Karma as conundrum
Karma as a concept is a very difficult to understand , it is difficult to say whether karma is the driver of life, it is said in Bhagvad Gita that karma generally determines the course of one’s life and this is generally accepted in other religions also. So the more the good you do the better would be this life and the next lives to come. The conundrum lies in the fact that how is karma accounted. It is generally accepted that mother nature keeps a close watch on every action and every action is accounted , the algorithm of accounting is complex and is beyond human head. Karma can be said to be in form of a register or in form of a karmic balance sheet . These are theories which could explain karma, but actual accounting of one’s action and the debit and credit will remain a conundrum and can never be explained .
Karma concepts- old research and views
Karma as a concept of cause and effect emerges mainly from Hinduism and Buddhism, and is said to be primarily derived from Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. To my mind, karma is all about accounting for one’s action and this may span over many lifetimes, but, before venturing to what I personally think and believe about karma, let me present the viewpoints, debate and research that has already taken place about karma. It must be stressed that karma is complex and is interconnected and interdependent, and is not fatalism and determinism as often misunderstood by Western audiences. Karma has both fatalistic and non-fatalistic elements attached to it. Our lives are neither absolutely determined nor absolutely free. We live a life according to determined track within whose unformed potentiality lays the opportunity for change and growth. We cannot erase the influences of the past, but can influence the course of our life by pouring new energy in new directions. We may not see the results immediately, but karma assures us that the results will come, as any energy we generate must have its effect.
H.P. Blavastsky, who introduced esoteric studies to the West in the early nineteenth century, assures us that ‘every creature is subject to karma and no spot in the manifest universe is exempt from its sway’. She does not predict a one-on-one relationship between cause and effect – a predetermined course in which certain types of actions always have the same karmic consequences. In her view, karma is not a mechanical system where engaging the gears moves the cam, which, in turn, eventually moves the wheel in a prescribed linear cause and effect manner. She says this kind of causality implies a rigid determinism and an unalterable sequence of events; rather, karma is fluid and flexible and outcomes are continuously shaped by inputs or new factors. Karma works in an interconnected system where everything affects everything else. She says karma gives back to everyone the actual consequence of his/her action. It is an unfailing redresser of human injustice, a stern adjuster of wrong, a retributive law that punishes and rewards with equal impartiality. She wrote: ‘karma is eternity itself and, as such, since no act can co-equal with eternity, it cannot be said to act, for it is the action itself’. She believed that karma is said to have come into operation with the first instant of manifestation, the first instance of creation.
There is no question that India had a major influence upon Carl Jung’s thoughts. Although many Hindu and Buddhist concepts fascinated him, it was the idea of karma and rebirth that continued to play a crucial role in development of Jung’s thinking to the end of his life. Jung had a love-hate relationship with Eastern thought. For instance, between 1912 and 1918, he had a confrontation with the unconscious when he turned for support and his new insight was Eastern religion and concept of karma. Between 1920 to 1940, the Upanishadic notion of ‘atman’ (soul) played a major role in development of Jung’s ‘self’ concept, but, after visiting India, Jung tended to turn his back on the East and adopted Western alchemy in his thoughts. The main basis of Jung’s understanding of karma probably came from his in-depth study of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. The concept of ‘archetype’ is considered Jung’s significant contribution, and this idea came in after his close interactions with the Indian notion of karma. He believed that there is a rich world of archetypal images in the unconscious mind; the archetypes are conditions, laws or categories of creative fantasy. He believed that, in the unconscious, there are two layers, one, the personal layer, and the second, the collective layer. The personal layer ends with the early memory of infancy, but the collective layer comprises the pre-infantile period; that is, residues of ancestral life. While the memory images of personal unconscious is filled out as if it was an image personally experienced by the individual, the archetypes of collective unconscious are not filled, as they are not personally experienced. He believed psychic heredity does exist – that is to say, there is inheritance of psychic characteristics, such as predisposition to disease, traits of character, special gifts and so forth.
