Karma-The Eternal Mystery (part 1)
------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
Note: The following article has previously been published four times in print each time updated with slight changes. It was published in 0ctober 2001 in the Australian quarterly journal 'The Vedic Light' and subsequently another edited version was published in Express Star Teller in April 2006. It was also published in 2000 in the Australian Council of Vedic Astrology's bimonthly magazine apart from being printed in some local newsletters/magazines. Here I have split the original article into two parts as it is quite lengthy.
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 could not accept it fully till I started studying Jyotisha or Hindu Astrology. It took me years of hard work, some experience and sincere thinking to appreciate the subtleties. 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 truth.
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, Raymond Moody and many other interesting cases suggest that there is compelling evidence for rebirth. Every good astrologer himself is proof of Karma and rebirth!
Let us examine the theory of Karma and rebirth according to Sanatana Dharma . 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. This is the Hindu view. The Buddhist view is different in its approach to reincarnation and the self though it shares a lot with the Hindu view as far as Karma is concerned.
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 ( bandha ). These Karmic attachments pull us into the wheel of existence again and again. Rnanubandha (the bond that results from Karmic 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 causal 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. If you have given in the past it will come back to you later. The causal body stores the memory of all of one's rnanubandhas 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 rnanubandha , the story of the countless karmas that we make, and live through. Every relationship reflects some rnanubandha . The people with whom we have very strong rnanubandha become our parents, spouse, children and co-borns in this life. In most relationships it is our rna that ensures a complementary fit, just like a lock and key.
The citta (unconscious mind) holds these emotional memories or subliminal impressions that drive one to act or seek. They are more like vague impressions rather than clear memories. 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 most significant: parent/child and love/marriage relationships.
Parent /Child Relationship
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 are born in a particular place-time together as a result of rnanubandha .
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 impressions/memories or rnanubandha stir up your emotions and you may start "feeling" for the person. 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 that are more like an inclination. The very strong ones are the vasanas , which compel us to act or seek again. But if we have no more debt ( rna ) with the other person, it just remains a fleeting thought, an inclination or an impulse only.
Sometimes even though the karmic debt is discharged, the old samskaras (the subliminal impressions of past acts) can generate an irresistible inner urge to enter into a relationship. We eventually end up creating a fresh account, a further karmic debt that is not advisable. But if there is undischarged karmic debt, it results in a relationship naturally. When the karmic accounts are settled, once there is no more debt, the relationship ends. But if the rnanubandha 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, spouses and children have we been with. It is hard to interact with another being who has not been a parent, brother, sister, spouse, child, friend or associate in some other life. 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 anubandha (emotional bondage or emotional 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 emotional attachment ( anubandha ) 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 emotional attachment ( anubandha ). 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:
Bitter enemies can be born as husband and wife and always fight, criticize, deceive one another, block the other's progress and make each others' lives miserable.
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.
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.
Two people who have created positive karma between them in previous lives come back as man and wife and lead a relatively happy life helping and supporting each other.
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.
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.
A couple who has been husband and wife may come back as husband and wife again if their rnanubandha is very strong. If the rnanubandha 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.
Sometimes (rarely) a very highly evolved being or soul, or spirit or even an avatar (an incarnation of a deity) 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 can take birth at times. Such a high soul may be born as two separate individuals as husband and wife, brothers, guru and disciple, etc.
Thus the anubandha (emotional bond) between husband and wife or between any two people can take many forms. The patterns of rna and karma are myriad, exceedingly intricate and perplexing. It is because of rnanubanda that you are a child to your parents, spouse to your spouse and parent to your child. A broader understanding of the concept of 'rna' at a cosmic level unravels the interdependence of all life. Whosoever or whatsoever comes to you, comes because of some rna. So a wise person treats every living being with kindness. As a famous Indian saint remarked, "Without rnanubandha no creature comes to you. God will be certainly pleased if you give water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry and clothes to the naked. Be kind and considerate to all creatures. "
More on Rna in another chapter. Let us now return back to Karma . As already stated 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 can try to understand what little we could with the guiding 'light' of spiritual wisdom.
