take a wrong message from all this. They feel that doing no work, inaction will help them. This is impossible. No human being can ever remain without karma. Bound by Prakriti (Nature), man is forced to do karma by the three gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas). Our Prakriti will make us do karma. Karma is three-fold. First there arises a desire. Then you will think of how to get it. Then you exert to attain it. Desire, thought and action always go together. So thought itself is subtle karma, the seed of karma. Karma can be done through the mind (thought), speech (words/verbal) and the body (the actual act). These are three threads, which make the rope of karma that binds all men. Hence even if a man is inactive and refrains from action, he may still be doing karma at a thought level. As long as thoughts are there, karma is being done. A man may be acting, but mentally he may not have sense of agency, in which case karma cannot bind him. This is the essence of the Gita Sloka, `He who sees action in inaction, and inaction in action, is a `Yogi’. Seeing, hearing, talking, thinking, etc. are all Karmas. We are constantly performing karma through the mind, speech and body in all the three states of dreaming, sleeping and walking. There can be no state in which a man is not performing karma. Instead of running away from action, one should instead, give up all sense of agency, the identification with Karmas.
Can one go beyond karma? As Swami Sivananda said, one can go beyond the results of karma. `Attaining knowledge of Brahman or the Eternal destroys the whole lot of Sanchita karma. It can be greatly modified by entertaining lofty, divine thoughts, and doing virtuous actions. Agami karma can be destroyed by expiatory rites or Prayaschitta, and by removing the idea of agency through Nimitta Bhava (attitude that one is an instrument in the hands of God) and Sakshi Bhava (attitude that one is silent witness of the actions of the senses and the mind)”. If you write a cheque for a hundred thousand rupees and do not sign it, is it valid? No, because your signature is not there. Similarly if you do not put your signature on the actions, they cannot bind you. In other words, you can act, but do not be attached to the result. Do it without any sense of agency, with a Nimita Bhava. Surrendering oneself to God, if one acts without any attachment to the results, the Karmas do not bind him. The sense of `I’, `mine’ and self-identification are your signature. When you do any karma without your signature, it is not going to bind you.
As Swami Sivananda said, `You have no Bhoga-svatantrya (freedom to determine the result of action) but you have Karma-Svatantrya (freedom to determine the course of action)’. In other words, the only area where we have a choice is the present. Irrespective of the results, one should carry on with his duties, surrendering to the Lord. At times we may not have freedom to determine the results, but we are totally free to determine the course of action. By moving in the right direction according to Dharma, one can alter the course of the future (especially future lives). The situations that we find ourselves in, are due to Prarabdha, over which we have no control. But we have freedom as far as our reaction to the situation is concerned.
`What you are now at present is the result of what you thought and did in the past. What you shall be in the future will be the result of what you think and do now’. Hence, destiny is your doing. You have built it. Only you can undo it. If your actions of hundred lives have resulted in an adverse condition, you can still undo it. But it requires a hundred times more effort to balance the actions of previous lives. Yet, if you want to change your life you always have the freedom to determine the course of action, if not the results.
How does karma actualize? The Karmas are stored in the causal body. When the cosmic planetary patterns change, when the time is ripe, the karmas ripen to fruition, the seeds of karma in the causal body sprout and project into the astral body where they influence the mind. The thoughts energize the physical body, thus, to act in a manner that is in accordance with the karmic patterns. Thus any undesirable seed of karma spotted in the horoscope can be prevented from actualizing itself at the mind level if one exercises enough control, since the body translates the thoughts into actions. But this is often very difficult. One who gains total control over emotions like anger, lust, greed etc is indeed a Yogi.
Intensity of karma
Here a very important point has to be kept in mind. Karma can be classified into three types based on intensity.
a. Dridha (Fixed or Strong) Karma
b. Adridha (Not Strong/Non Fixed) Karma
c. Dridha – Adridha (Strong/Not Strong or Not Too Strong) Karma
As the name suggests the Dridha Karmas are very difficult or almost impossible to be changed. Adridha karmas can be easily altered while Dridha – Adridha can be altered through concentrated efforts. Generally Upayes or Pariharas (spiritual remedies) are effective in the 2nd and 3rd types. But to change very strong (Dridha) karma, is very difficult, practically almost impossible. Either we encounter obstacles even in implementing the remedies or a life long attempting of the remedies is required! Change can only occur when the Agami and Kriyaman Karmas neutralise the Prarabdha. Hence, the quality and quantity of effort required to alter destiny (Prarabdha) depends on how strong our previous karmas were. But what we have done can be undone nevertheless.
When an astrologer sees a confluence of factors, he predicts confidently for he knows that he is looking at Dridha Karma or Fixed Karma. Apart from Purushartha (Self efforts) there is another very important concept that the scriptures offer – Kripa or Divine Grace. Divine intervention or Grace can always do what human efforts fail to achieve.
Thus there are three factors, which influence the outcome of Prarabdha.
Muhurtha: Choosing favourable time in accordance with the planetary patterns can augment or maximise the effectiveness of human efforts.