Karmic Balance Sheet
To my mind, karma is all about accounts and borrows from some principles of economics. I have given a basic background of accounts to let the reader appreciate karmic balances better. Any accounting statement always has two parts to it; one is the balance sheet and other is the income statement or the profit and loss account. The profit and loss account would give the revenues, costs and profits associated with a firm for a particular period of time, say one year or six months, and is a flow statement, which means it accounts for revenues and profits made only within the particular period. A balance sheet, on the other had, gives accumulated values of profits and is the position statement in the sense that it keeps the position of the firm up to date. In simple terms, if a firm has been existing for ten years and makes profit each year, the balance sheet would accumulate profits or simply profits added up for all ten years.
Just like the company or partnership account has two parts to it, the karmic account also has two parts to it; one is the karmic balances or balance sheet that gives accumulated account of one’s good or bad karma and a profit and loss statement that gives the karma done for a particular period of time or one lifetime or birth. In other terms, when we are born, we inherit a karmic balance, which could be a credit or debit balance or a good or bad karmic balance. This is what is referred to as karmic momentum or archetype (Jung) or inherited karma. This karmic balance would decide a lot of things, like where we are born, which family, which country, whether born rich or poor, born with disease or other incapability and so on and so forth. This is probably what Jung referred to as psychic inheritance or what we bring forth in this birth depending upon our karmic balance sheet. But you are given a new birth and, within the birth, you are free to do as much good (positive karma) or bad (negative karma) within a broad framework determined by your karmic balance sheet. In other words, if you are born with a positive karmic balance, you can either add to the balance by your good deed or deplete the balance by your bad deeds. In this sense, karma is not entirely fatalistic as considered by many opponents of karma philosophy. According to Aurobindo, ‘not everything is predetermined and not everything is left to free will, but rather it is an interplay of both forces’. So karma has a momentum or archetype or fatalistic part to it, as determined by your balance sheet when you were born, and a free will part to it, which given during your birth within a broad framework, and you can accumulate further good or deplete all your past positive balances.
To address the question of karmic interrelatedness, we can say that karma is a set of interconnected balance sheets and profit and loss accounts. Just like, under the same management, there could be a number of companies and there could be transactions both permitted and not permitted. The company’s accounts are also linked to the nation’s accounts in the sense that it pays taxes. A similar interconnection exists in the karmic accounts
Proponents of karma argue that there is karmic interconnection within the family, within a broad group like race, within a broader group like religion and finally for the nation. Let us say we have a family of twenty people; all the twenty people would have a karmic balance sheet and profit and loss account, which are interconnected. So, if one person accumulates a lot of good karma during this birth, there will be effect felt on all the members of the family. In simple words, if one becomes great or does lot of good, the family members benefit. Such kind of karmic interdependence can be extended to larger groups like race or religion and finally the nation. Just like the nation’s wealth is determined by the extent of taxes it collects and other factors that directly depend on the income of its citizens, the nation’s karmic disposition is determined by its people. When the nation is ruled by negative, elements the population suffers. A nation’s karmic disposition also decides other things like its foreign policy, its trade policy and so on and so forth.