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). In other words this is the reserve of karma that one has accumulated over many lifetimes but which is not specifically active in this lifetime. Sanchita Karma may be indirectly seen in a man as his character, his tendencies, aptitudes, inclinations and desires. These inclinations are referred to as Samskaras which are akin to the 'unconscious mind' in psychoanalysis. The stronger samskaras that are very compelling are referred to as the vasanas .
Prarabdha or Fructifying Karma
It would be impossible as well as overwhelming to encounter all the results of past thoughts, actions and karmic entanglements in one lifetime. Hence only a portion of our past karma can be dealt with in one lifetime. 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 . That portion of our active Karmas allocated to us in this life, is called Prarabdha karma . Thus Prarabdha is considered fate or destiny and is active karma which must be met in the present lifetime. This basic destiny pattern is considered to be unalterable. It is the fruit of our past actions that are being reaped in this life. The natal horoscope reveals Prarabdha only. Anyone who is familiar with the accuracy and insights provided by astrology cannot deny that the natal birth chart reveals the fundamental pattern of life at least in symbolic language.
Kriyaman or Current Karma
This is the fresh karma that we do in this life. It is the karma we are now making in this very lifetime. 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 active prarabdha brought forth from past karmas as well as the kriyaman karma of this life. In other words the prasna (horary) chart is the latest karmic bank statement with regard to the query!
Agami Karma or Future Karma or Potential 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. Agami is the power of intent. Planning is Agami while execution is Kriyaman . Thus Agami (intent and planning) leads to Kriyaman (freshly executed actions of the present) which becomes Sanchita (accumulated) to later surface as Prarabdha (destiny).
Thus Sanchita karma manifests in two ways - firstly, as Prarabdha or the so called destiny, and secondly, as the Samskaras or character or unconscious tendencies.
Jyotisha 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 fits synchronously, 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 order of synchronicity.
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 is born at the time when his individual karmic pattern (prarabdha) matches that of the macrocosm, which is the planetary and stellar pattern. What is happening at a macrocosmic level is also happening at a microcosmic level. By this cosmic law of synchronicity, 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 both are co-extensive. The horoscope thus reveals the Prarabdha karma of an individual. The orders of Synchronicity and Karma are the rationale behind why the indications of the natal horoscope work reasonably well. Yet the order of Synchronicity is a deeper and intriguing phenomenon, one that goes beyond the Causal mechanics of Karma . Synchronicity is 'a-causal' or 'non-causal'. Synchronicity has been dealt with in a separate chapter in this book. Let us return back to Karma , the Law of Cause and Effect now.
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. One's prakrti , character, mental make-up and the situations in life are all Prarabdha indicated by the horoscope through the patterns revealed. Hence study of Jyotisha or astrology can shed light on the unknown aspects of life and is very illuminating. Astrology is light on life.
Astrology can guide us in our lives by giving hope; by correcting us and most importantly it can be a Sadhana (spiritual practice) by 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 daiva cikitsa (spiritual healing), muhurta (electional astrology) and even jataka (predictive astrology) can be of immense help in our day to day lives. Herein lies the usefulness of astrology.
Limitations of Astrology
Astrology has its limitations too. An astrologer cannot literally see every thing. He has access to limited information. First only the Prarabdha is revealed through a horoscope, that too in a veiled manner. Even a very learned 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 ( jyotishi ) 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. One only needs a little intellectual honesty and some astrological experience to appreciate this.
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 ( dasa ) himself a interprets it correctly, he should remember that he has access only to the individual's Prarabdha . He is in the dark where a vital area like Kriyaman Karma is concerned. This is the invisible area, where one can make or mar one's destiny. Some of the effects of Kriyaman karma manifest in the future lives while some may manifest in this very lifetime. An astrologer can never know exactly as regards the client's spiritual merit, which could be rapidly declining or growing. 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 knowledge of astrology. Nothing teaches more humility as the true practice of astrology does. In spite of these limitations, an honest astrologer can still guide us to a reasonable extent.
Finally it should be remembered that Astrology is only a language, albeit a very fine, symbolic and natural language. In our attempt to understand the world around us, there are a few languages that we create/learn. Astrology is one such language, a language of Nature. And Nature can never be unraveled in full, by us mortals. There will be a part that will always remain an enigma.