Agami & Kriyaman Karma: The thoughts and presents efforts can be initiated in the right direction sincerely. A strong current of favorable thoughts combined with sincere efforts can go a long way. Part of this, is seeking spiritual remedies (Upayes or Pariharas) that astrology can offer.
Kripa or Divine Grace: Divine Grace can intervene and change things. The spiritual remedies are partly aimed at drawing divine grace That is why of all remedies, the most effective, reliable and simple ones are Mantras and Prayers. Mantras , prayers and danam or charity (which is nothing but Selfless Karma) are prescribed by the great sage Parasara.
WHERE TO PLACE ASTROLOGY
From the above points, it becomes clear how a wise person takes astrology. There are two ways:
Seek astrological guidance, but don’t be totally dependent on it. The astrologer has many limitations. No astrologer has the final say in any matter. Plan intelligently remembering the astrologer’s advice. Any pariharas (remedies) suggested by the astrologer can be adopted as long as they are spiritually oriented and do not involve unnecessary expenditure. Such remedies (as per Parashara, the father of Indian astrology) are prayers and chanting of Mantras. Other remedies which involve huge costs are not reliable and are mostly suggested by dishonest astrologers.
Accept your Prarabdha and do your duties cheerfully. Know that you cannot escape your Prarabdha. Even Yogis can help you only to postpone it, not avert it! But there is one area where you have total freedom. That is your current karma (Kriyaman). You can determine the course of action. You can bring in an anti-current of thoughts, a current of noble, spiritual thoughts, thoughts guided by Dharma. It is never too late to change the course of action. In the Kriyaman area, do good deeds. Let Dharma guide you. Some times there may be a conflict between free will (Kriyaman) and destiny (Prarbdha).
However powerful Prarabdha is, DO NOT DESPAIR. Do your duties cheerfully without any attachment to the fruits of your actions. Surrender yourself to God and do your duties with a Nimitta Bhava. Great Yogis like Bhisma and Vasishta have placed Purushartha or exertion (free will) above destiny. Do not underestimate the role of Kriyaman Karma, your free will to change the course of action.
The advanced people do not need astrology. They accept Prarabdha as God’s Will. But the ignorant person develops pathological dependence on astrology, starts despairing, lapses into inaction or makes half-hearted attempts. It is for this reason that Vedantic thinkers and saints like Swami Vivekananda and Dayananda Saraswati were opposed to astrology. But saints like Sri Rama Krishna who was Swami Vivekananda’s guru, spoke positively about astrology because every realised soul knows it. It all depends on how we take it. The devotee (Bhakta) sees only Prarabdha. The vedantic (Gnani) sees only Purushartha. Both are correct for these are two sides of the same coin. The Bhaktha (Devotee) feels it is all Prarabdha only. Yet there is no fatalism in this. Prarabdha is only Purusharta (efforts born of free will) of previous births. Purushartha combined with Prarabdha brings effects. A man who is sick has to take the medicine (Purushartha) and leave the results to Prarabdha. Through Purushartha, Markandeya conquered death. Vasishta advocates Purushartha to Sri Rama throughout the Yoga Vasishta. We are neither totally bound by destiny nor are we totally free. We have limited freedom like a cow that has been tied to a post in a field with a rope. It can move freely, but only within the limits of the field. We have limited freedom depending upon how much we can stretch our Karma.
Human life is a story of the alternating patterns of duality, of happiness and suffering, joy and misery, ups and downs. There is not a single life without this admixture, without this pair of opposites. This is the law of life. Though the Atman is identical to the Brahman who is ever-radiant and blissful, the Jiva (individual) suffers because he is entrapped by the limiting adjuncts (Upadhis) of body and mind. The infinite seems to be entrapped by the finite body and mind. Misery is not natural to the Jiva. It comes to experience a state of misery because of its association with a body.
a. So the cause of misery is a body
b. The body (birth) is due to karma (previous actions)
c. Karma arises from attachment and hate, by preference to certain objects and aversion to some.
d. Attachment and hate arise from Egoism (sense of `I’ and `Mine’)
e. This Egoism comes from indiscrimination.
f. Indiscrimination, from ignorance of your true nature, that you are one with the Brahman
Thus, the root cause of all suffering and Karma is ignorance. The only way to go beyond this, is to bring the light of knowledge. The first step in this direction is to change one’s attitude, to retrace one’s steps along the same path that we have come down. In other words, the only solution is to go back to our cosmic roots, to become one with the Cosmic Consciousness. That is liberation, that is moksha, salvation, whatever you call it. We are born so that we can exhaust our karmic debts, so that we may be free. This is the only answer, the only purpose of life. Jyotish is the light that reveals this great truth to us so that we may be free. A sincere study of Jyotish can be a great spiritual education; a Sadhana in itself, for it partly reveals the eternal mysteries of the cosmos to us. It leads us to the unknown through the known. It guides us out through the intricate labyrinth that life is, with its myriad pairs of duality. It shows us the way and ultimately sets us free, by taking us back to our cosmic roots.