Multiplier Effect of Karma
Karma has a ripple or a multiplier effect. Just like when you throw a stone in the pond and the ripples are felt all over, the karmic effect also multiplies and have a multiplier effect. To give an example, suppose I am posted as an investment officer in a large bank and my job is to decide which firms to make investments on based on factors such as market growth, management quality, industry growth and many other factors that are typically used while making investment decision. My karmic task is to analyse the host of factors and then come up with investment recommendations that would generate wealth for the bank. But I choose to go the wrong way and let’s say take a lump sum amount of personal money from a company, prepare a false report, twist facts and figures to my benefit and convince my seniors of the decision. The bank, based on my recommendation, makes a large investment into the company, because of which many people subscribe to the stock of the company; other private investors pour money into the company. Now the company does not do well due to poor management quality, lack of drive or poor industry fundamentals and, because of my action, now many people suffer, retail investors lose money on the stock, bank loses money on the investment, private investors lose money and, because of a small lump sum that I have taken, the loss suffered by many is multiplied many times over and many suffer huge losses. Another simple example would be, let’s say, security lapse in airport, which led to planes being hijacked and then September 11 happened and its ramifications were felt by the whole human population. So an effect of good karma would multiply and spread many times over within a family and within much broader groups and effect of bad karma would also multiply and its effect would be felt by many. There is karmic interdependence among everyone in this planet; there may be strong interdependence between those we know and weak but definite interdependence amongst one and all. So, broadly speaking, karma is distributable and has a balance when we are born to which we can either add or delete. Paradoxically, a person may be born prosperous due to high positive karma and do as much evil as he can, yet still may not completely erase his positive karmic balance inherited and may still carry a small positive karmic balance to his next birth. Paramhansa Yogananda, in his inspiring book, The Autobiography of a Yogi, said it beautifully: ‘fate, karma, destiny – call it what you will – there is a law of justice which some how, but not by chance, determines our race, our physical structure and some of our mental and emotional traits. The important thing to realise is that while we may not escape our basic life pattern, we can work with conformity to it. That is where free will comes in. We are free to choose and discriminate our levels of understanding and exercise our power of choice. Thus once having chosen, a man has to accept its consequences of his choice and go on from there’.
What is the relationship between karmic balances and birth chart? It is now broadly accepted that birth chart is symbolic form of individuals’ primary life pattern and the person’s potential, talent, attachments and problems are broadly outlined in the birth chart. The birth chart is a blueprint or an X-ray of one’s present life. The birth chart can be viewed as revealing the individual’s pattern of energy, which manifests on all levels simultaneously, which are physical, mental, emotional and inspirational. The chart, therefore, shows our mind patterns, our past conditioning, and the mental impressions and patterns referred by Meher Baba as ‘Sanskara’. Meher Baba adds that these karmic patterns are real and powerful and these habits and conditioning are not going to fade away overnight following a short positive thinking pep talk. These life forces must be accepted, acknowledged and paid due attention to. Paramhanasa Yogananda adds, ‘a child is born on that day and at that hour when the celestial rays are in mathematical harmony with individual karma. His/her horoscope is a challenging portrait revealing his unalterable past and its probable future results’. We, thus, see that we all have a karmic influence that we must meet; we must reap the fruit of what we have sown, but, with a broad framework, we can add to or write off our karmic balances in one lifetime. The birth chart shows our past use or misuse of our free will and sets a broad framework of our present life. Now, coming to the question of whether animals and other living things also have a karmic inheritance or balance, most of the authorities on karmic theory believed that every creature is subject to karma. Animals and other creatures are karmic neutral in the sense that they cannot add to or delete their balances. What good or bad can an animal do? Their needs are limited and they are fully gelled with nature; however, depending on their karmic balance, they could be subject to suffering primarily under the hands of humans, who would not give them their natural habitation. We can cite examples: oxen draw carts or animals that are caged, animals starved to death, animals killed for food and so on and so forth.
To summarise, in this section, I have presented various views on karma and added my own conviction that karma has a fatalistic element attached to it, which determines our birth, race, family and other things, which depends on what balance we bring forth during our birth, but within this birth we are given a free hand under some overall direction to add to or deplete our karmic reserve and, depending on that, our next birth will be superior or inferior.
Karma can also be considered as a simple register with debits and credits where for every good action there is a credit and for every bad action there is a debit and the overall balance is carried to the next birth. There are also credits and debits for family, country, race, religion and so on. The actual mechanism of credit and debit is quite complex and is a conundrum, nevertheless it is enough to appreciate that for every good action there is a credit and for every bad action there is a debit and the balance is carried over.