Journey to Enlightenment

Thursday, July 01, 2004


I have my own understanding of the mechanics and working of Karma. Some time ago however, I read the following excellent post, which gives a slightly different viewing point.

An article by Roshen Delal
This article was written for India in the context of common
approaches to Karma here

Karma - A Different Perspective

What is karma? The popular concept seems to be of a divine accounting system which in practice has positive and negative points.
The positive aspect is that it often leads to ethical behaviour, through fear of future retribution for a `wrong' act,while a negative aspect is that it can lead to coldness or indifference to the sufferings of others.
Thus someone with a serious disease, will, instead of receiving compassion from family and friends, be made to feel guilty somewhere in the past. She must have done something wrong.

A person who is leading a seemingly blameless life, but is faced with some disaster, will correspondingly be told: "It's because of something you did in your past life;you may not remember it".

This theory of karma seems difficult to prove, but is reiterated by several gurus and religious leaders and believed by most people in this country. Sri Aurobindo, however, is one person who provided a different interpretation of karma.

While he does not deny its existence, he rejects the popular understanding of it.
In `The Life Divine' he says, "The inexorable rule of a tooth for a tooth is a frequent principle of the karmic law....It is also to be noted that in this system there is a double punishment and a double reward for sin and virtue; for the sinner is first tortured in hell and afterwards afflicted for the same sins in another life here and the righteous or puritan is rewarded with celestial joys and afterwards again pampered for the same virtues and good deeds in a terrestrial existence.

These are very summary popular notions and offer no foothold to the philosophical reason and no answer to a search for the true significance of life."He goes on to say:"If we see the righteous man suffering here, it is difficult to believe that this paragon of virtue was in the last life a scoundrel and is paying even after his exemplary conversion in a new birth, for sins he then committed; nor, if the wicked triumphs, can we easily suppose that he was in his last life a saint who has suddenly taken a wrong turn but continues to receive a cash-return for his previous virtue".

What then does the law of karma imply, as Sri Aurobindo puts it, at a cosmic level? It is not possible to provide a full picture of his ideas in a brief summary, but he dwells on the nature of cosmic energy, which cannot be reduced to a simple principle of reward and punishment.

To understand something of cosmic energy, one needs to understand the purpose of life, and life, acording to him, is a process of growth towards cosmic being. Karma is a result of the energy of being and has many aspects which cannot be limited to the duality of ethical good and evil, nor translated into good or bad fortune in the world, in terms of riches, power, health or anything else.

Cosmic energy,incorporating all the complexities of one's inner and outer life, takes one in a particular direction, depending on one's inclinations and stage of evolution, and this results in the individual's karma. Thus those who pursue ethics will be rewarded by an increase in virtue, those who pursue knowledge will grow in knowledge, those who pursue wealth will increase their wealth, and those who pursue spirituality may lose all they have in the world, if that is what will further their growth.

Growth requires experiences of different kinds, both pleasurable and painful, and Aurobindo says, "the soul may of itself accept or choose poverty, misfortune and suffering as helpful to its growth, stimulants of a rapid development, and reject riches and prosperity and success as dangerous and conducive to a relaxation of spiritual effort...

Cosmic existence is not a vast administrative system of universal justice with a cosmic law of recompense and retribution."
Instead it is a movement of the energy of nature, which provides, within the cycle of rebirth, whatever is needed for the next step in its evolution.

According to his interpretation, there are thus two levels at which karma can be viewed. Thus, for example, at one level, good or bad health may be the result of pursuing a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle
(not a reward or punishment for good or bad deeds).
At another level,it may be what one needs to grow or evolve in a certain way, and it is the interplay of these forces that lead to a particular karma. While even Sri Aurobindo's ideas may not provide a complete understanding of karma, they do provide guidelines on viewing karma differently, in a broader and less simplistic way, and are worth a more intensive study.

Biographical Note
Sri Aurobindo ( Aurobindo Ghose) was born in India, in 1872, but studied in England. Returning to India as a young man, he gradually got involved in the Freedom Movement against the British, who ruled India at this time. He had already begun certain yoga practices, and when in prison for his actions in the struggle for freedom (1908), he received a divine revelation. He left British India and entered the small territory of Pondicherry in south India, which was then under the French. Here he could not be pursued by British authorities, and giving up politics he founded an ashram.

He believed in the evolution of the human life and mind towards an ultimate spirituality and an increasing universality. The light and power of the spirit, also called by him, the `Supermind', presiding over human evolution could transform human consciousness and remould life on earth. He was joined in his ashram in 1920 by `The Mother', a Frenchwoman named Mirra Richard, who took over the running of the ashram. While the Mother ran the ashram, Aurobindo remained in seclusion, reading, studying ancient texts and writing.

His philosophical works include The Life Divine, Integral Yoga, the epic Savitri, a poem with 24,000 lines and several other works, as well as commentaries on all the major ancient texts.He questioned many traditional concepts of Indian philopsophy.He died in 1950.The Mother continued to run the ashram and later set up Auroville,an international city near the ashram.

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